Need protection for your home, contents or both? Compare policies for May 2017.
To many, their home is one of the most important life investments. It’s only natural to want to protect it. Investing in home insurance is one of the easiest ways to ensure this.
A home insurance policy is a contract taken out to protect your house and its contents from damage and events like fire, burglary and natural disasters. It combines building insurance and contents insurance in one cost-effective package, and often includes liability cover to pay legal and medical costs if visitors are injured in your home.
Ready to compare policies? Start here.
What type of insurance do you need?
There are multiple forms of home insurance to cover a range of scenarios.
What should I look for in an insurance policy?
- How much you will be paid. The limits are the maximum amounts that will be paid for certain things. The total limit is typically the sum insured but more specific limits will apply to other things. For example, an insurance policy might have a $1,000 per item limit for jewellery, which means they will only pay up to that amount for each separate item of jewellery.
- How flexible the policy is. Look for a policy that gives you freedom to adjust your policy to suit changing circumstances. Some products will only let you adjust your cover at renewal time, but if your circumstances frequently change this might not work for you. One of the most common flexibility features is variable excesses.
- If you can have flexible limits. Flexible limits are the ability to choose a level of cover that’s right for your needs, even it’s outside the typical range. For example, the default limit might be $1,000 per item of jewellery, but each of your jewellery items costs $2,000. In this case flexible coverage can let you raise the jewellery per item limit from $1,000 to $2,000. This will also raise your premiums.
- When you won't be covered. These are things not covered by the insurance policy, or conditions under which you cannot make claims. Don’t shop by price alone. The best home insurance policy is one that covers you well and has lower premiums. It’s worth paying more for one that covers you thoroughly.
How do I find the right home insurance policy for my needs?
Whilst there is no set policy that is best for everyone, there are a few elements to consider to ensure your policy is right for you.
- Calculate the sum insured. The sum insured is the amount your policy pays out in the event that you lose everything. Ideally, it should be the total value of your house and possessions.
- Total replacement. Alternatively, total replacement pays whatever it costs to repair your home. This is a bit harder to find, but some policies do offer it.
- Avoid underinsurance. Underinsurance is a common mistake many homeowners make. For a full guide on how to avoid underinsurance, head here.
- Determine what you need cover for. As you will only be covered for things specifically listed in the insurance PDS, ensure that you research risks you may be exposed to and get appropriate cover. Consider everything of value and all potential risks including natural disasters, accidents, crime and medical or legal liability.
- Compare Policies. It may sound self-explanatory, but compare a number of different insurance companies to determine what policy best suits you. Don’t just look out for price - also consider what it is you’re actually being covered for. Look at a variety of reviews to try to get a sense of how easy it is to make claims, and ask people you know who have had experience with insurance companies that you’re considering. Insurance companies provide different types of coverage and levels of service in different areas.
Know how each event is actually covered
Let's face it - sometimes it's hard to digest what a policy is actually saying.
The following options are available with most home and contents insurance policies. Ideally, you should get a household insurance policy which covers everything that could realistically happen. The more likely it is to happen, the more it will raise your premiums. Choose what you need to be protected from.
