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Alan Umaly, president of Westwood Insurance Agency, a full-service agency specializing in personal lines insurance for the home building industry said 2024 has been an “anomaly,” unique from the previous three decades of his personal experience in the niche market of home builder insurance. The topic has been in the news as several major insurance companies have stopped writing new policies in states including Florida and California due to increasing weather events.

In May, Westwood Insurance Agency, a full-service agency specializing in personal lines insurance for the home building industry, entered a new strategic collaboration with Landsea Homes, the 42nd largest company on the 2024 Builder 100 list. Established in 1952, Westwood works with more than half of the top 40 home builders in the country and is licensed in all 50 states.

Umaly spoke to Builder, discussing why it has been a unique year for home builder insurance, the significance of partnerships like Westwood’s with Landsea, and the greater attention home builders are paying to insurance.

Why do you describe 2024 as an “anomaly” year?

I think 2024 is the first time in my 32-year insurance career with Westwood that I have seen a lot of attention on insurance. I was at Builder 100 and it’s the first time insurance was a topic. I was so happy to speak with a lot of the attendees about insurance because builders never pay attention to insurance. They know it’s there, they know they need it, they know their customers need it, [but] from a financial perspective, it doesn’t give them a lot of financial lift. They know they need it to close a mortgage loan, in order to sell a home. The focus on insurance, especially this year, is unprecedented. I love it, because at least they are paying attention to it and they are being mindful. A lot of builders have approached me and asked how [can] I build a better home, something more resilient to a hurricane, more resilient to brush fires. There are good pieces coming out of the woodwork on this.

With more interest from builders, is there more opportunity to spread awareness about the value of partnerships with companies like Westwood?

I think this is exactly what Landsea came to the conclusion of. They realized insurance is needed and they wanted to be part of that, to be part of the process. It’s very customer-friendly for them. There’s a marketing perspective, [customers] buy a Landsea home and they’ll get a mortgage from their mortgage affiliate and insurance coming from their own insurance agency. Westwood is here to provide infrastructure [and] to provide support just like any insurance network there is.

With a new partnership like the recently announced collaboration with Landsea, what is the process of onboarding with a builder’s current systems and technologies?

I am very proud to say that before embedded insurance became a buzzword, we were that closely connected to the home builder. We’ve developed our process in such a way so that when a prospective home buyer selects a model from the builder and they make an offer to purchase, they start the application process, loan documents, we are there from day one. That’s what we’re providing Landsea. We are already working with our insurance partners to underwrite the home, we know the specs, we know the details of the home, we have provided that to the insurance carrier. They have looked at it, and said this is a good risk and they want to be there. And we are able to provide a quote instantly. I say instantly because all of the pre-work has been done for Landsea at the onset. When the home is being built, Landsea is waiting for the loan documents to be ordered and we are preparing for the closing. Once closing is identified, the policy is prepared or issued so that the mortgage loan can close. That’s how seamless our process has been. When we get updates, customers will say ‘let me add a bonus room or a deck,’ by being closely connected with the home builder, the mortgage affiliate lender, all of us are working together to make sure that the quote is updated. The premiums are locked in and do not change. We’re very cognizant of the mortgage rate environment. We want to make sure that policy will be there at closing. That’s our commitment to our partners. We will not interrupt a closing process.

When engaging with home builders, how do you communicate the value of partnership with Westwood?

With the restrictions that are in place right now, the shrinking capacity that everyone is experiencing in certain regions and markets of the country [builders] are realizing that they need to look at insurance. If a home is already built and a certificate of occupancy has already been issued, but you can’t close the mortgage loan because there is no insurance, it’s not going to do anybody any good. There is value here in realizing and being mindful that insurance is the last step of the process. We should collaborate, the builders, the mortgage affiliates, the escrows, the insurance agent, we should work together to ensure that this deal will close [and ensure that] we are also providing not just adequate coverage but the right fit for the needs of that homeowner. It’s the biggest investment anyone will make in their life. More and more, the growth that we have seen on the builder side in the last year is fueled by the fact that a lot of people have gravitated to new construction because there is a shortage of resale homes out there.

Do you anticipate the home building industry’s focus on insurance that has emerged recently will continue into the near-term future?

I believe so. I think this recent focus on insurance will continue because the market is not getting any softer yet. It will take a while for insurance companies to actually recalibrate their financial positions, making sure the product has the right rates to sustain themselves for a longer period of time. Macroeconomics plays a huge role in this because of reconstruction costs, supply issues, which I’m sure the builder feels as they are building the house. But the insurance carriers who react and respond to claims and losses after the home has closed are dealing with the same issues. It’s a cycle, it’s just a different time for everybody.