SEATTLE - What do you do when the insurance company you've used for years drops part of the coverage you want? We reported several months ago that Allstate was getting out of the earthquake insurance business nationwide. But customers are just getting notified as their policies come up for renewal and some are in a bit of a panic. Jay Biederman of Renton, for example, recently sent me an e-mail asking: "How do I find out if there are any other insurance companies that offer earthquake insurance?" Contrary to what some of you are hearing, you can still buy earthquake insurance in the state of Washington. Allstate specifically, is referring customers to a specialty company called Geo Vera that deals only in quake coverage. But I did some checking and virtually all the other companies in this state plan to continue offering the earthquake protection. The question is - how much do you care? Despite the high quake risk in the Pacific Northwest, most homeowners here -- about 85-88 percent -- still don't buy earthquake protection. They say it's a money issue. For example, for a $300,000 policy, the premium for standard insurance coverage is about $677 per year. But add in quake coverage, and that balloons to $1,144 a year. Then there's the deductible that typically runs 15% of the coverage. That means you have to pay $45,000 before insurance kicks in. Some say it's not worth it. Others argue the cost is nothing compared to the alternatives if you caught in a quake. You have to balance your location, your finances and how comfortable you are with risk. Renters can also add earthquake insurance to their renters policy for about $80 to $125 more a month, depending on the basic rental policy. Regardless of your choice, you can drastically reduce damage to your home by making it more earthquake resistant, such as reinforcing your foundation and securing heavy objects inside your home -- something else most people don't do. Hundreds of thousands of homes right now would be knocked off their foundation in a serious quake. Disaster experts estimate 125,000 homes in Seattle alone are in serious need of retrofitting because of when they were built. In King County, the number soars to some 250,000. So I want to make sure you know about Project Impact. It is a public-private partnership that offers free home retrofit classes. You get help finding qualified contractors, and assistance getting tools if you want to do it yourself. Call and they'll help you find a clinic in your area. These clinics, by the way, are always packed right after we have an earthquake!
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