Insurance industry experts suggest you follow a few procedures when buying and using homeowners insurance.
* Don't file small claims. Every claim - even if it's so small that it falls within your deductible, and the insurance company pays nothing - counts against your record and can trigger an increase in your premiums. Many insurance companies automatically cancel the policy of any homeowner who files three claims. Many refuse to insure an individual who has filed a claim within the previous three years.
* Increase your deductible. While deductibles of $250 may have been standard a decade ago, they hardly make economic sense in the current insurance market, said Karen Barrow, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Insurance Administration. Decide how much you could realistically pay for repairs in the wake of a storm, fire or other disaster, and adopt that figure as your deductible. By raising your deductible to $500 or more, you can reduce your annual premium, Barrow said.
* Shop around. The Maryland Insurance Administration publishes an annual comparison of rates by different companies. Shop for multipolicy discounts. State Farm, for example, offers an 18 percent discount on auto insurance to customers who also purchase homeowners and umbrella (liability) insurance from State Farm.
* Consider alternatives to annual premium coverage. In the 1990s, Perry Hall homeowner Dennis Eckard paid Baltimore Equitable Insurance Co. $5,000 for "lifetime" coverage of his home and possessions. While the upfront cost is steep, homeowners get the entire payment back when they cancel the policy or sell their house.
* Maintain your home. Well-maintained houses withstand storms and other extreme conditions better and ultimately reduce the likelihood that you'll need to make a claim.
Michael McCartin, legislative chairman of the Independent Insurance Agents of Maryland and co-owner of Joseph V. McCartin Insurance in College Park, stresses that homeowners shouldn't assume a fairly new home doesn't need maintenance.
"Builders tell you it's a 20-year roof when the reality is it might last 10 years if you're lucky. But homeowners of a 10-year-old home don't think they need to replace the roof," McCartin said.
A consumer's guide to homeowners insurance and a comparison of homeowners insurance rates in Maryland is available on the Maryland Insurance Administration Web site -�www.mdinsurance.state.md.us.