In addition to providing shelter and comfort, our home is often our single greatest asset. It’s important that we protect that precious investment. Most homeowners realize the importance of homeowners insurance in safeguarding the value of a home. However, what they may not know is that about two-thirds of all homeowners are under-insured. According to a national survey, the average homeowner has enough insurance to rebuild only about 80% of his or her house.
What a standard homeowners policy covers
A standard homeowner’s insurance policy typically covers your home, your belongings, injury or property damage to others, and living expenses if you are unable to live in your home temporarily because of an insured disaster.
The policy likely pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by disasters, such as fire or lighting. Your belongings, such as furniture and clothing, are also insured against these types of disasters, as well as theft. Some risks, such as flooding or acts of war, are routinely excluded from homeowner policies.
Other coverage in a standard homeowner’s policy typically includes the legal costs for injury or property damage that you or family members, including your pets, cause to other people. For example, if someone is injured on your property and decides to sue, the insurance would cover the cost of defending you in court and any damages you may have to pay. Policies also provide medical coverage in the event someone other than your family is injured in your home.
If your home is seriously damaged and needs to be rebuilt, a standard policy will usually cover hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while you are temporarily relocated.
How much insurance do you need?
Homeowners should review their policy each year to make sure they have sufficient coverage for their home. The three questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I have enough insurance to protect my assets?
- Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my home?
- Do I have enough insurance to replace all my possessions?
Here’s some more information that will help you determine how much insurance is enough to meet your needs and ensure that your home will be sufficiently protected.
Protect your assets
Make sure you have enough liability insurance to protect your assets in case of a lawsuit due to injury or property damage. Most homeowner’s insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability coverage. With the increasingly higher costs of litigation and monetary compensation, many homeowners now purchase $300,000 or more in liability protection. If that sounds like a lot, consider that the average dog bite claim is about $20,000. Talk with your insurance agent about the best coverage for your situation.
Rebuild your home
You need enough insurance to finance the cost of rebuilding your home at current construction costs, which vary by area. Don’t confuse the amount of coverage you need with the market value of your home. You’re not insuring the land your home is built on, which makes up a significant portion of the overall value of your property. In pricey markets such as San Francisco, land costs account for over 75 percent of a home’s value.
The average policy is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding your home using today’s standard building materials and techniques. If you have an unusual, historical or custom-built home, you may want to contact a specialty insurer to ensure that you have sufficient coverage to replicate any special architectural elements. Those with older homes should consider additions to the policy that pays the cost of rebuilding their home to meet new building codes.
Finally, if you’ve done any recent remodeling, make sure your insurance reflects the increased value of your home.
Remember that a standard policy does not pay for damage caused by a flood or earthquake. Special coverage is needed to protect against these incidents. Your insurance company can let you know if your area is flood or earthquake-prone. The cost of coverage depends on your home’s location and corresponding risk.
Replacing your valuables
If something happens to your home, chances are the things inside will be damaged or destroyed as well. Your coverage depends on the type of policy you have. A cost value policy pays the cost to replace your belongings minus depreciation. A replacement cost policy reimburses you for the cost to replace the item.
There are limits on the losses that can be claimed for expensive items, such as artwork, jewelry, and collectibles. You can get additional coverage for these types of items by purchasing supplemental premiums.
To determine if you have enough insurance, you need to have a good handle on the value of your personal items. Create a detailed home inventory file that keeps track of the items in your home and the cost to replace them.
Create a home inventory file
It takes time to inventory your possessions, but it’s time well spent. The little bit of extra preparation can also keep your mind at ease. The best method for creating a home inventory list is to go through each room of your home and individually record the items of significant value. Simple inventory lists are available online. You can also sweep through each room with a video or digital camera and document each of your belongings. Your home inventory file should include the following items:
- Item description and quantity
- Manufacturer or brand name
- Serial number or model number
- Where the item was purchased
- Receipt or other proof of purchase photocopies of any appraisals, along with the name and address of the appraiser
- Date of purchase (or age)
- Current value
- Replacement cost
Pay special attention to highly valuable items such as electronics, artwork, jewelry, and collectibles.
Storing your home inventory list
Make sure your inventory list and images will be safe in case your home is damaged or destroyed. Store them in a safe deposit box, at the home of a friend or relative, or on an online Web storage site. Some insurance companies provide online storage for digital files. (Storing them on your home computer does you no good if your computer is stolen or damaged). Once you have an inventory file set up, be sure to update it as you make new purchases.
We invest a lot in our homes, so it’s important we take the necessary measures to safeguard it against financial and emotional loss in the wake of a disaster.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a current owner looking for a bigger home, the ideas below will help you better navigate that all-important first step: Finding a property that you like (and can afford).
The search for a new home always starts out with a lot of excitement. But if you haven’t prepared, frustration can soon set in, especially in a competitive real estate market. The biggest mistake is jumping into a search unfocused, just hoping to “see what’s available.” Instead, we recommend you first take some time to work through the four steps below.
