Coverage for a wooded area away from hydrant & station in CA

7 Replies

Hi All,

We have a SFR that we are going back and forth with the buyer on in the Sierra Foothills of CA. Turns out it's in a wooded area, too far from a hydrant and over 5 miles from a fire station. The one quote I've been able to get for insurance is for $2600 - over 3x's expected for a 3/2 @ $175K.

Anyone have experience with this dilemma that can offer advice or suggest where to get affordable insurance?  I'm having trouble even getting calls back.  Lots of fires currently burning close by!

The other concern would be resale, as I am always thinking exit plan.  My gut says just walk and find a house down the hill out of the woods.  The cash I would save would get me another $20k in house, which is where the market is for a similar house down out of the woods.    Rents aren't much higher to offset the entire cost, however, the money we would be paying out of pocket would at least go towards the mortgage instead of into the wind. 



PS:  This will be my first rental property and I have chosen to start close to home for our first, even though it means we don't cash flow for a while.  Plan to venture out of state once I feel more comfortable doing so.  

Have you gotten a quote from CA Fair Plan?  And are you consulting with a good insurance broker that works with investors?  Don't call around yourself and/or use your home insurance people.  You won't get a a good quote if you call your State Farm or Allstate guy.  Consult with investors in your areas. Investor rental insurance is a specialty, especially in special situations like this property.

Buying insurance in a high fire zone(Protection Class) when fires are burning is really tough.  I would suggest buying a policy now(be sure to shop local independent agents) and do a cancel/rewrite in 4-6 months when fire season is low.  Hopefully you will be able to get that cost down plus have your insurance renewal at a low fire season is better for the long term

Thanks K.marie and Cole for the great advice! I'll get to work.


We had a multifamily with this issue and the insurance was quite high. We did get it lowered after about 18 months by 1/3 when we switched companies but you can't count on that. We found many companies would not write in the fireclass we were in but the ones that would were regional companies.  I haven't found another way around it.  I thought sprinklers but the insurance company won't tell us what that will decrease insurance by.  Get multiple quotes from multiple independent agents. You still need to count on it being fairly high and work that into your numbers. 

Thanks Colleen,

You are right, it will always be high.  Since we aren't married to this deal, I believe we will call the effort a learning experience and look down the road.  Putting that money into the property just makes more sense to me.    


Hi all, as my role is to help RE investors prevent avoidable losses, I was curious as to the location of the property in question relative to current fires in the area. At Anne's request I have left the specific address out, but just wanted to share with you all my note to Anne as it may help as you look at purchasing locations in California right now.

For some general news in CA/northwest...this weekend, there was some quite intense action with the Valley Fire as it grew from 50 acres to 50,000 in a matter of 24 hours... destroying over 400 homes... The Butte Fire is also very active and has burned over 200 structures. Just such dry conditions and water sources to fight the fires are dried up...resources stretched very thin...the WA national guard is involved and over 200 firefighters from the east coast called in... even 68 fireline management personnel from New Zealand and Australia have been put to work in the northwest... just an overall bad deal.

Here were my comments to Anne before the weekend:

For one thing the property is located approximately 20 miles southeast from the edge of the Butte Fire, which has shown the ability to grow rapidly in size this week. The fastest wildfires can spread up to 14 miles per hour, so definitely concerning that the Butte Fire is so close. The Tenaya fire appears to be approximately 40 miles southeast of the property, so farther away perhaps, but the property is sandwiched in between those two fires. In addition, according to both Verisk and Cal Fire's maps that measure the wildfire hazard, the property is located in a zone where the wildfire risk is denoted as "high and extreme". This data is based on past fire activity, current weather conditions, etc.

If I were you, I would invest in something else... with the drought conditions and the fact that the resources to fight fires are spread so thin right now, it doesn't seem like a great area to invest in. One lightening strike and the next fire is in your beautifully-treed backyard.

Hope that helps everyone here a bit. If underwriters are skeptical about writing coverage in CA, ID, OR, MT, & WA it is for a very good reason. If you have properties that are currently located in high-risk areas and haven't taken precautions to prevent wildfire, some great tips from the National Fire Protection Association can be found here:

Be safe!

@Anne Dahl

Insurance Services Office (ISO) or extended the recognition from 5 to 7 drive miles from a fire station on July 1, 2014. Not all insurers or states use this extension, but if the issue should come up again it would be good to find one of those insurers. Don't bother calling them, they won't help at all with this. They also have a product called Fireline that will analyze data such as foliage, winds, terrain, etc. and give a probability of a structure in any particular area being burned in a fire. It will resolve down the lot level and can predict with incredible accuracy which houses on any given street will stand and which will burn. 

ISO doesn't determine how an insurer will use the data. Each (at least in CA) files with the Department of Insurance for approval on how they use any given data set in setting their rates and their methods can and do vary. If an insurer does use these products, or others, hopefully they will be willing to work with you to find an area in a community that you are interested in that is insurable. Something else to keep in mind is that 3rd parties to ISO are always attempting to recreate the data and the results are less than spectacular. ISO has also rapidly gone to faster cheaper data creation so the divergence from reality is increasing. 

Especially a concern in rural areas, you want to make sure that if the hydrant is recognized as having enough water that it really can deliver. Ask the water department when the last flow test was done on the pressure zone you are on and what was the result in gallons per minute at 20# residual. The correct answer is within the past year and at least 500-1000 GPM or better for single family homes with reasonable spacing. Anything below 500 is worthless for insurance purposes. Past recognition is no guarantee of future recognition. 

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