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Insurance Company Surveillance: Nearly Every Building in the Country Is Being Photographed, Often Without the Owner’s Knowledge

Published: April 8, 2024 | Print Friendly and PDF
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Source: msn.com

Cindy Picos was dropped by her home insurer last month. The reason: aerial photos of her roof, which her insurer refused to let her see.

“I thought they had the wrong house,” said Picos, who lives in northern California. “Our roof is in fine shape.”

Her insurer said its images showed her roof had “lived its life expectancy.” Picos paid for an independent inspection that found the roof had another 10 years of life. Her insurer declined to reconsider its decision.

Across the U.S., insurance companies are using aerial images of homes as a tool to ditch properties seen as higher risk.

Nearly every building in the country is being photographed, often without the owner’s knowledge. Companies are deploying drones, manned airplanes and high-altitude balloons to take images of properties. No place is shielded: The industry-funded Geospatial Insurance Consortium has an airplane imagery program it says covers 99% of the U.S. population.

The array of photos is being sorted by computer models to spy out underwriting no-nos, such as damaged roof shingles, yard debris, overhanging tree branches and undeclared swimming pools or trampolines. The red-flagged images are providing insurers with ammunition for nonrenewal notices nationwide.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase across the country in reports from consumers who’ve been dropped by their insurers on the basis of an aerial image,” said Amy Bach, executive director of consumer group United Policyholders.

The increasingly sophisticated use of flyby photos comes as home insurers nationwide scramble to “derisk” their property portfolios, dropping less-than-perfect homes in an effort to recover from big underwriting losses.

Insurers say that customers agree to home inspections when they buy a policy and that photographing properties from the sky is less intrusive than the home visits used in the past. They say deploying fleets of surveillance planes lets them respond more quickly to disasters and charge rates that better reflect a property’s risk.

“If your roof is 20 years old and one hailstorm is going to take it off, you should pay more than somebody with a brand new roof,” Allstate CEO Tom Wilson said in an interview. He also said that the insurance giant is far along in using digital images to improve underwriting and that “there’s even more to come.”

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