Here’s looking at you vid. Insurance firms adopt aerial tech to check up on properties.

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As providers roll out more stringent policies amid high construction costs, some are turning to this controversial tool — and denying policy renewals.

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Travelers Insurance issued the notice in early November. It was clear what Athena Haddon had to do.

The original slate roof on Haddon’s Worcester three-decker had to be replaced — or else she would lose her homeowners insurance coverage when the policy expired on Dec. 26.

The non-renewal notice left her stunned. A roof replacement cost $30,000, she said.

“My agent said to me that the insurance companies recognize a slate roof to be good from 50 years to 200 years, and so mine was about, what, 130 years old?” she told recently. Haddon said she had had no issues and no leaks.

“You know, I wasn’t asking for my 70 years, but I would have appreciated a year or something.”

But Haddon was also surprised by how Travelers arrived at the decision.

As WCVB — which first reported Haddon’s story Feb. 26 — began investigating what happened, Haddon learned the insurance company relied on an aerial image of her home to help reach its conclusion on the roof’s condition.

The initial notice, reviewed by, says only that the roof “shows advanced signs of wear and needs to be replaced.”

When she asked Travelers for a report, she was sent the photograph, Haddon said.

“We went on the image and the age of your roof,” Haddon said she was told. 

To her knowledge, no one visited her property to take stock of her roof in person, she added.

Industry experts say the use of aerial imagery — birds-eye photographs collected by passing airplanes and whizzing drones — is not necessarily a new trend for the insurance business.

But customers may be a bit more aware of the ways that technology is being used these days.

With the apparent effects of climate change on properties and the toll of inflation on building materials, companies have increasingly taken a more stringent review of customers’ potential risks, which, in turn, can prompt a fresh wave of non-renewals, according to Christopher Stark, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation.

And as drones have made their way into the insurance business over the past several years, there has been a boost in the use of aerial technology for underwriting, or the process of evaluating risk, Stark said.

“I would say that just by virtue of the technology as it’s more and more perfected, you will see it used more frequently, both in underwriting decisions as well as in claims processing,” Stark said. 

But just how broadly some of this technology is embraced — and by whom — can be difficult to trace, especially as some companies consider these often vendor-contracted tools to be proprietary information.

“I think it is right now at least more of a national carrier trend, as opposed to your small mutual or local insurance companies,” said Patrick Dempsey, chair of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents.

Out of the eight standard market carriers Norwood-based Dempsey Insurance Agency represents, Dempsey — also the agency’s vice president — said he is aware of only one that is using aerial imagery to assess roof conditions.

​“The national carriers will have a budget of X-million dollars to run these, whereas a small mutual carrier simply won’t have the funds to throw at a major project,” he said. 

“But eventually as the technology is honed and worked on, you will see the smaller carriers even adapt.”

Asked about how Travelers reviews properties and how often it relies on aerial imagery as part of that work, the company told in a statement that its underwriters “use a variety of resources to evaluate property conditions.”

“When available, high-resolution aerial imagery may be incorporated as part of a holistic view,” the company said.

In some instances, such as hurricane-prone areas, Travelers also uses artificial intelligence “to improve the speed and accuracy with which we can quote customers’ coverage needs specific to their roof type,” according to the company’s website.

Varying roof shapes can be damaged in different ways from high winds and, “thus, impacts their insurance policy and the risk calculations involved in pricing,” Travelers said.

“Using the Roof Shape Classification AI Model, Travelers’ technology teams rely on algorithms and aerial imagery to identify a roof’s shape — typically a time-consuming process for customers — with close to 90% accuracy,” the website states.

“This advancement provides additional clarity and automatically completes portions of the customer application during the quote-and-issue process, removing a considerable barrier to entry for the customer.”

Several insurance providers did not respond to requests for comment.

Notably, Stark said policy decisions, especially those as serious as a non-renewal, are not typically made without at least review by an underwriter — or, in other words, a human. 

Stark recommended that policyholders who find themselves in a similar situation to Haddon’s contact their agent, or the company, directly.

“I think one of the most important aspects of this is that there is the ability for human review of these,” Stark said.

That is especially important if homeowners have proof of repairs made to their property or if an aerial image of a neighboring home was sent in error, he said.

“It’s a big decision if a carrier non-renews a homeowners policy,” Dempsey said. “It’s a scarlet letter … and it makes that individual potentially struggle to get a replacement policy.”

One of Dempsey’s customers received a non-renewal decision from an insurance provider after aerial imagery of their roof was reviewed. He said his agency reached out to the company and that agents then reviewed the property in person.

The company ultimately stuck by its initial decision, but Dempsey’s customer was able to secure coverage from a different provider after the photos an agent took at the home showed the roof was in good enough condition to insure, he said.

Aerial imagery is “definitely an emerging technology, and it’s a potentially useful tool for insurance companies to use,” Dempsey said. “But in my personal opinion, I don’t know if the technology or the quality of the imagery is there yet.”

In Worcester, Haddon was able to replace her roof on the short timeline, swapping out her slate for asphalt shingles, she said.

Her policy was renewed — albeit with a $600 increase to her premium, she said.

“People should be prepared for this. They should have a Plan B,” Haddon said. “I thank God I had good credit. But at 62, I didn’t want to take out a $30,000 [loan].”

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