It is so easy to not realise the true value of a home.
From heirlooms that might never have been assessed to the current cost of everything else in your property, few have written a check list and calculated how much possessions would cost to replace.
‘Contents’ in property insurance terms means everything that you might take in a move. All the non-structural items should be included such as carpets, curtains and lights but not built-in parts like central heating.
The aim of home insurance is to provide sufficient financial protection to replace all your contents with a similar standard and quality of article. This is at replacement value, not the cost when first acquired.
For a regular contents survey, note all sizes and relevant serial numbers, such as for a camera. Take photographs which may later assist not only the insurer but, in the event of theft, the police to trace items. Keep a copy away from the property.
Take advice on alarm and fire protection. The local police force will have trained security staff who can give good free advice.
A typical practical suggestion would be to fit five lever mortice deadlocks to outside doors, together with bolts at the top and bottom, and key-operated window locks to ground floor and vulnerable upper floor windows. Fit a peephole and chain to the front door.
Place security lights at least eight feet from the ground so that they cannot be tampered with. Ensure ladders and tools are locked away so that thieves cannot use them. Glass panels on doors should be avoided but otherwise make it toughened glass with a security film.
Do not overlook sheds and other outbuildings by fitting good quality locks.
Fit a sturdy back gate and keep it securely locked. Insurer esure recommends a crunchy, gravel driveway is considered which will generate noise when a person or vehicle approaches the property.
Fit a good safe for valuables and such documentation as passports and wills. Most insurers now require safes to be fixed to the ground.
Anyone with art or antiques should have an intruder alarm that meets the BS4737 or BS6799 specification or the European EN50131 and installed by a firm certified by either the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems and Alarms Inspectorate Board (SSAIB). Higher value policies may require it whilst others may give a discount.
Mark articles with a DNA security solution, like Selectamark or Smartwater so that if items are stolen and found, it is far easier to trace the owner. Fit several smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide alarm and check monthly that the batteries are working.
Keep keys out of sight as far too many are close to a front door where they can be easily accessed by criminals.
If a budget or online quotation is sought, check there is adequate cover and look at the small print as the exclusions may make a policy poor value. If in any doubt, consult an insurance broker who will have knowledge of the most suitable underwriters. This is particularly the case if there is a specialist collection, such as coins or stamps.
Ask how a matched pair of, say, vases will be treated as it will always command a premium over two of the same or similar items. As the cost of replacing or repairing will be higher than for one alone, check on an underwriter’s interpretation.
Ensure valuations with full descriptions are kept up to date. For art and antiques, seek either a member of The British Antique Dealers’ Association – whose membership is vetted annually – or a major auction house.
Hiscox, a noted insurer for higher values, says the top five reasons for claiming are accidental damage/loss, followed by theft, escape of water, storm and flood and then fire.
The Association of British Insurers say there are 5.1m contents policies with an average premium of just £139. However, sadly loyalty does not pay and so check a premium and conditions at renewal.
Additional costs can arise when the option to pay monthly is taken and if a change has to be made during the year.
Increasingly insurers are offering blanket contents cover, such as £75,000, but it is vital to check three key factors:
Single article limit
Protection level outside, such as items taken on holiday
Excess which is the first part of any claim.
If any part is let out – such as through Airbnb – it must be declared to the insurer who would be justified in raising the premium.
To compare single article limits, Hiscox has £15,000 for its standard home cover but no limit – effectively up to the full contents sum insured – under its 606 policy. Under the latter, the limit is £30,000 per valuable but £50,000 for fine art.
Insurers will usually offer a choice of a cash settlement or to replace items lost or damaged. Direct Line say this can be arranged in some cases within eight hours.
Sometimes a monetary offer is preferred if the customer wishes to use it towards upgrading or purchasing an alternative article.
Many insurers now have approved suppliers who can replace goods, such as a television.
To settle a jewellery claim, such as a branded watch, companies like Churchill can offer a multi-store card or voucher which can be used in independent retailers or high street chains. If the item is unique or a family heirloom, a bespoke piece can be recreated.
In addition to a broker approach, seek an insurer whose policy has been independently assessed as ‘five stars’ by the research company Moneyfacts.
Its list includes Admiral (Platinum), Ageas, AXA, York-based Benenden (Premier Home), Churchill, John Lewis (Plus and Premier), Legal & General, NFU Mutual, Royal & SunAlliance and Zurich.
Banks with good cover include Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, NatWest (Elite and Private) TSB (Pick and Protect) and Yorkshire.
For mutual providers, look particularly for the highly rated policies offered by Leeds Building Society, LV= (formerly Liverpool Victoria), Nationwide and Yorkshire Building Society (You Choose).
For higher value contents, three stand out in the five-star range: Covea (which acquired Sterling in 2015), Direct Line (Select), which is underwritten by Leeds-based UK Insurance, and Hiscox.
Do not pay twice for cover. Often stores, notably jewellers, will push for an in-store policy to protect a purchase. This is not necessary as the item can be included under your contents cover and the separate premium will be at a disproportionate rate.
However, do remember to contact the insurer immediately and not wait until the recipient’s birthday or, later in the year, to Christmas.
Helen Moyes, a 52-year-old Sheffield textile artist and teacher, has had contents insurance with Direct Line since 2009 and currently pays £68 annually.
For both cooking and craft work, Helen usually takes off her engagement and wedding rings and puts them away safely.
Recently, she was searching for them ahead of her daughter’s wedding and neither ring could be found.
Fortunately, Direct Line came to the rescue. Helen, married to Nick, sent a photograph taken at their own wedding. A jeweller came to their home and used the illustration to replace them.