If you live in a historic home, you already know that the rules are a bit different. Financing for older houses might be an issue, and restoration and renovation take on whole new meanings. Your insurance might be very different, too -- the policies that cover typical homes might not be detailed enough to cover old houses.
Understanding the unique differences of historic homes can help you choose the right insurance company, the right policy, and the right steps to take if the worst happens and you must file an insurance claim. Here are the basics.
Look at the requirements
If your home is in an official historic district or you have a historic designation, you might be required by the preservation group to replace anything in your home with like materials. That means that if a floor that dates back to the 1700s is damaged, it must be replaced with wood that matches the original. Keep things like this in mind when you are planning your policy, and look for higher coverage limits on the things that absolutely must be replaced with special materials, such as original windows or doors.
Document absolutely everything
When you move into an older home, make sure that you document the history of it and as much about the materials and building techniques as possible. For instance, if you have knob and tube wiring, make sure to get a thorough inspection, take pictures of the wiring if possible, and get information on how it would be replaced if you needed it to be. That can come in very handy if you ever have a dispute with the insurance company.
It also pays to make sure that you keep those historic features as safe as possible. A good example is using water alarms or a water monitoring system in a home that has much older plumbing. This can help catch problems before they become major issues, shows that you are doing due diligence when it comes to the safety and security of your home, and can even knock down your premiums a bit.
Read every line of your policy
Many experts recommend that owners of vintage homes choose a "guaranteed replacement coverage with restoration" policy. Though it is about 20 percent more expensive than a standard policy, it means that the materials in your home will not only be replaced with the most similar materials possible, but that it will be installed by a craftsman who is familiar with traditional styles.
No matter what kind of policy you choose, be certain that you have as many potential problems covered as possible. For instance, if you live in an area with a lot of caves, make sure your policy covers sinkholes. If you have a basement prone to flooding, look for a sump pump endorsement. It might cost a bit more to add these things, but if you have just one catastrophic issue, the policy pays for itself.
Know where to go
Start by choosing the right insurance policy and the right company. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a good place to begin. You can also look to insurance companies that have built a reputation for handling historic homes, such as Fireman's Fund or Chubb.
When it comes to filing a claim, make sure you know the procedures before disaster strikes. Ask your insurance agent for details on who to contact, what to do first and how to best protect your home from further damage. Have this advice in writing, and review it carefully once a year to refresh your memory. The faster you get to work on the things that you need to do, the faster the insurance company must respond when it's time to handle a claim for your historic home.