Most homeowners stick with the same insurance company for years without checking for lower rates elsewhere. That’s usually a costly mistake: Checkbook looked at prices collected by the California Department of Insurance for several sample policyholders throughout the Bay Area and found each could save more than $1,000 per year by choosing a low-priced company over a high-priced one. That’s easy money.

You don’t have to choose an unsound company or a bare bones policy to save big. For essentially the same coverage, a family living in Richmond in a home with a replacement cost of $750,000 would pay only $1,005 per year with American Modern, $1,033 with Pacific Specialty, $1,034 with Kemper, or $1,176 with Travelers, compared to $3,521 with Encompass, $3,678 with Foremost, or $4,573 with Farmers. We’ve done these types of comparisons for property insurance for 30-plus years, always turning up big price differences among the largest insurers. And often, highly rated companies offer low premiums.

Each year, the Department of Insurance collects sample homeowners insurance premiums from companies operating in the state and reports them on its website. Click here to access its report.

Don’t wait until the end of your policy term to shop for a better rate. If you change insurers, your old company must reimburse you for the unused portion of any payments you’ve made.

While the state reports premiums for properties with specific characteristics and values, we believe the rates are a good indication of which companies charge lower prices for other similar properties.

Similarly, the reported rates remain useful even if the coverage you seek differs from the sample profiles. For example, if you want higher limits for personal property or liability coverage than in the sample rates, you’ll have to pay higher premiums than shown, but most companies add about the same percentage to your premium when increasing coverages.

When looking at company rankings, keep in mind that the rates were collected for policies that would be new business for the insurers. If you’ve been with your current insurer for several years and haven’t filed a claim, you may be getting a steep discount; you won’t know whether starting over with a new company makes sense until you comparison shop. Also, because so many factors are considered by insurers, you’ll have to gather rates from several companies to know which ones will offer you the lowest prices.

Unfortunately, Checkbook's shoppers often find some companies make it difficult to comparison shop. We had to push for weeks to get several to process our requests; a few refused to quote prices at all.

Another complication? Some companies offer dual-policyholder discounts if you have them insure both your home and car. Some knock off five percent, 10 percent, or even more from either the homeowners or auto rate; some knock off a percentage from both.

For consumers, dual-policy pricing makes comparison shopping more difficult. To find the exact savings you’d realize by switching companies, you have to shop for both types of coverage at once. But the discounts aren’t usually large enough to have a major effect on the relative rankings of companies. Click here for our evaluations of companies for auto insurance.

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