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Home insurance for antique and historic houses

historic houseThe value of your prized historic home, not to mention your savings account, could be at risk if your home insurance policy cannot meet the higher-than-usual costs to repair damage in the event of a disaster.

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Your unique home may need a special policy. Hand-carved molding, stained-glass windows, and hand-wrought door handles are more expensive to replace than standard home materials, and they require specialized coverage to be fully protected.

Shopping for the right home insurance

Premiums for historic home policies typically run about 20 percent higher than standard policies, but the higher premium bill is nothing compared to the costs you could face without the extended coverage, industry professionals say.

"This is where customers often find themselves having bought the wrong policy," says Michelle Kenney, senior director of insurance product management for Fireman's Fund, a leader in writing historic home insurance policies.

Kenney says anecdotal evidence from Hurricane Katrina and more recent brush fires in California suggest a "high percentage of customers found out they had insufficient coverage on their historic homes."

A historic homeowner insurance policy is a good idea if a home is listed on local or national historic register. When a historic home is damaged, its repairs must often be brought up to current building codes. At the same time, you want historically accurate repairs to these homes, meaning they should be performed with original materials. A historic home policy would pay to replace your original materials. For example, if your home has a slate roof, your policy would pay to replace it with a slate roof – and for expert contractors to make sure it’s done right.

"If you're on the historic register, and you need to replace lath and plaster on your home, we bring in the artisans to do that," Kenney says.

Another key feature to historic home insurance policies is unlimited loss-of-use coverage, since historic home repairs typically take more time to complete. This coverage reimburses you for additional living expenses while your home is being repaired (assuming the home is uninhabitable).

Kenney recalled homeowners who had been displaced from their homes for as long as three years while repairs took place. Their policy covered every penny of their temporary housing costs, she says.

Another benefit to a historic home policy is that it generally has higher limits than a standard policy for things like cash, jewelry and fine art. In addition, it has extra benefits that are not included in a standard policy – like a replacement - value cash option.

How home insurance companies define historic homes

Scott Spencer, senior vice president for home appraisals and loss prevention manager for Chubb Group, another leader in historic home insurance, cited two main types of historic homes: those built before 1945 and those built before 1900.

"That's pretty standard in the industry," Spencer says.

Pre-1945 homes, which may include some unique features, usually do not require much additional coverage, Spencer says. It's the pre-1900 homes that need the special attention.

Chubb's Masterpiece policy, like the Fireman's Fund Prestige Premier insurance, pays restoration experts and specially-trained appraisers to visit the home before the policy is written. This ensures correct value estimates are attached to the home and its contents, including antique furnishings and fine art.

Paul LaVardera, a spokesman for National Trust Insurance Services, the insurance arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says that front-end visit from a risk professional is imperative if the house is to be properly valued.

"The key to everything is valuation, making sure you have the correct values attached to the home," LaVardera says. "These people will make sure that your replacement exposure, the basis for premium, is adequately valued and that your policy is designed to protect it."

Risk managers not only survey the home and its contents, but will also suggest proper smoke-detection systems, burglar alarms and other damage-control strategies to keep historic home insurance premiums more affordable.

Fixer-uppers could be hard to insure

Spencer suggested that buyers of classic "fixer-uppers" who are in the market for home insurance would be wise to upgrade outdated electrical and plumbing systems before launching expensive repairs to the home.

"Condition [of these systems] could be one of the reasons why a company would refuse to insure a home," Spencer says.

Kenney said many people who purchase historic homes with the intention of restoring them and keeping them historic know what they are getting into and budget for the higher insurance costs.

Still, she suggests that homeowners do their homework and make sure the pay a reputable company to write their historic home insurance policy.

"The key is being aligned with an agent or carrier who is aware of the historic significance of the home and is insuring it correctly," Kenney says.

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