Step 1: Talk to your agent
Even if you’re just thinking about buying or selling a house, start by consulting your real estate agent. An agent can give you an up-to-the-minute summary of the current real estate market, as well as mortgage industry trends. They can also put you in touch with all the best resources and educate you about next steps, plus much more. If you are interested in finding an experienced agent in your in your area, we can connect you here.
Step 2: Decide how much home you can afford
It may sound like a drag to start your home search with a boring financial review, but when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you did. With so few homes on the market now in many areas, and so many people competing to buy what is available, it’s far more efficient to focus your search on only the properties you can afford. A meeting or two with a reputable mortgage agent should tell you everything you need to know.
Step 3: Envision your future
Typically, it takes at least five years for a home purchase to start paying off financially, which means, the better your new home suits you, the longer you’ll most likely remain living there.
Will you be having children in the next five or six years? Where do you see your career heading? Are you interested in working from home, or making extra money by renting a portion of your home to others? Do you anticipate a relative coming to live with you? Share this information with your real estate agent, who can then help you evaluate school districts, work commutes, rental opportunities, and more as you search for homes together.
Step 4: Document your ideal home
When it comes to this step, be realistic. It’s easy to get carried away dreaming about all the home features you want. Try listing everything on a piece of paper, then choose the five “must-haves,” and the five “really-wants.”
For more tips, as well as advice geared specifically to your situation, connect with an experienced Windermere Real Estate agent by clicking here.
Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in homeowners choosing to become landlords rather than placing their homes on the market. In deciding whether or not becoming a Landlord is right for you, there are a number of factors to consider, but primarily they fall into the following three categories: Financial Analysis, Risk and Goals.
The financial analysis is probably the easiest of the three to assess. You will need to assess if you can afford to rent your house. If you consider the likely rental rate, vacancy rate, maintenance, advertising and management costs, you can arrive at a budget. It is important both to be reasonably correct in your assumptions and to have enough reserves to cover cash-flow needs if you’re wrong. The vacancy rate will be determined by the price at which you market the property. Price too high and you’re either vacant or accepting applicants that, for some reason, couldn’t compete for more competitively priced homes. Price too low and you don’t achieve the revenue you should. If you want to try for the higher end of an expected range, understand that the cost may be a vacant month. It is difficult to make up for a vacant month.
Consider the other costs renting out your property could accrue. If you have a landscaped or large yard, you will likely need to hire a yard crew to manage the grounds. Other costs could increase when you rent your home, such as homeowner’s insurance and taxes on your property. Also, depending on tenant turn-over, you may need to paint and deal with maintenance issues more regularly. Renting your home is a decision you need to make with all the financial information in front of you. You can find more information about the hidden costs of renting here.
If your analysis points to some negative cash-flow, that doesn’t necessarily mean that renting is the wrong option. That answer needs to be weighed against the pros and cons of alternatives (i.e., selling at the price that would actually sell), and some economic guesswork about what the future holds in terms of appreciation, inflation, etc. to arrive at an expectation of how long the cash drain would exist.
Risk is a bit harder to assess. Broadly though, it’s crucial to understand that if you decide to lease out a home, you are going into business, and every business venture has risks. The more you know, the better you can mitigate those risks. One of the most obvious ways of mitigating the risk is to hire a management company. By hiring professionals, you decrease your risk and time spent managing the property (and tenants) yourself. However, this increases the cost. So, as you reduce your risk of litigation, you increase your risk of negative cash-flow, and vice versa… it’s a balancing act, and the risk cannot be eliminated; just managed and minimized.
In considering Goals, what do you hope to achieve by renting your property? Are you planning on moving back into your home after a period of time? Will your property investment be a part of your long-term financial planning? Are you relocating or just hoping to wait to sell? These are all great reasons to consider renting your home.
Keep in mind that renting your family home can be emotional. Many homeowners LOVE the unique feel of their homes. It is where their children were raised, and they care more about preserving that feel than maximizing revenue. That’s OK, but it needs to be acknowledged and considered when establishing a correct price and preparing a cash flow analysis. Some owners are so attached to their homes that it may be better for them to “tear off the band-aid quickly” and sell. The alternative of slowly watching over the years as the property becomes an investment instead of a home to them may prove to be more painful than any financial benefit can offset.
In the process of considering your financial situation, the risks associated with becoming a landlord, and the goals you hope to achieve with the rental of your property, – ask yourself these questions. Before reaching a conclusion, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the landlord-tenant-law specific to your state (and in some cases, separate relevant ordinances in the city and/or county that your property lies within) and to do some market research (i.e. tour other available similar rentals to see if your financial assumptions are in line with the reality of the competition across the street). If you are overwhelmed by this process, or will be living out of the region, seek counsel with a property management professional. Gaining experience the hard way can be costly.
