Homeowners insurance: What?s covered, what?s not, and what to look for

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 29th, 2010

Individuals planning on purchasing a home spend weeks if not months picking the perfect neighborhood, floor plan, and then home before they even consider purchase. In a similar way, buyers will shop around and compare the interest rates offered them on mortgages. Yet, when it comes to homeowners insurance, the norm is to still simply to defer the decision-making to the agent. But just as you wouldn?t consider purchasing your home without first researching and planning, so also should homeowners insurance buyers consider the major options available when it comes to buying a homeowners policy.

In its simplest form, homeowners insurance is an agreement between you, the homeowner, and an insurance company, that in exchange for you making monthly payments, they will compensate you for any significant damage that affects your home. This at least was the form of original homeowner?s policies. Today?s policies are more complex, both covering, and excluding a wide range of situations.

Broadly, a homeowner?s policy covers four major areas of liability. These include:

1.Coverage for the structure of the home

2.Coverage for the contents of the home

3.Liability protection

4.Temporary displacement costs in the event of disaster

Coverage for the structure

This structural protection is what most people commonly conceive of when they think about homeowners insurance. Purchasing a home is a major investment in the lives of most individuals, and as a consequence, the threat of loss of that property, would be so devastating financially that it motivates individuals to seek out insurance as a means of protecting their financial interest. But despite common perceptions to the contrary, homeowners insurance does not cover any and all damages to the home. While each policy varies slightly, most commonly floods and earthquakes are excluded from coverage. That means that if you have a standard policy and your home floods, you will not be recompensed by your insurance company for your loss. On the other hand, other disasters such as hurricane, fire, and hail are typically covered under the standard policy. In addition, most standard policies cover other structures that are fixed or attached to the home, most commonly garages or porches. While these general guidelines hold true for most policies, the variance between insurance providers is significant enough that you should investigate the particulars of what is covered, and more importantly what is excluded regarding coverage for the structure of the home.

Coverage for Personal Belongings

Homeowner?s insurance policies cover not only the structure of a home, but much of its contents as well. Because the coverage to items within the home is not complete, however, it is important to know the limitations of your policy. The industry standard is between 50 and 70% of the value of the policy. That is, if you have the structure of your home insured for $100,000 that policy typically covers the value of your possessions up to $50,000 or $70,000 if they are stolen or damaged in non-excluded circumstances. But, just as with the structure of the home, this coverage is not all-inclusive. For example, there is typically a limit on the amount your insurer will pay out on high dollar items such as jewelry or expensive clothing. This limit can vary but typically maxes out at $2,000. An oft forgotten possession related to the home, is the landscaping. Under most standard policies insurance that will recompense the insured for up to $500 in landscaping damage is also covered. But once, again payment can only be attained if the causal factor (i.e. fire) was covered in the first place.

Liability Protection

Moving farther away from most common conceptions of a homeowner?s policy, it is important to note that policies also cover personal liability for you, your family members and pets. This means that by virtue of owning the homeowners policy you are covered in case, for example your dog tears up your neighbor?s lawn, or far worse, if your neighbor hurts himself while visiting your home. Even more in this aspect of the policy than in any others, the exceptions are vitally important to understand. The amount of liability coverage that comes with a basic policy is a rather standard $100,000. But depending on the exclusions, that similar number belies a world of difference when it comes to actual personal protection.

Temporary Displacement Compensation

If an accident befalls your home and you are unable to inhabit your home temporarily, your homeowners insurance provider will cover the costs of your housing and some additional costs during the interim. Included under this coverage, for most standard policies are things like food, and other basic living expenses. But some policies go farther by compensating you for slightly more extravagant costs like clothing purchases. The coverage for displacement costs varies here more than anywhere else. Some companies use a percentage calculation to determine how much in temporary displacement compensation you can receive to cover hotel bills, food, and the like. This number is most typically set at 20% of the value of the insurance on the structure of the home. Other companies take a different approach, however. They offer unlimited, or at least higher valued, temporary displacement compensation, however, these benefits are time-dependent. This means that once your coverage time expires, you receive no more benefits, no matter the costs you may still be incurring.

In all of these categories, insurers offer a wide variety of options dependant upon your willingness to pay. For example, you can up your protection for high-dollar possessions if you have a lot of jewelry. In the same way, if you are particularly concerned about liability you can pay extra for higher coverage and the same is also true of temporary displacement coverage. While what I have outlined here, provides you with a basic framework for understanding the various components of homeowners insurance and the general standards of the industry, the differences between individual policies can vary widely. Consequently, it is important for those considering the purchase of homeowners insurance that looking into the particulars of what has been covered here be made a priority. Only by understanding the precise offerings of competitors policies and understanding their functions, can you the customer come to find the policy that best suits your needs and those of your family.

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
Joined: April 29th, 2015
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