What exactly is homeowners insurance?
If you're one of the 65% of Americans who owns a home, you understand the immense financial investment that is homeownership. It is often the end result of years of saving, work, and sacrifice. After all this effort, you need to make sure your investment is thoroughly protected. And that's where we come in. Let's get into the finer details of homeowners insurance to help you protect your investment.
Firstly, homeowners insurance is typically broken down into six parts:
- Dwelling: This is your house and any attached structures, such as your garage.
- Other structures: This means any standalone structures such as a carport or tool shed not attached to your home. This would be considered a part of “other structures” to an insurance company.
- Personal property: This pays to repair or replace your belongings that are stolen or damaged in a covered loss anywhere in the world.
- Additional living expenses: This is sometimes called loss of use clause, meaning this helps pay for a temporary relocation in the event you are unable to live in your home due to rebuilding or repairing.
- Personal Liability: This covers you if you are found responsible for another’s injuries on our property or away from home.
- Medical payments: Medical costs to people at your residence that aren’t a resident of the household, regardless of fault.
Looking further, let’s consider the different types of homeowners policies and how these types affect your coverage. Most standard homeowners policies are what insurance companies call HO-2 or HO-3 policies. An HO-2 policy is considered a named-peril policy. Meaning all accidents that could be covered are named within your policy. Typically, this includes:
- Windstorms and hail
- Damage caused by vehicles
- Damage from aircraft
- Weight of ice, snow, and sleet
- Freezing of household systems
- Falling objects
- Volcanic eruptions
- Overflow or discharge of water
- Damage from artificially generated electrical current
- Sudden tearing, cracking or bulging of home
If you want a broader home policy, consider an HO-3 open-peril policy. In this policy, open-peril refers to coverage from all risks except those losses specifically excluded within your policy—your personal property is still covered on a named-peril basis, however. The next tier up for coverage is an HO-5 policy type. Here, both dwelling and personal policy is covered on an open-peril basis. You should consider that most insurance companies won’t cover damages against flooding, earthquake, landslides, mold, infestations, wear and tear, nuclear hazards, or government actions—regardless of your policy type.
The amount of coverage you have depends on the replacement cost of your home, which your insurance company will usually help you to determine. Consider that replacement cost and market value are not synonymous – replacement value is how much it would cost an insurance company to rebuild your home, whereas market value is dependent on the real estate market and other variables. Because the purpose of insurance is to restore the insured asset (your home, in this case) to its original state, insurance companies use replacement cost rather than market value to determine the actual dollar value of coverage.
Typical Coverage Limits
||Typical Limit of Coverage
||10% of Dwelling Coverage
||50% of Dwelling Coverage Limit
|Loss of Use
||20% of Dwelling Coverage Limit
Explaining your deductible
What it means
It’s important to consider the differences between a car insurance deductible and a homeowners insurance deductible. For your homeowners insurance, the amount of your deductible is deducted from your claim payout. For example, if your kitchen catches on fire and incurs $5,000 worth of damages and your deductible is $1,000, you would receive $4,000 and thus be responsible for the remaining amount. However, car and homeowners deductibles are both inversely related to cost of premium—if you raise your deductible, you lower your premium.
Wind and Hail
Some insurance companies have added an additional deductible for wind and hall damage in addition to a deductible for your other covered perils. While the impact on your premium is up to you, this additional premium is designed to keep policies affordable.
Percentage versus dollar-based
Deductibles can also be dollar-based and percentage-based deductibles. The above example regarding the kitchen fire would be considered a dollar-based deductible. For a percentage-based deductible, however, the monetary value is derived from a percentage of your dwelling coverage. For example, if your dwelling is valued at $367,000 and your wind/hall deductible is 1%, your deductible would be $3,670.
- Endorsements and Floaters: Something you may want to consider are what insurance companies refer to as “floaters,” “riders” or “endorsements.” Essentially, a floater is an additional coverage for a high-priced category of an item that exceeds the normal limits on your policy. For example, someone on your homeowners policy owns a very expensive ring that is valued at $10,000. Because most insurance companies cap their coverage for jewelry well below $10,000, you would need an endorsement or floater to help ensure your jewelry is properly covered. While it varies by company, floaters extend to other items as well as jewelry—such as works of art, musical equipment, and even guns.
- Identity Theft Coverage: Although a basic homeowners policy doesn’t offer any coverage against identity theft, most companies offer an endorsement to ensure you are financially protected. While it varies per company, coverage ranges from $15,000 to $30,000 per occurrence and typically cost between $25 to $65 per year.
- Flood Insurance: Unlike car insurance, the damages resulting from floods are not covered in a homeowner’s policy. Typically, flood insurance is provided by the FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Depending on your location, your mortgage company may require you to purchase flood insurance.
- Earthquake Insurance: Like damage caused by floods, earthquake is not a peril or risk that is covered in a typical insurance policy. However, unlike flood insurance, some insurance companies offer a separate policy or endorsement for Earthquake protection. If you live a earthquake prone area, speak with your insurance company about earthquake protection.
If you’re shopping for homeowners insurance or even if you already have it, you should consider some simple steps to ensure you’re both properly covered and not overpaying.
- Make an inventory of all your items
By going through all your belongings, both big and small, you can adequately determine how much coverage you need. Plus, in the event of a claim, you can quickly determine what is missing and its value.
- Update your policy with expensive purchases
Pay attention to coverage limits for specific items. If you purchase a new item that exceeds your policy’s limit, you risk not having sufficient coverage. Consider additional endorsements and floaters with any newly purchased valuable item.
- Double check your policy for any policy discounts
While discounts vary per insurance company, typical homeowners policy discounts are multi-policy/multi-line policy (home and auto), new roof, claims free, non-smoker, and new home discounts. Look closely within your policy to see if you or your home qualifies for any possible discounts.
- Maintain your home
Insurance companies see things like old roofs, mold, and general disrepair as liabilities and will change you accordingly for them. It is important to maintain the structural integrity of your home to ensure your premiums don’t climb unnecessarily.
Top homeowners insurance providers
Here are some top providers per J.D. Power Ratings: