Home Base for Protecting Your Property
What you need to know to get the best insurance to cover the roof over your head, and everything under it (plus, some things you didn't even know you need covered).
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Sure, homeowners insurance provides protection for your home, but did you know that it covers much more than that? Not only does it protect the investments you've made in your property, but it can cover the cost of stolen or damaged belongings (whether they're at home or anywhere else in the world), and even pay for legal fees if you're sued for a non-household member's injuries or property damage. With the right policy, you could be covered if your house is struck by lightning, a thief takes your laptop, or your neighbor falls on your front step. Whether you're shopping for insurance for the first time, or looking to add or change insurance, we're here to simplify the process of shopping for and comparing insurance quotes, and help you get the best coverage for your needs.
"Having insurance is all about financial security," says Mark Friedlander, organization spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. "Homeowners insurance is essential to rebuild your home after a natural disaster or other major loss, such as a structure fire, or even a minor loss so you don't sustain financial impact."
And it's not just your interests that are protected. Most mortgage lenders require homeowners to get insurance so their investment is also kept safe in the event that your house is damaged.
It's not just your interests that are protected—most mortgage lenders require homeowners to get insurance so their investment is also kept safe
But the multitude of policies, perils, and replacement costs can be overwhelming. Confused by how one policy can (or can't) do so much? Use our tools to sort through what types of damage are covered by which policies, how much is covered, and above all, what a good insurance quote looks like—all of which depends on where you live, the value of your home and personal belongings, and several other factors. We'll help you feel confident in choosing coverage that will protect what you have today and preserve your assets for the future, whether you're in a single family home, townhouse, condo, or you're insuring a home that you rent to others.
What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?
Homeowners insurance includes several types of coverage that protect your home and other financial assets when the unexpected occurs. Generally, your policy provides coverage for the following categories of loss:
Most policies' dwelling coverage also includes protection for attached structures, or accessory dwelling units (ADU). ADUs include garages and mother-in-law suites that are physically part of the main house, though they may have separate entrances.
Dwelling insurance (known in the industry as Coverage A) pays to repair or replace the physical structure of your home when it's damaged by circumstances such as fire or certain weather disasters known in the insurance biz as common perils (see "What Causes of Loss Are Covered by Homeowners Insurance?" for more information).
Personal property insurance (Coverage C) insures your belongings. This coverage helps you recover losses when items such as your clothing, furniture, and electronics are damaged or stolen whether they're in your home or kept in another location anywhere in the world. Damaged trees, shrubs, and other landscaping are also covered.
Note that while personal property coverage insures a wide range of your possessions, it doesn't apply to your automobile—that's covered by your car insurance. If you own a boat, you'll need separate boat insurance, though some homeowners policies may cover damage that happens to your boat while it's kept at your house.
Loss of use
Loss of use insurance (Coverage D) covers the extra living expenses you'll have to pay if you're forced out of your home as a result of a covered event. These costs can include lodging, food, and visits to a laundromat. This coverage reimburses you for additional expenses but not what would be considered daily costs of living if you remained in your home.
Personal liability insurance (Coverage E) covers the fees involved when you or another household member is liable, or responsible, for an injury to a non-household member or damage to their property. In these situations, liability coverage may help pay for the injured person's medical bills and lost wages, your legal expenses and any court awards if you're sued, and the costs of repairing or replacing the damaged property for which you're responsible.
Medical payments to others
Medical payments insurance (Coverage F) pays for small injuries that non-household members experience on your property, no matter who's at fault. This coverage helps prevent the incident from resulting in a more expensive liability claim. Medical payments coverage typically pays for emergency medical attention, X-rays, surgery, and ambulance service.
How Much Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?
The amount that homeowners insurance will cover varies by company and even state regulations, so it's important to understand the levels of coverage that are included in your specific policy. Other factors play a part in how much coverage you'll receive as well, but for a general idea, take a look at the typical amounts for each segment of a standard policy:
What Determines How Much is Covered?
The policy you end up with should be tailored to your needs. What it covers—and what you'll pay for that coverage—depends on a few things. Primarily, you'll want to consider what deductible (your out-of-pocket portion of financial responsibility) you want to pay should you need to file a claim and what can you can afford to pay for monthly premiums (the fee you pay to your insurance company for coverage).
Your Deductible Makes a Difference
Deductibles apply to the portion of your homeowners coverage related to damage, theft, or destruction of your home or possessions. Your deductible should reflect the amount of money you're able to pay in case your home or personal possessions are affected as the result of a covered peril. For example, if you have a $1,000 deductible and your house has $5,000 of damage from a fire, you'll pay $1,000 and receive a check for $4,000.
