How to buy homeowners insurance for the first time

Before closing on a new home, your lender will require you to purchase a home insurance policy. While many lenders provide insurance referrals, choosing a home insurance company is your decision. You're responsible for making sure the coverages on your policy adequately protect your residence, detached structures, and personal belongings.

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Is home insurance required to buy a home?

You're often required to show proof of homeowners insurance to your lender before they'll relinquish the keys to your property and fund your home loan. Until your home is paid in full, your lender holds a lien on your property, so it's in their best interest to make sure that the property is insured while you're paying down your mortgage.

If you're purchasing your new home with cash or an unsecured line of credit (credit card or personal loan), you may not be required to show proof of home insurance before closing. Home insurance isn't mandated in any state, but you should still consider buying homeowners insurance to protect the equity in your home. Learn more about what home insurance covers and how homeowners insurance works.

How to shop for home insurance

Image of house with car parked in front

During the mortgage approval process, your loan specialist will let you know when to buy homeowners insurance. However, you can start shopping for a policy as soon as you've solidified your new address. Shopping for homeowners insurance early gives you more time to select the right policy and look into ways you can save.

While your lender may provide a referral, it's a good practice to compare homeowners insurance quotes and pricing, homeowners insurance coverages, and consumer reviews before making a final choice. You can often save money by bundling homeowners and auto insurance with the same insurer. Learn more about switching your homeowners insurance.

What to look for in a home insurance policy

  1. Check the limits on your personal property and liability coverage

    Your belongings, such as clothing, furniture, electronics, and jewelry, are insured under Coverage C (personal property coverage) on your home insurance policy. Make sure the limit is enough to cover everything you own. Keep in mind that certain items may fall under a specific category with a "sublimit" set by your insurance company. And if you have any expensive items, such as art or collectibles or jewelry and engagement rings, you may need to add an insurance rider to fully cover them.

    Coverage E (personal liability coverage) protects you if you're liable for an incident that injures someone. Be sure to select a liability limit that properly covers what you have in assets. Most home insurance policies max out at a $500,000 liability limit. If you need additional coverage, you can purchase umbrella insurance, which provides extra liability coverage for home insurance policies.

  2. Be aware of exclusions

    Depending on where you are shopping for home insurance, there will be a list of things that won't be covered on a standard policy. These could include earthquakes, landslides, mudflows, and flooding. If you're at risk for a peril that isn't covered on your policy, ask your home insurance agent or company if there's an option to purchase protection for excluded incidents.

  3. Understand your deductibles

    When buying home insurance for the first time, it's important to pay attention to your homeowners insurance deductible for property damage. Your deductible is the portion of the claim you're responsible for, so make sure the deductible amount is within your budget.

    Unlike car insurance, your home insurance deductible won't always be a set dollar amount. It could be a percentage of your policy's dwelling coverage. Your policy may even include a split deductible. That means you have a set dollar amount for most claims, but a percentage may apply for wind damage or other covered perils.

ExampleLet's say you have a wind damage claim for $7,000. If your home’s dwelling coverage is $150,000 and your policy's deductible is 2%, you're responsible for paying $3,000, and your insurance company covers the remaining $4,000.

How home insurance works with mortgage and escrow

Most first-time home buyers have their home insurance in escrow. Escrow accounts hold the funds designated for your home insurance and property taxes. Each month, you pay a specific amount (typically, a few hundred dollars) above your normal mortgage payment. Your lender/mortgage servicer keeps these extra funds in an escrow account.

When your home insurance and property taxes are due, the lender pays these fees on your behalf from the escrow account. Escrow accounts are recommended to ensure you stay up to date with your home insurance and property taxes. Some homeowners prefer to use escrow to pay for insurance and taxes in monthly installments, rather than annually or biannually.

If your down payment is less than 20%, most lenders will require you to obtain private mortgage insurance (PMI). The difference between PMI and homeowners insurance is that PMI is a safeguard for your lender and doesn't insure your property in any way. Learn more about how to pay for homeowners insurance.

Is homeowners insurance included in closing costs?

Your lender may require the first term of your homeowners insurance to be paid at closing. Most lenders will collect roughly 10% to 20% of your annual home insurance premium in your closing costs and deposit the funds into your escrow account for the next billing cycle. Without escrow, you'll often have to pay the entire first year's home insurance premium at the time of closing. Some lenders may also charge a nominal fee to waive your escrow requirement.

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