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Tips for home insurance buyers

What does a homeowners insurance policy include?

Homeowners insurance policies provide important financial safety nets. Your home may be your biggest investment, and having home insurance helps you recover from a disaster like a fire or tornado. You also may have savings and assets that could be at risk if you're sued. Home insurance typically pays defense costs and liability judgments against you. Here's a summary of what's included when you get home insurance quotes. Keep in mind that each coverage type has its own limit.

Your dwelling

Homeowners insurance typically covers damage to your house caused by fire, lightning, wind, hail, explosions and other problems listed in the policy. A common policy type called an HO-3 covers everything that's not specifically excluded.

Your belongings

The personal property portion of a home insurance policy covers damage to all your possessions, from furniture and rugs to clothes and computers. It also covers theft of your belongings.

Liability

Liability insurance pays for certain damage and injuries you accidentally cause to others. It also typically pays for your legal defense in liability cases against you. For example, if a guest slips on your steps, home insurance will likely pay the medical bills. It can even cover your liability away from home -- for example, if you accidentally throw a football through someone's window.

Medical payments to others

A coverage called Medical Payments to Others pays small injury claims regardless of whether you were negligent. The coverage limit is often small, such as $1,000, but you can increase it. Larger injury claims would generally be paid by the liability portion of the homeowners insurance policy.

Loss of use

Loss of use coverage pays for "additional living expenses" if you can't live in your house due to a problem covered by your homeowners policy. It pays the gap between what you'd usually spend and new expenses because you can't live at home. This can include hotel bills, restaurant meals and laundry services.

Not covered

Floods and earthquakes are not covered by home insurance, but you can buy separate policies for them. Also not typically covered are sinkholes, landslides, nuclear hazards and intentional damage from members of the household.

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