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Why do I need home insurance?
Home insurance is something every Australian homeowner should consider buying. It offers crucial financial protection for your home and your important possessions. It can protect you against everything from fire and storm damage to burst pipes, falling trees, theft and vandalism.
- Cover for your home. Your home is usually the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy and the most valuable asset you’ll ever own. Home building insurance provides protection against an extensive range of risks, guaranteeing that you will be able to repair or rebuild from scratch if an unexpected disaster strikes.
- Cover for your contents. The contents of your home are much more than just stuff; they’re often your most important and treasured possessions, and can hold just as much sentimental value as they do financial worth. Contents insurance ensures that you will be able to repair or replace your possessions if they’re damaged by fire, storm, theft or a range of other insured events. It is available as standalone cover or as part of a combined home and contents policy.
- Home loan requirement. If you take out a mortgage to buy a home, most home loan lenders require you to purchase home insurance before they will approve your application.
- Peace of mind. The biggest benefit of home insurance is the peace of mind and confidence it provides. With the right policy in place, you can rest assured that you will have the financial support you need should loss, damage or some other unexpected misfortune affect your home or contents.
What does home insurance cover?
The situations covered by your insurance will vary depending on the insurer you choose and the level of cover you select. However, the best policies generally provide cover against the following:
- Fire. If your home and/or contents are lost or damaged due to fire, home insurance can provide financial protection.
- Storm. Home insurance covers loss or damage caused by a storm, including violent winds, hail, snow, rain, thunderstorms, cyclones and tornadoes.
- Lightning. Loss or damage caused by lightning, or by a power surge caused by lightning.
- Flood. Protects you against loss or damage caused by water that has escaped the normal confines of a lake, river, creek or dam, or a number of other bodies of water. Many home insurance policies only offer flood cover as an option, not as an automatic inclusion.
- Earthquake and tsunami. This benefit ensures that you are covered against loss or damage caused by an earthquake or tsunami.
- Water and oil leaks. When water or oil escapes from gutters, pipes, baths, toilets, appliances or a range of other household items, home insurance covers you for the resulting loss or damage.
- Theft or burglary. Covers you against loss or damage caused by theft, attempted theft or burglary.
- Malicious acts and vandalism. If your home or contents are damaged due to vandalism or a malicious act, your policy can offer financial protection.
- Riots or civil commotion. Financial protection in the event that a riot, civil commotion, or industrial or political disturbance results in loss or damage to your home.
- Accidental glass breakage. This covers accidental breakage of items such as window glass, skylights, fixed mirrors and light fittings, sinks, basins, baths, toilets and glass cooktops.
- Explosion. Loss or damage caused by an explosion, as well as a landslide or subsidence that occurs as an immediate result of an explosion.
- Impact damage. This benefit covers you against impact from objects such as falling trees, power poles, TV antennas, motor vehicles and meteorites.
What type of insurance are you looking for?
What should I look for in a home insurance policy?
Comparing home insurance policies can be confusing and overwhelming. A home insurance product disclosure statement (PDS) is a complicated document full of technical jargon and terms and conditions. Making sense of the information it contains can be a difficult task.
To make things a little easier, following are some key features to look for when researching the pros and cons of a home insurance policy:
- Cover that meets your needs. This is an obvious place to start, but does the policy include cover for all the common risks you face? For example, if flooding is a risk where you live, does the policy provide adequate flood cover?
- The ability to tailor cover. How flexible is the insurer if you want to create a policy to suit your needs? Are there optional extras available so you can tailor cover for your home?
- Total replacement cover. There are two main types of home insurance protection: total replacement cover and sum insured cover. Sum insured policies are more common and allow you to select the level of cover you need to repair or rebuild your home. However, total replacement policies provide the necessary cover to rebuild your home to the same condition it was in prior to an insured event. While much rarer than sum insured policies, total replacement policies greatly reduce the risk of underinsurance.
- New-for-old contents replacement cover. If you add contents insurance to your policy, it’s worth looking for a policy that provides new-for-old replacement. This means that if any of your personal belongings are stolen, or damaged beyond repair, the policy will cover the cost of replacing them with new equivalent items. Policies that don’t offer this feature only provide cover for the replacement value of the stolen or damaged items.
- Accidental loss or damage cover. This provides Australia-wide protection for your contents against accidental damage. It’s included as standard with some high-level policies, and is available as an extra-cost option on others. It is well worth considering if you want comprehensive protection.
- Fast and easy claims service. Check whether there is an easy 24/7 claims service if you ever need to make a claim on your policy. Also check how long the insurer takes to process and pay successful claims. The best home insurance policies are backed by a simple and efficient claims process.
