Homeowners Insurance Questions
What is homeowners insurance and who should buy this type of coverage?
Homeowners insurance is one of the most popular forms of personal lines insurance on the market today. The typical homeowners policy has two main sections: Section I covers the property of the insured and Section II provides personal liability coverage to the insured. Almost anyone who owns or leases property has a need for this type of insurance. And many times, homeowners insurance is required by the lender as part of the requirements in obtaining a mortgage.
What is the difference between "actual cash value" and "replacement cost"?
Covered losses under a homeowners policy can be paid on either an actual cash value basis or on a replacement cost basis. When "actual cash value" is used the policyowner is entitled to the depreciated value of the damaged property. Under the "replacement cost" coverage, the policyowner is reimbursed an amount necessary to replace the article with one of similar type and quality at current prices.
What are the policy limits (i.e., coverage limits) in the standard homeowners policy?
[Note: this answer is based on the Insurance Services Office's HO-3 policy.] Coverages A and B provide protection to the dwelling and other structures on the premises on an all risks basis up to the policy limits. The policy limit for Coverage A is set by the policyowner at the time the insurance is purchased. The policy limit for Coverage B is usually equal to 10% of the policy limit on Coverage A. Coverage C covers losses to the insured's personal property on a named perils basis. The policy limit on Coverage C is equal to 50% of the policy limit on Coverage A. Coverage D covers the additional expenses that the policyowner may incur when the residence cannot be used because of an insured loss. The policy limit for Coverage D is equal to 20% of the policy limit on Coverage A. The coverage limit on Coverage E - Personal Liability - is determined by the policyowner at the time the policy is issued. The coverage limit on Coverage F - Medical Payments to Others - is usually set at $1000 per injured person.
Where and when is my personal property covered?
Coverage C, which provides named perils coverage, applies to all your personal property (except property that is specifically excluded) anywhere in the world. For example, suppose that while traveling, you purchased a dresser and you want to ship it home. Your homeowners policy would provide coverage for the named perils while the dresser is in transit - even though the dresser has never been in your home before.
Do I need earthquake coverage? How can I get it?
Direct damages due to earthquakes are not covered under the standard homeowners insurance policy. However, unless you live in an area that is prone to earthquakes, you probably do not need this coverage. If you do live in a part of the country with high earthquake activity you may want to consider adding an earthquake endorsement to your homeowners insurance policy. This endorsement will cover damages due to earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and other earth movements.
What factors should I consider when purchasing homeowners insurance?
There are a number of factors you should consider when purchasing any product or service, and insurance is no different. Here is a checklist of things you should consider when you purchase homeowners insurance. First and foremost, purchase the amount and type of insurance that you need. Remember that if your policy limit is less than 80% of the replacement cost of your home, any loss payment from your insurance company will be subject to a coinsurance penalty. Also, determine the amount of personal property insurance and personal liability coverage that you need. Second, determine which, if any, additional endorsements you want to add to your policy. For example, do you want the personal property replacement cost endorsement or the earthquake endorsement? Finally, once you have decided on the coverage you want in your homeowners insurance policy, you can now decide which insurer you would like to purchase the insurance from. Some people like the idea of purchasing insurance from a mutual company rather than a stock company. You should also decide whether you would like an insurance agent to assist you in your purchasing decision or if you would like to buy the product directly from an insurer without the assistance of an agent.
What is the difference between an "all risks" policy and a "named perils" policy?
A named perils policy covers losses that are due to only those perils listed in the policy. The perils typically covered include fire, windstorm, hail, and other direct physical losses. An all risks policy covers losses that are due to any peril except those specifically excluded in the policy. It is important to note that all risks policy provides broader protection than do named perils policies.
What can I do to lower the cost of my homeowners insurance?
There are a number of things you can do to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance. The best thing to do is to shop around. It is not surprising to find quotes on homeowners insurance that vary by hundreds of dollars for the same coverage on the same home. When you shop, be careful to make sure each insurer is offering the same coverage. Many insurers use the ISO policy forms, but this is not always the case. Another way to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance is to look for any discounts that you may qualify for. For example, many insurers will offer a discount when you place both your automobile and homeowners insurance with them. Other times, insurers offer discounts if there are deadbolt exterior locks on all your doors, or if your home has a security system. Be sure to ask your agent or company about discounts any that you may qualify for. Another easy way to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance is to raise your deductible. Increasing your deductible from $250 to $500 will lower your premium, sometimes by as much as five or ten percent. However, be careful to make sure that you have the financial resources necessary to handle the larger deductible.
If I have an accident which I think is covered under my homeowners policy, what should I do?
Insurance contracts are conditional contracts, which means that policyowners have certain duties that they must perform if a covered loss occurs. Failure to complete these actions can, and sometimes does, result in non-payment by the insurance company for losses that otherwise would have been covered. Required duties include: (1) notifying the insurance company or the agent that a loss has occurred -- this should be done as soon as you discover the loss; (2) protecting the property from further damage and/or to making any repairs necessary to prevent further damage; (3) preparing a detailed list of the personal items damaged which contains a description of the items, their actual cash value, or their replacement cost if you have added the replacement cost endorsement to your policy; (4) being prepared to show the company and/or the insurance agent the damaged items; (5) completing a statement for the insurance company that details the events that led to loss -- for example, the time the damage occurred, the cause of the losses, etc.
Who pays for my legal defense costs if I am sued?
In the unfortunate event that you are sued, your homeowners policy will not only cover the cost of your legal defense, but your insurance company will also provide the legal counsel.