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Remodeling Your Home? Don’t Forget to Adjust Your Insurance, Too

Homeowner’s insurance is directly linked to the value of your home, and the only way to be confident you have the coverage you need is to be transparent about improvements you’ve made to your property over time. Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a home renovation so you’re covered for during construction and the improvements are protected when you’re done. 

Be clear about which renovations will raise or lower your insurance rates.

Financial preparation includes not just acknowledging the cost of materials and labor but also acknowledging the fluctuation of your insurance policies to come. An addition, for example, will add square footage and value, which means your home will be more expensive to rebuild, so your premiums will rise. If you’re renovating your garage into a den and kicking your car to the curb, keep in mind the cost of your car insurance may jump a bit since it’s simply riskier to park on the street. In contrast, replacing an outdated HVAC system lowers the risk of an electrical problem, and lower risk typically means lower rates. The same goes for adding a fence around a swimming pool or backyard.

Before you finalize renovation plans, watch for ways to achieve discounts.

You may qualify for lower premiums if you add a sprinkler system, update your plumbing or electrical system, add storm shutters, or even simply install stronger doors than you had before. New safety features will lessen your odds of filing a claim in the future, and many insurance plans will acknowledge that with reduced rates.

Don’t DIY if you’re not qualified to do the work safely.

Besides the potential to be disappointed in your own craftsmanship, the real risk is potential injury. If friends and family will be on site to help with the project, consider increasing your home insurance’s no-fault medical protection. This will allow an injured assistant to send doctor’s bills straight to your insurance company, which ultimately lowers your chance of a lawsuit.

Plan for mid-project problems.

Insurance Journal reported in 2014 that approximately one out of every three house fires can be traced back to contracting professionals working on site. Heat guns used for paint stripping or electrical sockets overwhelmed by power tools can mean disaster. Construction risk can also expand to plumbing pipes cracking under the stress of vibrations being caused by construction. You will want to discuss these potential scenarios with your insurance agent before renovations begin–and then again mid-project as plans evolve–to make sure you understand which party would be liable for each scenario and whether you and your contractor are insured properly to avoid a major financial strain.

Ask your insurance agent about weather and theft.

Large renovations are sometimes stalled by acts of nature, sometimes stalled by disappearing acts. If your project is big enough that parts of your home will be covered by a tarp or exposed to the elements, consider a “course of construction policy,” also known as a builder’s risk policy. This will offer protection if you find your home seriously damaged during construction and extends as far as vandalism and theft of construction materials you purchased yourself (think carpet, hardwood, or tile).

Be careful about gaps in coverage if you’ll be temporarily moving out.

According to the International Risk Management Institute, homeowner’s policies are really written for homes being occupied by the homeowner. If your renovation is so extensive that you’ll be leaving the premises–or if your construction will cost 10 percent or more of your home’s total replacement value–read your insurance contract carefully. These benchmarks label your project as a “major renovation,” which may limit your coverage or require you to notify the insurance company before construction begins. If you don’t follow the policy’s requirements specifically, you may find that damage during renovations is only covered at replacement cost less depreciation, rather than replacement cost alone. Your best choices in a major renovation may be to add a renovation policy to your existing coverage or add a builder’s risk policy.

Celebrate the added value to your home.

Once you’ve planned well, relax and enjoy the process. Ultimately, you’re adding beauty, functionality, and value. As you take photos to share with family and friends, made copies for your insurance files, as it is likely that you will also need to update your catalog of valuable items inside your home as well, especially if you purchased furniture or art.