|Option||What it means||What it typically does not cover|
|Flood||Any area that is normally dry land being covered by water, such as burst river banks||House flooding from leaky roofs, tsunamis, storm surges, high tides and other ocean movements|
|Fire||Damage caused by burning, including from lightning strikes that start fires||Cigarette burns, arcing or isolated scorch marks. It only covers fires that have spread. Typically does not cover arson|
|Storm||Extreme weather conditions including high wind, heavy rain, lightning and more. It usually only covers direct damage from these||Fires caused by lightning, landslides caused by heavy rain, flooding caused by strong waves and similar exemptions|
|Earthquake||Damage caused by seismic activity, usually including tsunamis and direct structure damage||Damage that occurs too long after the earthquake, such as a home that was damaged but only collapsed several days later|
|Actions of the Sea||Waves, high tides and ocean movements not caused by extreme weather||Tsunamis, storm surges, coastal erosion|
|Lightning||Damage caused as a direct result of lightning strikes||Electrical damage from power surges or failures, including loss of income|
|Impact||Direct impact damage such as from falling trees and power lines, satellite dishes, space debris or objects thrown from a trailer or car||Deliberate impacts made by people, cars crashing into your property and anything not mentioned in the policy|
|Vandalism and Malicious Damage||Deliberate property damage caused by defacing or otherwise damaging property||Any actions by a person who lives at that address or is included in the insurance policy|
|Theft and Attempted Theft||Stolen property and damage done for the purpose of the theft such as broken windows||Loss of income, incidental property damage, theft by someone who was there with your consent|
|Escape of Liquid||Damage caused by and the repair of leaks from burst pipes, swimming pools, aquariums and almost anything else||Wear and tear damage caused by liquid, water damage caused by gradual leaks, mold and similar|
|Alternative Accommodation||A temporary place to stay if you can’t live in your home after it’s been damaged||Anything beyond a certain cost. This is usually something like 10% of the total sum insured|
|Homeowners Liability||Medical costs from injuries suffered by people on your property, such as a guest falling down the stairs or a gardener being bitten by your dog, and related legal costs||Injuries that occured outside the property, or costs beyond a certain maximum amount|
|Loss of Income||Loss of income from damage to your home or possessions, such as theft of home office supplies or trade tools||Loss of income from injury, illness or other causes|
What isn't usually covered?
These are typically not covered by insurance companies because the costs are too unpredictable or the risk level is too high. However, if you do want coverage from some of these it may be possible to find a policy that covers them.
If you are found to be responsible or at fault, insurance providers may not be pay claims even if the event itself is covered. These may be things like:
- Theft of unsecured items, such as from unlocked homes.
- Damage to a home which looks unoccupied.
- Illegally or improperly storing dangerous materials such as explosives on your property.
- Damage caused by failure to properly maintain buildings or possessions.
How much does home insurance cost and is it worth it?
Policies will vary, and whether it's worth it really depends on your specific circumstances and needs. However, even if you only ever make one claim, years after taking out a policy, there's a good chance that it could be worth it.
The amount you spend on home insurance varies enormously depending on the sum insured, the location, the level of coverage and any discounts you may be getting. Some of the other factors that can lower the cost of your policy include:
- bundling your cover (instead of getting separate building cover and contents insurance policies)
- having someone at home during the day
- not leaving your home unattended for an extended period
- having a home that's more resistant to fires, severe weather, break-ins and other hazards
- having a few or no previous home insurance claims
How can I get lower household insurance premiums?
There are many ways to lower your costs.
- Consider increasing your excess. Sometimes you can choose to increase your excess and pay less in premiums. Some insurance companies give you a measure of control over excesses, also known as deductibles, which are fees that you must pay for making a claim. This fee is subtracted from the payout.
- Don’t make claims you don’t need. Many insurance premiums increase whenever you make a claim. Consider not claiming on damaged, destroyed or stolen low-value items and keeping your premiums lower as this can save you money in the long run. The higher the value of the claim, the more your premiums will go up.
- Have good home security. If you’re at lower risk of crime or vandalism, insurance companies will often recognise this and give you reduced premiums.
- Subscribe annually. If possible, subscribe annually rather than monthly. This basically gives you a ‘bulk discount’ on insurance but means you’re locked into the contract for a 12 month period and will need to pay larger lump sums, but less in total.
- Keep an inventory. Keep a running inventory of all the major possessions you own and how much they’re worth. This lets you get the cover you need without paying too much whenever you renew your insurance.
- Maintain your property well. This reduces the chances of you needing to make a claim and keeps your premiums low.
- Protect your property. Smoke alarms, storm shutters, reinforced building materials and more can reduce your premiums, particularly if you live in an area that’s susceptible to particular types of weather damage.
