Ryan's Blog

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Home insurance, or homeowners insurance, is an insurance policy that combines insurance on the home, its contents, loss of use (additional living expenses) and, often, the other personal possessions of the homeowner, as well as liability insurance for accidents that may happen at the home.

The cost of homeowners insurance scales upward depending on what it would cost to replace the house, and which additional "riders", meaning additional items to be insured, are attached to the policy. The insurance policy itself is a lengthy contract, and names what will and what will not be paid in the case of various events. Typically, claims are not paid due to earthquakes, floods, "Acts of God", or war (whose definition typically includes a nuclear explosion from any source). Special insurance can be purchased for these possibilities, including flood insurance and earthquake insurance.

The home insurance policy is usually a term contract, which is a contract that is in effect for a fixed period of time. The payment the insured makes to the insurer is called the premium. The insured must pay the insurer the premium each term. Most insurers charge a lower premium if it appears less likely the home will be damaged or destroyed: for example, if the house is situated next to a fire station, or if the house is equipped with fire sprinklers and fire alarms. Perpetual insurance, which is type of home insurance without a fixed term, can also be obtained in certain areas.

In the United States, most home buyers borrow money in the form of a mortgage, and the mortgage lender always requires that the buyer purchase homeowners insurance as a condition of the loan, in order to protect the bank if the home were to be destroyed. Anyone with an insurable interest in the property should be listed on the policy.

Types of Homeowners Insurance

There are six kinds of homeowners insurance in general and consistent use. Of these HO-3 is the most common policy followed by HO-4 and HO-6. Others that are less used, though still significant, are HO-1, HO-2 and HO-5. Each is summarized below:


A limited policy that offers varying degrees of coverage but only for items specifically outlined in the policy. These might be used to cover a valuable object found in the home, such as a painting.


Similar to HO-1, HO-2 is a limited policy in that it covers specific portions of a house against damage. The coverage is usually a "named perils" policy, which lists the events that would be covered. As above, these factors must be spelled out in the policy.


This policy is the most common written for a homeowner and is designed to cover all aspects of the home, structure and it contents as well as any liability that may arise from daily use as well as any visitors who may encounter accident or injury on the premises. Covered aspects as well as limits of liability must be clearly spelled out in the policy to insure proper coverage. The coverage is usually called "all risk".


This is commonly referrened to as renters insurance. Similar to HO-6, this policy covers those aspects of the apartment and its contents not specifically covered in the blanket policy written for the complex. This policy can also cover liabilities arising from accidents and intentional injuries for guests as well as passers-by up to 150' of the domicile.

Very low in cost and high in coverage, this is a highly recommend policy for anyone renting an apartment.


This policy, similar to HO-3, covers a home (not a condo or apartment), the homeowner and its possessions as well as any liability that might arise from visitors or passers-by. This coverage is differentiated in that it covers a wider breadth and depth of incidents and losses than an HO-3.


As a form of supplemental homeowner's insurance, HO-6, also known as a Condominium Coverage, is designed especially for the owners of condos. It includes coverage for the part of the building owned by the insured and for the property housed therein of the insured.

Designed to span the gap between what the homeowner's association might cover in a blanket policy written for an entire neighborhood and those items of importance to the insured, typically the HO-6 covers liability for residents and guests of the insured in addition to personal property. The liability coverage, depending on the underwriter, premium paid, and other factors of the policy, can cover incidents up to 150' from the insured property, all valuables within the home from theft, fire or water damage or other forms of loss.

It is important to read the Associations By-laws to determine the total amount of insurance needed on your dwelling.

Very low in cost and high in coverage, this is a highly recommend policy for anyone owning a condo.

Why wait until after a disaster to discover your homeowners insurance doesn't really have you covered? Here are 10 things to do so you can have peace of mind -- and full protection -- right now:

1. Buy the right insurance. "You should know what you have, and you should know ahead of time that you are covered," says Jeanne Salvatore, vice president for consumer affairs with the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit industry trade group. She recommends looking at your insurance coverage in four key areas: the structure of your house, your belongings, your liability to others and your living expenses if you're forced out. "If there's a disaster, you want to be able to rebuild your house and replace everything in it. And you need enough liability coverage to protect you in case you do get sued." Living expenses would cover the cost of making the house livable or living elsewhere while your home is being repaired or rebuilt.

