During the first year of the pandemic, many homeowners spent their down time upgrading their homes. The year 2020 alone experienced at 3 percent uptick in spending on home improvements – to the tune of nearly $420 billion nationwide. This included modifications for remote work, online schooling and leisure activities at home.
Between remodeling, high inflation and today’s elevated real estate prices, it’s important to review your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure it’s up-to-date. Does it include enough coverage for recent upgrades to your home? Does it carry an inflation factor to ensure coverage is on par with more expensive building material costs and labor increases? Do you have coverage for ancillary factors, such as the cost of meeting local building ordinances, or flood insurance for today’s extreme weather events?
Replacement vs. Actual Value
One term to check on your policy’s declaration page is whether your coverage is determined by replacement cost or actual cash value. Replacement cost will pay for repairs to your home or replace your personal property (e.g., laptop, television) up to coverage limits, regardless of its current value. In other words, the policy will pay for a new computer even if your old one was 3 years old.
Actual cash value refers to a cash payout equal to the current value of your property. In other words, if your computer was 3 years old, you will receive the cash value of a 3-year-old computer – which will not likely cover the cost of a new replacement.
In lieu of upgrading your home’s cost coverage each year, you might have the option to pay for guaranteed replacement, which is an extra fee that ensures the policy will cover the entire cost to rebuild your home. Extended replacement cost coverage pays out a certain percentage above your policy’s stated dwelling coverage limit if the cost to rebuild is higher than the face amount. For example, a policy with $200,000 coverage and 25 percent extended replacement coverage will pay up to $250,000 to rebuild your home.
Homeowners who live in older homes should consider adding ordinance coverage if it is not standard under your policy. Ordinance coverage pays for the cost to meet current building codes should you need to rebuild. These fees can be substantial and would have to be paid out-of-pocket if you don’t have this form of coverage. Note, too, that although guaranteed replacement cost coverage might offer a higher payout, that is only for the material and labor costs to rebuild – not local ordinance fees, licenses or inspections.
As you review your current policy, note that the section labeled Coverage A represents the amount available to rebuild your home. It generally rises by 2 percent to 3 percent each year for basic cost-of-living increases. However, it is worth noting that building materials, such as lumber and steel, increased by 19 percent in 2021, and in June the general inflation rate increased to 9.1 percent, its highest level in more than 40 years.
Because home building costs, the inflation rate and the increasing number of weather events have plagued the home insurance industry, policy premiums are starting to increase at a higher rate each year than in the past. In additional to higher costs due to supply chain disruptions and inflation, the home building industry is hampered by a lack of qualified workers – and experienced workers are demanding higher pay. This is yet another component that is factored into calculating insurance premiums. Basically, anything that would lead to a higher cost to repair your home will result in higher rates.
Insurance companies calculate your policy premiums by multiplying your home’s replacement rate with your home’s current value. Therefore, a combination of higher building costs and higher real estate values have contributed to higher insurance premiums. Some states have set an annual percentage cap on how much insurance companies can raise homeowner rates each year. However, given the increasing number of extreme weather events (e.g., storm surge, wildfires) in recent years, state legislators also have increased those rate caps so that insurers have the latitude to cover excess payouts. Note that rate increases vary by geographical area, based on local weather activity, labor costs and building supplies.
Some insurance policies offer an inflation guard, which automatically increases coverage limits to match inflation rates when the policy is renewed.
Be aware that homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Mortgage lenders require homes located in government-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. However, we have seen inland and even metropolitan areas that are not located in flood zones be devastated by the effects of storm surge following a hurricane. Homeowners who live in these higher-risk areas should consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy as well.