HOME INSURANCE BASICS
Information originally published by the Insurance Information Institute used with permission

What is in a standard homeowners insurance policy?

A standard homeowners insurance policy includes four essential types of coverage. They include:

  1. Coverage for the structure of your home.
  2. Coverage for your personal belongings.
  3. Liability protection.
  4. Additional living expenses in the event you are temporarily unable to live in your home because of a fire or other insured disaster.

1. The structure of your house

This part of your policy pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disaster listed in your policy. It will not pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, it is important to buy enough to rebuild your home.

Most standard policies also cover structures that are detached from your home such as a garage, tool shed or gazebo. Generally, these structures are covered for about 10% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. If you need more coverage, talk to your insurance agent about purchasing more insurance.
    

2. Your personal belongings

Your furniture, clothes, sports equipment and other personal items are covered if they are stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or other insured disaster. Most companies provide coverage for 50% to 70% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $100,000 worth of insurance on the structure of your home, you would have between $50,000 to $70,000 worth of coverage for your belongings. The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory.

This part of your policy includes off-premises coverage. This means that your belongings are covered anywhere in the world, unless you have decided against off-premises coverage. Some companies limit the amount to 10% of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions. You have up to $500 of coverage for unauthorized use of your credit cards.

Expensive items like jewelry, furs and silverware are covered, but there are usually dollar limits if they are stolen. Generally, you are covered for between $1,000 to $2,000 for all of your jewelry and furs. To insure these items to their full value, purchase a special personal property endorsement or floater and insure the item for it's appraised value. Coverage includes “accidental disappearance,” meaning coverage if you simply lose that item. And there is no deductible.

Trees, plants and shrubs are also covered under standard homeowners insurance. Generally you are covered for 5% of the insurance on the house—up to about $500 per item. Perils covered are theft, fire, lightning, explosion, vandalism, riot and even falling aircraft. They are not covered for damage by wind or disease.

3. Liability protection

Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. So, if your son, daughter or dog accidentally ruins your neighbor’s expensive rug, you are covered. However, if they destroy your rug, you are not covered.

The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world.

Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. However, experts recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of protection. Some people feel more comfortable with even more coverage. You can purchase an umbrella or excess liability policy which provides broader coverage, including claims against you for libel and slander, as well as higher liability limits. Generally, umbrella policies cost between $200 to $350 for $1 million of additional liability protection.

Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage. In the event a friend or neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can simply submit medical bills to your insurance company. This way, expenses are paid without a liability claim being filed against you. You can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage. It does not, however, pay the medical bills for your family or your pet.

4. Additional living expenses

This pays the additional costs of living away from home if you can't live there due to damage from a fire, storm or other insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while your home is being rebuilt. Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20% of the insurance on your house. You can increase this coverage, however, for an additional premium. Some companies sell a policy that provides an unlimited amount of loss-of-use coverage, but for a limited amount of time.

If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.    
Information originally published by the Insurance Information Institute used with permission

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Are there different types of policies?

Yes. A person who owns his or her home would have a different policy from someone who rents. Policies also differ on the amount of insurance coverage provided. The different types of homeowners policies are fairly standard throughout the country. However, individual states and companies may offer policies that are slightly different or go by other names such as “standard” or“deluxe”. The one exception is the state of Texas, where policies vary somewhat from policies in other states. The Texas Insurance Department has detailed information on its various homeowners policies. The chart below lists the disasters covered in each of the following types of policies:


If you own your home

If you own the home you live in, you have several policies to choose from. The most popular policy is the HO-3, which provides the broadest coverage. Owners of multi-family homes generally purchase an HO-3 with an endorsement to cover the risks associated with having renters live in their homes.

HO-1: Limited coverage policy
This “bare bones” policy covers you against the first 10 disasters. It's no longer available in most states.

HO-2: Basic policy
A basic policy provides protection against all 16 disasters. There is a version of HO-2 designed for mobile homes.

HO-3: The most popular policy
This “special” policy protects your home from all perils except those specifically excluded. (Click on the link below for a sample HO-3 form; you will need Acrobat which you can download, free of charge, from the Adobe Web site. Paper: Homeowners 3 - Special Form (PDF)

HO-8: Older home
Designed for older homes, this policy usually reimburses you for damage on an actual cash value basis which means replacement cost less depreciation. Full replacement cost policies may not be available for some older homes.

