The 5 Best Massachusetts Homeowners Insurance Companies
Recent winters in Massachusetts have been wicked bad. After the state was rocked with 110 inches of snow during the winter of 2014–15, many homes were damaged by ice dams. The dams form on roofs when snow melts and refreezes, which prevents drainage and causes water damage to walls and ceilings in addition to roofs. Insurers paid out an average of $10,000 per claim in these cases.
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An increase in nasty weather, starting with Hurricane Irene in 2011, has made homeowners’ insurance prices increase. As of 2013, premiums in Massachusetts ran an average of $1,263 per year, making it the 10th-most-expensive state for buying homeowners’ insurance; and that number has gone up since. Of course, those premiums will vary considerably depending on where you live and the age of your home — and shopping around can save you from paying more than is necessary. Check out our quote tool to get an idea of premium prices in your ZIP code.
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How We Found the Best Insurance (Hello, Independent Insurance Brokers!)
To find the best, we used our review on nationwide providers as a guide to evaluate the top five private homeowners’ insurance providers in Massachusetts by market share: MAPFRE, Liberty Mutual, Arbella Mutual, Safety Insurance, and Chubb Ltd. We also chatted with insurance experts to learn what makes Massachusetts unique.
That means we consulted three major credit rating companies (Moody’s, A.M. Best, and S&P Global) to make sure our contenders had rock-solid stability and compared consumer satisfaction grades from J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports. Then, we called to get quotes in order to evaluate their coverage and discount options.
But, not so fast. Four of the five insurance company websites passed us off to independent brokers. (In other states, they’d never do that: You typically get a quote right from the company’s page after just a few clicks. Liberty Mutual was the only one of the insurance providers we evaluated in Massachusetts to provide an easy online quote.) We found this interesting, as these independent brokers generally have no loyalty: They try to look at all the company plans available and choose the premium and coverage that best fits your particular location and home.
So, why are companies willing to let unbiased arbiters decide their fate?
“Massachusetts is heavily regulated,” says independent insurance consultant Gabrielle Lupton of Obrella Insurance. “It’s not worth it for some bigger companies to go into states like Massachusetts — the return on investment just isn’t high enough. You see that across the East Coast. The further west you go, it’s not as regulated, so it’s easier for big companies like State Farm to make money.”
The other factor, Lupton says, is that there aren’t many new subdivisions being built in Massachusetts as there are in the West. “New construction is the easiest way for underwriters to make money,” she says.
Even with independent agents, Lupton recommends exploring your options. “Don’t be afraid to shop around and find an agent that will work for you, specifically one locally. Local agents will be more informed on the unique risks involved in the area of your new home.”
Here’s how the big five stacked up in our experience:
Massachusetts Homeowners Insurance Reviews
Safety Insurance Group
We were impressed with Safety’s record with customers. From 2011–2013, it had only seven complaints filed with the state’s Division of Insurance. To compare, Arbella — which is similar in size and market share — had 26 complaints filed against it. Citation and Commerce (now owned and operated by MAPFRE) had 45. In addition, Safety has a solid “A” credit rating with A.M. Best, which is on par with larger companies like MAPFRE and Liberty Mutual.
However, it was nearly impossible to learn about Safety’s coverage options on the company’s website. Safety hints at their existence — apparently Safety Select, Supreme, Supreme Plus, and Complete are all available — but it gives no indication what any of these entail. The website sent us to talk to an independent agent, and that was that.
Safety did outline a few discount options (for auto/home insurance bundling, enrolling in autopay, having burglar and fire alarms, and insuring a new home claims-free), but it didn’t compare to the multitude of discounts offered by the competition: both Arbella and MAPFRE have eight and Liberty Mutual has 12.
MAPFRE, a large insurance company based in Spain, is now the largest Massachusetts insurer in market share and has solid financials across the board: an “A” from S&P and an “A” from A.M. Best. (You may be more familiar with Citation Insurance and Commerce Insurance companies, which is now part of MAPFRE.)