Always read your home insurance renewal policy closely. Your home and contents insurance provider may be raising premiums regularly. It might be time to switch providers and find a better deal.
5 easy traps to avoid
Most home insurance traps can be avoided by knowing exactly what you’re paying for. You should avoid:
- Incomplete coverage. Having a sum insured that’s too low, or an insurance policy that doesn’t protect against all the things your home is at risk from will cause you more pain than convenience down the road.
- Set-and-forget. Remember to update your home and contents insurance policy if there are any changes, particularly if you've extended your house or acquired valuable items.
- Paying for things you don’t need. Consider what extras you're paying for that you don't need to be. Do you really need to be covered for earthquakes and floods.
- Low limits. Most policies will have limits for certain things. These might be size limits, such as up to 500m of fencing, or dollar value limits such as up to $5000 worth of jewellery. Make sure these limits aren’t too low.
- Not having records. Keep thorough records of everything you want covered. Clear photographs of possessions in their usual location are recommended. Receipts and other proof of purchase can act as records of their value. A frequently updated electronic spreadsheet that lists all your items by room is an easy way to keep track of possessions. Ideally it should be stored in such a way as to be accessible even if your home is destroyed.
How do I know how much cover I need?
It’s important to work out just how much cover you need in order to avoid being underinsured. To work out your “sum insured” (the amount you will be covered for) you need to calculate just how much it would cost to replace all of your home and contents. It’s important to note that this is the cost of replacing your items, not the worth of the items as is.
Quick tips to avoid being underinsured
- Determine the cost of your property by asking a builder or valuer.
- Ensure that you consider additional expenses in the event that your home is damaged (the cost of demolition, debris removal, rebuilding).
- Check your cover regularly and ensure that your sum insured matches your current home. Consider this especially if you’ve recently renovated or acquired new furniture.
- Carry out a room-by-room analysis of your assets. Ask yourself how much it would cost to replace these items.
- List expensive items like jewellery separately and take out individual cover for these items.
4 home insurance claim slip-ups you can avoid
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 with comprehensive cover. Fortunately there are a lot of ways to minimise these risks.
- Regularly check under sinks, at washing machine connections and anywhere else you have pipes. Avoid flushing foreign objects down toilets and make sure you address any signs of a leak as soon as possible, because even a small leak can cause an exponentially growing amount of damage over time.
- Keep an eye out for mildew and mould and try to scrub it away as soon as possible. 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 don’t know about. Ignoring these issues can count as a failure to adequately maintain the home, which can be used to reject insurance claims.
- 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 insurance costs down.
Water damage is not the same as flooding, and policies will often cover flooding differently.
- Don’t overload power points and switch off appliances when not in use.
- Have at least one fire extinguisher in the home and know how to use it.
- Install enough smoke alarms in your home and test them regularly. Some insurance companies will offer reduced premiums if you maintain functional smoke alarms. However, if there is a fire and the alarms are non-functional you will likely not be able to claim 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.
- Protect your windows. Broken windows are extremely common, while glass shards lost in carpets indoors can cause serious injuries later on. If you live in an area that’s prone to storms it can be worth investing in shutters to protect the windows.
- Australia has seen a lot of hail storms in recent years. They can cover an enormous area and do staggering amounts of property damage. Most homes easily cope with milder hail storms, but particularly severe ones can shatter roof tiles, break windows and more. If you have reinforced roofing or storm shutters you may be able to get some form of 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 your dog bites 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 cause countless scrapes and bruises, but also more serious injuries. Swimming pool fences and signage, which are legal requirements, trampoline padding, and adult supervision (also a legal requirement) on the playground can make it clear that you’ve taken all the right steps.
Know where you stand when it comes to storms and flooding
When it comes to covering damage caused by storms and flooding, many insurance policies are vague.
It’s important to check 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, runoff 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 (product disclosure statement) carefully to determine whether you are covered. If you live in a coastal area you may not be covered for some storm- and flood-related damage.
