Consumer Caveat: Watch Out for Forced Home Improvement

Forced home improvement happened to us twice in the past year. What is it? It is when your homeowner’s insurance company sends someone to your house to take pictures and then has an underwriter evaluate the pictures. That faceless person is looking for anything that could go wrong with your house in the next millennium so that said insurance company will not have to pay out any monies to you forever and a year.

The reality is that most homeowners do not really own their homes; the bank on the corner does, or rather some company to whom your friendly neighborhood bank sold your mortgage owns it. To cover themselves the mortgage company mandates homeowner’s insurance. This is what makes forced home improvement possible.

Back in October 2007 my husband and I received a letter telling us that our house had been assessed and it was suggested that we replace our roof. This was not news to us since we had been saving up to do the roof within the next year or so. The shocker was that the insurance company gave us only thirty days to finish the project and provide proof that it had been completed, or else. We contacted the company for an extension but got absolutely no sympathy for the fact that roofers were booked and busy that October and that they did not work in the winter due to weather.

So we went ahead with finding a roofer hoping that we could get the roof finished before our insurance expired in April, and if March had not been more than usually rainy we might have made it. As it was, the roof was done a week after our insurance expired and we already had received a letter from the mortgage company giving us another deadline to get new insurance or pay high risk insurance that was six times what we had been paying.

Fortunately, I found an independent insurance agent who was able to get us insurance at a reasonable rate and except for us being totally broke and unable to afford vacation this year, all was good. Meanwhile, I filed a complaint with a state agency against that homeowner’s insurance company. But there was more to come.

Our new homeowner’s insurance company wasted no time sending someone out to take more pictures of our house. At least this time we received a postcard in advance informing us that this would happen. I knew there would be another underwriter letter in the mail. It came the same week that the state agency wrote to say that legally the first insurance company had done nothing wrong. There was a law that let them do it.

This second underwriter wanted us to put hand rails up the front steps to our house. We had thirty days from the date of the letter to comply. Well, even though installing hand rails was significantly easier to do within the time limit, as a consumer I am still irate. Where do our legislators get off passing laws that benefit insurance companies at the expense of the consumer, laws that give the consumer no recourse?

Through all of this my husband and I kept wondering what we had done wrong that had warranted such ill treatment. We bought a house that we could afford and have paid our mortgage on time for eighteen years. We would be humiliated at the prospect of defaulting on a loan. We have done all sorts of home improvements over the years including a new boiler and new sidewalks. We have never filed a homeowner’s insurance claim. Decent hardworking nominal homeowners, beware! This could happen to you.

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