You don't have to be home for calamity to ensue. Whether you're returning from a long vacation abroad or just from a short business trip, you may surprised to find your house is not in the condition you left it. Perhaps a pipe burst and flooded your home, or a thief broke in and stole your new tablet and high-definition TV, or birds have flown down the chimney and wreaked havoc on your furniture.
A great bit of advice: Don't discard things before your insurance carrier can inspect them.
If your water heater leaks, causing a flood, let your insurer take a look to determine if something failed and the product is still under warranty.
Your insurer also is likely to cover emergency repair costs, such as drying out a soggy home or boarding up a broken front door.
Depending on the nature of your disaster, it could be covered under the dwelling or personal property portions of your policy, or both. The dwelling portion would cover damage caused to your floor by a burst water pipe, while your personal property portion would typically cover your ruined furniture.
If your home is uninhabitable, the loss-of-use portion would cover the costs of things like temporary accommodations and clothing.
Because most homeowner insurance policies have deductibles, you should compare the amount of the loss to your deductible before filing a claim.
Every time you file a claim your insurer re-evaluates your insurability. A typical homeowner files a claim every 10 or 12 years. Filing two or three within a short period could send up a red flag.
And because of the economy, many homeowners raised their deductible as a way to lower premiums. If your deductible is $2,500 and your claim is $3,000 you're better off taking care of it on your own.
Water damage accounts for almost 22 percent of all homeowners insurance claims, and average $4,024 per claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
While your insurance will typically cover damage from burst pipes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Because pressure can build up in pipes, it's prudent turning off the water before you leave home.
If you come home to a wet disaster, immediately call your insurance carrier, who can send someone to provide emergency service, such as pulling up the carpet and setting up fans and dehumidifiers to dry out your home.
In 2012, 75 percent of 2.1 million burglaries occurred at residences, and the overall the average dollar loss per burglary offense was $2,230, according to the latest crime stat from the FBI.
Simple steps like putting your lights on timers, having your mail and newspaper held, and parking your second car in the driveway can give the impression someone is home.
But some burglars won't be fooled. And items they commonly target -- such as electronics and jewelry -- may have insurance coverage limits. So that new TV may have cost you $4,000, but your homeowners policy may have a $2,000 cap for electronics.
If you own pricey items like artwork and collectibles, you might want to get an endorsement, which provides greater coverage for such valuables.
Fires are harder to prevent because you don't want to turn off your power -- a dark home is a magnet for burglars.
But fire is a key concern. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded more than 365,500 residential fires in 2011, with losses totaling $6.5 billion.
Before you depart, unplug extension cords and appliances.
An alarm system can offer valuable protection, notifying your alarm company if smoke or heat is detected.
Think your pet door or chimney is secure? In reality they might provide a route for birds, rodents or other critters into your home, where they can cause damage to your home or furniture.
That type of damage is unlikely to be covered by your homeowner insurance policy. So if mice set up home in your new sofa, you'd be out of luck.
But if a raccoon gets into your attic, chews through wiring and sparks a fire, or a rat gnaws through the dishwasher water line and causes a flood, that damage would be covered.
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