If you are looking to make a claim, you will need to be able to prove that a storm (as defined by your insurer) has occurred, so ensure that you have proof such as photographs, video footage and weather reports.
Answers to your home insurance questions
Choosing a policy
Q. Do I need home insurance if I'm renting?
Q. Do I need home insurance if I'm a landlord?
Q. How do I calculate how much cover to take out?
- The most accurate way is with an independent valuation, but online calculators are also useful. The value of the building is how much it would cost to rebuild today, exactly as it was. Do not include the value of the land.
- Keep an updated written inventory of major possessions. To start with, you should do a room-by-room inventory, or a video walkthrough of each part of the house. Remember to include attics, garages and sheds. Electronically storing this information and backups in a safe place reduces the odds of it being lost if your home is.
Q. Is there an easy way to get a home insurance estimate?
Using online calculators is generally one of the easier ways to estimate your home's value. The more thorough it is, the more accurate it is likely to be. Try to find a calculator that asks you a lot of questions, specifically your postcode, whether your home is build on a slope, when it was built and the overall quality of its internal fittings.
Q. How much do my premiums increase when I make a claim?
When you make a claim, your premiums will tend to increase. The amount they go up depends on the value of the claim. The more you’re claiming, the more they increase.
Q. What counts as the building, and what counts as contents?
Generally, the building part of your home insurance policy refers to the structure itself and any permanent fixtures, such as built-ins, light fixtures and similar. Contents generally refers to anything that is typically inside your home and can be removed.
Q. Are rental items covered by my policy?
Generally they are if rented with an official, signed agreement. Borrowed items generally are not. This may vary and should be covered in the PDS
Q. Are carpets and blinds part of the building or the contents?
If it’s a permanent fixture it’s part of the building. If it’s removable it’s part of the contents. Carpets and blinds can be ambiguous, but this should be clarified in the insurance PDS. When in doubt, ask the insurance company.
Q. Are items covered in the contents policy covered away from home?
Not by default. You will need to have portable contents insurance for accidental loss or damage outside your home.
Q. Can I get home insurance for buildings under construction?
Yes. You can get owner builder insurance to cover your the structure while it's still under construction, as well as yourself from liability issues.
Q. Can I get home insurance before settlement?
About home insurance
Q. Is mandatory flood cover included?
Mandatory flood cover refers to the practice of including flood insurance in all policies, even those that are at practically no risk of flooding. The extra cost of mandatory flood cover should depend on your personal risk of suffering from floods, but some customers have found this inclusion to be raising their premiums excessively, even if they live in places that are at practically no risk of floods. Ask your insurance provider for a breakdown of premium costs to find out how much you’re paying for flood cover.
Q. What exactly is covered by flooding?
If places that are usually dry land are underwater, then it’s flooding. Flooding does not include homes being soaked by burst pipes. This can vary though, so check the insurance PDS and if in doubt, ask the insurance company.
Q. is home insurance tax deductible?
Home insurance premiums can be tax deductible when you pay premiums annually.
- If your annual home insurance premiums are less than $1,000, you can claim it as a deduction when your policy period extends beyond Jan 1 next year.
- If your annual home insurance premiums are greater than $1,000 you may only claim it as a single-year tax deduction if paying premiums for a period of less than 12 months in advance, such as if you pay it partway through the year. Otherwise, you have to split it across two years.
Q. Do I have to record all my belongings individually or can I group them together?
You can bundle items together, or price them separately. Most home insurance policies will ask you to record collections of things like DVDs or stamps. Ask your insurance company for more precise details if you’re unsure.
Q. Does home insurance cover termite damage?
Home and contents insurance policies do not typically cover termite damage. Damage from vermin and insects is a commonly excluded, and some insurers may decline to cover a home if there are signs of termite damage. Preventative pest control is a more effective way to protect your house from termites, and it can be a good idea to take this step prior to your home being assessed for insurance purposes.
