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Home Insurance Tips

Why You Need Homeowner’s Insurance

The largest single investment most consumers make is in their home. The consumer can protect their home, possessions, and liability with a homeowners’ insurance policy. The Homeowner’s insurance policy is a package policy that combines more than one type of insurance coverage in a single policy. There are four types of coverage’s that are contained in the homeowner’s policy: dwelling and personal property, personal liability, medical payments, and additional living expenses.

Property Damage Coverage

Property damage coverage helps pay for damage to your home and personal property. Other structures such as a detached garage, a tool shed, or any other building on your property are usually covered for 10% of the amount of coverage on your house.

Personal property coverage will pay for personal property including household furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings. The amount of insurance coverage is usually 50% of the policy limit on your dwelling. The coverage is also limited by the types of loss listed in the policy. The coverage only pays the current cash value of the item destroyed, unless you purchase replacement cost coverage. Your homeowner’s policy also provides off-premises coverage. This means that the policy covers your belongings against theft even when they are not inside your home.

Personal Liability Coverage

Homeowner’s policies provide personal liability coverage that applies to non-auto accidents on and off your property if the injury or damage is cased by you, a member of your family, or your pet. The liability coverage in your policy pays both for the cost of defending you and paying for any damages the court rules you must pay. Liability insurance does not have a deductable that you must meet before your insurer begins to pay losses. The basic liability coverage is usually $100,000 for each occurrence. You can request higher limits that are available for an additional cost.

Medical Payments Coverage

Medical payment coverage pays if someone outside your family is injured at your home regardless of fault. This includes payment for reasonable medical expenses incurred within one year from the date of loss for a person who is injured in an accident in your home. The coverage does not apply to you and members of your household. The medical payments portion of your homeowner’s policy will also pay if you are involved in the injury of another person away from your home in some limited circumstances. Medical payments coverage limits are generally $1,000 for each person.

Additional Living Expenses

If it is necessary for you to move into a motel or apartment temporarily because of damage caused by a peril covered in your policy, your insurance company will pay an amount up to 20% of the policy limit on your dwelling for these expenses. If you move in temporarily with a friend or relative and do not have any extra expenses, you will not be paid any additional living expenses by your insurance company.

Home Business

If you operate a home business full or part time you might be uninsured and not realize it. Many home business owners believe that their homeowner’s insurance policy covers all of their home business needs. You should not assume that your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover your home business. Your homeowner’s policy may provide coverage but probably only a maximum of $2,500 for business equipment in the home and $250 away from the premises.

The price you pay for your homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some things to consider when buying homeowners insurance.

1. Shop around

It will take some time, but could save you a good sum of money. Ask your friends, check the Yellow Pages or contact your state insurance department. National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org) has information to help you choose an insurer in your state, including complaints. States often make information available on typical rates charged by major insurers and many states provide the frequency of consumer complaints by company. Also check consumer guides, insurance agents, companies and online insurance quote services. This will give you an idea of price ranges and tell you which companies have the lowest prices. But don’t consider price alone. The insurer you select should offer a fair price and deliver the quality service you would expect if you needed assistance in filing a claim. So in assessing service quality, use the complaint information cited above and talk to a number of insurers to get a feeling for the type of service they give. Ask them what they would do to lower your costs. Check the financial stability of the companies you are considering with rating companies such as A.M. Best (www.ambest.com) and Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com) and consult consumer magazines. When you’ve narrowed the field to three insurers, get price quotes.

2. Raise your deductible

Deductibles are the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim, according to the terms of your policy. The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums. Nowadays, most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent. Remember, if you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for certain kinds of damage. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible; if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail; and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.

3. Don’t confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs

The land under your house isn’t at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don’t include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy. If you do, you will pay a higher premium than you should.

4. Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer

Some companies that sell homeowners, auto and liability coverage will take 5 to 15 percent off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying the different coverage’s from different companies.

5. Make your home more disaster resistant

Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what steps you can take to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes. In addition, consider modernizing your heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage.

6. Improve your home security

You can usually get discounts of at least 5 percent for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies offer to cut your premium by as much as 15 or 20 percent if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. These systems aren’t cheap and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy such a system, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost and how much you’d save on premiums.

7. Seek out other discounts

Companies offer several types of discounts, but they don’t all offer the same discount or the same amount of discount in all states. For example, since retired people stay at home more than working people they are less likely to be burglarized and may spot fires sooner, too. Retired people also have more time for maintaining their homes. If you’re at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. Some employers and professional associations administer group insurance programs that may offer a better deal than you can get elsewhere.

8. Maintain a good credit record

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Insurers are increasingly using credit information to price homeowners insurance policies. In most states, your insurer must advise you of any adverse action, such as a higher rate, at which time you should verify the accuracy of the information on which the insurer relied. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.

9. Stay with the same insurer

If you’ve kept your coverage with a company for several years, you may receive a special discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce their premiums by 5 percent if you stay with them for three to five years and by 10 percent if you remain a policyholder for six years or more. But make certain to periodically compare this price with that of other policies.

10. Review the limits in your policy and the value of your possessions at least once a year

You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don’t want to spend money for coverage you don’t need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you’ll want to reduce or cancel your floater (extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners policies such as expensive jewelry, high-end computers and valuable art work) and pocket the difference.

11. Look for private insurance if you are in a government plan

If you live in a high-risk area — say, one that is especially vulnerable to coastal storms, fires, or crime — and have been buying your homeowners insurance through a government plan, you should check with an insurance agent or company representative or contact your state department of insurance for the names of companies that might be interested in your business. You may find that there are steps you can take that would allow you to buy insurance at a lower price in the private market.

12. When you’re buying a home, consider the cost of homeowners insurance

You may pay less for insurance if you buy a house close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional rather than a volunteer fire department. It may also be cheaper if your home’s electrical, heating and plumbing systems are less than 10 years old. If you live in the East, consider a brick home because it’s more wind resistant. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, look for a wooden frame house because it is more likely to withstand this type of disaster. Choosing wisely could cut your premiums by 5 to 15 percent.

Check the CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) report of the home you are thinking of buying. These reports contain the insurance claim history of the property and can help you judge some of the problems the house may have. Remember that flood insurance and earthquake damage are not covered by a standard homeowners policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you’ll have to pay for a flood insurance policy that costs an average of $400 a year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at www.fema.gov/nfip. A separate earthquake policy is available from most insurance companies. The cost of the coverage will depend on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area.

If you have questions about insurance for any of your possessions, be sure to ask your agent or company representative when you’re shopping around for a policy. For example, if you run a business out of your home, be sure to discuss coverage for that business. Most homeowners policies cover business equipment in the home, but only up to $2,500 and they offer no business liability insurance. Although you want to lower your homeowners insurance cost, you also want to make certain you have all the coverage you need.

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