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Living in fire country? Here's how to get fully insured.

SUNSET'S SPECIAL WILDFIRE section, beginning on page 62, reports in graphic detail the fire threat and how to improve the odds that your house will survive when fire comes. But when the fire arrives that even your best-laid plans can't thwart, the only thing between you and total ruin is your fire coverage.

There are two basic questions you have to answer about your current insurance: Will your policy truly replace your house if it burns down? And is everything covered?

GUARANTEEING A NEW HOME AND CONTENTS

Make no mistake: the burden is on you to read and understand your policy, because replacement guarantees vary. Some offer replacement only to the cash limits of the policy. Others cease to guarantee full replacement as soon as the initial coverage amount drops below 80 percent of the home's current value--you can't expect your insurer to pay to rebuild your $400,000 house if it's covered by a 20-year-old $100,000 "full replacement" policy. Has your insurance kept pace with your house's value? If not, you can build inflation protection into it or update it every few years.

Also, you might need additional coverage for the additional costs of meeting new building and zoning codes, especially if you live in an older house with features that don't meet code or would be costly to correct. This usually requires a specific rider that adds about 10 percent to your premium.

Contents coverage is also crucial. Many people accept an insurer's generic contents policy (determined by a standard industry formula) because they don't have any single items of great value. Victims of fire, however, consistently conclude they did not have sufficient contents coverage. Don't necessarily trust the formula; consider increasing your coverage.

Fire victims also regret that their policies don't cover apartment rent and other living expenses for as long as two years. Even those in Oakland whose policies covered full replacement will not be in their rebuilt houses for several years. Many are having to pay for interim housing out of their own pockets.

MAKING A CLAIM: YOU NEED AN INVENTORY

To make an insurance claim, you have to be able to show what you lost. This means documenting everything you own--a mercenary, but necessary, process.

Do your inventory while you're sane and unshaken; don't wait until it's time to evacuate. Your agent should be able to provide you with guidelines. You can also get a free brochure on home inventories from Western Insurance Information Services. Write to 3530 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1610, Los Angeles 90010, or call (800) 397-1679.

The ideal inventory lists all major items in every room, with serial numbers and purchase prices. Attach dated receipts if you have them. Photograph each wall of each room. Write what's in the photos on the back of each. Or walk through the house with your camcorder and do a running dialogue.

Include everything in your list; if it all goes up you'll need everything from bath towels to garden trowels. For high-value items (jewelry, furs, antiques), keep professional written appraisals.

Also document the house's size, heights, and roof lines. Cities often will allow you to rebuild a house that doesn't meet current codes, but only if you have photographs, drawings, or other documentation when you apply for a permit.

Store a copy of this inventory away from your house, and update it annually.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Crosby, Bill
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:560
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