Helpful tips for choosing a home insurance policy

Helpful tips for choosing a home insurance policy

Buying home insurance can be a confusing process, especially if you’ve never done it before. You need to compare policies from different providers to understand what is included and what isn’t, and to what extent. Insurers use terms like coverage, exclusions, and limits, which you need to understand in detail. 

You’ll also have to choose between a policy that covers your home’s total replacement cost and one that covers an insured sum. The cost of your home insurance policy may depend on your coverage amount and also on your excess, which is the percentage of each claim that you agree to pay. 

You may consider buying a combined home and contents insurance policy instead of standalone home insurance, especially if you are also planning to insure your valuables. A combined policy will usually cost you less than two separate policies. Irrespective of the cost, you should ensure that the policy you buy covers the full cost of your valuables from damage caused by most kinds of incidents. 

Deciding between Total Replacement Cost and Insured Sum Coverage

There are two main types of insurance coverage to choose from.

The first involves coverage for the “total replacement” or actual cost of rebuilding your home. This may also cover any rise in material prices or your expenses towards renting a temporary home. However, you may pay a higher premium for this type of insurance. 

The other type of home insurance policy will cover an insured sum, which is an estimate of the cost of rebuilding your home. Such an estimate may fall short of the actual cost, which could leave you underinsured. However, you may pay less for a home insurance policy covering an insured sum.

Choosing between home insurance and home and contents insurance

While your home is likely your most precious asset, your belongings can also be expensive, as well as having sentimental value. Even high-end smart televisions, laptops, or precious collectibles can be difficult to replace. If you’re concerned about protecting such objects, you may want to consider buying home and contents insurance. 

You may need to compare several home and contents insurance policies to see which ones offer adequate coverage for various items against different damaging incidents. While you may be able to customise your policy, some high-value items may require you to buy additional coverage or a separate standalone policy.

The difference between accidental and gradual damage

The average home and contents insurance policy may only cover damage caused by accidents, while damage arising from gradual wear and tear may not be covered. For instance, water damage caused by a pipe bursting may be considered accidental damage, whereas seepage from a damaged pipe may be seen as gradual damage. 

When you file an insurance claim for accidental damage, your insurer will likely send an adjuster to verify that the damage is indeed unintentional, and not the result of negligence either. As a homeowner, you’re responsible for your home’s maintenance in order to prevent leaks and seeps as well as infestation by vermin. 

Ensuring that your insurance policy includes coverage against all likely incidents

When you shop for a home insurance policy, consider checking which insurers offer coverage for the incidents most likely to occur in your neighbourhood. This may include natural disasters like floods, bushfires, and storms as well as human incidents like theft, vandalism, and civil commotions. 

Living in an incident-prone area can mean you’ll pay more for home insurance, which is why you need to make sure your insurance policy covers your home to the maximum extent possible. You can also go through the insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to learn more about the limits of the policy’s coverage for different incidents. 

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Mark Bristow before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home insurance

What is a home insurance premium?

Your home insurance premium is what you pay your insurance provider for covering your home under their home insurance policy. It is calculated based on the type of coverage you choose for your home as well as any additional coverage you buy for either your possessions or specific incidents. Your premium can either be paid annually or in smaller instalments. 

Your home insurance policy may cover the total replacement cost, which is the actual expense of rebuilding your home from scratch. Alternatively, it can cover an insured sum, which is a predetermined estimate of what it might cost to rebuild your home. You’re more likely to pay a higher premium for total replacement cover than for insured sum coverage.

Apart from selecting your coverage, you’ll have to figure out your excess, which is the amount you pay out of your own pocket for each insurance claim. If you are okay with paying a higher excess, your insurance premium may be lower. Conversely, if you choose a lower excess, you may pay a higher premium. 

Your insurance premium can also be higher if you live in an area prone to incidents like floods, bushfires, or theft, as insurers are more likely to receive a higher number of claims in such neighbourhoods. 

If you also want to buy insurance for your belongings, a combined home and contents insurance policy may have a lower premium than paying premiums on separate policies for your home and your belongings. 

How do you compare home insurance rates?

When you compare the home insurance quotes offered by various Australian insurers, consider looking at the type of coverage they offer as well as coverage limits and exclusions. You can choose an insurance policy which covers either the total replacement cost, which is the actual cost of rebuilding your home from scratch, or a fixed insured sum, which is an estimate of the cost to rebuild. The home insurance policy is likely to cost you more if you go for the total replacement cost coverage.

Your insurance policy’s exclusions and coverage limits usually depend on how exposed your home is to adverse events like floods and bushfires. It also tells you the maximum compensation that your insurer is likely to pay for damage caused to your home. If you live in an area with a greater incidence of crime or disasters, your insurance policy will likely cost you more.

