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Bigger may not be better

Amica Mutual may not be a household name, but it earns top spots in several national surveys and online reviews for its home insurance policies. Instead of spending big bucks on advertising, policyholders say Amica Mutual concentrates on providing superior service, especially during the often-frustrating claims process. Customers say the company's claims payments are speedy and, perhaps more importantly, fairly estimated.

Amica Mutual also offers a wide range of policies and discounts, though experts say certain groups of customers, including owners of older homes or mobile homes, may be left in the cold. The company also takes a bit of heat for being picky about who it will insure, and customers don't have the option of working with local agents. One great feature they offer is connecting homeowners with contractors that have a proven track record, taking a lot of the stress out of the rebuilding or repair process.

Auto-Owners Insurance, another lesser-known company, also earns top reviews. Despite its name, Auto-Owners does indeed offer homeowners policies, and customers are complimentary of a smooth claims process that includes fair, low-hassle estimates and settlements. Most policyholders also like the company's more personal customer service model, which relies on an extensive network of local agents. Customers are expected to file their claims with the agents during business hours, but after-hours phone service is available 24/7. On the downside, Auto-Owners' coverage options are more limited than some of its competitors' offerings; the company offers coverage in only 26 states.

If you'd prefer to go with a well-known company, State Farm may be your best bet. The best-reviewed of the large, national insurers, State Farm has the deep pockets to offer a dizzying array of policies and add-ons, and it earns average to above-average reviews for claims. Customers also have the flexibility of doing business directly with the company or with a local agent, though some policyholders note that a bad agent can quickly sour the State Farm experience. Others are less than impressed with premiums, saying competitors may offer better rates for similar coverage options. One nice feature they offer: an online tool that experts say gives a very accurate snapshot of what your premiums will cost you.

USAA homeowners insurance is best for military families

Military members and their families have a superior option in USAA, the United Services Automobile Association. Founded by Army officers to insure each other's cars, the company has grown to offer every major type of insurance, including homeowners' policies. Policyholders say USAA offers solid service during the claims process, including fair estimates, timely payments and hassle-free repairs.

The company also offers flexible plans and payment options, but some reviewers say discounts are a bit limited. USAA does not use local agents, which may be a con for certain customers who like a more personal approach. Finally, experts note that unlike most of its competitors, USAA's claims center is not open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Another military-only option is Armed Forces Insurance, or AFI, a reciprocal-exchange insurer open to military families. Essentially, all policyholders also own a part of the company. All customers receive free identity-theft resolution and identification recovery services, but it's hard to track down many reviews of AFI, which is smaller than its competitors.

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