Canadian Underwriter

Security, protecting property not top of mind for some U.S. homeowners: Allstate

November 17, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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Visions of sugar-plums – not thoughts of how best to protect property – seem to be dancing in the heads of more than a third of polled homeowners in the United States as the festive season approaches, suggests a new survey from Allstate.

Protecting property not necessarily top of mind during festive season: Allstate

Released Tuesday, the third annual Allstate Holiday Home Hazards poll reveals a good chunk of respondents do not prioritize protecting their property during the hectic holiday season, with fewer than four in 10 taking extra care. Conducted in Oct. by FTI Consulting, Inc., the survey reflects input from 1,001 adults, 18 or older, via an online survey using a sample reflective of the U.S. population.

Risky behaviour abounds, the company reports, including leaving packages in the open; leaving doors unlocked; falling asleep with the stove on, a candle lit or a fire burning; or failing to heed safety warnings while decorating.

Despite 71% of those polled acknowledging the increased risk of in-home incidents, notes an Allstate statement, just 37% take extra care to protect themselves. And all this results in a distinct spike in many property claims.

“Allstate claims data shows many types of fire, theft and weather property claims increase during the holiday season,” the company reports.

Among the largest increases in claims filed during the holidays – and the most expensive claims – are those for fire and decoration-related holiday home hazards. For example, survey results show the following:

  • 53% of respondents admit they have plugged too many lights into one outlet;
  • 40% have slipped or fallen in a holiday-related activity, such as decorating;
  • 29% have left a real Christmas tree without water for more than three days, increasing the risk of fire;
  • 28% have left the house and/or fallen asleep with candles burning and 24% have done so with a fire burning in the fireplace; and
  • just 28% of wood-fireplace owners and 26% of gas-fireplace owners have cleaned or inspected their fireplaces in the past year.

Overall – for homeowners, condo owners and renters – claims related to fires originating from the fireplace increased 196% during the holidays, claims from burning candles causing a fire rose 63%, claims from electrical fires went up 21% and claims for smoke from the fireplace increased 191%.

The median cost of claim – the amount Allstate paid on reported claims, based on claims data during the holiday season versus non-holiday season from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15, 2012-2015 – for the three groups were as follows:

  • fire originated from fireplace – homeowners, US$10,324; condo owners, US$13,222; and renters, US$13,847;
  • burning candles caused fire – homeowners, US$14,038; condo owners, US$4,241; and renters, US$2,447;
  • electrical fire – homeowners, US$24,462; condo owners, US$6,304; and renters, US$15,010; and
  • smoke from fireplace – homeowners, US$11,262; condo owners, US$3,939; and renters, US$4,564. 

Fire-related claims during holiday season

Among other things, Allstate recommends having chimneys inspected and cleaned annually before the holidays begin, and checking holiday lights, throwing away any that are broken and not overloading outlets.

By December, 75% of respondents have started checking off their shopping lists. “Shopping season is in full swing, and it’s easy to let holiday cheer cloud our better judgment when buying and handling our purchases,” Terri Dalenta, senior vice president of property products at Allstate, says in the company statement.

Consider that many respondents do not take necessary precautions to keep holiday purchases out of harm’s way. Survey responses indicate the following:

  • 67% of respondents admitted to having valuables delivered to their home while they are not there;
  • 60% have stored or hidden valuables in their car;
  • 8% have experienced theft of packages;
  • 6% have experienced car break-ins;
  • 4% have had their home broken into during the holidays; and
  • only 52% of those shipping gifts notify the recipient a gift is en route.

For homeowners, condo owners and renters, burglary claims increased 11% during the holidays, with the median cost of claim being US$3,258, US$2,011 and US$2,323 for the three groups, respectively.

With regard to property stolen from a vehicle, that increased 17% during the holidays, with the median cost of claim being US$2,188 for homeowners, US$886 for condo owners and US$1,745 for renters.

Costs of burglary, stolen property claims

Allstate recommends such preventive measures as hiding purchases in car trunks when shopping, and ensuring someone is aware of a shipped gift’s anticipated arrival.

There are also the risks that can unfold into claims when people are not even home. The survey shows 60% of respondents plan to spend at least one night away from home this year, while leaving behind some potential concerns.

  • half of respondents have left a door unlocked for a friend or family member and 52% have hidden a key for a friend or family member;
  • 35% have posted about travel plans on social media, including 58% of people between the ages of 18 and 34;
  • just 23% frequently set a timer for lights in their houses while travelling; and
  • only 17% percent frequently shut off the water in their homes to prevent leaks or floods, and just 16% frequently leave a faucet dripping to prevent freezing pipes while travelling.

Overall for homeowners, condo owners and renters, claims related to burst pipes from freezing increased a whopping 722% during the holidays. Damage from ice dam build-up rose 23%, missing property from garage was up 51%, and property damage from the weight of snow/ice on the roof increased 64%.

The median cost of claim for the three groups were as follows:

  • burst pipes from freezing – homeowners, US$5,833; condo owners, US$4,445; and renters, US$2,596;
  • damage from ice dam build-up – homeowners, US$1,832; condo owners, US$1,895; and renters, US$920;
  • missing property from garage – homeowners, US$1,848; condo owners, N/A; and renters, US$1,711; and
  • property damage from weight of snow/ice on roof – homeowners, US$1,886; condo owners, US$2,206; and renters, US$653.

Claims while away can prove costly

Steps to help avoid costly claims when away include “check-ins” using geo-location services or travel plan updates; leaving kitchen or bathroom cabinet doors open to help circulate warmer air around the pipes if pipes are located near exterior walls; and during heavy snowfall, hire a professional to keep a home’s roof and gutters clear.