WHAT WOULD YOU DO...

If you were unable to affirmatively answer all of these questions, then you need to consider purchasing homeowners insurance.

Your home is likely the biggest investment you will ever make. So, it is important to do all that you can to protect that investment from fire, theft or other perils. Homeowners insurance is designed to provide for the repair or replacement of your home and your possessions due to physical damage or loss.

But, homeowners insurance is not only for homeowners. Whether you live in a single family home, condominium, apartment, or mobile home, there is an insurance policy available to meet your needs.

This guide is designed to educate you about homeowners insurance and to help you determine what type of insurance will best protect your home and your possessions.

Glossary of Terms

Additional Living Expense
(Loss of Use)
Coverage that pays for above normal costs incurred while the policyholder's home is being repaired. These extra costs will include expenses such as food and lodging. This coverage generally does not apply to the costs of children living away from home.
Adjuster
A Department of Insurance licensed professional who helps determine the amount the insurance the company will pay by evaluating the amount of loss.
Agent
A Department of Insurance licensed professional who solicits and services insurance policies.
All-Risk Policy
(Special Form)
Covers damage or loss of property costs that result from any peril, except those that are specifically excluded in the contract.
Cancellation
Termination of an insurance policy, prior to the actual expiration date, by the insurance company or policyholder.
Claim
A demand to an insurance company for financial reimbursement to recover a loss.
Coverage
Indicates how much protection the insurance policy provides, either in the form of the dollar amount purchased or the type of loss covered.
Deductible
A fixed amount, specified in the policy, that the policyholder agrees to pay towards the total amount of an insured loss.
Depreciation
The decrease in home or property value, because of age or use, since the time it was built or purchased.
Endorsement
An amendment that changes the original terms of an insurance contract.
Exclusion
An event or loss that is not covered by an insurance contract. The term can also be used to describe the provision that removes coverage for the event or loss.
Floater (Rider)
Additional coverage for special items such as antiques or costly jewelry.
Insured Loss
A loss that the insurance policy will pay for, either in full or in part.
Insured
The person or persons covered by the insurance policy.
Insurer
The company that is underwriting the insurance contract.
Inventory
List of the insured's possessions and their values.
Liability
Legally enforceable obligations.
Libel
Any false or malicious statement, written or public, that publicly ridicules someone or damages their reputation.
Licensed-Agents and Companies
Agents and companies that are approved and monitored by the Department of Insurance to sell insurance in a particular state.
Limit (Policy Limit)
The maximum amount the insurance company must pay under the contract for a particular loss.
Negligence
Failure to use a reasonable amount of care which can result in an injury or damage to another.
Package Policy
An insurance policy that includes several kinds of coverage.
Peril
The cause of a loss, such as theft or fire.
Premium
The amount paid by the insured to the insurer in return for insurance coverage.
Residence Premises
The one-family dwelling, other structures, and grounds; or that part of any other building where the insured resides.
Risk
The chance of loss.
Slander
Anything spoken about an individual that is false and malicious, ridiculing them or damaging their reputation.

Is homeowners insurance legally required?

Although homeowners insurance is not generally required by state law, most lenders require home buyers to purchase such insurance in order to secure their mortgage. But, even those who own their homes, free and clear, often wisely opt to insure both their home and its contents. And they often choose to purchase liability insurance to protect themselves in case of legal responsibility for injury to, or damage to the property of others.

What types of coverage are provided by homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance policies are multi-peril policies. They generally combine three types of coverage:
Renters Insurance
If you rent an apartment or house, you are not responsible for insuring the building. However, it is your responsibility to purchase your own liability and personal property (contents) coverage. Liability coverage protects renters in the same way it does homeowners. A renters policy will insure your possessions against listed perils and may also cover liability and additional living expenses.
Landlords Policy
Some companies offer landlords insurance policies that offer coverage comparable to a homeowners policy. However, such policies generally provide less coverage for any furnishings or personal property that remain in the structure, but higher liability limits to cover the increased possibility of claims by tenants. Many companies also require that the rental facilities be equipped with certain safety features such as fire extinguishers, sprinklers, smoke alarms, and dead bolt locks in every unit.
Condominium Owners Policy
Condominium owners insurance provides comparable coverage to a standard homeowners policy. The building itself is not covered under this policy because it is typically covered by a condominium association policy. However, there will be some coverage for building items inside your unit such as cabinets, fixtures and custom features.