MAPFRE was more forthcoming than Chubb, Safety, and Arbella in detailing its discount and coverage options on its website. It is the only company of the five we tested that explicitly offers discounts for AAA members, customer loyalty, and customers age 55 and older. In addition, MAPFRE is the only provider (next to Chubb) that clearly offered an endorsement for extended replacement cost. If you select this option, your policy will cover your home for up to 150 percent of the quoted replacement cost, depending on your agreement. This can be extremely valuable after a bad storm. According to the Insurance Information Institute: “After a major hurricane or a tornado, building materials and construction workers are often in great demand. This can push rebuilding costs above homeowners policy limits, leaving you without enough money to cover the bill.” Homeowners in storm-prone areas and with older homes will certainly want to consider this option.
The popular companies MAPFRE inherited were not without their warts: According to the Division of Insurance, from 2011-2013 Citation and Commerce had 45 complaints from customers between them, more than any company we evaluated. However, since the two companies are now under the MAPFRE umbrella, there’s a chance that the ship has been righted. In all, we like MAPFRE’s many discount choices and its wide variety of optional coverages.
Like the other companies we evaluated, Chubb pointed us to an independent broker. In fact, it left just about everything to the agents: the Chubb web pages on homeowners’ insurance were sparse, with brief overviews of the offerings and little else.
Thankfully, we were able to learn about Chubb’s reputation through other sources. Of the five top home insurers in market share in Massachusetts, Chubb had the highest financial stability ratings across the board: “A3” from Moodys, “AA” from S&P Global, and “A++” from A.M. Best.
When it came to making claims — generally the most stressful part of dealing with any insurance company — Chubb also outshines its competitors. It maintains an above-average J.D. Power and Associates rating of 80 for its claims experience, which beat out MAPFRE and Liberty Mutual (both have a claims experience score of 60).
We also like that Chubb offers complimentary home appraisals: An appraiser will come to your home to give you an accurate estimate of replacement cost and better determine your ideal coverage.
Overall, we were impressed with Chubb’s strong financial backing and its above-average claims experience. If your independent broker offers you a Chubb plan, we’re confident you’ll be satisfied.
Liberty Mutual was the only company that didn’t send us to an independent agent: We simply plugged in our home address and got a quote within five minutes.
Being the third-largest homeowners’ insurance provider in the nation, Liberty Mutual has some slick features and benefits that its competitors don’t, as well as some downsides. We liked that you can file insurance claims 24/7 through its mobile app or website. You can even file all your personal valuables on the app. Liberty Mutual’s website had the best educational resources for homeowners of the five providers we tested, such as a simple home insurance calculator, plus detailed videos and articles on how to prepare for a major storm.
Consumer Reports readers like the overall experience with Liberty Mutual, rating the company above-average with a strong score of 80, and praising the timeliness of claims payments. The company also holds a very solid financial rating from the major credit raters (“A2” from Moody’s, “A” from S&P Global, and “A” from A.M. Best).
Liberty Mutual offers more explicit discounts than the four other competitors we tested, too. We counted 12 to MAPFRE’s eight and Safety Insurance’s four. Liberty Mutual will even throw in a discount on your plan if you enroll in its online autopay system.
But Liberty Mutual also has some downsides. Once we filled out a quote, we received two emails every day asking us to review it. (We get the idea, thanks.) Customers also didn’t have a great experience making claims: J.D. Power and Associates gave Liberty Mutual a so-so 60 in claims experience, while Consumer Reports readers gave it an underwhelming 50.
Overall, Liberty Mutual is a solid option for its convenience and stability. It has 28 offices within 100 miles of Boston, and we liked the ease of filing claims and applying for coverage. However, sticking with Liberty means you’d forgo the independent broker, who can shop around for coverage. We recommend getting quotes from both Liberty Mutual and an independent broker; there’s nothing to lose but a lower payment.
Arbella Mutual Insurance Co.
Arbella Mutual only operates in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and it proudly runs through independent brokers.
There are downsides: Arbella doesn’t have great educational resources about homeowners’ insurance on its website, or a very clear explanation of how its coverage works. While encouraging in-person visits with a broker is a good thing, we don’t like how the company’s website leaves people in the dark as to what Arbella’s policies are all about. We did like Arbella’s MyHomeWorks feature, which has tools on how to make your home more energy-efficient and how to inventory your personal valuables.
Though Arbella’s has a decent credit rating (“A-” from A.M. Best), it is the lowest of the five companies we tested. For comparison Chubb has an exceptional “A++” and Safety Insurance, another small provider, has an “A” from A.M. Best.
