How Complete Is Your Homeowner's Insurance?

I've just bought a house, and I'll need to bring a homeowner's insurance policy to the settlement table.

Since this is the third house I've owned, it should be a simple matter of calling my agent and simply duplicating the kind of coverage I've had for the other two houses. But since I've also decided to dump my present insurer after 11 years, I'm having to start from scratch.

I've decided to contact an independent agent who works with a variety of insurers rather than doing the legwork myself. That way, I'm dealing with a person who isn't beholden to a single insurer, and will, supposedly, be looking out for my interests and get me a good deal and the right policy.

But what should that policy look like?

I need a policy that offers a combination of coverage plans; one that protects me if the house is destroyed by fire or robbed of possessions; that protects me if someone slips on my front steps and sues me; and if some natural catastrophe strikes.

"Standard" policies typically cover houses and possessions from damage caused by fire, smoke, lightning, windstorms and hail, an explosion, rioting, vehicles and aircraft, theft, glass breakage, building collapse and the accident discharge of steam or water.

What if I'm away in the winter and the heat goes off, causing my water pipes to freeze and then thaw and burst? A standard policy also should take care of that.

Or there is sudden damage from artificially generated electric current -- such as that power surge that destroyed my computer hard drive (yes, I had a surge protector) and knocked out my alarm system.

"Dwelling" coverage repairs or rebuilds houses and attached structures, such as an attached garage.

"Other" structures include detached garages and sheds.

"Personal" property covers losses to furniture, clothing, appliances and most other possessions. "Special" items such as jewelry aren't covered and require additional coverage.

"Loss of use" -- which usually includes loss of rental income -- means that the coverage you buy will pay your living expenses if you can't live in the house because of a loss covered by the property.

Most standard homeowners' policies offer what is called "essential" coverage. Essential coverage includes liability, which protects you from loss for personal liability such as a lawsuit that might be filed against you. This includes coverage for bodily injury to others except for that caused by a car and property damage resulting from personal activity or conditions on your property.

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