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Homeowners Insurance Information
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What is homeowners insurance?
Homeowners (HO) insurance, commonly referred to as home insurance, provides financial protection against disasters. A standard HO policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.
The most common homeowner policies consist of two parts: the first is property coverage, which includes coverage of your dwelling, other structures on the property, and personal property. “Other structures” include the garage, as well as guest house, tool shed, or similar type buildings. Not included are buildings used for business or rented or leased to others. Personal property includes all household furnishings and your own personal belongings, including clothes. Among personal property usually excluded from coverage are your car or other motorized vehicle, pet dog or cat or other animal, computers or other equipment that are part of a small business run from your home.
The second part of your policy provides personal liability coverage, which pays damages if someone brings a claim or suit against you for bodily injury or damage to his or her property.
Three types of HO policies are commonly offered. The first two, usually termed HO-1 and HO-2, insure the dwelling, other structures, and personal property against a list of named “perils,” or causes of loss, such as fire, lightning, etc. HO-1, a basic policy, commonly covers some 11 perils. HO-2 is broader, covering some five or six additional perils. A third policy, usually termed HO-3, includes an “all risk” clause that covers nearly all perils or causes of loss, with specified exceptions. The exceptions almost always include flood, earthquake, war, and nuclear hazard.
HO-3 is probably the most widely sold homeowner policy. Although the all-risk clause adds to the cost of the premium, without the clause, coverage is limited to damage caused by one of the named perils.
The liability portion of the homeowner policy protects against a claim or lawsuit brought by someone who is injured on your property or by something you do. The claim can also be for damage to that person’s property, if it is caused by something you do or for which you are responsible. The liability portion of your homeowner’s policy pays for damages when you are liable for the injury, pays the medical expenses if the person is injured, and provides legal expenses to defend you even in cases where the suit is not thought to be justified.
Why do you need homeowners insurance?
It is really all about protecting yourself financially if something unexpected happens to your home or possessions. That's important because chances are your home is likely one of your largest investments.
If your home was destroyed by fire or damaged by a natural disaster, you'd need money to repair or replace it.
If a guest in your home is injured, liability protection and medical coverage help pay expenses.
If you are a victim of theft and vandalism, it can reimburse you for your loss or pay for repairs.
If you are still paying for your home, your lender will require insurance.
It is important to know that homeowners insurance is meant to cover unexpected damage, not routine maintenance. Ask your agent to talk about what is covered and be sure to read your policy so you know exactly what's included and what is not.
What Affects Rates?
Homeowner policy rates depend first of all, of course, on the extent and dollar amount of coverage: a policy with an “all risk” clause will cost more than a policy that covers damage resulting from a limited number of named perils; a policy that provides replacement cost coverage for a $300,000 home will cost more than for a $100,000 home; liability coverage of $300,000 will cost more than coverage of $100,000.
Ways to Reduce Rates
Lower Coverage B and C. In Minnesota, homeowners may reduce their rates by reducing the dollar limits of coverage for structures other than the dwelling (Coverage B) and for personal property (Coverage C). State law requires insurance companies to offer lower than standard limits for these types of property and to reduce the premium accordingly. If you choose to have lower limits, take care that you are not running the risk of being underinsured. Many people underestimate the replacement value of their personal property.
- Higher deductibles
You can also lower the premium by raising your deductible—the amount of money you pay before your insurance company starts to pay for a loss. Doubling your deductible from the standard $250 can often reduce your rates about 12 percent; increasing the deductible to $2,500 can often save about 30 percent.
- Safety and security systems
Some companies offer discounts for sprinkler systems, fire and burglar alarms, and similar systems. In the case of mobile homes, tie-downs or ground anchors, which reduce the risk of wind-caused damage, can lower rates.
- Discounts and group rates
These are sometimes available to seniors, or members of a professional or business organization. Some companies also offer a discount if you have another policy with them— such as auto insurance—or if you have stayed with the same company for several years. If a company offers these packaged dis- counts to homeowners, it must also offer them to individuals having a renter’s or a condominium owner’s policy with the company.
If a company offers a lower rate for a new home, it most also offer a rate reduction for renovated homes. As an example, a company may give credit for one or more of the fol- lowing: renovated electrical, heating or cooling, and plumbing systems, as well as roof or other part of the structure.
What Cannot Affect Rates
Minnesota law prohibits insurance companies from adjusting rates based solely on:
The geographic location of a town in which the home is located.
The age of the home construction (unless identical credit is also offered for one or more renovated systems as noted above).
Different zip code areas in the same town.
The fact that the homeowner may have previously been denied coverage for the property unless it was for reasons stated in Minnesota Statute §65A.01.
The fact that the property has previously been insured under the Minnesota FAIR Plan.
Other Types of HO Policies
Variations of these common homeowner policies are available for other types of dwellings. They include:
- Renter’s or tenant’s policy
The standard renter’s policy insures your personal property against the expanded list of perils named in the HO-2 policy, and also includes liability coverage; it does not, of course, cover the actual building or other structures, which are the responsibility of the owner.
- Mobile home policy
This provides basically the same type of cover- age as the common HO policies described above. Premiums are usually higher because of the greater susceptibility of mobile homes to wind damage.
- Condominium owner’s policy
The condominium association buys insurance covering the building and other structures. The owner of the condominium unit, therefore, usually buys a policy similar to the renter’s policy in that it principally provides personal property and liability coverage. You should check with the condominium association, however, to determine the extent of its cover- age. Typically, the association’s insurance covers only the exterior walls, and damage to such items as bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets, and carpet would need to be covered by your policy.
