At Tucker Insurance Service, we have more than 30 years of experience helping our Falls Church personal insurance and home insurance clients. We help each to become more knowledgeable about their options, thus enabling our clients to make informed decisions. We take the time to help our clients understand their choices, which are often complex. Our expertise ensures that our clients receive the coverage best suited to their own needs at the best possible price. The subsequent information is a only brief overview. If you contact us, we'll gladly take the time to answer all of your questions, and assist you in identifying the most comprehensive and cost-effective insurance solution for your specific insurance needs.
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Homeowners Insurance in Northern Virginia
What is homeowners insurance?
When you invest in homeowners insurance in Northern Virginia, you will receive peace of mind by having financial protection against potential disasters. A typical policy insures both the home itself, as well as the belongings you keep in it.
Homeowners insurance is a "package" policy, meaning it covers both damage to your property -- along with your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or family members cause to other individuals. This includes damage brought on by household pets.
Damage caused by most perils is covered, but there are exceptions including damage caused by floods, earthquakes and poor maintenance. For those particular disasters, one would need to buy two separate policies for flood and earthquake coverage. And, keep in mind that maintenance-related issues are the homeowners' responsibility and aren't covered by standard homeowners policies.
What type of disasters are covered?
The following types of disasters are covered under most standard Northern Virginia homeowners insurance policies:
- Fire or lightning
- Windstorm or hail
- Riot or civil commotion
- Damage caused by aircraft
- Damage caused by vehicles
- Vandalism or malicious mischief
- Volcanic eruption
These types of perils are available but need to be added to most standard Northern Virginia homeowners insurance policies:
- Falling object
- Weight of ice, snow or sleet
- Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or automatic fire-protective sprinkler system, or from a household appliance.
- Sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning, or bulging of a steam or hot water heating system, an air conditioning or automatic fire-protective system.
- Freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic, fire-protective sprinkler system, or of a household appliance.
- Sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current (does not include loss to a tube, transistor or similar electronic component)
The following types of disasters are generally not covered under most standard Northern Virginia homeowners insurance policies:
Floods - Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Flood coverage, however, is available in the form of a separate policy both from the National Flood Insurance Program - NFIP (888-379-9531) and from a few private insurers.
Earthquake Coverage - can be a separate policy or an endorsement to your homeowners or renters policy. It available from most insurance companies.
Maintenance Damage - It is your responsibility to take reasonable precautions to protect your home from damage. Your insurance policy will not cover damage due to lack of maintenance, mold, termite infestation and infestation from other pests.
How do I take a home inventory and why?
Would you be able to successfully remember each of the possessions you have acquired over the years if they were destroyed in a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory ahead of time will assist you in getting any insurance claims settled faster. It will also help to verify losses for your income tax return as well as help you in choosing the correct amount of insurance to purchase.
Start by making a list of your belongings, describing each item. In doing so, make sure to note where you bought it as well as its brand name, make, and model. Attach any sales receipts to your inventory list, along with any relevant purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. With regard to clothing, count the items you own by category - pants, coats, shoes, for example - making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers (usually found on the back or bottom of the item).
- Don't be put off!
If you are setting up a new household, compiling an inventory list is relatively simple. If you have been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of developing a list can be challenging. Still, it's worth the investment of time. Also, keep in mind that it's better to have an incomplete inventory than none at all. When making your list, begin with noting recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions.
- Big Ticket Items
Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles could have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these particular possessions. They may need to be insured separately.
- Take a Picture
Besides the list, you can take photos of rooms and of important individual items. On the back of these pictures, note what item is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don't forget items that are in closets or drawers so that nothing is overlooked.
- Videotape It
Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder.
- Use a personal computer
Use your PC, phone, or tablet to make your inventory list. Personal finance software packages often include a homeowners room-by-room inventory program.
- Storing the list, photos and tapes
Regardless of how you do it (written list, photos, videotape or audio recording), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend's or family member's home. That way you'll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the new information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.
Do I need special coverage for jewelry and other valuables?
A standard Northern Virginia homeowners insurance policy includes coverage for jewelry and other valuable items such as watches and furs. These possessions are covered for losses caused by all the perils listed in your policy such as fire, windstorm, theft and vandalism.
However, there are special limits of liability for certain items, meaning that the insurer will not pay more than the amount specified in the policy. One important limit is for the theft of jewelry. Because jewelry can be easily stolen, the standard policy has a relatively low limit of liability for theft, generally $1,500. This keeps coverage affordable.
If you own valuable jewelry or other items that would be especially difficult to replace, there are two main ways you can increase coverage: by raising the limit of liability or "scheduling" your individual pieces through the purchase of "floater" policies. Raising the limit of liability is the cheapest option. However, there may be a limit on the amount you can claim for the loss of any individual piece, say $2,000, when the overall limit is $5,000.
Scheduling each piece or item may cost more upfront in premiums, but it offers broader protection and peace of mind because the floater covers losses of any type. This includes accidental losses-such as dropping your ring down the drain of the kitchen sink or leaving an expensive watch in a hotel room - that your homeowners insurance policy will not cover. Before purchasing a floater, the items covered must be professionally appraised. The cost of this service varies depending on where you live.
How often should I review my policy?
