a home insurance policy and calculator

Owning a home can be costly no matter what precautions you take. But when an act of god strikes, and property is damaged to a point where serious repairs are necessary, costs can rise to an unmanageable mark.

For many homeowners, this is where homeowner’s insurance comes into play. A good policy can protect your home or investment property against the most dastardly occurrences. However, the kind of insurance and damage type can determine what repairs are actually covered in each situation.

Here are some tips for ethically maximizing your insurance claim, followed by some general information about what is and isn’t included in standard homeowner’s insurance policies:

Assess damage immediately

The first and most obvious step is to make a detailed personal assessment of damage to your home and property. Take photos of everything you see, and make notes for each photograph. Be specific! Saying “heat damage” will simply not cut it after a fire- you’ll have better luck with detailed descriptions about what is damaged, how it was damaged, and what exactly you’d like done about it.

Know the limits of your homeowner’s policy

Before entering into a tiring and tedious claims battle, perform a detail-focused read of your insurance policy. Keep an eye out for general coverage, like for damage caused by forces of weather, and for where the insurance may exclude certain natural disasters. Flood damage is commonly excluded from standard policies, for instance. Further, different causes may influence your coverage for the same type of damage. Fire damage caused by forest fires could be excluded in your policy, where fires caused by human error are included.

Knowing your insurance policy inside and out will save you time, and also give you confidence when entering into conversations with your insurer.

Get an inspection

After you’ve done a personal home inspection and combed through your homeowner’s insurance policy, it’s time to bring in a contractor to solidify your claims. A reputable inspector is equivalent to an expert witness when it comes to insurance claims. They will be able to both corroborate your claims, and budget for the cost of necessary repairs.

Don’t be afraid to ask your inspector questions about confusion within your policy, as they will usually have a bounty of experience with insurance claims.

What is included in a standard policy

A standard homeowner’s insurance policy covers the structure of your home or condo, and often reaches to include freestanding structures such as garages. The general rule of thumb is to purchase enough coverage for the structure of your home to be completely rebuilt in the case of a dire emergency.

Additionally, homeowner’s insurance generally covers some personal property if stolen or damaged by a covered disaster. Covered property can range from sporting equipment to jewelry, but keep in mind that the insurance may not exceed a dollar amount, so taking a personal inventory of the value of your personal items is necessary to determine whether insurance will cover everything completely. Landscaping features and plants are often covered to some degree as well.

ALE coverage (additional living expenses) is also usually included in a standard policy. This coverage contributes to out of home living expenses if it is unsafe or impossible to stay in one’s home while repairs are performed.

What is not included in a standard policy

Policies range from insurer to insurer, but there are certain common lapses in coverage that should be checked for in a policy. To prepare for possible damage that is not included in your policy, you may have to seek a second, more specific policy.

Certain kinds of natural disaster damage are commonly not covered, like flood, sinkhole, and earthquake damage. If you live in earthquake inclined California or a lowland city like New Orleans, you should acquire insurance that fits the scope of disasters in your area.

Wear and tear on a home is usually not covered, which can reach to include cosmetic damage, mold, and sewage problems.

Pool or recreational facility accidents are rarely covered, so separate insurance may be necessary to protect playtime in your pool or on your trampoline.

Property that is owned by or used for your business or job may be excluded from a personal policy. Check your company’s business insurance policy to understand the scope of work related property coverage.

Destroyed or damaged cash is almost impossible to claim to an insurance company, so reconsider storing your life savings in that shoebox!

If you own a more commonly aggressive dog breed, ask your insurer about coverage for their aggressions under your policy.

All in all, finding the correct insurance policy should be an active conversation between you, your potential insurer, and those who live around you. Consult friends and neighbors about their insurance experiences before committing to a plan, and when it comes time to file for a claim, get a reputable inspector to back up your story to the insurance company.