Getting your home insurance buttoned up

Homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance is a necessity; each covers you for unexpected occurrences, ranging from robberies to fires.

Homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance is a necessity; each covers you for unexpected occurrences, ranging from robberies to fires.

However, when it comes to assessing whether you have adequate coverage, the devil is in the details.

For example, did you know that the majority of these plans do not cover floods or earthquakes? Or that some cover fire damage but not wildfire damage?

With increasing cases of extreme natural disasters, it is more important than ever to review your coverage and be certain that you have the best level of protection you can afford.

Here are five tips to get your home insurance organized.

1. Watch What You Claim — Did you know that if you keep making small claims, you may exhaust your insurance funds faster than you anticipated — or even be dropped from the plan? It may also cause your premiums to significantly increase; in which case, paying for that roof repair out-of-pocket may be a smarter move, financially. Look carefully at your plan before you make a claim, or talk to your agent to find out all of the nitty-gritty details on small claims and their effect on your coverage.

2. Take Inventory — Do you know exactly what is in your home? First, write down from memory everything of value in your living room, from electronics to DVDs.

Now take that list to the living room. Did you remember it all? Imagine doing that for your entire home after a fire rips through it.

Everyone has valuables; they are so much more than just artwork or televisions. Think about your CDs, iPods, clothing, outerwear, golf clubs, Corningware and picture frames. They are all valuable and worth something.

Go through your home and take an inventory of everything room by room. Take photos, keep the proofs of purchase for anything in your home more than US$200, get appraisals done on all luxury items like jewelry, and keep it all in an easy-to-grab binder that you can take with you at a moment’s notice.

The other reason this step is important is because you may find that you are carrying insurance for $25,000 worth of goods in your home, but actually have close to $50,000 worth of items in the house.

You can also hire an insurance appraiser to go through your home after you take inventory. At the bare minimum, however, having the inventory log of the valuables in your home will get you considerably more in terms of reimbursement if the worst does occur.

3. Determine Exactly What IS Covered — Insurance packets and their corresponding websites are not written for the layperson. They can be highly confusing, full of legal mumbo jumbo and contain asterisked scenarios such as “If your home is damaged in a fire you are covered for X amount of dollars.” The small print under the asterisk then “clarifies” along the lines of “Note: Unless you own a red car, a monkey or have ever eaten at Dale’s Deli.”

These papers can be overwhelming, so schedule an appointment with your agent and discuss the ins and outs of your current coverage.

To make the conversation easier, bring your valuables binder to aid you in talking about your home inventory, and discuss events that aren’t covered by your current plan, like sewage, hurricane, flood, earthquake, etc.

4. Equip and Prepare — Owning insurance is one piece of the puzzle, but you can also take insurance planning into your own hands with proper emergency planning.

For example, if you live in an area that has frequent wildfires, you should clear the brush around your property on a regular basis. You may also want to consider applying a coat or two of fire-deterrent paint.

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, do you have proper roofing reinforcements and windows installed?

Even if you don’t live in an area with extreme weather, simply having an alarm system means fire departments will be quickly alerted to flames and the police to burglaries. These defenses also have a bonus: they can lower your insurance rates dramatically.

5. Have an Insurance Assessor on Deck — Keep the contact information of a trusted insurance assessor who is not affiliated with your insurance provider in your valuables inventory log.

If you ever need to file a claim, have that third party assess your damage immediately. Your insurance company is going to do the same and it will try to pay you back as little as possible.

Cover your bases and fight back by having another professional document the claim and cost. Your home is your safe haven, your livelihood. You should do everything you can to protect those assets by planning ahead.

The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to