There are four events that should trigger a review of your policy:
1. When your policy comes up for renewal
Don't just automatically send a check to your insurance company. Take the time to review your coverage and call your agent with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding your homeowners insurance. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has the company made any changes in coverage since last year?
- Does my policy now include a separate deductible for risks like hurricane or hail?
- Should I raise the deductible to save money?
- Am I taking advantage of all available discounts?
- Do I need to raise the amount of coverage for liability, personal possessions or the structure?
- Should I comparison shop for a cheaper rate?
- Do I need flood, earthquake or an umbrella policy?
2. Major purchases or alterations/improvements to your home
If you have made any major purchases, make sure that you have the proper coverage. And, don't forget about gifts. If you have received a diamond engagement ring or if a member of your family has bought you expensive artwork or technology (i.e. tablet, phone, computer), talk to your agent about either increasing the amount of insurance you have for your personal possessions or purchasing a floater/endorsement for these items. A floater will give you higher and broader coverage for these items than you have under your homeowners policy.
If you have made major improvements to your home, such as adding a new room, enclosing a porch or expanding a kitchen or bathroom, you risk being underinsured if you don't report the increase in square footage to your insurance company. Don't forget about new structures outside of your home. If you have built a gazebo, a new shed for your tools or installed a pool or hot tub, you need to speak to your agent. Keep receipts and records in case you need to forward copies to your company.
3. You have made your home safer
If you have installed a state-of-the art fire/burglar alarm system or upgraded your heating, plumbing or electrical system, make sure that your insurance company knows about these improvements. You may qualify for a discount.
4. Major lifestyle changes
Marriage, divorce, or adult children who move back into the family home, can all affect your homeowners insurance. When people move in or move out, they take their belongings with them. And you may need additional coverage if there is a sizable increase in the value of the belongings in your home.
Starting a home-based business can also trigger changes in your coverage. You will need to get additional coverage for business liability and equipment. If the business is your primary source of income, you may need a Businessowners Package Policy (BOP). You may also need professional liability coverage, which is excluded under in-home business and businessowners policies.
What does my credit rating have to do with purchasing insurance?
Credit scores are based on an analysis of an individual's credit history. These scores are used for many purposes such as securing a loan, finding a place to live, getting a telephone and buying insurance. Insurers often generate a numerical ranking based on a person's credit history, known as an "insurance score," when underwriting and setting the rates for insurance policies. Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs, which is what an insurance score indicates, is a good predictor of insurance claims. Insurance scores are used to help insurers differentiate between lower and higher insurance risks and thus charge a premium equal to the risk they are assuming. Statistically, people who have a poor insurance score are more likely to file a claim.
As a result, establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don't obtain more credit than you need, and keep the balances on your credit cards as low as possible - ideally, try to pay off the bill in full each month. Also, check your credit record regularly, and request that any errors be corrected immediately so that your record remains accurate.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. For more information, go to the Federal Trade Commission's Web site on credit.Free annual credit reports can be ordered from AnnualCreditReport.com.
For more information on credit, go to our Credit section.
Auto Insurance in Northern Virginia
What is auto insurance?
When you purchase an auto insurance policy in Northern Virginia, it protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage:
- Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car.
- Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage.
- Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses.
An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. If you're financing a car, your lender may also have requirements. Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it's time to renew the policy and to pay your premium.
How can I save money?
The price you pay for your policy can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending what type of car you have and the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some ways to save money.
BEFORE YOU BUY A CAR, COMPARE INSURANCE COSTS
Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car's price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. To help you decide what car to buy, you can get information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
ASK FOR HIGHER DEDUCTIBLES
Deductibles are what you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. By requesting higher deductibles, you can lower your costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim.
REDUCE COVERAGE ON OLDER CARS
Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. If your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, purchasing the coverage may not be cost effective. Auto dealers and banks can tell you the worth of cars. Or you can look it up online at Kelley's Blue Book. Review your coverage at renewal time to make sure your insurance needs haven't changed.
BUY YOUR HOMEOWNERS AND AUTO COVERAGE FROM THE SAME INSURER
Many insurers will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance. You may also get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company. Some insurers reduce the rates for long-time customers. But it still makes sense to shop around! You may save money buying from different insurance companies, compared with a multipolicy discount.
MAINTAIN A GOOD CREDIT RECORD
Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Most insurers use credit information to price auto insurance policies. Research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don't obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LOW MILEAGE DISCOUNTS
Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower than average number of miles per year. Low mileage discounts can also apply to drivers who car pool to work.
SEEK OUT OTHER DISCOUNTS
Companies offer discounts to policyholders who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years. You may also get a discount if you take a defensive driving course. If there is a young driver on the policy who is a good student, has taken a drivers education course or is away at college without a car, you may also qualify for a lower rate.
When you comparison shop, inquire about discounts for the following:*
- Antitheft Devices
- Auto and Homeowners Coverage with the Same Company
- College Students away from Home
- Defensive Driving Courses
- Drivers Ed Courses
- Good Credit Record
- Higher deductibles
- Low Annual Mileage
- Long-Time Customer
- More than 1 car
- No Accidents in 3 Years
- No Moving Violations in 3 Years
- Student Drivers with Good Grades
*The discounts listed may not be available in all states or from all insurance companies.
The key to savings is not the discounts, but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.