What are the levels of coverage afforded by homeowners insurance policies?

Different policies provide different levels of coverage. The types of policies providing different levels of coverage that you need to consider include: Furthermore, you need to be aware of deductibles. Your deductible is a fixed amount, specified in the policy, that you are required to pay out of your own pocket towards the total amount of an insured loss before the insurance company will pay for a claim. For example, if you owned a $250,000 home and your deductible was 1 percent, in case of damage, you would be required to pay the first $2,500 before the insurance company would be obliged to pay the rest of the claim.

The greater the deductible, the more you will have to pay out of pocket at the time of loss. Generally the trade off for lower deductibles is paying more in premiums.

What is covered?

Homeowners insurance policies apply to most dwellings with up to two families, and are slightly modified for condominiums and apartments. Homeowners insurance is designed to cover a broad spectrum of perils associated with owning or renting a home. Covered perils generally include fire, windstorm and theft. The more perils your policy covers, the more it costs.

For people who own their own homes, the following items are generally covered by homeowners insurance policies: Endorsements and Floaters
You can increase your coverage of personal property that is valued at more than you would receive on a claim under your homeowners policy, by purchasing an endorsement, rider or floater.
Umbrella Liability Insurance
For those with the potential to earn a high salary or substantial assets, purchase of a separate umbrella liability insurance policy may be a wise choice. Such policies provide liability coverage beyond the limits of your auto and homeowners policies. Some umbrella policies also cover you against libel, slander, defamation of character, false arrest, mental anguish, wrongful entry, eviction and malicious prosecution.

What is not covered?

Generally earth movement (e.g., earthquakes, landslides or mudslides), sewer back-up, and flood or surface water run-off are not covered by most policies. If you want such coverage, you may need to talk with your agent.

What additional coverage is provided?

In addition to the standard coverage discussed previously, some homeowners insurance policies provide minor additional coverage at no cost. However, this coverage is limited, so you may want to purchase endorsements to extend the limits of your policy.

The following table outlines the various additional coverages provided by homeowners insurance policies:
TYPE
COVERAGE
Building Ordinance or Law
Coverage to repair structural damage or rebuild your home under stricter building codes and ordinances may be provided by your policy.
Debris Removal
For causes of loss covered by your policy, this coverage pays to remove the debris of covered property. Removal of trees felled by a covered peril that either damage a covered structure, block a driveway or block a dwelling's entryway/exit designed to assist a handicapped person is also covered for generally up to $500.
Fungi, Wet or Dry Rot, Bacteria
The direct physical loss to property covered because of fungi, wet or dry rot, or bacteria is often covered for up to a total of $5000.
Glass Breakage
Broken glass or damage caused by broken glass may also be covered.
Identity Theft, Credit Card, Forgery, and Counterfeit Money
This insurance generally covers the incidental fees of attempting to correct information on your credit history such as costs to notarize affidavits and other documents to prove the fraud, loan re-application fees due to incorrect credit information, and charges for phone calls regarding identity theft.
Inflation Guard
In order to help keep up with inflation, some policies automatically increase coverage. Even if you have this coverage, you should periodically check your policy limits to make sure you are adequately, but not excessively, insured.
Landlord's Furnishings
Your policy may pay a limited amount to cover your furnishings or property in areas of your home that you rent out against certain perils, not including theft.
Landscaping
Trees, plants and shrubs on your residence are covered against damage caused by fire or lightning, explosion, riot or civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles not owned or operated by a resident of the “residence premises,” vandalism or malicious mischief or theft. This coverage is normally for up to for up to 5 percent of the insurance on the house, but no more than $500 per item.
Lock Replacement
If your keys are stolen, your policy may cover the cost of replacing, changing or rekeying door locks.
Loss Assessments
If you are a member of a home, condominium or co-op owners association, your portion of losses to common property or personal liability that are caused by a covered peril may be covered.
Prohibited Use
If you have to leave your home by order of civil authorities due to direct damage to neighboring areas that was caused by a covered peril, your meals and lodging expenses may be covered.
Refrigerated Property
Refrigerated or perishable items that spoil because of a power failure or mechanical breakdown may be replaced under some policies. Generally the policy limit is $500 which only applies after the insured pays a $100 deductible.
Reasonable Repair
Temporary repairs made to protect your home or its contents from further damage after a covered loss may be covered.

