Lost in translation—Deciphering builders’ insurance

Builders need a good interpreter to understand the complicated language of insurance
Builders have a lot of the same questions when it comes to insuring their work.

Many years ago, when I was a new agent, I would often cry myself to sleep. Learning insurance is like learning a foreign language. If you don’t understand the language, you and your clients could be in a world of hurt.

[Related: Warranty woes for frustrated builders]

This is my chosen profession; I love insurance (I know, I am a crazy person, but I do). Persevering through the learning curve is what we all do when we love something. However, I’m completely empathetic to how most people feel about insurance. For most people, insurance is never going to be something they love. At best, it is something they tolerate. It’s an expensive bill every year for a product that they most likely will never use and never really understand.

After a decade in the business, I noticed that I was getting asked the same questions. It occurred to me that most people have the same concerns. I started writing answers to questions that I knew my clients would inevitably have.

My disclaimer is that no insurance policy is one-size-fits-all. Everybody’s business, tolerance to risk and comfort level may be different. Another insurance agent may answer these questions in a different way, but after 10 years insuring the building community, I feel I am a pretty good interpreter when it comes to the language of insurance.

Question: I am a builder and I don’t have any employees. Why would I carry workers’ compensation?

Answer: There are a lot of reasons why builders who do not have employees should carry workers’ compensation.

  1. Although you may have health insurance, some insurance carriers exclude injuries on the jobsite. Check your personal policy to make sure you have coverage.
  2. Nowadays, everyone is an “independent contractor.” Let’s be honest—somebody must be the laborer. If that person gets injured, or worse, it always rolls up the hierarchy of the job. If you are flying “insurance commando,” you could be paying a lot of money if you get sued.
  3. Just because someone gets paid as an independent contractor does not necessarily make them one in the eyes of the law. Visit colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/independent-contractors to learn who the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment considers an independent contractor.

Question: I am very confused about WRAP/OCIP policies. For example, when and where should I use them? Why can’t my general liability cover me for smaller projects when we are building under 10 townhomes? Why are these policies so expensive?

Answer: These are all good questions. Let’s break it down. A WRAP policy, also known as an owner-controlled insurance policy, is designed to cover the whole project and everyone working on the project. It usually excludes the professional services for E&O, but many WRAPs will now cover the professional services for bodily injury and property damage to a third-party for an additional premium.

Many general liability policies may cover a builder for a smaller attached project, like rowhomes, but the issue becomes the subcontractors’ insurance. Often, those policies have multifamily exclusions or limits on how many projects or attached homes they can work on within a year.

Most builders don’t know what to look for or have the time to comb through each subcontractor’s policy looking for these exclusions or endorsements.

The other concern is that some smaller subcontractors are notorious for cancelling their policies after a job is finished. This could mean no coverage at the time of an occurrence. Many builders and developers like WRAP policies because it is a one-time payment for a policy that will cover everyone through the statute of repose, hence the big price tag.

The other reason the cost of these policies starts to add up is that carriers frequently require additional risk management products. For example, they often want the builder to use a third-party risk management company to oversee the project. They could require a 10-2 structural warranty, peer reviews and much more. These additional requirements will add to the cost.

Question: One of my projects was recently vandalized. When I put in a claim to my general liability provider, I was surprised to learn that I had no coverage. I was told I needed a builder’s risk policy. What is a builder’s risk policy, and why doesn’t my general liability cover me?

Answer: So many builders think that property damage to “your” property is covered under their general liability. General liability protects against third-party claims for bodily injury, property damage or advertising injury (slander). Builder’s risk policies, commonly known as “course of construction” insurance, are for the property during the building period. Builder’s risk covers the structure, as well as materials on site, in transit and off site. There are often soft costs included as well. Builder’s risk policies are not created equal so make sure you go over the coverage forms with your agent.

Stephanie Beninati

Stephanie Beninati is the owner of Strategic Insurance Services. She has been working with the building community since 2008. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver and the Home Builder Foundation. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Construction Resource Group, where she is a founding member since 2008.

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