Typically, higher deductibles result in lower monthly premiums, and lower deductibles come with higher premiums. Also affecting your premium is whether you want to receive compensation for full or partial replacement of damaged structures and possessions.
higher deductibles result in lower monthly premiums, and lower deductibles come with higher premiums
Replacement vs. Cash Value Insurance Option
One of the biggest decisions that affects your coverage is whether to insure your home and belongings for replacement value or actual cash value. Replacement value pays the cost of rebuilding, repairing, or replacing your home and possessions without deducting for depreciation. Actual cash value pays to replace your home and possessions minus a deduction for depreciation.
Who wouldn't want to have full replacement value, you might ask? It all comes down to how much you want to spend for that. Annual premiums are about 10% lower for actual cash value, but you'll receive roughly 30% to 50% more if you file a claim under a policy that covers replacement value.
An important consideration in replacement value coverage is the 80% rule. To cover the cost of damages, most insurers require that the value of your replacement policy equals at least 80% of the estimated cost to rebuild. Some levels of coverage are predetermined, which may be the case if you need to fulfill specific insurance requirements for your mortgage lender.
Remember the 80% rule: Most insurers require that the value of your replacement policy equals at least 80% of the estimated cost to rebuild
Once you've determined which type of coverage you want, the editors at Consumer Reports advise that you add an "inflation guard" to your policy. This automatically adjusts your coverage to stay consistent with annual increases in home building costs. It will also automatically keep your insured value at 80% as these costs rise, though you'll still be best protected if you insure for 100% of the replacement value."Buy enough insurance to cover the labor and materials to completely rebuild your home," advises Consumer Reports.
Which Homeowners Insurance Policy Do I Need?
Unlike auto insurance, you don't really "need" homeowners insurance because there's no legal requirement to have it. (Of course, if you don't buy homeowners insurance, you'll have to pay for any loss from theft, damage, or destruction on your own.) However, your mortgage lender may require that you purchase a specific type of homeowners insurance with certain coverage limits as a condition of qualifying for your loan.
You'll get the most for your money when you choose a policy that's designed to cover the type of home you own so you'll pay only for what you need. Start with the type of home you own and, if there are multiple policy types per home, the minimum number of things you want covered:
Building on your insurance company's general form for the appropriate policy, you'll next personalize coverage limits for your dwelling, other structures, personal property, loss of use, and liability insurance. For example, while structure and personal property limits depend on your assets, most policies have a liability limit of $100,000. However, the Insurance Information Institute recommends purchasing additional liability insurance between $300,000 and $500,000.
What Causes of Loss Are Covered?
As you dig deeper into your coverage options, it can feel overwhelming to consider all the potential catastrophes that can wipe out your home, personal possessions, and other assets. Does homeowners insurance cover your home if it's vandalized? What if your sewer backs up? You may be surprised to learn about the specific causes of damage—called "perils" in the industry—that insurance does and does not cover.
"Homeowners policies vary by carrier and state as insurance is regulated at the state level," says Friedlander. "The Insurance Information Institute recommends that you read your homeowners policy to understand what is covered and what is not."
Generally, homeowners insurance only covers sudden and accidental losses, however the perils covered can vary from one policy to the next. An open perils policy insures against all causes of loss except those that are specifically excluded. The alternative is a named perils policy, which only insures against the losses specifically listed in the plan. That may sound confusing, but the good news is that even a basic homeowners policy covers many of the most common and costly types of perils that can result in loss.
Wondering what sort of catastrophes—natural, man-made, or otherwise—should be covered by homeowners insurance? Consult your state's insurance commissioner site for specifics and check our chart to see what's generally covered for the type of home you own. Depending on personal factors such as where you live and the kinds of belongings you own, you may want to purchase additional protection for events such as certain natural disasters or the theft of particularly expensive items.
Earthquake, Flood, and Other Natural Disaster Insurance
Home on a cliff? Live in a Lahar zone? Hurricane country?
While most standard homeowners insurance policies cover many types of natural occurrences—lightning, severe thunderstorms, windstorms, wind from hurricanes and tropical storms, wildfires, hail and the weight of ice, snow or sleet—Consumer Reports warns that many homeowners don't have adequate insurance to cover losses caused by natural disasters.
In fact, most standard homeowners policies don't cover floods caused by natural disasters, earthquakes, and other disasters. Covering yourself for these circumstances generally requires either a separate policy or adding an endorsement or rider to standard coverage if you want to fully insure your home and belongings. Generally, the higher your risk of experiencing a specific disaster, the higher your premium will be to cover it.