What additional coverage and endorsements can I purchase?

Standard homeowners policies do not cover certain perils. However, these perils can usually be covered through the purchase of endorsements or separate policies, which include:

How much insurance do I need?

The biggest and most common mistake homeowners make is purchasing inadequate coverage. Many homeowners mistakenly believe that they only need insurance up to the market value or tax value of their home or the amount of their mortgage. However, the true value of your home, for insurance purposes, is the cost of the labor and materials necessary to rebuild it exactly as it is today.

Furthermore, it is easy to continue buying the same amount of insurance year after despite the fact that the value of your home may be increasing due to inflation and home improvements. Thus, it is important to re-evaluate your coverage on a yearly basis.

In general, you will want enough insurance to cover:
  • Your Property and Belongings so that if disaster strikes you will be able to recover as fully as possible.
  • Self Protection to protect yourself from lawsuits resulting from your negligence or events that could occur on your property.
  • Lender Requirements.
  • Policy Requirements to meet any minimums that the insurance company requires.

Property Protection

There are several steps you can follow to determine the policy limits you need, so that you are not surprised in the case of damage and payout.
  1. Determine what it would cost to replace your home.
    To do this you can either get an independent appraisal or rely on the advice of your insurance agent. Independent appraisals can often be very costly. Your insurance agent should have charts and home replacement cost estimation procedures to help you determine how much insurance you need.
  2. Inventory your and your family's personal possessions and determine their worth.
    Your inventory should include everything except autos, animals and items that are insured under other policies. Consider photographing your possessions for purposes of the inventory. Be sure to store a copy of the inventory, receipts, photographs and a hard copy of important electronic documents in a safe place, other than in your own home. Creating an inventory will not only help you initially determine the amount of insurance you need to purchase, but it will also help you get a claim settled more quickly and verify losses for your federal income tax return. You will find a sample inventory worksheet attached as Appendix A.
  3. Determine which items, if any, will require specific insurance.
    For high value possessions such as jewelry or collector items, you may want to purchase specific insurance.
  4. Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost.
    You will need to choose between insuring your home and your belongings for actual cash value, which takes into account depreciation, and replacement cost, which allows for actual replacement of your property. Generally the default insurance provided by most policies is actual cash value.

Liability Protection

Liability insurance protects you from having to pay damages to others resulting from your negligence. At a minimum, you will want your coverage to be enough to protect any financial assets that may be vulnerable to a lawsuit, such as your home and savings.

Lender Requirements

Most lenders require that you cover your house for at least the value of the mortgage. The lender generally becomes a payee on the insurance policy with you, in case of loss. The amount of coverage required by lenders should be independently reviewed for overall sufficiency. You may want to purchase insurance in addition to what is required by the lender.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

The mortgage company may require the homeowner to purchase PMI in return for lending the money to purchase a home or condominium. PMI protects the mortgage company in the case of homeowner default. Under such policies, the homeowner pays the private mortgage insurance premium. In the case the homeowner defaults on the mortgage, the PMI Company pays the mortgage company under the policy.

