A State Farm agent explained the actuarial reasoning this way: Data show that about 70% of customers never have a loss. Of the remainder, 18% file only one claim, leaving only 12% who ever file two or more. So underwriters wield a generally unyielding measuring stick: People who file claims do not fit the same low-risk profile as people who don't.

A carrier may show mercy to existing customers, depending on the type and severity of the claim and on how long they've been clients. But if you've previously filed a claim and let your homeowners insurance lapse before shopping for a new policy, you're probably out of luck in the mainstream market.

We are not family

Does your household consist of more than two unrelated people living under the same roof? If so, expect a "thanks, but no thanks" response from most regular carriers when you go shopping for homeowners insurance.

Insurance companies view such households as high-risk bohemian spaces and will therefore generally decline to cover you. Their thinking:

  • Residents will be inconsistent about locking doors.
  • Such living arrangements come perilously close to a boardinghouse, with a greater chance of vandalism, stoves getting left on and more foot traffic than a more traditional household.
  • Par-TAY Friday night, or any night, à la "Animal House."

Pride of ownership -- or lack thereof

It's one thing to be a slob around the house. A man's home is his castle, right?

But when slovenliness spills outside -- broken-down appliances on the lawn or unregistered clunkers in the driveway -- insuring your castle could prove impossible. Insurers like to see evidence that you're maintaining your property.

From an insurance agent's point of view, signs of trouble that don't reflect well on you, raise liability issues, and will likely rule out your chances for standard coverage include:

  • A moss-covered roof.
  • A lack of gutters or downspouts.
  • Peeling paint.
  • Buckled sidewalks or driveways caused by tree roots.
  • A seriously overgrown yard.
  • Nonworking, unregistered vehicles parked in the driveway or in front of the home.

You can deal with some of the "disrepair" issues listed above yourself. Or you can hire a handyman or contractor to do it. In some cases, including electrical work, it may be necessary to obtain permits.

In addition to making your home insurable through regular channels, the fixes will make it more valuable when you sell.

If all else fails

If repairs aren't on your horizon, your record is riddled with past claims or you don't want to get rid of your dog or your roommates, you can try the so-called higher-risk, "residual" market.

Industry-subsidized programs known as FAIR plans were set up by many states in the late 1960s after riots made it difficult for some people to obtain homeowners insurance. More information is available through the Property Insurance Plans Service Office, or PIPSO, a not-for-profit corporation based in Massachusetts.

PIPSO President Ron Cassesso said it's not possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison between standard and FAIR plan premiums because of the relatively limited coverage under many FAIR plans and because financial data are compiled differently. But he acknowledged that residual market policies generally cost more and provide less coverage.

For people who can afford them or who have no choice but to pay sky-high premiums, another option for homeowners insurance is to deal with companies that offer so-called excess, or surplus, lines. However, that means doing business with unregulated carriers that can basically charge as much as they want.