While a standard homeowners policy doesn't cover damage from earthquakes, landslides, or sinkholes, it usually covers fire due to an earthquake or other ground movement. Earthquake insurance covers the shaking and cracking that can destroy houses and possessions.
"Premium rates for earthquake insurance can vary significantly, from fairly inexpensive in low-risk areas to a relatively high cost in places that are more prone to earthquakes," says Friedlander. "Deductibles for earthquake insurance plans are higher than those in standard homeowners or renter's insurance, usually from 5% to 15%of the policy limit."
Most private insurance companies offer earthquake coverage as an endorsement or separate policy. If you live in California, you can purchase earthquake coverage from the California Earthquake Authority for all types of homes, and can save money on premiums in a variety of ways.
Floods rank as the most common natural disaster in the United States, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, a standard homeowners policy only covers flooding caused by a pipe that breaks in your home. You need flood insurance to protect your assets against flooding that originates outside your home, even if it's caused by a covered peril. This can be especially important when you consider just how costly the impact of flooding truly is. According to FEMA, just one inch of water can cause $25,000 worth of damage.
Just one inch of water can cause $25,000 worth of damage to your home
The federal government sponsors a National Flood Insurance Program, though these policies are sold through private agents. Coverage is maxed at $250,000 for dwellings and $100,000 for the contents inside, with annual premiums averaging $700. You can find your risk of flooding at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. Depending on your location and circumstances, you may also have the option to purchase flood insurance backed by private insurers.
Insurance companies often charge a separate and higher hurricane or wind damage deductible in 19 hurricane-prone states and the District of Columbia. A hurricane or wind damage deductible typically ranges between 1% and 5% of your home's insured value and is specified in your policy. Some companies allow you to select your deductible and adjust your premiums accordingly.
A standard policy covers your home and property from fire, including damage and destruction caused by wildfires for most homeowners. However, insurers determine your risk for wildfire based on several location-based factors. If you live in an area that has a high risk, you may be subject to higher premiums or have to purchase a separate stand-alone fire policy.
Extra Insurance for Jewelry, Art, and Other Valuables
It might surprise a lot of home insurance shoppers that most standard homeowners policies have a limit of between $1,000 and $2,000 for jewelry. However, if you own a necklace, wedding ring, or other piece that's valued over that limit, you'll have to purchase an endorsement to insure the piece for its full value.
An endorsement is a document that changes the terms of your original homeowners policy. It's used as an amendment to increase the level of coverage provided in your original policy. Most insurance companies require an appraisal that confirms the value of the item you're insuring before they'll add on the endorsement.
Depending on the type of item you're insuring, where you keep it (such as a safe), and other factors that vary by insurer, the cost for an endorsement can be reasonable when you consider how much you might pay to replace the item on your own. For example, an endorsement for jewelry can cost just $1 to $2 a year for every $100 worth of coverage.
Based on the value of your possessions and category limits in your homeowners policy, you might choose to purchase an endorsement for the following items beyond jewelry:
How to Estimate the Coverage You'll Need
The average annual homeowners insurance premium is $1,192 for a standard HO-3 insurance policy form, according to a report by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). However, your premium can vary significantly based on numerous factors that insurers consider, including:
With so many considerations, how do you decide the amount of coverage you'll need? You can start by estimating the amount of money it would cost to rebuild your home if it was destroyed.
Estimate the cost to rebuild your home. You can find the replacement value of your home by locating the average construction costs for your region (which typically range between $100 and $155 per square foot) as determined by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) and multiplying that by your home's square footage. In 2017, the average cost of construction of a single home was $237,760, according to the NAHB, with these costs accounting for about 56% of the total average sale price of $427,892.
Consider Liability Coverage Carefully. The amount of liability coverage you choose is also a key factor in determining your homeowners insurance premiums. While it's tempting to choose the minimum to save money, consider the value of all your assets (including savings and investments) when deciding on appropriate coverage. "If you are ever sued, your standard homeowners or auto insurance policy will provide you with some liability coverage, paying for judgments against you and your attorney's fees, up to a limit set in the policy," Friedlander says. "However, in our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That's what a personal umbrella liability policy provides."
If the value of your home and other assets exceeds the maximum limits on your homeowners policy, you may benefit from having an umbrella liability policy. An umbrella policy is a secondary policy that covers you when your damages are more than the liability limits of those policies. It will also cover you for litigation-related issues such as libel and slander. You'll pay about $150 to $300 for $1 million of personal umbrella liability, Friedlander says. The second million of coverage will cost about $75, with every million after that costing around $50.
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