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Reducing the Risk Factor – Home Warranties Play Critical Role in Today’s Unsettled Market

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By Maria Patterson

RISMEDIA, June 18, 2010—E & O insurance is certainly nothing new for Madison, Wisconsin-based HSA Home Warranty. In fact, with its own in-house insurance division since 1986, HSA Insurance Services, risk management and liability insurance is built right into HSA’s corporate structure.

“Back in the day, when we first started offering E & O insurance 25 years ago, it was something of an unknown entity,” says HSA Chief Corporate Development Officer, Gary Lombardo. “We sold home warranties on the basis of it being part of a risk management program. If the warranty didn’t do an adequate job of deflecting lawsuits, you had the safety net of E & O insurance.”

While risk and E & O insurance may have been downplayed during the market boom of the early 2000s, in today’s tumultuous market, risk is at the center of the conversation.

“Today, there’s more risk than there has been in the past 10 years,” according to Lombardo. “In the era of short sales and REOs, there are a lot more activities that create more liability than there’s been in the past. Since HSA has an insurance agency, we have the ability to consult our clients through these more turbulent times when agents and agencies need to protect themselves that much more. We are better poised to address these issues than most of our competitors because we are only one of two companies that has its own insurance agency. At HSA, this has always been a part of our corporate structure.”

At the helm of HSA’s in-house insurance operation is James Candler, president of HSA Insurance Services. With 21 years’ experience in professional liability insurance and real estate liability insurance, Candler is quite familiar with the impact of today’s market and its implications for insurance. In the current real estate climate, says Candler, insurance carriers have become more stringent.

“Carriers perceive more risk in the market building up because of the financial crisis, largely, and are becoming more conservative,” he explains. “Not only do we write insurance for real estate agents, but also for property managers, appraisers and mortgage brokers. Things have been especially tough [for those professionals]. On the real estate side, if it’s a company that’s got some blemishes, carriers are often not willing to give the best pricing…if [they are willing to insure those companies] at all.”

That said, the need for real estate professionals to have effective liability coverage is essential in the current, litigious real estate environment. According to Lombardo, in today’s market, brokers and agents need to review their insurance coverage in great detail to ensure they are prepared.

“It became clear to us how many clients were unaware of the risks their policies didn’t cover,” he explains. “Our industry is under siege right now. We are trying to refocus agents on the big-picture role that warranty and E & O insurance plays in their lives and their careers and how this should be more important to them than the small fee they get for selling the warranty. In recent years, in many of the agent’s minds, the value of the home warranty was measured by the per-transactional remuneration. Chances are, though, they would spend more money on a lawsuit than they receive as an administrative fee. It’s the only over-riding risk management tool they have to shield them from post-litigation liability.”

According to Candler and Lombardo, the risk climate of today’s market is presenting unique insurance issues in terms of short sales and bank-owned properties.

“Many banks are requiring our clients to affiliate with the bank in order to sell these types of properties,” explains Candler. “Banks are requiring real estate firms to carry higher limits and they are trying to get these firms to name the bank as an additional insured on their policy. But agents need to know that when they name an additional insured on their policy, they are then sharing that policy value with the bank. While banks are looking to protect their interests, they really

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