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Home Insurance

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What is homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance provides financial protection against disasters. A standard policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.

Homeowners insurance is a package policy. This means that it covers both damage to your property and your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or members of your family cause to other people. This includes damage caused by household pets.

Damage caused by most disasters is covered but there are exceptions. The most significant are damage caused by floods, earthquakes and poor maintenance. You must buy two separate policies for flood and earthquake coverage. Maintenance-related problems are the homeowners’ responsibility.

Are there different types of policies?

Yes. A person who owns his or her home would have a different policy from someone who rents. Policies also differ on the amount of insurance coverage provided.

The different types of homeowners policies are fairly standard throughout the country. However, individual states and companies may offer policies that are slightly different or go by other names such as “standard” or “deluxe”. The one exception is the state of Texas, where policies vary somewhat from policies in other states. The Texas Insurance Department has detailed information on its various homeowners policies.

If you own your own home

If you own the home you live in, you have several policies to choose from. The most popular policy is the HO-3, which provides the broadest coverage. Owners of multi-family homes generally purchase an HO-3 with an endorsement to cover the risks associated with having renters live in their homes.

  • HO-1: Limited coverage policyThis “bare bones” policy covers you against the first 10 disasters. It’s no longer available in most states.
  • HO-2: Basic policyA basic policy provides protection against all 16 disasters. There is a version of HO-2 designed for mobile homes.
  • HO-3: The most popular policyThis “special” policy protects your home from all perils except those specifically excluded. (Click on the link below for a sample HO-3 form; you will need Acrobat which you can download, free of charge, from the Adobe Web site. Paper: Homeowners 3 – Special Form (PDF)
  • O-8: Older homeDesigned for older homes, this policy usually reimburses you for damage on an actual cash value basis which means replacement cost less depreciation. Full replacement cost policies may not be available for some older homes.

If you rent your home

  • HO4-RenterCreated specifically for those who rent the home they live in, this policy protects your possessions and any parts of the apartment that you own, such as new kitchen cabinets you install, against all 16 disasters.

If you own a co-op or a condo

  • H0-6: condo/co-opA policy for those who own a condo or co-op, it provides coverage for your belongings and the structural parts of the building that you own. It protects you against all 16 disasters.

Your level of coverage

Regardless of whether you are an owner or renter, you have the following three options:

  1. Actual cash value: This type of policy pays to replace your home or possessions minus a deduction for depreciation.
  2. Replacement cost: The policy pays the cost of rebuilding/repairing your home or replacing your possessions without a deduction for depreciation.
  3. Guaranteed or extended replacement cost: This policy offers the highest level of protection. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster–even if it exceeds the policy limit. This gives you protection against sudden increases in construction costs due to a shortage of building materials after a widespread disaster or other unexpected situations. It generally won’t cover the cost of upgrading the house to comply with current building codes. You can, however, get an endorsement (or an addition to) your policy called Ordinance or Law to help pay for these additional costs. A guaranteed replacement cost policy may not be available if you own an older home.

Some insurance companies offer an extended, rather than a guaranteed replacement cost policy. An extended policy pays a certain percentage over the limit to rebuild your home. Generally, it is 20 to 25 percent more than the limit of the policy. For example, if you took out a policy for $100,000, you could get up to an extra $20,000 or $25,000 of coverage.

Even though a guaranteed/extended replacement cost policy may be a bit more expensive, it offers the best financial protection against disasters for your home. These coverages, however, may not be available in all states or from all companies.

Courtesy of Insurance Information Institute