There’s nothing quite like owning your first home. As you complete small home improvement projects, decorate your new space, and meet your neighbors, you'll start taking great pride in having a home to call your own (if you're improving your home, see Home Renovations: When Do They Make a Difference for Your Insurance?).
To protect your new investment, you’ll want to get homeowners insurance, but the options can be overwhelming – especially if you’ve never done any of this before!
We're here to help. These five keys to homeowners insurance will give you a primer on everything you need to know as a first-time homeowner. Use what you learn here to ensure your first home is protected.
1. Learn the Lingo
It’s helpful to get a general idea of what different terms mean before you start calling around requesting quotes. Here are a few to get you started:
This is one of those terms you've probably heard thrown around a few times but aren't quite sure what it means. It's a simple concept: your deductible is how much you’ll be required to pay out of pocket before your insurance company will start chipping in on your claim.
Your premium is how much you’ll pay for your insurance on a monthly or annual basis. You’ll want to pay attention to this number so you can make sure your policy will fit in your budget (find out How Insurance Companies Calculate Your Home Insurance Premiums).
If someone gets injured on your property – even as an uninvited trespasser! – you could be sued for the medical bills. Liability coverage is what will help you pay for the resulting medical and legal expenses.
Personal Property Coverage
Personal property coverage protects what you own and store in your home, like furniture or personal electronics. There may be limits to how much or what is covered, so ask your insurance provider for details and purchase extended riders if you need them (see Personal Property Floaters 101 for more information).
These are extensions you can add onto your policy so it covers things that aren't already protected by it. Sometimes, the things you want to protect the most, like your great grandmother’s wedding ring or a valuable piece of artwork, are the very ones that are excluded from your basic property coverage. Ask your agent for details (see Insurance Agents: What's The Point? to find out whether you should get one).
2. Budget Before You Buy – And Get a CLUE
There are a lot of costs to consider when buying a home: the down payment, necessary repairs, property taxes, and more. Before you begin viewing homes – and certainly before you ever make a down payment – you need to ensure your budget accounts for all of those additional costs.
Find out how much homeowner's insurance is going to cost you before you put money down on a house. Call around to compare rates from three or more providers. Remember, you’re not looking for the lowest price – you're looking for the best value.
You’ll find that certain factors can affect your premium, including:
- Backyard swimming pools or trampolines
- The condition, age, and size of your home
- The location of your home – are you in a flood zone or at risk of other disasters?
Call different providers to get an idea of what you’ll be paying on the front end so that the cost doesn’t take you by surprise once the keys are in your hand.
When you’re trying to determine how much your homeowners insurance will cost, start by getting a CLUE. No, that’s not an insult – CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loan Underwriting Exchange – it’s a way to search your home’s history for recent claims and get an idea of how much your premium may cost (see CLUE Yourself In to learn more).
3. Get More for Less
One of the simplest ways to save on your homeowners insurance is to bundle multiple insurance policies. Combining your homeowners and auto insurance policies can sometimes save you up to 20%. Start by calling your current auto insurance provider to ask about bundling.
And you don’t have to stop at bundling with auto insurance – ask about other bundling opportunities or any additional available discounts. Some providers, for example, offer discounts when you install deadbolt locks or a home security system (find out How Smart Devices Can Protect Your Home and Help You Save on Insurance).
As you look for places to save, don’t get so frugal that you’re willing to skimp on coverage. Remember, you’re looking for the best value, not the lowest price. Make sure the coverage is enough to replace or rebuild your home if it is destroyed by fire or a natural disaster.
4. Find Out What’s Covered
Take time to read the fine print or ask a broker to go over all the details. Never assume that something is covered; some belongings and risks require additional coverage.
For example, highly valuable belongings or antiques aren’t always covered with the rest of your belongings and may require extended riders (learn more in An Intro to Insurance Sublimits). If your home’s location puts it at risk of flooding, you’ll likely need to purchase separate flood insurance.
Remember that you’ll be relying on your insurance company in times of disaster, so it’s important to choose one you can trust. Once you’ve compared policies for their value and coverage, do a quick search for customer reviews. You’ll want to choose a company with an established reputation for covering valid claims from customers. In a time of great loss, you don’t want to have to beg, plead, or fight for the coverage you’ve paid for (see How to Choose an Insurance Company That Won't Go Out of Business to learn more).
5. Spend to Save
Have you ever heard the saying “You have to spend money to make money?” Well, as it turns out, you also have to spend money to save money. By spending money on home repairs, you can save in the long run on your home insurance.
Get a home inspection while your home is under contract, and pay to fix any flagged items that the previous owner won’t repair. You want to ensure your plumbing, roof, electrical, and HVAC are all in good condition. Make sure you report your improvements to your home insurance agent to see if it can lower your premium.
Filing a claim, even a valid one, can lead to higher premiums down the road. Look for ways to minimize risk and prevent small or large disasters that could lead you to file a claim. For example, cut off any dead tree limbs that are close to your roof and replace lost or missing shingles before massive damage can occur.
Another way to get better rates is to build up your credit score. Insurance companies see good credit as a sign that you’re less likely to file claims. If you don’t have much credit, you may choose to open a credit card to help. Just be sure to pay it off on time and never exceed your limit, or you’ll only hurt your credit score (learn more in Your Credit Score and Your Insurance Premium).
With these five keys to homeowners insurance, you’re ready to start shopping for your dream home. Use what you’ve learned to choose a policy that will protect your investment and provide you with peace of mind as you fall in love with your new space.