CONSUMER REPORTS: What you don’t know about home insurance could cost you | Columns

We buy homeowners insurance to protect against the high drama of our greatest fears: tornadoes ripping off the roof, fire racing up the stairs or floodwaters lapping at the front porch. But in reality, the worst rarely happens.

As a result, most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about homeowners insurance.

We get the coverage when we buy our house and then — unless and until something happens — pretty much put it out of our heads.

Here are three insurance surprises from Consumer Reports:

1. You may be paying too much. Many of the respondents to a recent survey Consumer Reports conducted of more than 85,000 subscribers stick with the same company for 15, 20, 30 or more years and seldom shop around for new policies. About 9 percent switched insurers in the previous three years, and more than half reported finding a better price. Homeowners insurance isn’t as price-competitive as auto insurance, but you can still save hundreds to more than $1,000 per year in premiums by shopping around.

Homeowners insurance requires a careful assessment of your risks and coverage needs. Consumer Reports recommends working with an independent agent who can compare premiums and isn’t beholden to just one company.

Direct-to-consumer sellers, such as Geico, Farmers and USAA, and captive-agent companies, such as Allstate and State Farm, only offer their own brand. You can find an independent agent at, a website run by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, a trade association.

2. You may not be covered enough. Some homeowners also don’t realize that a standard policy doesn’t cover everything. For example, 56 percent incorrectly think that flood insurance is covered by a standard policy, according to Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Take action to save. Consumer Reports suggests working with your agent to buy separate flood and earthquake protection. You may also need a separate hurricane policy if you live in a high-risk zone.

Add-on policies are a must to cover sewer backups or the extra cost of rebuilding according to the latest codes and ordinances.

A typical policy covers the structure and outbuildings; the contents of the house; personal liability if you, your family or pet cause damages to others; and additional living expenses if your house is so badly damaged you need a temporary place to live.

3. Don’t worry too much about filing a small claim. Some people don’t make claims when they have a small loss for fear it will jack up their premiums and cost them more over time. About 22 percent of the survey respondents said they chose not to file a claim for this reason. But the survey also found that 57 percent who filed claims of less than $5,000 saw no premium increase.

Home insurers might raise rates by tacking on a surcharge if the loss is above a certain amount, but the thresholds and surcharges vary by company, type of loss and number of claims filed in a given period.

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