Unlike driving a car, you can legally own a home without homeowners insurance. However, if you finance your home with a mortgage, your lender most likely will require you to have home insurance coverage to protect your home in case of damage cause by unforeseen circumstances, such as fires or natural disasters.
If you live in an area that is prone to flooding or earthquakes, your lender may also require you to purchase flood insurance or earthquake insurance.
If you purchase a condominium or co-op, your board may require you to buy condominium insurance or home insurance. Be sure to check with your board to see what type of policy is required.
After you pay off your mortgage, you aren’t required to have home insurance. However, you should keep your home insurance policy active to avoid risking what you’ve invested in your home.
Homeowners insurance compensates you for losses to your home and your possessions inside it, so purchasing a homeowners insurance policy provides added security for your investment. Homeowners insurance also protects you if you’re legally liable for someone’s injuries on your property, as well as from financial losses caused by storms, fire, theft and other events outlined in your policy.
Different companies offer different homeowners insurance coverages, so choosing the right policy means finding the right mix of coverages to meet your needs.
Generally, a standard homeowners insurance policy protects the following:
-The physical structure of your home
-Structures on your property (storage sheds, pools, boathouses, etc.)
-Your personal property and belongings inside your home, up to specified limits
-Your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or your family members cause to other people
-Injuries to your household pets while inside your home
-Additional living expenses if a fire or other insured disaster leaves you temporarily unable to live in your home.
Often, for an additional fee, you can select optional homeowners insurance coverages, including:
-Higher limits of liability for property damage or bodily injury
-Replacement cost for personal property
-Protection for valuables (jewelry, watches, fur, etc.)
-Additional coverage for electronics or computer equipment.
To make shopping for the right homeowners insurance policy easier, take an inventory of what you own to decide what level of coverage makes you comfortable. Once you know your coverage level, get a homeowners insurance quote and choose the policy that’s right for you.
What about townhouses?
If you own a townhouse, you can insure it with a homeowners insurance policy or an association master policy, depending on your situation. Some townhouse associations have master policies, in which case you should purchase a tenant homeowners insurance policy to insure your personal property. Other townhouse associations do not have master policies, which is when you should purchase a homeowners insurance policy for your unit. Check with your association to determine which type of policy you should purchase for your townhouse.
You generally have three options to choose from when deciding how much home insurance you need, and each of these options provides a different level of coverage for your home:
Actual Cash Value – Pays for the cost to replace damaged property while factoring in depreciation amounts. For home insurance policies, Actual Cash Value applies unless a policy states that Replacement Cost or Guaranteed Replacement Cost has been chosen.
Replacement Cost – Pays for the cost to replace damaged property without factoring in deductions for depreciation, but payment is limited to a maximum dollar amount.
Guaranteed Replacement Cost – Pays the full cost of replacing damaged property, with no deduction for depreciation and no dollar limit. Guaranteed Replacement Cost is not available in all states, and most companies limit the coverage to 120 percent of the cost to rebuild your home. Allowing for this amount protects you in cases of increased construction costs or other building-related fees due to inflation.
You can determine a rough estimate of what it would cost to rebuild your home by following this equation:
Local building costs per square foot x Total square footage of your home = Cost to rebuild your home.
Your local builders association or a real estate appraiser can provide you with local building costs for your estimate.
What factors can affect homeowners insurance premiums?
The following factors can affect your homeowners insurance premium:
Home Features and Characteristics – Your home’s age, type of structure, wiring, roof, garage, etc., can affect your homeowners insurance premium. Older homes can often cost more to insure, and those costs can differ depending on whether your home is brick, frame, stone or has synthetic siding.
Location – Where your home is located can change your homeowners insurance premium. For instance, your home insurance rate can be affected if your home is in close proximity to a fire station; is exposed to extreme weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes; or is in a neighborhood more prone to theft.
Protective Devices – Burglar alarm systems, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems and deadbolt locks can lower your homeowners insurance premium.
Personal Factors – What you do can affect your homeowners insurance premium, too. For instance, smokers may pay more for home insurance than nonsmokers. A good credit history also can lower what you pay for home insurance.
Claims History – If you have a history of claims on a homeowners insurance policy, you may pay a higher premium.