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How To Buy Insurance For a Heritage Home

It was love at first sight—the Victorian brick, the stained glass windows, the character! So you haggled with the bank about mortgage rates, you signed the papers, and you started packing. And then you had to buy homeowners insurance, which is a little trickier for your 95-year-old stunner than for a new condo or even a Second World War-era bungalow. Here are some tips to keep costs down and the purchasing process smooth.

At first, it might be hard to find an insurer willing to cover a heritage property, usually because they’re worried about risks from outdated infrastructure. They might also be concerned that claims will cost them more because governments can require repairs to be made with original—and perhaps hard-to-find—materials.

So step one to finding insurance for your older home is reducing risks associated with it, most of which come from outdated infrastructure. If your home still has knob-and-tube wiring or galvanized iron pipes, consider replacing them right away, since the former is a fire hazard, and over time, the latter can release lead into your water supply. Make sure any oil tanks, fireplaces or wood-burning stoves are in good shape, and consider updating your heating system to gas or electric heat, which are both less risky.

Installing smoke detectors and security alarms and, if you live in an attached or semi-attached house, providing proof of firebreaks can also make your property more insurer friendly. Plus, taking these steps will likely bring your premiums down too.

Make sure any updates to your home adhere to today’s building codes, not those of 1916. These vary by region, but can require owners of heritage homes to get a permit before altering external parts of the building. These changes include demolishing part of their house, replacing windows or roofs, installing skylights, awnings and shutters, and installing fences around swimming pools.

Once you’ve updated your home so premiums are as low as possible, make sure you photograph its unique characteristics, such as milled baseboards, original crown moulding, antique chandeliers and plaster walls. That will help your insurer determine the replacement cost, which is the amount of money necessary to repair or rebuild your home after a loss.

It’s a good idea to buy enough coverage replacement cost insurance, rather than cash value coverage, since rebuilding a heritage home with original materials can add up. It can also take more time to rebuild or repair, so you may have to live off site for longer than you anticipated. Make sure your insurance policy includes a generous allowance for living expenses—which can include hotel rooms, a furnished apartment and restaurant meals—after a loss.

If you’ve decided to decorate your home with period furniture to match its exterior, make sure they’re included in your contents insurance. If the limits in your policy aren’t high enough to include expensive antiques, you may have to buy an endorsement—an add-on to your policy—to make sure they will be replaced if anything happens to them.

To estimate your insurance costs, get ahome insurance quote.

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Flickr: Jay Woodworth