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Homeowners insurance is one of the most valuable tools you can use to protect your largest investment from loss. I often tell homeowners to look carefully at what is stated in your policy to really understand what is and what is not covered. During a time of crisis such as a fire, a hurricane, or after a burglary is not the ideal time to be navigating the ins and outs of a policy.

I found myself in just such a situation in August 2010. I had just returned home from a two week trip abroad to a house in complete chaos. Although I was groggy from jet lag, I immediately noticed the ripped screen patio and broken glass under an exterior back window. Moreover, I immediately noticed the inside of my house was emptier. TVs were missing as well as my Dyson vacuum cleaner, laptops, jewelry, and even frozen onion rings, dryer sheets and bottles of wine. All told, over $18,000 worth of my belongings were gone. I immediately called the police feeling afraid and very unsettled in my own home. I was horrified that nameless, faceless burglars had smashed in a window 3 feet from where I slept every night. After much black fingerprint dust and several conversations with detectives, I realized it would take me quite a while to ever feel safe in my own home again.

The most comforting aspect of the entire situation was finding out I had very good homeowners insurance. Here are some top tips I learned from the experience and always share with buyers I work with.

  1. Document your valuables by taking photos and/or a video of your home. Keep receipts for large ticket items like electronics, jewelry or furniture or artwork. Ideally store this on the cloud or outside your home.
  1. Homeowners insurance has categories for things like electronics and jewelry. Know your limits for what is covered. If you own a large amount of computer and camera equipment, make sure you carry enough insurance on these items to cover a loss.
  1. Understand the difference between replacement value and actual cash value of your items. Electronics and so forth can depreciate over time. So it’s best to have insurance to cover the cost of buying new. Yes, this will cost more for your policy, but it may be worth it depending upon what you own.
  1. I was happy to find some of my jewelry in a pawn shop, BUT I was horrified to learn that I would have to pay the pawn shop to get back my stuff. I could NOT believe my ears! “It was stolen,” I explained!!! That didn’t matter. Know the laws of your area. Sadly, be prepared to shell out some dough to get it back.   
  1. All that fingerprint dust used by police to capture evidence did a terrible number on the carpet, floors and furniture. There was black fingerprint dust EVERYWHERE for weeks. It even permeated tile grout resulting in bills for professional cleaning. Make certain to keep receipts for cleaning, window repair and so forth. Submit to your insurance company with the claim. 

While your claim is being processed put some effort into getting settled in your home again. Some of these steps will include the following:

  1. Get to know your neighbors. While chatting with my neighbors after the burglary, one neighbor heard noises and another neighbor saw people around my house. This evidence was the key to catching the perpetrators. Having a strong sense of community will bring back peace of mind.
  1. Invest in an alarm system. Even window stickers and yard signs can offer a deterrent. Although I had extra locks on the windows, they were easily smashed in by the thieves. Check with your insurance company about getting a credit on your policy for having an alarm system.
  1. If the criminals are caught, be prepared to give a victim impact statement. I suggested the three young people who burglarized my home be sentenced to state prison as well as community service. The State Attorney even suggested they pay restitution due to the serious amount of theft and wanton disregard for a neighbor’s property.
  1. Keep backups of computer files as well as family photos in a safe place outside of your home. It will give you peace of mind to know you haven’t lost all of your special photos and files.
  1. Be gentle with yourself and others in your household. A loss such as fire, hurricane damage or burglary can take a devastating emotional toll. Finding gratitude that you and your loved ones are safe is the most precious possession of all.