2. Get replacement value insurance. Face it, this is an insurance policy, not a garage sale. You don't really care how much your possessions would fetch on the open market, the so-called "cash value" or "fair market value." You want to be able to replace everything you lost with similar, new items. And make sure that your policy spells out that both your home and its contents are covered by replacement-value insurance.

When it comes to replacing the home itself, look for extended or guaranteed-replacement-value coverage. Guaranteed replacement, which covers rebuilding no matter what the cost, is not offered much any more, says Don Griffin, assistant vice president of commercial lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). Many companies offer extended-replacement-value insurance, which will cover up to 100 percent of the value of the home, plus a certain percentage to cover rebuilding the home in today's market.

3. Understand the claims process. Two policies can promise the same amount of coverage, but they can be vastly different when it comes to making you whole after a loss. Have the agent explain exactly how claims are handled, especially when it comes to writing you a check. Do you receive your entire claim upfront, or just a fraction? Does the company pay you for all the things you've lost, or only those things that you replace?

Some policies will give you the cash value of your possessions right after a loss, but wait to cover the replacement value until after you've replaced your items -- and have the receipts to prove it. This could be a problem if you're wiped out and have no cash reserves.

Equally important is the timetable on replacement. If you go from living in a five-bedroom home to sleeping in a motel room with four kids and a dog, you might not want to go on a shopping spree right away. How long do you have to replace your things?

4. Take inventory. Filing a claim involves two steps -- proving you owned certain items and verifying their worth. This is a lot easier to do when you still have your things. Go through your home with a video camera (rent one if you don't already have one.) Walk through each room, do a quick sweep and get everything you own on tape. Don't forget the attic, basement, closets and offsite storage locker, if you have one. Or take the low-tech method: make a list and shoot a few rolls of film. Stash your video or photos in a safety deposit box with a copy of your policy. If you keep your inventory at home, make a second copy to give to a friend or keep at the office.

5. Buy floaters. Many times, homeowners and renter's policies limit the amount you can collect on some big-ticket items -- usually things like computer equipment, jewelry, furs and fine collectibles -- to a fraction of the replacement value. If this is the case, you need to pick up a special policy known as a "floater" or "endorsement" for each of those items. A floater will also reimburse you if you simply lose the article. In the case of something new, save the bill of sale with your inventory, and fax a copy to your insurance agent. If the item is older, have an appraisal done. Again, save one copy and send another to your agent. That way, you'll never have to worry about proving you owned an item, and there will never be a dispute over what it's really worth.

6. Keep pace with inflation. This is especially important with a homeowners policy. It may have cost you $100,000 to build your home 10 years ago, but it might cost $120,000 to replace it today. "Many companies have inflation guard, which covers the increasing cost of rebuilding," Salvatore says. When your policy comes up for renewal, talk to your agent to verify that your coverage amounts are still realistic. And when you make an improvement, add it to the total.

7. If you own a condo or co-op, protect your property. Make sure that the condo board or association has a policy that covers the common areas, and get a copy. Also look at the association bylaws to find out what portions of the home you must cover. "It's usually from the drywall in," Griffin says.

Since condo owners need their contents policy to cover things like cabinets and fixtures, they need a bit more insurance than the typical renter. Sometimes you get a price break if you go with the same company that wrote the policy for the condo association.

"Plus they are familiar with what they cover, so they know what to sell you," Griffin says.

You also may want to consider assessment coverage. If the condo association's policy is not large enough to cover a loss, or if there is a hefty deductible, the association will split the additional costs among the members in the form of an assessment. With assessment coverage, your insurance company pays the tab.

8. Consider flood and earthquake insurance. Granted, this is not for everyone. But if you live in an area prone to floods or earthquakes, it pays to know that most property policies do not cover these disasters. Some independent carriers offer both. For flood insurance, you can also contact the National Flood Insurance Program. In California, you can get earthquake insurance through the California Earthquake Authority.

9. Think about buying an umbrella policy. Liability insurance, which picks up the tab if someone gets hurt on your property or through the actions of your family members, tops out at $300,000 on most homeowners policies, according to Griffin. "But nobody sues for $300,000," he says. "That usually starts at $1 million." His recommendation: if you have assets, pick up an umbrella policy that would add extra liability coverage to your home and auto policy. "Umbrellas are cheap -- usually starting at about $200 to $350 a year."

10. After a life-changing event, call your agent. Getting married or divorced? Are the kids moving out -- or back in? The amount of insurance you need -- and the items you want to cover -- change over the years. Be sure you keep your policies and inventories up to date.


Post a Comment

<< Home