The amount you actually pay for home insurance can be adjusted by agreeing to a higher excess, which is what you will pay over and above the insured amount from your own pocket. You should consider using the online calculators provided by various insurers to check how different coverage limits affect your insurance premium.

Does home insurance cover tenant damage?

If you have a property that you rent out to tenants, you may ask, does home insurance cover tenant damage? Generally, as a landlord, you’ll require a different type of insurance policy than a regular home and contents insurance that offers coverage for the unique situations faced by landlords.

Landlord insurance

As a landlord, you must insure against additional risks to protect your investment. A landlord home and contents insurance policy covers loss due to natural disasters, storm, and fire. Generally, it also covers fixtures like stovetops, light fittings, window coverings, carpets, and ovens.

Additionally, you may protect yourself against any loss arising due to damage to your property caused by your tenants or their guests. Some landlord insurance policies may also protect you against financial loss due to unpaid rent.

Does homeowners insurance cover tenant damage? In most cases, regular homeowners’ insurance policy will not cover such damage. It’s always best to refer to the product disclosure statement (PDS) to clearly understand what is included and excluded from your home insurance policy.

What does home insurance cover?

What home insurance specifically covers and the extent of the coverage depends on the insurance provider and the individual policy. However, home insurance typically covers the property and other permanent structures found on or in the property, such as fences, in-ground swimming pools, garages, and dishwashers, to name a few.

There are usually two types of homeowner's insurance you can choose from, with "total replacement cover" or "sum-insured cover". 

If you’re not sure which option to take, it may be worthwhile to speak to a professional valuer to understand how much it might cost to rebuild your home and replace what's inside.

Does home insurance cover temporary accommodation?

Seeing your home damaged by a natural disaster such as a bushfire or a hail storm can be traumatic. Unfortunately, sometimes your house may become uninhabitable after such an incident and require major renovation or even rebuilding. In such circumstances, your home insurance policy should cover the cost of temporary or emergency accommodation. 

It's worth checking with your insurer on the coverage limit, as different insurance providers may cover the cost of renting another home for a number of months, though this will vary between coverage cost and insurance provider. However, the maximum coverage will probably run for 12 months. Upon filing a claim, most insurers will likely first ask an inspector to confirm that your home is too damaged to live in, and subsequently cover the cost of temporary accommodation after that. 

You could also need temporary accommodation because the local council or other governing authority may order an evacuation in anticipation of a problem or disaster. In that instance, you should check if your insurance provider will cover the cost of accommodation at such a time and, if so, how you can file a claim in such cases. If you are a pet owner, check if your home insurance policy covers the cost of temporarily housing your pets elsewhere.

Is my home insurance covered for weather damage?

It is important to understand what is covered and what isn't covered in your home insurance policy before purchasing it. One crucial point to consider at the time of evaluating home insurance policies is whether it includes home insurance weather damage cover, and what it actually means if it does.

Typically, the protection afforded by home insurance actually depends on how the home was damaged or affected by conditions. The whole idea behind home insurance is to protect you from loss or damage against an unexpected, sudden event, like a fire or storm. If your home was in the way of a storm and your roof was damaged, which also caused internal water destruction, you may be covered for the damage to the roof and the property. The same holds true for walls or a fence that got damaged in a storm or flood.

However, you may not be covered if the damage occurred because your property was not well maintained and your home suffered a leak. A poorly maintained fence is less likely to be covered by home insurance.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover electrical problems?

Every home has a range of electrical fittings,appliances and wiring running through the structure of the house. You can face many kinds of electrical problems but, unfortunately, your home insurance policy may not cover all of them. Damage accidentally caused by natural accidents may be covered, as might the repair of motors if you have opted for fusion damage cover. For example, if there’s a lightning storm and your home suffers a power surge which causes a short circuit, any repairs needed may be covered if your homeowner’s insurance contains lightning damage.

However, if any electrical appliances stop working, even a home and contents insurance policy may not cover the cost of repairing the appliance. Also, you should check with your insurer about making any electrical repairs inside your home as that may affect your coverage. 

Usually, in Australia, you need to hire a professional electrician to carry out any inspections or repairs to the electrical system in your home. This can include conducting periodic checks to make sure the electrical wirings are not exposed to seepage, flooding, or attacks by rodents. Consider asking your insurance provider about optional coverage for fixed electrical appliances such as air-conditioners and washing machines.  

Are bikes covered under home insurance?

Ordinarily, home insurance only covers damage to your house, which can include additional buildings such as garages, sheds, and fences, as well as permanent fixtures. 

However, to protect the items located in your home or in any of these other buildings, you will likely need to purchase home and contents insurance. Even so, your bike would only be covered if it does not require separate vehicle registration, as is the case for bicycles and 50cc minibikes, but not motorcycles, and only when located on your property, parked or otherwise. 

