We all have to have insurance for our homes or apartments, but most of the time, it's just too easy to take the lazy way out and shop by price, or use someone we know, or not ask questions about our policies and find out what is and is not covered, or to try to skimp on our coverages to save a few dollars per year. However, an insurance agent deals with claims every day, and so they are likely to know what kinds of mistakes people make by not adding certain kinds of coverage, and how ignorance is not bliss, but can lead to disaster. So keep this information in mind, and head over to a licensed insurance agent to talk with them about your needs.

Insurance Contract
Credit: Public Domain

One of the first insurance contracts in the United States, from 31 August 1796. This insurance policy covers fire damage.

Remember, being honest about your situation will pay off, even if you have to pay a little more every year. I discovered this for myself when a 5-minute leak from my water heater ended up with the insurance company paying a $22,000 claim. While everyone was astonished at how much I paid each year for coverage (almost three times what everyone else in my apartment complex was paying), when the time came to file a claim, my insurance covered many things that other people were not insured for, such as paying for another place to live while my apartment was being repaired.

What Your Property Agent Needs to Know

House or apartment: you need to inventory the contents if anything is special. I'm a musician, and I have over 10,000 music CDs, as well as performing costumes, multiple computers, musical instruments, and much more. It's fairly easy to make an inventory; start with the big items, and work your way down. Be sure to note brand names, serial and model numbers, and back your inventory up by simply taking your cell phone and walk around your house, video recording everything, and pointing out things of special value as you go. Be diligent in pointing out what you use in business, as these items may be covered differently or require special riders.

House or apartment: In addition, you will also need to let your agent know if you have a home business, and whether you meet clients at home. If someone in your family has special allergies (tobacco smoke, peanuts, or multiple chemical sensitivity) you should let them know in case your house becomes unlivable. You need to explain these things in advance so that you will have coverage for renting an office space for your business pursuits if necessary.

House: Make sure the agent knows of any major repairs or renovations that have added value to your house, whether it's a new roof, a kitchen remodel, or a cedar closet. 

What You Need to Know

Your insurance agent should take the time to understand your questions and adjust your coverages. For example, you should ask about living expenses while relocated, in case you are unable to live in your home; renting business property in case your contents are unusable; and whether your will receive depreciated value or full replacement value on your property in the event of a loss. If your home is in an area that tends towards natural disasters, you may want special coverage for tornado, earthquake, excessive snow, or some other occurrence. (Flood insurance is handled in the United States by the Federal Government.)

Ask your insurance agent what your insurance company will do in the case of fire, slow water damage, fast water damage, mold, and anything else you can think of. Then ask him what you have forgotten. Discuss how you can be covered, and to what extent. Ask what percentage of claims are paid, and how long it takes to resolve a claim. Don't forget about additional expenses; I went over the talk limit on my cell phone plan because my landline was not usable, and my insurance company paid the excess charges, because I went over my minutes because I was forced to use my cell phone to speak with people who were putting my apartment back into livable shape.

Insurance for Dummies
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This beginner book certainly won't teach you everything you need to know about insurance, but it will give you a good overview and a better understanding of what all your different policies will and won't cover, and some things you might want to consider when deciding what coverage to buy.


It is almost always a good idea to be friends with another insurance agent who does not represent your insurance company. If you have an idea about filing a claim, discussing it with an agent who represents your insurer will have to go on your record, even if you do not file a claim, and can raise your rates. Instead, discuss the idea of filing a claim with someone else, and then based on their advice, file the claim with your agent if you decide it is a good idea.

In Summary

Don't be afraid to discuss your needs frankly with your insurance agent, and try to take their suggestions to heart. She or he is (probably) not out to fleece you into buying policies you don't need, but since agents deal with families and individuals who need help every day, an agent is likely to think of situations you may not have considered. I didn't think I needed quite so much coverage as I had, but when it came time to put in a claim, I was very glad that I had discussed everything quite sensibly with my agent, because the claim went smoothly, and I ended up, within a few dollars, back where I had started before the damage occurred. A little conversation today can save you a great deal of loss in the future!