Cover can be tailored to suit any budget
How to find the best home insurance policy
How do you go about finding the best home insurance policy? Keep four simple tips in mind:
- Know your cover needs. Before you start shopping for a policy, think about the risks you want to cover and the level of protection you need. Once you're clear on the type of home insurance you're after, you can start looking for the right policy.
- Read the PDS. Don’t wait until it’s time to make a claim to peruse your policy's PDS; take the time to read it closely before making a purchase. This will allow you to determine exactly what the policy includes, how much protection it offers, and under what circumstances cover would not be provided.
- Ask for recommendations. Check out online reviews and ask friends and family for their home insurance recommendations. Hearing from people who have actually had to make a claim on their policy is a great way to sort the strong policies and insurers from the weaker ones.
- Compare your options. Last but definitely not least, don’t settle for the first policy you find. Instead you should compare the benefits, features and exclusions of a wide range of policies. Consider the following factors, alongside the cost of cover, to work out which option provides the best value for money.
How much home insurance cover do I need?
Unfortunately, there’s no "one size fits all" answer that explains exactly how much cover is enough for your home and contents. You need to carefully consider your insurance needs to work out what will be adequate protection. According to research from the Insurance Council of Australia, 83% of Australian homeowners and renters don’t have enough insurance to cover their home and contents. That’s an alarmingly high figure, so it’s essential that you take the time to think about your requirements before choosing a policy. Ask yourself:
- How much would it cost to completely rebuild my home?
- What about replacing my contents and all of my worldly possessions?
Unless you have sufficient protection to cover the cost of replacing everything following an unexpected disaster, you will be under-insured, and the financial consequences can be disastrous. Many insurers offer handy online calculators to help you work out how much home and contents insurance cover you need. These useful tools are a great place to start, but an independent valuation will be much more accurate.
You should also remember to consider the benefits of a particular policy: does it provide cover for all the risks you need protection against? Do you need to add extra-cost options so you have a suitable level of cover? If you take time to crunch the numbers and carefully examine your needs, you’ll be able to select the right amount of cover for your home and possessions.
What isn't covered?
As well as checking what a policy covers, it’s also essential to check the PDS for a list of general exclusions. These are situations in which an insurer will refuse to pay your claim. Common circumstances under which you will not be covered include the following:
- If you leave your home unoccupied for an extended period of time, such as 60 consecutive days.
- If you fail to properly secure your home.
- If you fail to keep your home in good condition.
- Pre-existing damage to your home or contents.
- Loss or damage caused by flooding. While some policies do include automatic flood cover, many insurers only offer this as an extra-cost option.
- While you’re renovating or extending your home you will not be covered.
- If your home is being used for an unlawful purpose.
- Damage deliberately caused by you, a family member or someone acting with your consent.
- Wear and tear, rust and gradual deterioration.
- Termite damage.
- Loss or damage that arises due to the presence of asbestos.
Our guide to common home insurance exclusions also outlines a range of situations when your insurer will not offer any cover. You should also read the PDS closely as well to ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises.
How much does home insurance cost?
Price is obviously a crucial factor when comparing and choosing home insurance policies. However, the cost of home insurance depends on a wide range of factors. When calculating your premiums, the insurer will take the following factors into account:
- The sum insured. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the higher the level of cover you select, the more your premium will be. For example, if you want to cover your home to the tune of $1 million, don’t be surprised if your premiums are much higher than they are for someone who selects a sum insured of $400,000.
- The options you select. If you choose to tailor your policy to suit your needs by adding extra-cost options, your premiums will increase. For example, you may wish add optional flood cover, or cover for electric motor burnout. While these do offer essential protection for your home, they also drive up premiums.
- The excess you choose. Many insurers offer a flexible excess on their home insurance policies, allowing you to choose a higher excess in return for lower premiums.
- Your home. Insurers will consider the age and construction of your home when calculating your premiums. This will help them determine how likely it is to withstand damage and how much it will cost to repair or rebuild.
- Where your home is located. If you live in an area prone to bushfires or severe storms, the increased risk of damage will push up your premiums. Insurers will also assess the crime rate in your area; if you live somewhere with a high rate of theft and break-ins, expect this to be reflected in higher premiums.
- Security features. Insurance underwriters also consider how well your home is protected against theft and burglary. Installing a back-to-base security alarm is one way to reduce the cost of your premiums.
- Your claims history. If you’ve previously made multiple claims on a home insurance policy, you can expect higher premiums when you take out a new policy.
