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Help for Homeowners in the Insurance Squeeze

February 11, 1996

So what's a home buyer or homeowner to do in the midst of the insurance crisis?

Experts offer these suggestions for dealing with the tight homeowners insurance market:

* Contact the company that sells you car or life insurance. If you already do business with it, it may be more willing to sell you also homeowners insurance, even though it technically is not writing new policies.

* Get in touch with an independent agent. The 4,000 brokers in the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of California work with smaller companies that are still selling homeowners insurance policies. Look in the telephone book under "insurance" to get in contact with independent brokers in your area. One warning: You may have to pay more.

* If you are buying an older home, be aware that many insurers are rejecting any houses built before World War II. "It used to be that wood frame or masonry was the only question they asked," said Candysse Miller, spokeswoman for California's Department of Insurance. Now, many other factors that make a house riskier to insure, such as the type of soil in your neighborhood, are being scrutinized.

* Shop around. Do not expect to call one or two companies and secure a policy in an afternoon. You may have to call six or eight carriers before you find one selling new policies. The California Department of Insurance may be able to help you with comparison shopping. Its consumer hot-line number is (800) 927-4357.

* Check with the state-run FAIR insurance plan, which has a Los Angeles office. The consumer telephone line is (800) 339-4099. The plan is costlier and does not cover theft or liability, but it will get you the fire insurance you need to get through escrow. You may then be able to go to the standard market and purchase a wrap-around policy to cover the rest of your needs.

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