Home safe home

Dog at a white picket fence
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Your home is a refuge. And as your safe place, it’s hard to imagine your home being anything less than your safe haven yet, accidents do happen sometimes. For instance, your daughter’s friend falls out of your treehouse, your neighbor’s dog bites your husband while he’s trimming the bushes or your three year-old washes her hands in the sink upstairs and leaves it running… And you leave the house… For three hours. You come home and find your kitchen ceiling leaking water from the upstairs bathroom. All true stories for me.

Thankfully, our homeowners insurance policy covered much of the damage done. Without a solid homeowners policy, you may be dealing with more than just damage to your home, an injury or an unpleasant conversation with your neighbor. You may be out a significant amount of money to cover someone else’s medical bills or replace stolen items or a damaged home.

Homeowners insurance isn’t a once and done deal. Liberty Mutual's Stephanie Banner says you should update your home policy every five years, more often if there’s been a significant change such as a remodel or addition that changes the value of your home. Look at your current policy, and then shop around. Premiums and policies change from year to year, so don’t bank on the quotes you received five years ago. Determine if your current policy limits are sufficient for the current value of your home and lifestyle, and learn what coverage you’re getting for your premium.

When reviewing your policy, consider these common reasons people have to file a claim with their homeowners insurance policy.

Fido can get a little too feisty sometimes. Known as a man’s best friend, many people love their dogs as much as children, and would not like to think their sweet pup would ever hurt anyone. In fact, most dog owners who are being sued for an attack say their dog had never bitten anyone before. Even if that little kid had no business taking Fido’s favorite toy from him, if he bites, no matter the circumstances, the victim could sue you.

To protect yourself, you’ll want to make sure your insurance covers your particular breed of dog. If you keep your dog in the yard, your insurance may suggest you keep the dog fenced and post warning signs.

Oops, watch your step. As a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to keep your home reasonably safe for anyone who is on your property, even if they’re there without your specific invitation. Make sure your policy has property liability coverage. That way, if your daughter’s friend breaks her arm falling out of your treehouse, you can apologize profusely and humbly hand over your insurance information to the E.R. Having property liability coverage ensures that your insurance will cover any medical expenses.

Flood and Earthquake. We get a lot of rain here in Oregon. This can lead to flooding or a leaky basement. Damage that results from flooding or other natural disasters is often covered by insurance, but it can pay to make sure you understand exactly what is covered.

Only 20 percent of Oregonians have earthquake coverage, according to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. Homeowner policies do not automatically cover earthquake damage so earthquake coverage has to be purchased separately. “If a person's company does not offer earthquake insurance as an endorsement to the policy, there are specialty companies that can write it as an additional policy for the policyholder,” says Banner. “Earthquake insurance has been a hot topic since there has been a lot of research and information provided on our potential risk of a ‘big one’ occurring in the next hundred years. It is good to at least ask the agent if it is offered and what the cost is to make a decision.”

Stop, thief! If someone breaks into your house and steals your flat screen TV, you expect insurance to compensate you. Did you know that your home insurance can potentially cover you even when you’re not at home? Through scheduling endorsements, also called riders, for valuable items you own such as jewelry or artwork, your insurance will cover these items regardless of if they are stolen from your home or your hotel room.  

“For example,” says Banner. “If you have a $5000 wedding ring and schedule this it is covered anywhere in the world with no deductible for anything, including loss. Paying the additional premium is worth it for items that are taken out of the home (jewelry, furs, musical instruments, guns).”

When reevaluating your policy, also take into account whether you enjoy working with your current agent. Did they respond well to any claims you filed in the past? Before changing policies, make sure you check on any cancellation fees for your current policy and confirm that your new coverage is in place before switching.

As with auto policies, insurance is a careful balance of weighing when it makes sense to make a claim and when you’re better off just covering something out of pocket. Obviously, you don’t want your rates to get jacked up because you’re making claims every year. Still, if any of these unfortunate things happen to you or your guests, it can give you peace of mind to know your homeowners insurance has you covered.