Mortgage Life Insurance

In the event of your death, a mortgage life insurance policy pays off the remainder of your mortgage. There are stringent health requirements that you must meet to purchase this type of insurance. And the purchase price depends on the mortgage amount, payoff time and a special calculation table.

Title Insurance

Title insurance protects the purchaser in the case of a defect in the title, such as a lien against the property, which was not discovered at the time of sale.

Forced-Place Insurance

Forced-place insurance generally only protects the lender. A lender may require a person financing the purchase of their property to carry insurance on that property. In the case the homeowner does not purchase the insurance, the lender may place coverage on the property and require reimbursement from the homeowner for any premiums paid.

How do I pick an insurance company?

The most important step in picking an insurance company is shopping around. Companies greatly vary in the types of coverage they provide and the premiums they charge for that coverage. Experts recommend that you get quotes from at least three different insurance companies before making your determination. When comparing insurance companies, make sure you are comparing prices for identical coverage.

Here are some other steps you should take in picking an insurance company to carry your homeowners policy:
  1. Decide what types of insurance you want. If you already have insurance, review your current insurance, updating information as necessary. Use this as a baseline for comparison.
  2. Ask around. Ask family, friends and acquaintances about their experiences with their insurance carriers.
  3. Call your state's department of insurance or access their website to find out if there have been complaints about the insurers you are considering.
  4. Check each insurance company's financial strength through consumer ratings. You can also do this by directly contacting ratings agencies.
Attached as Appendix B, you will find a form you can duplicate and use to help you determine which insurance company and policy are best for you.

When does coverage begin?

Once you have decided which insurance company to go with, you must fill out an application to obtain a policy. The application contains information to help the company decide whether to accept or reject the risk of insuring your home.

Upon completion of the application, the agent or insurance company may issue you a binder. A binder is a statement giving you immediate temporary coverage for a specified time, which is generally the time during which time the company decides whether or not to issue you a policy.

If the company accepts your application, you will be issued a policy. If the company decides otherwise, you will only be covered for the time period specified in the binder. If the binder period is about to expire and you have not heard back from the company, you may want to inquire about the status of your application.

How will the insurance company decide whether or not to insure my home?

Underwriting guidelines are rules insurance companies use to decide whether or not to insure your property. Each company has different underwriting requirements governing the kinds of risks and homes it will insure. Some of the factors considered by insurance companies include:

How much will homeowners insurance cost?

When determining the premium you will be paying for homeowners insurance, the first three factors the insurance company will consider are the dollar amount of coverage you are purchasing, any endorsements you are requesting, and the deductible you are willing to pay.

In addition to these factors, the other criterion insurance companies consider in determining the premium to be charged for insuring your home are similar to those used for underwriting. Here are the major factors and how they are measured:

What about filing a claim?

In the case of a loss, immediately contact your insurance agency. Your insurance agent should be able to guide you as to the steps necessary for filing a claim under your policy. Alternatively, your policy should outline the process. You should independently review your insurance coverage before filing a claim.

The following tips can help facilitate the process of filing a claim, regardless of whether or not they are required under your policy:

What happens after I file a claim?

Proof of Loss

After filing a claim, you may be asked to sign a statement called a “proof of loss.” In this statement, you will generally be required to provide a list of household items you have lost and their actual cash value. The insurance company will use this statement as a starting point for determining the value of your claim. It is important that the statement be comprehensive. Be sure to keep a copy of all documents for your records.

Estimate

A claims adjuster will next review the damage to your property, generally by making an in-person visit, and prepare an “estimate of loss” to repair or replace your home and personal items. Insurance companies use this estimate to determine the amount of money they are willing to offer you under the policy.

Appraisal and Settlement

If you and your company cannot reach a mutually satisfactory settlement figure, either party may demand an independent appraisal of the loss. Both you and the insurance company would hire independent appraisers who in turn select a mediator. The two appraisers would each independently evaluate your claim and determine the value. They would first try to reach a decision between the two of them. If they were unable to do so, they would take their sides before the mediator, who would then make a binding decision. Each side would be responsible for their appraiser and both would share the expense of the mediator.