Actual Cash Value coverage
Often termed HO-8 is similar to HO-1 in providing both property and liability coverage for some 11 named perils, but it differs from most HO policies sold today in that it covers repairs or reimburses based on Actual Cash Value—not replacement or rebuilding costs. This type of cover- age is often sold to cover older homes that have some architectural or other features that make their replacement cost significantly higher than their market value. It also is commonly sold to those who cannot afford or qualify for the more comprehensive HO policies described above.
Guaranteed Replacement Cost
This means that if your home is destroyed by a covered loss, some companies, such as West Bend, will pay to replace it even if the cost to do so is higher than the limits on your policy.
On many homeowners' policies, detached structures like sheds or garages, as well as your personal property and loss of use of your property, have separate limits of insurance. Talk with us to find a company that offers blanket coverage, or one limit, for all of them.
Common gaps in homeowners insurance
Homeowners policies vary company and homeowners can mistakenly assume common items and features are covered. Let's connect to talk about your needs:
Sump pump overflow/sewer backup. If your sump pump overflows or your sewer backs up, you'll want to make sure have coverage for water damage to the possessions in your basement.
Sheds and unattached enclosures. All policies are different so it's important to discuss all details of your needs and determine what should and should not be insured.
Trampolines and pools. Insurance companies view properties with trampolines and pools differently. That doesn't mean they won't insure them, you'll just want to make sure you are propertly protected.
Inflation Guard Protection. This optional coverage automatically adjusts the limit of insurance for your home to account for the normal increase in the cost of building materials and labor over time.
Jewelry artwork, antiques. Depending on the value, you might want to consider adding an additional personal articles policy. With soem companies, you can choose to automatically get $5,000 of coverage to protect your jewelry against more types of loss than what's typically included in a basic insurance policy.
Home office or business. You will need an additional policy to protect your assets if a client is injured on your property or if merchandise is damaged or stolen.
Open Peril Coverage for Personal Property. This provides coverage for types of losses that aren't covered on your basic policy, for instance if you spill paint on your carpet or throw your Wii controller through the TV.
- Mortgage Extra Expense. If your home must be rebuilt due to a covered loss, this addtional coverage will pay the difference in your mortgage interest rate if the new rate is higher than it had been.
- Sports or Hobby Equipment. An additional $1,000 of coverage to protect your sports and hobby equipment against most types of losses is available on some policies.
- Deductible Waived While Traveling. Your deductible will be waived with this option if you have a loss to your personal property while you're traveling.
- Freezer/Refrigerator Power Loss. This optional protection provides additional $500 in coverage for food or other personal property that's stored in your freezer or refrigerator and spoils if your home loses power.
- Golf Cart. Some policies offer $2,500 of coverage to protect the golf cart(s) you own against most types of losses.
- Loss Assessment. If you're a member of a condominium or neighborhood association, and property collectively owned by association members is damaged by a covered peril, or if your association becomes liable for a personal injury loss, some companies will provide coverage of $5,000 for your share of the loss assessment charged against you.
It pays to be proactive
When reviewing your policy options, considering the following factors can help guide you to the appropriate amount of coverage for your needs.
- Determining adequate coverage
Creating a home inventory can help determine if you have enough coverage. If you have any special items like art, jewelry, consider if you need additional coverage. You also need to factor in coverage for a shed or pool. Those items might not be covered under your policy or might raise your liability.
- Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Costs
If your policy provides “Actual Cash Value” the insurance company will pay you an amount equivalent to the current value of the property. Keep in mind, that you might be reimbursed for less than what you originally paid for the item.
With “Replacement Cost” the insurance company will pay you the “Actual cash value” upfront, then provide further reimbursement if the cost of replacement is more than the actual cash value.
In cases where there is a disagreement between you and the insurance company over the amount of the loss, Minnesota statute provides for resolving the dispute through an appraisal process. Ask your claim representative how to start the appraisal process.
- Raising your deductible to lower premium costs
Let's talk to see what discounts you qualify for and review if you could raise your deductible to decrease your premium costs.
- Assessing your risks
Floods and earthquakes are often not covered by a standard homeowners or renters policy. Determine your risk for these types of disasters and ask about available options. Visit www.floodsmart.gov for details on flood insurance.
- Determining your liability coverage
Coverage for $250,000 might sound like it would go a long way to protect your property, but once you factor in retirement accounts, savings, and your home's value you might need coverage beyond that amount. An umbrella policy can extend your liability coverage above the amount that you might find in a basic homeowner's policy.
- Review your coverage annually
Insurance companies may change policy terms at renewal, but they must notify you first. We will proactively review your information on a regualr basis. It is also important to read all notices and information sent from your insurance company.
Things to consider when looking for homeowners insurance
How much will it cost to rebuild my house and replace my belongings if they are damaged or destroyed? Do you offer actual cash value or guaranteed replacement cost?
Do you offer blanket coverage? How are my sheds and outbuildings covered?
Does the insurance company have a good reputation for customer service? Is it known for paying claims fairly and promptly?
What discounts are available? Let's talk about multiple policy, security system and fire resistance discounts.
What's the process for filing and settling a claim? Ask who to call and what happens after you file a claim.
Should I carry umbrella insurance? The answer should almost always be 'yes'.
Contact us today for more information, or to help you get home insurance quote comparisons for several companies with just one call! Experience the value of YOUR local independent insurance agency, conveniently located in Lake Elmo near the border of Woodbury and Oakdale.
This information is brought to you with the assistance of the Minnesota Commerce Department.