Home insurance costs seem to go up every year. But going without insurance is too risky. So, we grit our teeth and pay the bill each year. Of course, we could competitively shop the policy every year, but that's onerous. It takes a lot of study to understand the difference between policies. Often it's easier to stay with the policy that has the appropriate coverage. And longer-term policyholders can earn discounts for longevity. Here are 10 ways that you can control your home insurance costs:
Increase deductibles. Insurance isn't meant to cover the small stuff. Set deductibles as high as you can afford. For example, a $150,000 house could have a $1500 or 1% deductible.
Make improvements. Install a backup generator, a whole house surge protector, and smoke/CO2 detectors. Refit roof trusses with strapping.
Opt for hip roofs. Hip roofs offer the most slippery shape in high wind settings or storms. You don't want areas that can catch the wind and are prone to damage.
Locate intelligently. Stay away from flood prone areas. Look for brick or stone houses in high wind areas and wooden frame houses in earthquake-prone areas. Locate in communities with professional fire departments. Have your home inspected before purchase. Also check the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report of your home before purchase to see insurance claim history.
Don't make small claims. Frequent claims can drive up rates. Don't sweat the small stuff. Insurance is meant to protect from catastrophic loss.
Reinforce your home. Install storm shutters, reinforce the roof, retrofit older homes for earthquake resistance, and modernize heating, plumbing, electrical to reduce risk of fire and water damage.
Improve home security. Add smoke detectors, burglar alarms, and deadbolts.
Exclude land value. It's unlikely the land beneath your home will be stolen or burned in a fire. Insure the value of the home only.
Combine policies with one insurer. Most insurance companies offer discounts for multiple policy households. Combine home and auto insurance. Then buy an umbrella liability policy over both to optimize cost.
Eliminate unnecessary coverage. Don't buy coverage you don't need: earthquake coverage is unnecessary in most zones; don't schedule jewelry if it's inexpensive, etc.
Talk to your agent about other discounts. Sometimes there is a discount for good drivers, or retirees, or people with good credit ratings.
Conversely, be sure you have enough insurance. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Saving a few dollars a year will seem silly if you find out you've skimped on coverage that later costs you thousands. Be sure to read the policy and ask your agent a lot of questions so you understand what coverage you do and don't have.
Paying attention to your home insurance can ensure that you have the optimal coverage with the right risk/cost balance. That's smart.
Steve Odland, a Forbes contributor, was chairman and CEO of Office Depot and AutoZone. He's now an adjunct professor at Lynn University.