Dissatisfaction

If your claim is not settled to your satisfaction, you have the option of contacting your state's department of insurance.

Can my insurance policy be terminated?

There are two ways your insurance policy may be terminated: cancellation and nonrenewal. You as well as you insurance company have the right to terminate coverage; however, both must follow the guidelines listed in your policy or required by state law to do so.

Cancellation

When your policy is terminated within the policy period, that is called “cancellation.” You generally may cancel your policy at any time by returning the policy to the company or agent or giving the company advanced written notice of the date you wish to cancel the policy.

Insurance companies may cancel your policy for a variety of reasons such as:
You must consult your insurance policy as well as state law to determine the exact reasons and method of cancellation allowed under your policy.

Nonrenewal

Nonrenewal is when your company refuses to renew your policy at the end of the policy period, which is typically one year. Generally, an insurance company may choose to not renew your policy for any reason by letting you know at least 30 days in advance of the renewal date of the policy.

Tips to Avoid Cancellation

  • Make prompt and timely premium payments. Perhaps a failure to do is the most common reason for cancellation.
  • Keep property maintained and in good repair. Avoid accumulating trash. Repair wiring as needed. Keep roofs, siding and brickwork in good condition and freshly painted.
  • Avoid a poor credit history. You may want to occasionally order a credit report to monitor your credit history.
  • Wisely pick your pets. Having wild animals or dogs of certain breeds, especially those with a history of attacks, can result in cancellation of your homeowners policy.
  • Do not report small claims or make frequent unnecessary claims. Some people attempt to use their homeowners insurance as a “maintenance policy.” This will likely result in cancellation.
  • Contact your insurance agent on an annual basis to ensure that your property continues to meet the company's insuring guidelines.

Refunds

All refunds, due to cancellation of the policy, are calculated on a pro-rata basis.

What do I do if I am unable to secure homeowners insurance?

If you have a log home, a bed and breakfast in your home, a home with a unique type of construction, a home constructed over twenty years ago, a home in a remote area or a business in your home, it may be difficult to obtain a homeowners policy. If you are unable to secure a homeowners policy for any reason, there are other alternatives.

Modified Coverage Forms

These policies were specifically developed for insuring older homes where the market value is less than the cost to rebuild. The major difference between modified coverage forms and traditional homeowners policies is the loss settlement provision. There are two common loss settlement provisions that are used. Under the first, all losses are paid on an actual cash value basis. Under the second, the full cost to repair using modern building materials and methods is paid for repairs that are made.

Dwelling Policies

These policies may be used to insure homes that do not qualify for homeowners insurance. The dwelling policy provides only property coverage, as opposed to the homeowners policy which offers both property and liability coverage.

Standard Fire Policies

These policies insure structures for loss caused by fire. Extended cover- age could be added to the Fire Policy to include wind, hail, aircraft, civil commotion, smoke, explosion, and vandalism coverage. Also, a separate endorsement can be added to cover personal property.

Excess and Surplus Lines

Excess and surplus insurers are not licensed, but are individually approved to write property insurance when licensed insurers will not provide insurance. Because states do not regulate the rates these companies charge or the forms they use, you, as the insured, must be extra careful when obtaining such policies. You also take a risk because states will not provide protection for claims if a surplus lines company goes bankrupt.

How do I read my policy?

There are typically six main sections in an insurance policy, as follows:

Loss Prevention Tips

Even the most comprehensive insurance policy cannot compensate you for the pain, suffering or inconvenience brought about by a loss. Thus, taking adequate steps to prevent and minimize damage to your home and injury to others is perhaps just as important as buying homeowners insurance.

Here are some tips to help you reduce your chance of loss and minimize the amount:

Appendix A


















Appendix B


Appendix C