The exclusions on all-perils policies
As someone looking around for a house to buy, the cost of insurance is not always the most important thought on your mind. Even if you do think about it, the most common consideration is the state of repair and how easy it would be to repair or rebuild should there be a fire. This calm confidence tends to continue when buying the insurance policy. You sign up for an all-perils policy and take the words at face value. If you are insured against all perils, that surely means you can sleep peacefully at night. Except that confidence is too often misplaced. Looking around the US right now, it's one of the coldest winters on record with heavier snow fall than usual. When the weather warms, the melting snow will flood into the rivers. . . That's a joy to come. So let's list the most common events that damage your home: landslides, subsidence, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Live in the wrong states and we add earthquakes. Now take out your policy and check that exclusion clause. You will see magic phrases like "surface water". That excludes every possible source of water no matter whether it comes in as a high tide, wind surge, rain or local sewage drains backing up. When you add up everything not included, even the top-of-the-range policies from the supposedly best insurers often end up as covering rebuilding costs from fire and wind only - that's wind and not tornadoes or hurricanes.
To protect yourself, you need to start early in the buying process. Start with simple questions: has there been any mining in this area? is there a heavy clay content in the soil? is this an earthquake zone? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you should get a geology report before going any further. Mining subsidence is a real problem in some areas. Soil that expands when wet and contracts when dry can wreck the foundations of your home – the Department of Agriculture estimates that up to 25% of properties in the US are at risk of damage. We all know about earthquakes. If your proposed property is on a slope, what's the risk of a landslide or rock fall? When we move on to flood risks, every community is at risk - check out the addresses of potential properties through http://www.floodsmart.gov/ which is run by Homeland Security's FEMA. It also gives you estimates of the likely premiums for areas at higher risk.
Obviously it's not possible to avoid every peril. Because of work, family and other commitments, we cannot all choose where to live. But, if you have good information about the weather patterns and geology of your area, you can get quotes for named perils homeowners insurance. If there are policies available, this will give you real protection against the named threats, whether earthquake, flooding, subsidence, landslides, hurricanes, and so on. When you have the quoted premiums in front of you, the decision whether to buy becomes more clear cut. If you already know the insurance industry will not sell you a policy, you can decide to look in a different area. This is not to raise homeowners insurance to a make-or-break level, but if the annual costs of living in a hazardous area are going to strain your family budget, this is something you should consider carefully before buying. If you already have such a home, you can have named perils added to your existing homeowners insurance. Hopefully, you can afford the additional premiums.
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