Insurance requires you to think about bad occurrences … medical problems, car accidents, emergency home repairs. But although it may sound pessimistic to dwell on what could happen (carpe diem, anyone?), it’s important to protect yourself from some of life’s biggest surprises.
When it comes to protecting your home, it’s not just about safeguarding against structural damage or theft—it’s just as much about feeling secure in where you live. If disaster strikes, your focus should be on reclaiming your sense of stability. The last thing you should worry about is money.
We spoke to LearnVest Planning Services certified financial planner Ellen Derrick—and some real homeowners—about the top 11 things you should know about homeowner’s insurance.
1. What It Covers
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.
2. What It Doesn’t Cover
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.
3. Why You Should Shop Around
Before committing to a policy, take the time to research an agent whom you trust—preferably one with good reviews online or via a personal recommendation. It’s certainly something that Ramzy Ayyad, who struggled to receive benefits following a house fire in November 2008, recommends that prospective homeowners do. “I had to deal with a rude adjuster,” he says. After complaining assertively to the adjuster’s boss, Ayyad finally received a check for the damages—but the process was exhausting.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Why You Shouldn’t Wait to File a Claim
When buying a policy, make sure to ask about time limits to report a claim, and then abide by them! If you wait too long, you may not be eligible for benefits—especially if waiting has made the problem worse. David Baxter works for a residential and commercial restoration company in Florida, and he remembers a customer with water damage who waited almost a month to do anything about it. “When the mold set in, and he decided to call, his insurance didn’t cover him because it was outside of the 14-day window required for reporting the problem,” Baxter says.
7. 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.
8. 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.”
9. Why Good Maintenance Matters
Insurance companies would rather pay as little as possible to repair damage, so they prize early detection and prevention. Deacon Hayes and his wife paid for a routine checkup on their air conditioner because they live in Arizona and wanted to make sure that the system was ready for summer. “The specialist told us that the unit was on its last legs because of a hail storm,” Hayes recalls. Thanks to his diligence, Hayes’s
10. How to Save by Bundling
One way to save money is to bundle your homeowner’s insurance with other policies that you already own. “But don’t just buy a bunch of policies in order to ‘save’ money,” Derrick cautions. “For example, it makes a lot of sense to have your car and homeowner’s policies with the same company because you’ll usually get some kind of discount. However, if you don’t have a need for life insurance, don’t buy a policy just because the agent says you’ll save money on other policies.” After all, if you’re spending money on something that you don’t need, where are the savings?
11. When to File a Claim
A large section of Richard Clayman’s wooden backyard fence came down in a storm. “I didn’t think there was any way my homeowner’s policy would cover it—and my neighbors assured me that it wouldn’t,” he says. But he called his insurance company, just in case. “The agent asked how high (the fence was), what kind of wood it was and how much of it needed replacing. Next thing you know, I get a $700 check in the mail!”