If you rent your home

HO4-Renter
Created specifically for those who rent the home they live in, this policy protects your possessions and any parts of the apartment that you own, such as new kitchen cabinets you install, against all 16 disasters.   

If you own a co-op or a condo

H0-6: Condo/Co-op
A policy for those who own a condo or co-op, it provides coverage for your belongings and the structural parts of the building that you own. It protects you against all 16 disasters. 

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Does my homeowners insurance cover flooding?

Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood coverage, however, is available in the form of a separate policy both from the National Flood Insurance Program - NFIP (888-379-9531) and from a few private insurers.

The NFIP provides coverage for up to $250,000 for the structure of the home and $100,000 for personal possessions. The NFIP policy provides replacement cost coverage for the structure of your home, but only actual cash value coverage for your possessions. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild your home as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost coverage minus depreciation so that the older your possessions are, the less you will get if they are damaged. There may also be limits on coverage for furniture and other belongings stored in your basement.

Flood insurance is available for renters as well as homeowners. You will need flood insurance if you live in a designated flood zone. But flooding can also occur in inland areas and away from major rivers. Consider buying a flood insurance policy if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek or pond or water running down a steep hill. Don’t wait for a flood season warning on the evening news to buy a policy—there is a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect.

Excess flood insurance is also available from some private insurers for those who need additional insurance protection over and above the basic policy or whose community does not participate in the NFIP. Depending on the amount of coverage purchased, an excess flood insurance policy will cover damage above the limits of the federal program on the same basis as the federal program—replacement cost for the structure and actual cash value for the contents.

Excess flood insurance is available in all parts of the country—in high risk flood zones along the coast and close to major rivers as well as in areas of lower risk—wherever the federal program is available. It can be purchased from specialized companies through independent insurance agents, or from regular homeowners insurance companies that have arrangements with a specialized insurer to provide coverage to their policyholders.
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How do I take a home inventory and why?

Would you be able to remember all the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.

Start by making a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. For clothing, count the items you own by category -- pants, coats, shoes, for example –- making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom.

  • Don't be put off! 
    If you are just setting up a household, starting an inventory list can be relatively simple. If you’ve been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of creating a list can be daunting. Still, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all. Start with recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions.
  • Big ticket items 
    Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these items. They may need to be insured separately.
  • Take a picture
    Besides the list, you can take pictures of rooms and important individual items. On the back of the photos, note what is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don’t forget things that are in closets or drawers.
  • Videotape it 
    Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder.
  • Use a personal computer 
    Use your PC to make your inventory list. Personal finance software packages often include a homeowners room-by-room inventory program.
  • Storing the list, photos and tapes 
    Regardless of how you do it (written list, floppy disk, photos, videotape or audio tape), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's home. That way you’ll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.

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Do I need special coverage for jewelry and other valuables?

A standard homeowners policy includes coverage for jewelry and other precious items such as watches and furs. These items are covered for losses caused by all the perils included in your policy such as fire, windstorm, theft and vandalism.

However, there are special limits of liability for certain items, meaning that the insurer will not pay more than the amount specified in the policy. One important limit is for the theft of jewelry. To keep coverage affordable because jewelry can be easily stolen, the standard policy has a relatively low limit of liability for theft, generally $1,500.

If you own valuable jewelry or other items that would be difficult to replace, there are two ways you can increase coverage: by raising the limit of liability or “scheduling” your individual pieces through the purchase of “floater” policies. Raising the limit of liability is the cheapest option; however, there may be a limit on the amount you can claim for the loss of any individual piece, say $2,000, when the overall limit is $5,000.

Scheduling each piece or item may cost more in premiums, but it offers broader protection because the floater covers losses of any type, including accidental losses—such as dropping your ring down the drain of the kitchen sink or leaving an expensive watch in a hotel room—that your homeowners insurance policy will not cover. Before purchasing a floater, the items covered must be professionally appraised. The cost of this service varies depending on where you live.

Information originally published by the Insurance Information Institute used with permission