Depending on the cost of your bicycle or minibike, you can have it listed in your home and contents insurance as a high-value item. You'll want to check your insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to know the normal coverage limit for a bike included as part of your home and contents insurance, as well as the incidents which are covered. 

Insuring your bicycle can be distinct to insuring any personal effects on your bike at the time, or even using the bike when you're out and about. If you want to cover those, such as something in a basket or a camera equipped to the bicycle, or the bike itself as you travel, you will likely need to purchase additional personal effects insurance. You can also read about any additional coverage available under the personal effects policy, though for full coverage, an ideal option will likely be a separate bike insurance policy.

Does home insurance cover tree root damage?

While trees can add much beauty to your property, they can be an indirect cause of damage to your home. For instance, a storm could knock branches off trees on to your roof or windows. A really strong storm may even cause the tree to topple entirely. 

Home insurance may not directly cover tree damage to your house. However, the policy will likely cover the incident, such as a storm, which resulted in branches or uprooted trees falling on your home. You can check your home insurance policy’s coverage for various incidents by reading the insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).

You should remember that trees can require regular maintenance, just like the plumbing in our homes. Insurers may check whether the tree, its roots or its branches were rotting due to a lack of care, in which case the damage caused by the tree falling on your home may not be considered accidental damage. Again, if a branch falls on your house while you’re trimming it, you may not be able to claim compensation from your insurer for the damage. If any trees are growing too close to the walls of your home, consider checking that none of the branches or roots is causing any stress to your home, which can result in structural damage.

Do I need home insurance for a home loan?

While home insurance isn’t necessarily a requirement for a home purchase per se, it’s likely that if you’re purchasing a home with the help of a home loan, you’ll need to take out home insurance on the property. Home insurance can be one of the factors required in the pre-settlement documentation for a home purchase, and you may be advised by either the bank or a broker (or both) ahead of settlement.  

How to file a Youi home insurance claim

Dealing with a disaster is never a pleasant experience, but it can be worse if your home is extensively damaged. At some point, you’ll have to estimate the damage to your home and file the necessary insurance claim. 

If you’ve bought a Youi home insurance policy, you can contact them regarding an insurance claim either by calling 13 9684 or through the Youi website. If you don’t remember your policy number, you can identify yourself and provide your address when speaking to a Youi member to grant yourself access to your policy details, handy if you’ve had to leave home in a rush and may not have had the time to collect any of your belongings, let alone insurance policy documents. 

You may not need to fill out any claim forms right away, but you’ll need to describe the incident and the damage caused to your home. Once you’ve contacted Youi, an inspector will visit your home and verify the damage before your claim is accepted and processed. Insurers usually expect you to contact them at your earliest possible convenience after a damaging incident, or within 30 days at the latest, as is the case with Youi

Can you transfer home insurance?

When you sell your home, you cannot transfer the home insurance policy to the new owner. The buyers need to purchase a new home insurance policy where the insurer will calculate the premium based on several factors.

The risk of any damage to the home is transferred to the new owners when you sell the property. You can speak to an experienced conveyancer or solicitor to find out more about when the risk gets passed to the buyers in your state or territory.

If you move to a new home

Can you transfer home insurance to a new property if you move to a new home?

Some insurers may allow you to transfer your policy to a new property as long as you meet certain conditions. These include informing the insurance company as soon as you enter into a contract to buy the new home. You may need to pay an additional premium when transferring your existing home insurance policy to the new property.

Type of home insurance do I need?

There are two types of house insurance policies, namely total replacement cover and sum insured cover. The former covers the total cost of rebuilding the house to the same standard before it was damaged. The latter home insurance type covers the cost of damages up to a predetermined limit, which is called the sum insured.

Different types of homeowners’ insurance may offer extra cover at an additional premium, including accidental damage, fire insurance, storm insurance, flood insurance, motor burnout insurance, home and contents insurance, and contents insurance. These extras are not classified as homeowners’ insurance types; include one or more based on your situation. 

Is hail damage covered by home insurance?

If storms are among the incidents covered by your home insurance policy, hail damage protection is more than likely assured. While all policies differ based on your needs and what a home insurance provider will offer, some things are close to a certainty. 

Extreme weather events tend to be unpredictable in their severity, but dangerous all the same. You'll never be able to fully prepare for any damage caused, be it lightning, strong winds, rain leading to flooding, or hailstorms, but home insurance can at least provide you with a way to deal with life's unpredictable nature. 

If your home suffers from hail damage, you can file a claim with your insurer. In the event that this happens, remember to take pictures of any hail damage as an insurance adjuster will need to evaluate the impact on your home. Any additional wind damage to your roof will also need to be documented similarly.

You may want to check if your home insurance also covers hail damage to the cars parked on your property, and then file the claim for the total damage caused by the hailstorm. Once your claim is approved, your insurer should offer you either a cash settlement or refer you to a network vendor for the necessary repairs.