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Some insurers are leaning more into technology

Experts say more companies nationwide are using drone images and satellite photos to perform inspections in place of visiting homes.

These photos can be used to flag issues such as damaged roof shingles, yard debris, overhanging tree branches and undeclared swimming pools or trampolines. All of these can potentially be used as reasons for insurers to send out non-renewal notices to policyholders. Massachusetts, for example, permits the use of aerial images in policy renewal decisions.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase across the country in reports from consumers who’ve been dropped by their insurers on the basis of an aerial image,” Amy Bach, executive director of consumer group United Policyholders told The Wall Street Journal.

Insurers say customers agree to home inspections when they purchase a policy and that gathering aerial images is less intrusive than performing home visits. But consumer advocates have concerns that these companies could be using outdated or inaccurate images when making their decisions.

Nichole Brink, who says she quit her job as an agent for Farmers Insurance last year, claimed to the Journal some customers were dropped based on aerial images that were two or three years old, while in another case, a part of the image that Farmers said showed tree limbs were actually just shadows.

“It’s like they’re using anything as an excuse to get people off their books,” she said.

Brink says she switched insurers and jobs after discovering her own home had been flagged by Farmers because of a tree branch hanging over her barn. She cited concerns the company was indiscriminately clearing out unwanted customers.

A spokesperson for Farmers told the Journal it regularly reviews the properties it insures, and homeowners have at least 60 days to correct any inaccuracies or show the problem has been addressed if any problems are flagged.

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What should you do if you receive a non-renewal notice?

If you receive an unexpected non-renewal notice from your home insurance company for any particular reason, Emily Rogan, a senior program officer at United Policyholders, recommends asking for evidence. The insurer might not be required to provide images upon your request, but it doesn’t hurt to ask in case, for example, the wrong home was identified.

She also advises getting on top of your repairs immediately and asking your insurer if they’ll change their decision if you can provide a contract for pending repairs.

“It’s more important than ever for homeowners to stay on top of home maintenance because you never know when that insurance company is going to take that photo,” Rogan told Boston 25 News.

In case the insurance company doesn’t rule in your favor, it may be a good idea to start shopping for new insurance once you receive a notice. This will minimize the risk of having a gap in your coverage.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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