Q. Can I adjust my policy in the future?
Yes. Some insurance companies will only let you adjust your policy at renewal time, while others will let you do it at almost any time. Sometimes different policies from the same insurer will have different conditions under which you can adjust the policy. If you’re unsure, check the PDS or ask the insurance company.
Q. I have high value items. Are they covered by my contents insurance?
If it’s a standard home insurance policy, they are most likely only partially covered. You need to look at the limits listed in the PDS to find out how much of their value is covered, or how many of them are covered. You may wish to purchase additional coverage if you don’t have enough.
Q. Is accidental damage caused by me covered?
Not automatically, but it can usually be added as an extra option. This is not just for you, but also for anyone who lives at your address or is included in your insurance policy.
Q. I am building a brand new house. When can I insure it?
When the Certificate of Handover is provided by your builder.
Q. What’s involved in a home insurance policy renewal?
At renewal time, which is usually monthly, twice yearly or annually, you’ll get a notice from your insurance company which details the amount payable and the next steps. This is a good time to adjust your cover and make adjustments for new possessions or additions to the home.
Q. Will I have to pay two excesses for a building and contents claim?
Generally not, as long as you are claiming on both for the same insured event.
Q. What if the home itself is defective?
It usually depends on whether or not you knew about it. If you knew there was an issue but took no action then you are probably responsible for the costs. If you didn’t know there was an issue, such as if you bought a home from someone that didn’t disclose broken roof tiles to you, then you are probably not responsible for the costs.
Dealing with insurance companies
Q. What should I do if my premiums suddenly increase?
A frequent complaint regarding insurance providers is that they will suddenly raise premiums. If your premium has suddenly increased without explanation you should contact the insurance company and see whether or not it’s a mistake. They must explain increases if asked. From there you are can either try to renegotiate a lower premium or take your business elsewhere.
Q. How do I make a claim?
Contact your insurance company as soon as you can to let them know you’re making a claim. You will usually be required to fill out a claim form, and in the event of large loss they will generally send someone around to assess the situation. Be honest, and keep all the appropriate documents and evidence to support your claim, such as photographs, video walkthroughs of the home, receipts, etc. Cooperate with your insurer and assessors however you can to make the claim go as smoothly as possible. Read a step by step guide to home insurance claims to learn more.
Q. How and when do I contact the home insurance ombudsman?
You can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if you are unable to resolve a dispute with an insurance provider. You should first try to go through them to resolve the issue, but if you are unable to reach a resolution, you can take it the FOS. They can pass judgment about whether or not an insurer has breached the terms of their policy. This is only possible for registered and legitimate insurance providers who are FOS members. All of the insurers listed on this page are FOS members.[/accordion]
Q. Where do I get a home insurance cover note?
From your insurer. Not all providers will offer home insurance cover notes, and will instead simply pass over a certificate of insurance to signify when your cover starts.[/accordion]
If you leave your home unattended for short periods there’s no problem, but if you leave your home empty for more than 60 days, you should notify your insurer. Check your PDS for the exact details.
Q. How do I show proof of ownership and proof of loss when making a claim?
For proof of ownership, you’ll need receipts, credit card records or something else which shows that you made the purchase and the value of the item. For proof of loss you can use things like police records, photographs or other evidence. The insurance company will often send someone around to verify the details.
Q. What happens if the insurance company won’t pay?
There are a lot of conditions under which an insurance company may refuse to pay out. They will tell you why, but if you disagree then you should first contact the company and try again. If you still feel that you are owed then you can seek the opinions of a professional third party or take legal action.
Q. How do I cancel my insurance policy?
All policies will let you cancel rather than renew when the time comes. Only some, however, will let you cancel at any time. To do so, notify your insurance company.
Q. Can I start cleaning up before the insurance assessor arrives to inspect the damage?
Yes, although if you do so before the assessor arrives you should take photographs or video the damage first. Don’t throw away damaged items until the assessor has seen them, unless it’s a health hazard.