- When you pay your premiums. Paying your premium as an annual lump sum is typically cheaper than if you pay in monthly instalments.
- Any discounts that apply. You may be able to lower your premium by taking advantage of a discount offered by your insurer. For example, you may be able to save money if you buy online, combine home and contents cover into one policy, or if you hold another type of cover, such as car insurance, with the same insurer.
Is home insurance worth it?
For most people, the answer to this question is a resounding "yes". Take a moment to think about how you would cope financially if your home and everything you own was completely destroyed. Sure, it’s a worst-case scenario and one that you’ll hopefully never have to deal with, but would you have the financial means to start again from scratch following an unexpected disaster? If you answered "no", then home insurance is something you must consider.
With the right level of protection in place, you can be sure that you won’t end up out of pocket if your home or contents are damaged or totally lost. Home insurance gives you peace of mind. There’s always a chance you will spend years paying premiums for a policy on which you never have to make a claim. However, knowing that it will offer crucial financial protection when you need it most, makes home insurance worth every cent.
How to reduce your home and contents insurance premiums
If you’re looking for the cheapest insurance cover for your home, the single most important thing you can do is compare a wide range of policies and shop around for the best deal. This will help you find the most affordable cover for your needs and choose a policy that matches your budget. However, remember that the cheapest home insurance isn’t necessarily the best home insurance.
Like so many other things in life, when buying home insurance you really do get what you pay for; if you choose a cheap policy with an insufficient level of cover, the results could be disastrous. Remember to look past the price of a policy to the features and benefits it offers to determine whether you are getting true value for money. There are also several other things you can do to lower the cost of your policy, such as the following:
- Choose a higher excess. Most insurers allow you to vary the excess payable when you make a claim; if you choose a higher excess, you’ll be rewarded with lower premiums.
- Choose a lower level of cover. Carefully calculate the sum you need to insure your home and contents for. Are you paying extra for a high level of cover that you don’t actually need? You may decide that it’s in your best interests to downgrade from a "platinum" policy to basic protection.
- Don’t add options you don’t need. Adding optional extras to your policy allows you to tailor home insurance protection to your requirements. Unfortunately, it also increases the premium, so make sure anything you add is absolutely essential.
- Don’t make any claims. Sometimes making a claim is unavoidable, but if your insurer offers a no-claim bonus, the cost of cover will be greatly reduced if you don’t submit any claims.
- Take advantage of discounts. Home insurers offer a variety of discounts to customers. These include discounts for loyalty, for seniors, for having multiple policies with the insurer, and for purchasing online.
- Review cover regularly. Just because a particular insurance policy was right for you a few years ago doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fit now. Cover needs change all the time; maybe you’ve just invested in a top-of-the-line home entertainment system and want to upgrade your contents cover. In addition, insurers are constantly updating their policies and premiums. Don’t be afraid to compare your options and see if you can find a better deal.
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4 common home insurance traps to avoid
Keep an eye out for these common traps when choosing cover:
- Trap 1: Underinsurance. This is a huge risk and a problem that affects many homeowners. Don’t be tempted to skimp on cover just so you can slightly lower your premiums. Make sure any policy you select provides adequate cover for you to completely rebuild your home and replace all your belongings.
- Trap 2: Paying for cover you don’t need. Before adding any extra-cost options to your policy, make sure you actually need them. For example, do you really need to add cover for electric motor burnout or is it something you could survive without?
- Trap 3: Renewing without reviewing. Don’t simply pay your annual home insurance renewal when it arrives each year. Insurers are always competing for more business and offering attractive savings to new customers. It’s worth shopping around to see if you can find the same or better cover at a more affordable price.
- Trap 4: Cover limits. Make sure you check the maximum limit to which an insurer is willing to cover any single item. For example, while your engagement ring may be worth $10,000, your insurer may only provide up to $3,000 cover for jewellery.
What home insurance do I need if I rent my property?
If you’re renting, you won’t need any of the protection offered by home insurance; you don’t own the home, so insuring it is something for your landlord to worry about. However, you should consider taking out a contents-only insurance policy. This type of cover can protect the possessions and personal items within your home against loss or damage due to fire, storm, theft vandalism and a huge range of other risks. Just make sure you compare a range of policies to find one that best suits your needs.
How do I make a home insurance claim?
