Canadian Underwriter

What to ask clients who work from home in their “seasonal” properties

December 17, 2020   by David Gambrill

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Seasonal properties may be more of an “all-season” event this year, as Canadians working remotely from home may choose to do their work in a more scenic cottage setting instead.

For Canada’s property and casualty insurance brokers, the “fluid” living arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic may mean having more discussions with clients about the risks involved with keeping seasonal properties open for longer and shuttling between properties.

“Normally at this time of year we have focused on winterizing and closing up the cottages, but with the work environment being more flexible, and people working from home, some people who have cottages are going to try to keep them open longer,” says Amy Graham, national property underwriting manager for RSA Canada. “They may try to stay there over the winter. Their living arrangements or their working arrangements are basically fluid.”

The impact of working from “home” – in both a primary and (winterized) seasonal residences – could potentially have a variety of impacts of claims and coverage going forward into 2021, as Graham notes.

“Because of COVID, it does lessen the occupancy risk,” Graham told Canadian Underwriter recently. “Normally, seasonals are not visited as much during the winter. But now we’re finding that people are using their seasonals quite a bit because they can’t go on vacation, they can’t travel very far, and so we are actually seeing some of the risks that might have existed with seasonal being a little bit reduced, because now they are not unoccupied for long periods.”

For example, Graham said, Canadians may be spending more time at the cottage doing maintenance and upkeep, such as cleaning eavestroughs, breaking up ice dams, making sure the critters don’t build nests in the porches, checking for cracks in the foundation, and making sure burst pipes are attended to immediately.

But just as some water damage and theft claims may be reduced, other claims may be on the rise for seasonal properties in the winter, Graham says.

“There are concerns about wood-burning heating,” Graham said. “At the beginning of the heating season, no matter where you are using those appliances, you need to make sure to have the unit professionally cleaned and inspected at the beginning of the heating season and even during the season, because a majority of the fires that happen from wood heat are from chimneys and flues that have a lot of creosote [a wood preservative] buildup. It’s something that a lot of people forget about until they use the stove and then the worst can happen.”

Clients also need to be aware of electrical fires and how to prevent them, Graham said, pointing to a tip sheet that the insurer created earlier this year.

In addition to asking clients about steps they are taking to maintain their seasonal properties, brokers are encouraged to inquire about where their clients are currently living; and more precisely, if they have plans to renovate one property while they live in the other.

“When are people in their homes?” Graham says of brokers’ clients. “Because whether they are living in their homes or cottages during the winter, they may want to do renovations. In that case, our advice is that they hire professionals and to notify their broker or insurer when they are making changes to their property.”

This is also a good time for brokers to see if their self-employed clients need business coverage while they work at their winterized, seasonal properties, Graham suggests.

“We think this is a great time to have that conversation with the broker,” Graham said of brokers’ clients. “If you’re not self-employed, and you are just working in Place A instead of Place B, you probably don’t have an issue with coverage. You’re probably fine. But some clients we find have a small business, or are operating a small business, or are self-employed, and they don’t have business insurance. So, no matter where they are working, they really need to talk to their broker and make sure that they get coverage.”


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