Insuring a non-traditional home

Linda Melone

Living in a house with four walls and a picket fence does not appeal to everyone. For some people, residing in a manufactured home, an RV or another outside-the-box home feels more comfortable. Yet these non-traditional homes create a challenge for home insurers.

Roger Redden, a Farmers Insurance agent in California, says home insurers "expect a home to be made of wood, stucco and so on. Anything out of the ordinary may require the person to seek out a specialty insurer."

Here's a look at how insurers handle coverage for non-traditional homes.

Manufactured homes

Many traditional insurers won't insure manufactured or mobile homes.

A manufactured home is made in a factory under a federal building codes administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Mobile homes" are manufactured homes made before 1974, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute.

No matter what they're called, these homes are seen as less durable than brick-and-mortar houses.

"Insurance companies are concerned with issues like structural integrity, fire resistance, mold susceptibility and, of course, how the structure will perform in high winds," says David Miller, CEO of Brightway Insurance in Florida.

Mobile homes, for example, typically aren't anchored to a foundation, making them more likely to be tossed around during a tornado or another type of storm.


If you're retired or simply want to travel freely, living in a recreational vehicle RV) is an option. Some top-of-the-line RVs are homes on wheels, complete with bedrooms, his-and-hers sinks, showers with skylights, TV-equipped living rooms and pricey kitchen countertops. The price tag for a high-end RV can exceed $350,000.

For insurance purposes, mobile homes are treated like traditional houses and RVs are treated like vehicles, Miller says. "The same principles apply here as they do to other non-standard homes. 'Different,' 'unique' or 'modified ' are words that make the homes much more difficult to insure," he says.

Foremost or GMAC are among the insurers that specialize in RV coverage.

Pamela Kay, a spokeswoman for the Family Motor Coach Association, says: "RVers who live in their homes on wheels full time require enhanced liability coverage similar to that provided by homeowners insurance."

A traffic accident could leave an RVer homeless, so an emergency expense allowance should be included, but isn't always. Plus, RV insurance covers personal belongings; traditional auto insurance policies don't provide such coverage.

Much like a standard home, the cost of coverage depends on the state where the RV is registered, the amount of coverage and the value of the vehicle.

Pros and cons

When Elizabeth Hanes of New Mexico went shopping in 1989 for insurance for her single-wide mobile home -- which didn't have a foundation -- she learned that she'd fall into a high-risk insurance category. Single-wide mobile homes without foundations cost more to insure than double-wide mobile homes with foundations. "We were the hardest of the hard to insure," Hanes says.

Hanes wound up insuring her mobile home with Foremost, a specialty insurer owned by Farmers Insurance. The cost? About $400 a year. Included in the policy was up to $30,000 for replacement of the structure and about $15,000 in coverage for personal belongings.

Living in the mobile home for 10 years helped Hanes and her husband, Lee, save enough money for her to attend college. Also, they were able to afford a 20 percent down payment on a traditional house.

Hanes filed a claim once when she lived in the mobile home, when her two dogs jumped onto a visitor's car and scratched it. "Foremost covered all the damage to the car," she says.

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