When shopping for home insurance, there’s much more to consider than how much your coverage will cost.
You need to buy the right type of policy. You need the proper level of protection, plus special provisions for valuables such as jewelry, your computer equipment and other possessions. You might also need additional coverage for such things as earthquakes or flooding.
Lending institutions usually require mortgage customers to purchase homeowners insurance. Don’t rely on the coverage levels mandated by your bank or mortgage company. Those levels are designed to protect the house itself, but not necessarily your possessions. That’s why it’s important to check with your agent or insurance company, to make sure you have adequate coverage.
Many factors go into determining the premiums for a homeowners policy. The age of your home, the materials used to build it, where it’s located, the square footage, and the number of rooms all play a role.
How do you heat your home? What’s the overall condition of the house? How many people live in your home? How close is your home to the nearest fire station and fire hydrant? The answers to these questions also help determine how much you’ll pay for your homeowners policy.
If your home is equipped with an alarm system, smoke detectors and deadbolt locks, you could save money. Those items help make your home safer and more secure. If you have an in-ground pool or a trampoline, you might pay higher premiums. You can also expect to pay more if you are located in a higher risk area, such as a coastline. Your insurance company will also want to know if you plan to use the home for any business purposes, of if you plan to rent all or part of the house, both of which can increase liability.
Armed with all this information, insurance companies can determine how much to charge you for insurance, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
If you insure your house for $100,000, that´s the most you will get if it is destroyed, even if it would cost more to replace it. The Declarations Page on the front of your policy shows how much coverage you have. Talk with your agent or company representative if you have any questions about your insurance limits
Don´t wait until you have a claim to learn your policy´s limit.
"Before buying homeowner's insurance, you need to understand the difference between 'replacement cost' and 'actual cash value,'" warns Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Randy Blumer. Most homeowner policies contain replacement cost coverage on the home and actual cash value coverage on personal property.
Homeowners policies automatically cover household contents - furniture, clothes, appliances, etc. - up to 40 percent of the amount your house is insured for. This means if you insure your house for $100,000, its contents are insured for up to $40,000. You can get more coverage by paying a higher premium. This automatic coverage pays only the actual cash value of damaged, stolen, or destroyed household goods. Actual cash value is an item´s replacement cost, minus depreciation.
Replacement cost policies give you more protection than actual cash value coverage. For example, what happens if a burglar steals your six-year-old television set. With actual cash value coverage, you get only what you would expect to pay for a six-year-old television set. With replacement cost coverage, the insurance company pays to replace your TV with a new set similar to the stolen one.
Insurance companies generally want proof you replaced an item before paying your claim in full. An insurer might offer to replace the items instead of paying cash, but the choice is yours.
Many people learn after a fire or storm they didn´t have enough personal property coverage. Taking inventory will help you decide how much insurance you need. It also will simplify claims.
Your inventory should list each item, its value, and serial number. Photograph or videotape each room, including closets, open drawers, storage buildings, and your garage. Keep receipts for major items in a fireproof place.
You might want more coverage for certain items than your policy provides. For an extra premium, you might be able to buy endorsements that expand or increase the coverage on these items. Some of the most common endorsements cover jewelry, fine arts, camera equipment, coin or stamp collections, computer equipment, and radio and television satellite dishes and antennas.
Deductibles allow you to cut the cost of your insurance, by assuming some of the risk. If you have a $250 deductible on your homeowners policy, you agree to pay $250 to cover any losses, before the insurance company pays the rest of your claim. By increasing that deductible to $1,000, you might save 20 to 30 percent on your premiums. You must decide whether lower deductibles or lowering your premium is right for you.
Some insurance companies might charge you higher premiums, if you have problems with your credit history. Insurers say past experience has shown people with financial problems pose a greater risk.
"An insurance company uses credit information, together with your insurance history, to predict whether you are more or less likely to file a homeowners claim," adds Jeanne Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute. "This allows them to provide insurance to more people and to offer it at a lower cost to those who qualify."