J. Michael Wilson is the dedicated broker at Windermere Property Management Seattle, and has 17 years of experience managing properties in the Seattle region.
Agent: “So, what kind of a house are you looking for?”
Client: “Anything with 3 bedrooms and a couple baths. Oh, and a big yard would be cool, too.”
Agent: “I know of several that we can show you.”
Client: “Just pick three that you think I’ll like, and I’ll buy one of them.”
If only it were that easy. When you ask yourself to visualize the home of your dreams, what comes to mind? Certainly not a nondescript 3 bedroom, 2 bath home. It’s much more likely that your vision could include features like maple flooring, granite counter-tops, 6-panel doors, built-in speakers, or access to 220-electricity in the garage for a workshop. Everyone has their own custom needs and desires.
You’re allowed to be picky. Realistic is imperative, but picky is fine, too. If you’re holding out for diamond insets in the shower tile grout or solid gold door knobs, I’m afraid disappoint awaits you. Think about the most important things a home will represent to you. Do you work from home? Do you entertain large groups regularly? Do you enjoy yard work or do-it-yourself projects? Each family has their own needs, so your definition of the perfect home will be very different from even your closest friends or family members.
Not only does each family have their own needs, but each family member might have their own needs. Pets come into the picture, too. Is high-enough speed internet readily available? Is there a wall that will fit your 60” High-Def 3D TV? Will the family room have enough space that you can compete at Wii™ or Kinect™ without breaking lamps? Will the huge trees that are cooling in summer make the home darker than you like in the winter? Can you bike or run the neighborhood streets? Are you concerned about how your energy consumption will affect the environment? You’re encouraged to list all the things that are important to you.
Once you’ve made your list, prioritize it according to what is important. Figure out what’s a must-have and what would be nice, but not necessary. It might take looking at a few homes to figure out what you want versus what you need. You may love the idea of having Spanish copper sinks throughout the house, but if there were no houses on the market that had them, would you resign yourself to renting indefinitely? On the other hand, you may be working from home and need fantastic data transmission capability. You probably wouldn’t want to look in a rural area that still uses dial up, but promises to have high speed internet cables in the future.
Your agent will learn from your prioritized list, and they should be able to help you find that perfect house. Be brutally honest with yourself, think 10 years into the future, and share your desires freely with those that can help you. You may not find the house that’s 100% of what you wanted, but something very close to the home of your dreams is probably out there.
What are the “deal killers”? What are the most important features on your list?
By Eric Johnson, Director of Education
Johnson has several years experience as a real estate agent and real estate instructor, as well as experience in construction project management, digital media/publishing and insurance. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of Colorado.
Recently, news about how to purchase a real-estate owned (REO/bank owned) home, foreclosure property or short sale is everywhere. Bank owned homes are sold directly from the lender after the foreclosure process is complete, and while you may save quite a bit of money by choosing to go for this type of home, it is not without trials and tribulations. The process of purchasing a home directly from a lender can be long and arduous, but could very well be worth it in the end.
If you have your sights on a particular home or are looking to find a deal on your first, working directly with the lender may be your only option. Purchasing a bank owned home is not for the faint of heart, here are some tips for negotiating the REO process:
1. Be prepared: The condition of bank owned properties is usually poor and hard to show. Past owners may have left angry and left the home in bad condition with foul smells, missing appliances, wires taken from breakers, gas fireplaces gone, even bathrooms without toilets and sinks.
2. Understand the costs: Maintenance or repairs may be necessary, since these homes have been vacant for an unknown period of time–sometimes months or years. Keep in mind, when they were occupied the owners could have been under a financial hardship, preventing them from doing regular seasonal care or repairs when needed. Remember as well that the bank is trying to sell the house immediately, so you will receive a financial break in the price rather than a willingness to negotiate on the maintenance and repair issues.
3. Accept the unknown: In traditional real estate transactions, homeowners fill out Form 17 regarding important information about the history of the house. A bank owned home is either exempt or marked with “I don’t know” throughout the document. Not having the accuracy of this 5 page disclosure form could leave you with a lot of unanswered questions on the history of the home.
4. Know what is non-negotiable: The pricing on the house may not get much lower. Some of these properties can be “a dream come true” if you get them at an amazing price, or they could be your worst nightmare. Do your due diligence researching any property, and conduct all necessary inspections to safeguard yourself. Some major repairs may be negotiable, but will likely not reduce the home price.
5. Make a clean offer: The higher the price you can offer, the better. Include your earnest money, keep contingencies to a minimum, and suggest a reasonable closing date. The simpler your offer is, the higher chance you have of the bank accepting your offer or countering in a reasonable time period.
6. Be patient: Consult with a professional who handles bank owned home purchases to help you negotiate the pathway to home-ownership. The process of purchasing a bank owned, foreclosed or short-sale home is typically longer than a typical real estate sale.
What do you want to know about purchasing bank owned, foreclosure and short-sale properties?