A note on MPIUA and the FAIR Plan
Nothing beats an ocean view of the Cape, but it comes with a cost. “Most traditional insurance companies are not interested in insuring coastal homes due to frequent exposure to storms,” says Steve Roy, CEO of Elliot Whittier Insurance, an independent insurance broker based in Danvers. As we all know, most of Massachusetts is coastal; according to the 2010 US census, almost 53 percent of homes are in coastal counties, where wind and waves are constant threats.
To hedge against the fact that most traditional insurers aren’t interested in the majority of homes in the state, Massachusetts instituted its own option, the FAIR Plan from the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association (MPIUA). MPIUA is a nonprofit that guarantees people in high-risk areas — including those in seaside homes on the Cape and in areas of high crime — can get coverage when they would have otherwise been denied in the private market. MPIUA is also known as the “insurer of last resort” and because coverage is for high-risk homes, its premiums are among the highest in the nation.
In fact, MPIUA — not any private, for-profit insurance company — is the largest home insurer in Massachusetts. As of 2013, about one in 10 policies in all of the Bay State were FAIR Plan policies. According to the Vineyard Gazette, FAIR is the only insurance option for many people on Cape Cod. In recent years, however, more insurers have been willing to take on risky properties, as the Boston Globe notes, and it has driven premium costs down for coastal homes.
Interview with an Expert: Gabrielle Lupton
Lupton is a 15-year veteran of the insurance industry and the daughter of an independent insurance broker. She now works as an independent consultant in Massachusetts. We asked her a few questions about homeowners insurance in Massachusetts and what we should look out for before we buy a policy.
On how to prepare before shopping for a policy with a broker:
Talk to your neighbors. See who their insurance carrier is. After that, put a checklist together of major details on your house, such as its square footage, the age of your roof, and quirks of the setup. If you know those major details, you’ll be fully prepared to talk shop with your agent so they can’t oversell you.
On the value of changing your policy every year:
In Massachusetts, after you have had policy for one year, you’re not technically required to renew it. This gives you freedom to contact your insurance broker and ask them to shop around for cheaper rates. But many people don’t do this once they buy their home insurance: “It’s out of sight, out of mind. That’s one thing you don’t think about — you don’t do this with your car insurance. Be sure to continue that relationship with your broker.”
On what makes Massachusetts unique:
There are many older homes in Massachusetts, averaging at least 50 years in age. They’re not as resistant to weather damage. This increases the liability for insurance companies and makes them less inclined to insure.
If you have an older home, the best way to insure it might be through an HO-8 policy. The HO-8 was specifically designed for older homes that will have a higher replacement cost than their actual cash value.
Did You Know?
Comparison shopping in Massachusetts might get a lot easier in 2017
Home insurance premiums spiked 22 percent in Massachusetts from 2007–2013, due in part to record snowfall. To add insult to injury, the public typically doesn’t find out that premiums are going up until they get a renewal notice from their insurance company.
“The process is stunningly resistant to transparency and public discussions,” Senator Michael J. Barrett told the Boston Globe earlier this year. When prices were hiked as much as 9 percent after the brutal winter of 2015, Barrett and a committee started a months-long investigation into the home insurance industry. He discovered that price hikes were approved by the Division of Insurance behind closed doors with little outside analysis; according to WickedLocal, when the attorney general staff analyzed industry documents after the approvals, they determined that two of the highest increases were “unlawfully excessive.”
In light of the damning evidence, Barrett proposed an amendment in February 2016 that, pending approval, will bring more price transparency and easier shopping for homeowners’ insurance. Its basic tenets:
- The insurance division should create an online insurance shopping program that allows customers to compare premium prices, as has been done in Texas and California.
- All homeowners insurance rate increases must be posted to the public record within three days of being filed and before they go into effect so the public can discuss them.
- Barrett’s Senate committee said that the Division of Insurance should challenge the weather models used by insurance companies that justify their increases.
The Bottom Line
Considering Massachusetts has the 10th highest average premiums in the US, we believe Massachusetts homeowners should cheer current bids for transparency. In the meantime, be sure to keep in touch with your insurance agent and always question your rates and coverage. “It’s important to remember that once you have purchased a policy your relationship with your agent shouldn’t end,” Lupton says. Check in annually to review your policy and shop around.
Find the best homeowners insurance in your area.
Get a quote by entering your ZIP code and start saving today.