Protecting your home properly

Published 9:17 pm Thursday, February 10, 2011

With the start of spring just around the corner, it might be a good time to review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

“Things may have changed in your life,” said Katha Treanor, senior resource specialist for the State Corporation Commission. “Your needs may have changed. You may have purchased expensive items and need a special coverage for them.”

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A standard homeowner’s insurance policy will cover the building and contents of the home and liability for injuries that may occur there. Renter’s insurance is similar but does not cover the building.

According to Treanor, standard insurance does not cover everything — and it is vital to know that before disaster strikes. For example, most policies do not cover flooding.

“You don’t want to find out after you suffer damage that you’re not covered,” she said. “You could find out the hard way, and it could be costly.”

Although standard insurance is intended to cover most things, including mattresses, clothes, electronics, furniture and more, it is important to recognize that there are limitations to a standard policy.

For example, special coverage may be needed for expensive jewelry, art, or special collections such as stamps and coins.

“If you’ve gotten a $10,000 diamond since your last renewal, it might not have proper coverage,” said George Lyle, supervisor of the Consumer Services Section of Property and Casualty Division of the Bureau of Insurance.

Treanor recommends a yearly meeting with your insurance agent to discuss your needs and the terms of the policy.

It is important to understand the difference between “cash value” and “replacement cost” when discussing insurance, Treanor added.

“Cash value” is the amount an insurance company will pay to repair or replace a home and its contents, allowing for depreciation. “Replacement cost” on the other hand is the amount that an insurance company will pay to replace the home or contents without deduction for depreciation.

Some people opt to pay an additional premium for replacement cost, Lyle said. Consumers should consider the costs of replacing valuables when purchasing or making adjustments to homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Both Treanor and Lyle advise consumers to select insurance and insurance agents carefully. Make sure that the Bureau of Insurance licenses the provider in Virginia.

It is important to compare similar policies, Lyle said. “Shop around.”

Look for and ask for discounts for multi-policies or alarm systems. It is very important to consider the deductible and how much you can afford to pay out of pocket before the insurance company pays you for replacement or repair.

“Make sure you have the coverage that is right for you,” Treanor said.

Review what you have in your home annually, so that if there is damage you will be able to explain what items you have in your home. Discuss the items in your home with your agent, so they can advise you on coverage. Otherwise it is hard for agents to give proper insurance counseling.

“Most people don’t have any idea what they have,” Lyle said. “A major problem every time there is a major homeowner’s claim is describing what was destroyed.”

Lyle advises consumers to take plenty of pictures to document their property and store them in a place off-site.

“Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance protects your assets and your future income,” Lyle said. “It protects us from losses we can’t handle.”