There are lots of elements about your home that you can change. You can swap out the light fixtures, build out the deck, paint the walls, upgrade the appliances. But one thing you can’t change about your home is its neighborhood. If you live in an area plagued by property crime, it’s good to know that a standard homeowners insurance policy covers theft of personal possessions and damage to your home caused by break-ins.
But don’t just trust that your homeowners insurance will have you covered. Examine your policy for blind spots, beef out coverage for valuable possessions, and then take advantage of the discounts offered to homeowners who protect their property. A proactive stance against break-ins (security systems, deadbolts) doesn’t just save you money on your premiums — it helps you avoid the fiasco of property crime altogether.
Check Your Policy
The two elements of your policy that will come into play in the event of a break-in are dwelling coverage and personal property coverage.
Dwelling coverage — Also called Coverage A, this takes care of the cost to repair or rebuild your home in the event of a covered peril, like a natural disaster, a fire, or the vandalism component of a break-in — a shattered window or a splintered door.
- Limit: The limit of dwelling coverage is the cost to rebuild your entire house.
Personal property coverage — Dwelling coverage protects the house. Personal property coverage protects everything that’s in it. Your belongings are insured at either their replacement cost or their actual cash value. Replacement cost doesn’t deduct for depreciation — you’re reimbursed the same amount that you paid. Actual cash value reimburses what the stolen item is worth today. Replacement cost coverage is more expensive, but worth it if you have a lot of electronics, for example.
- Limit: The limit of personal property coverage is 50-70% of the insurance you have on your home. But keep in mind that there are lower sub-limits. Jewelry, for example, is typically only insured for $1,00-$2,000. If you have some very expensive sparkles or other big-ticket items lying around, consider getting scheduled personal property coverage. This customized form of personal property coverage increases limits on certain items, and you may be able to be reimbursed for those named items without having to first pay a deductible.
How to File a Claim After a Break-in
- First things first. If your home has been broken into, you need to contact the police. It’s a crime and needs to be reported, but a police report will also help you during the claims process.
- Contact your insurance agent. Many companies set a time limit on when you can file a claim, so you’ll want to find out the timeline available to you.
- Catalogue the losses and damages with photos. If you have already created a home inventory, you’re well on your way to expediting the claims process. A comprehensive list of personal possessions, home inventories make it easier for you to accurately report what was lost or damaged and get adequately (and swiftly) reimbursed.
- Make emergency repairs to broken windows and the like, but don’t alter more than you have to — treat the affected area like a crime scene.
- Save receipts to any emergency fixes. If you have to move to a hotel because the damage has made your home unlivable, also save receipts for lodging. All of the above are potentially reimbursable by your insurance provider.
Making a Claim Will Raise Your Rates
Living in a neighborhood with high incidences of property theft has likely already impacted your insurance rates. You are riskier to insure by dint of neighborhood crime stats, and that leads to a steeper premium. But know that filing a claim for a break-in can raise your rates even more.
A single claim can raise your rates by a couple hundred dollars for the next five years. A second claim raises your rates by even more, and your insurance company could drop you entirely. To add insult to injury, claims history is shared between providers. You could have a hard time securing good coverage for a reasonable rate from any company because a lot of claim activity is a red flag. According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurers pay over 1 billion dollars in homeowners insurance claims each year. They aren’t eager to back anyone who looks like they’ll increase that amount.
Word to the wise: Check with your insurance agent about how much a claim will raise your premiums, and for how long, before making one.
Make Your Home a Difficult Target
The best investment you can make to protect your home from break-ins is getting a home security system. The security sign posted out front is by itself a great deterrent, but the sound of an alarm going off will also instantly startle any would-be burglars. If you plump for video surveillance, the footage can help with identifying and capturing any trespassers.
There are also lots of day-to-day security measures you can take. Frequently verify that doors and windows are locked, and find a better place for your spare key than under the front door mat. Keep the exterior of your house clear and visible by trimming shrubbery and installing motion-activated lights near the driveway and entrance points.
Insurance companies offer discounts to policyholders who invest in home security
- Alarm system → 15 – 20% discount
- Deadbolt → 2 – 5%
After securing your home, think about how your typical behaviors affect your safety. Try to avoid predictable patterns of coming and going: Stagger the times that everyone leaves for work and school, and make a point to come home during the day or work from home randomly. And park cars in the garage because expensive-looking vehicles stationed in full view work like a siren’s call on thieves.
Keep security practices particularly in mind when you’re away from home: Break-ins spike during the summer and the holidays. Avoid alerting strangers that your house is left empty by having your mail held or forwarded (you don’t want people making off with any personal data, and a stuffed mailbox proves that nobody’s home) and waiting to post vacation photos till you’re back home. It’s also smart to keep valuables left at home locked up and out of sight. For good measure, also lock your devices and disconnect your internet.
How does your city stack up in terms of property crime?
Property crime rates in the U.S. have been on the decline since 1990, according to statista — a heartening trend that echoes the larger downturn in American crime. Still, there were over 7 million cases of property crime reported in 2017. And of that number, over 5 million cases consisted of larceny-theft, the unlawful taking of personal property.
Top 10 most dangerous cities for property crime
- St. Louis
- Little Rock
- Daytona Beach