Trying to decide how much and what kind of protection is right for your home and its contents can be difficult, even a little intimidating. Odds are your home is your single biggest possession, and it's where you keep most of your other possessions, too.
Choosing the right insurance coverage for your home needn't be an overwhelming task, though. It's a matter of taking a systematic look at what you have and what it's worth, then matching it up with coverage limits and options that fit your needs and budget.
Following are nine questions you'll want to ask your independent agent as you explore what home insurance coverage is right for you:
- What does my home insurance policy cover? A standard homeowners policy helps repair or rebuild the structure of your home in the wake of covered losses, which your policy will outline. This includes structures attached to your home, such as a balcony. As for detached structures, such as a fence or shed, these are generally covered at a designated percentage of the home coverage.
- Do I have enough coverage to rebuild my home? The amount for which you insure your home typically equates to the estimated cost to rebuild it. If you insure it for less, such as for the market value, and lose it in a fire or other covered disaster, you likely won’t have the coverage needed to fully rebuild it. That’s because the market value of your home may be well below the cost of the materials and labor it would take to build a similar dwelling today.
- What about personal property? Policies typically cover such property as furniture, clothing, artwork, electronics and sporting goods for theft, damage or loss. Property is usually covered both at the home site and everywhere else, generally for a percentage of the amount of coverage on the structure of your home. If that isn't enough, you can purchase more, or you can “schedule” high-value items individually. Scheduling an item designates separate coverage for it. When might this be appropriate? Say your home policy limits payouts for jewelry-related losses to a certain amount, such as $3,000, but your diamond necklace is worth $6,000. By scheduling it separately, you have coverage for its full appraisal value, oftentimes with no deductible.
- What else does home insurance cover? Liability coverage included in a standard homeowners policy may help protect you and your family members against lawsuits if you're held responsible for bodily injury or property damage at your home or elsewhere. It also may help cover costs if a guest is injured at your home. Another form of coverage, additional living expenses, helps pay the cost of temporary living arrangements while your home is repaired or rebuilt following a covered loss.
- What doesn’t home insurance cover? Standard homeowners policies typically don't cover earthquakes and floods. If you live in an area where earthquakes are likely, you can usually get separate coverage from your insurer. For flood insurance, there is the National Flood Insurance Program. Furthermore, your home insurance won’t cover anything outside the scope of your policy.
- Do any options or complementary policies fit my needs? In addition to standard home insurance coverages, many carriers offer options such as equipment breakdown coverage or identity recovery coverage. The former helps to cover the sudden malfunction or breakdown of such appliances as your washer and dryer, refrigerator, air conditioner and more. Note this doesn’t cover normal wear and tear. The latter provides guidance and support should your identity be stolen. In addition, you may want to consider an umbrella policy for extra liability coverage on top of what your home insurance provides. In the event of a costly lawsuit or other incident that exhausts your homeowners liability coverage, your umbrella policy may pick up the remaining costs of a covered event, up to your policy limits (typically $1 to $5 million).
- Do I qualify for discounts on my home insurance? You may. For starters, check the age of your home. You might be able to get a discount if it's relatively new – less than 10 years old, for example. Discounts are also sometimes available for homes with burglar alarms and/or sprinkler systems. Location can make a difference, too. You might be able to get a discount if your home is located near a fire station.
- Can I get a discount for using my current insurer? Say you already have an auto insurance policy (or two) with a certain carrier. If you add your home, you may qualify for a multi-policy discount.
- Can I own a home without insurance? Probably not, especially if you financed your home purchase with a mortgage. Most lenders require insurance to protect their investment. In addition, if you live in a flood- or earthquake-prone area, lenders may require flood or earthquake insurance. Once you've paid off the mortgage and own your home, there's no legal requirement that you maintain insurance. But, considering the potential to lose everything you’ve invested in the property, you'll certainly want to think twice before you cancel your policy. After all, where would you live if you lost your home in a fire and didn’t have the money or insurance to rebuild it?
From hail to fire to falling trees, you just don’t know when something might happen to your home. But, you can know you selected the right insurance coverage for it. Bring these questions – and any others you may have – to your independent insurance agent to help inform your decision.
Do I Need a Home Inventory?
Yes, it's the best way to know if you have enough coverage for your belongings (see question 3 above). Furthermore, a home inventory helps during a personal property claim by acting as a record of what you own and what it’s all worth. Your home inventory can encompass a list of items and their value, along with supporting materials such as receipts, photos, videos and more. Use Safeco’s Home Inventory app to make the process easy.