Insurance requires you to think about many unpleasantries. Things like medical problems, car accidents, emergency home repairs. It may sound cynical to dwell on what could happen but it’s important to protect yourself from some of life’s biggest surprises.
Your home in many cases is your most prized material possession. When it comes to protecting it, it’s not just about safeguarding against structural damage or theft, it’s also about having peace of mind in where you live. If a catastrophe strikes, your focus should be on reclaiming your stability and well being. The last thing you should have to worry about is finances.
Here are 7 things to consider when obtaining homeowners insurance:
1. What is Covered
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A typical policy will pay for damage to your property and your possessions in the event of certain storms, fire, theft or vandalism. Like renter’s insurance, it also provides liability coverage if someone gets hurt on your property and decides to sue. Homeowner’s insurance also covers shelter costs, so you don’t have to face crazy hotel bills if you’re temporarily displaced from your house.
Homeowner’s insurance can protect belongings outside the home, too. If something is stolen from your car, auto insurance won’t cover it—but your homeowners policy likely will. “Most policies will cover your belongings when they are traveling with you,” Derrick says. “If you have a $1,200 laptop and it gets lost by the airline, call your insurance agent—right after you file the claim with the airline, of course.”
2. What is not Covered
A standard policy has exclusions, including earth movements (landslides, earthquakes, sinkholes), power failure, war, nuclear hazard, government action, faulty zoning, bad repair or workmanship, defective maintenance and flooding. Windstorms are typically covered, including tornadoes, although insurance companies exclude tornadoes or hurricanes in some high-risk areas.
Water damage is tricky. As a rule of thumb, water from above (rainwater or a burst pipe in an upstairs apartment) is usually covered, but water from below (backed-up sewers or ground flooding) generally isn’t. If your region is prone to floods and earthquakes, you should consider supplemental coverage.
3 Which Preventive Actions Can Reduce Premiums
It may sound like common sense to have a working smoke detector, but did you know that it might also help you land a lower insurance quote? The same goes for a burglar alarm. According to insuranceagents.com, you can reduce your premium by about 5% if you install something as a simple as a deadbolt, and up 15-20% for a burglar alarm system.
Insurance companies price your premium based on how much risk they foresee, so you can reduce the premium by reducing your liability risk, thanks to some smart preventive measures. For example, if you have a pool, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of a claim—and thus, possibly lower your premium—by installing a fence and a pool cover to minimize the risk of a neighborhood kid wandering onto your property and falling in.
4 How Replacement Coverage Differs From Market Value
There are two key distinctions that every homeowner should know: “replacement cost” versus “market value.” Replacement cost covers repairing or replacing your entire home. Market value is how much someone would pay to buy your home and accompanying land in its current downtrodden condition.
When you’re considering the type of coverage to take out, a policy that’s based on market value is typically less expensive but, as State Farm puts it, “for a cash-strapped homeowner, buying a policy based on market value offers the best chance to recoup at least partial expenses after a loss.” In other words, you won’t recoup as much in the event of a serious disaster.
For those who have a good emergency fund in place, Derrick says that there is a way to possibly get more substantial coverage and still pay lower premiums: “You might consider getting a policy that covers more in terms of replacing or rebuilding your property, but with a higher deductible.”
5. Why You Should Write Everything Down
Senen Garcia, a lawyer in Coconut Grove, Fla., represents homeowners against insurance companies that fail to pay out on valid claims. He’s seen many denied claims because people don’t keep good enough records. “Homeowners must document everything that occurs during a loss, do as much as possible to mitigate [the loss]—and document such mitigation,” Garcia says.
In addition to saving receipts, contracts and appraisals, document phone calls by writing down who you spoke to and when. And be sure to stow it in a secure place! Don’t want to invest in a safe? Consider keeping digital copies online using a program like Dropbox.
6. How Jewelry Is Covered
When David Cohen lost his wife’s rings, he was relieved that his homeowner’s policy covered jewelry—but it was only up to a maximum of $3,000. “My wife gave me her rings to hold,” he says. “So I promptly put them in my jacket pocket … and then forgot about the rings when I took the jacket to the cleaners. As you can imagine, they were gone.”
Within three weeks, the Cohens received a check from their insurance company, but they were still out a good deal of money because his wife’s engagement ring was worth $6,000 alone. The lesson? When signing up for homeowner’s insurance, note the limits on jewelry. “Most people don’t realize that things like wedding rings aren’t usually covered by the basic limits in their policies,” Derrick says. “You can get an appraisal at your jeweler, and then consider buying a supplemental policy to cover it.”
7. When to File a Claim
The obvious mishaps aside (fire, major flood, etc.), it can be beneficial to file a claim when in doubt, but Derrick cautions restraint. “Don’t file a bunch of frivolous claims,” she says. “The claims history for your property is also what determines your rates, so it’s better not to cry wolf, unless you have a real claim.” The repercussion if you file needlessly? A possible uptick in your premium.