You can find information on how to make a home insurance claim in the PDS and policy documents. Most insurers allow you to lodge a claim in three ways:
- Over the phone
- Via a mobile claims app
Once you’ve contacted an insurer to provide notification of an insured event, you may be required to fill out a claim form, either online or in hard copy. Alternatively, your insurer may only have to ask you questions over the phone in order to complete the necessary paperwork. The insurer will also advise you of any information or documentation you need to submit in support of your claim, such as the following:
- A copy of the police report following theft, attempted theft or burglary
- Proof of ownership of stolen or damaged items, such as receipts
- Evidence of any damage, such as photos
Co-operating with all requests from the insurer throughout the claims process is the best way to ensure that your claim is paid as quickly as possible.
4 claims slip-ups to watch out for
Water damage, fire damage, storm damage and household accidents are four of the biggest and most costly hazards you might face. Depending on how they occurred, you might not be protected even if you have comprehensive cover. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to minimise these risks.
A lot of things around the house can cause water damage, from plumbing to humidity to blocked gutters. Make sure you take the following steps:
- Regularly check under sinks, washing machine connections and anywhere else you have pipes. Avoid flushing foreign objects down the toilet, and address any signs of a leak as soon as possible; even a small leak can cause an increasing amount of damage over time.
- Keep an eye out for mildew and mould and try to scrub it away as soon as you can. It’s a common effect of Australia’s warm climate, but can also be a sign of internal water damage as in the case of rising damp. If mould keeps appearing in a well-ventilated room, it could be a leak that you're unaware of. Ignoring such issues can count as a failure to adequately maintain the home, and can be used to reject an insurance claim.
- When handling mould and water damage, go all out. Sponge or mop away as much as possible and open windows to speed drying. Remove rugs and let them dry. Doing everything you can to handle these issues reduces claims and keeps down insurance costs.
Water damage is not the same as flooding, and policies will often cover flooding differently.
When you take into account bushfires, gas, electricity, smoking, and flammable materials around the home, it’s worth being prepared for fire damage. Fire causes relatively few injuries and deaths, but it does result in a lot of property damage. Keep the following points in mind:
- Don’t overload power points, and switch off appliances when not in use.
- Have at least one fire extinguisher in the home and learn how to use it.
- Install the required amount of smoke alarms in your home and test them regularly. Some insurance companies offer reduced premiums if you maintain functional smoke alarms. However, if there is a fire and the alarms are not functioning, it's unlikely you'd be able to claim on insurance.
- If you have an old gas or oil heater, consider upgrading. The safety benefits are typically recognised by home insurance providers in the form of reduced costs.
- Do not cover heaters. Neglecting the warning signs on appliances can leave you unable to claim insurance, or only able to claim greatly reduced amounts if you are found to be at fault.
This is an increasingly common cause of damage and source of insurance claims, so it makes sense to ensure your home is protected from storm damage.
- Protect your windows. Broken windows as the result of a storm is an extremely common occurrence, and shards of glass in a carpet can cause serious injuries. If you live in an area that’s prone to storms it can be worth investing in shutters to protect the windows.
- Australia has experienced a lot of hailstorms in recent years. They can cover an enormous area and do staggering amounts of property damage. Most homes easily cope with milder hailstorms, but those that are particularly severe can shatter roof tiles, break windows and cause other types of serious damage. If you have reinforced roofing or storm shutters, you may be able to get some insurance discount.
An important part of protecting yourself from personal injury claims is demonstrating that you’ve taken all the right precautions.
- Make sure outdoor stairs are well lit. You may be held responsible if visitors injure themselves where there’s no lighting available.
- Do you have a dog? Having your dog complete a certified behaviour training course can reduce your liability in the event that it bites someone. If it injures someone without passing a training course you’re more likely to be held liable, even if it was provoked.
- Trampolines, swimming pools and backyard playgrounds can be the cause of countless scrapes and bruises, but also more serious injuries. Installing a swimming pool fence and signage is a legal requirement, as is adult supervision in a play area. Even ensuring your trampoline has good padding, will prove to an insurer that you’ve taken all the right steps to prevent accidents.
Check the definition of storms and flooding
When it comes to covering damage caused by storms and flooding, many home insurance policies are vague. It’s important to ascertain what natural disasters you are covered for. As a general rule, storm cover is included in most home and contents insurance policies.
From an insurer’s perspective, storm damage usually includes damage caused by storms, lightning, hail, rainwater, run-off and land gales. However, each insurer may define storm damage differently, so it’s crucial to check the fine print.
Flood cover is where things get tricky. It’s not always included, so if you live in a flood-prone area it’s important to check your policy’s PDS carefully to determine whether or not you are covered. If you live in a coastal area you may not be covered for some storm and flood-related damage.
If you need to make a claim, you will have to be able to prove that a storm, as defined by your insurer, has occurred. Ensure you have proof such as photographs, video footage and weather reports.
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