Residents to save on home insurance

Often when you read a story about a government entity, the details may be of some importance but they don't really change your life.

Not so with the recent report that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) is changing the fire ratings in Dougherty County.

For example, one fortunate property owner on Thrasher Drive just off Leary Road will have almost $100 a month in additional spendable money because of that report.

Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said about 315 homeowners off Old Pretoria Road and Leary Road will see the largest savings when the new fire rates go into effect on Feb. 1.

Using specific tax and insurance information, Carswell said that one property owner will see his home insurance decrease $1,082 annually because his fire rating went from a Class 9 to a Class 2.

That's an extreme case, but Carswell calculated that the 315 property owners in those neighborhoods will see their rates drop an average of about 40 percent.

A key factor in determining rates is distance from a fire station and distance from a fire hydrants.

Because 85 percent of city residents are within 5 miles of a fire station or within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, ISO grants a Class 2 rating to all those within the city limits.

The 315 homes mentioned earlier now qualify for the drastic reduction in ratings because of recent installation of water lines.

Countywide, Carswell said residents can expect an average home insurance rate decrease of 10 to 12 percent.

Many things factor into the specific rates. Rates vary from insurance company to company and because of numerous other factors, including the level of insurance you have on your home's contents.

The higher coverage for your contents, the more you should save.

Carswell said homeowners should contact their insurance agent to determine their specific fire rating. He also encouraged shopping insurance to determine if homeowners are getting the best coverage at the best rate.

Most homeowners have their insurance and property tax expenses coupled with their mortgage payment and do not review it as often as they might other expenses.

Carswell said savings inside the city limits will be mostly for some commercial property owners. One large industry, for example, indicated it will save almost $300,000 a year because of the change.

The norm is much lower. On average, Carswell said small business owners should save about $680 a year on their insurance premiums, with medium-sized businesses saving about $2,400.

Countywide, Carswell estimates the new ratings will save property owners about $2 million.

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard is a business owner and homeowner in the county. He's also always in the forefront in trying to attract new industry and businesses to Albany.

The lower ISO rating is a valuable tool, Sinyard says. He calls it "a basic foundation piece for economic development."

"The bottom line is companies look at their finite costs, their fixed costs of doing business," Sinyard said. "One of those costs is fire protection. If they are able to save from $10,000 to $300,000, that makes a significant difference in where a company locates."

The lower rating is not common, Sinyard said. In Georgia, Albany is one of just 15 communities with a Class 2 rating. There are just 537 cities in the country with the Class 2 rating.

Sinyard said it's significant because these savings are ones that will occur each year and are not just a one-time boost in the pocketbook.

He echoed Carswell's sentiments in advising property owners to contact their insurance agents to make sure they get credit for the lower ratings when applicable.

Looking forward, Carswell says there are five additional neighborhoods in the county that would qualify for a Class 2 rating if they had hydrants.

County leaders are looking to see what can be done to bring those 750 to 800 homeowners under the Class 2 rating and save another estimated $1 million in spendable funds.

The savings begin in February. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure they are taking the necessary steps to keep your premium as low as it can be.

Danny Carter can be reached at (229) 888-9346 or by e-mail at danny.carter@albanyherald.com