Top home insurance tips for first-time buyers

15 March 2011

Taking that first step onto the property ladder can be pretty daunting. With lenders now demanding borrowers jump through all kinds of hoops to secure a mortgage, first-time buyers could be forgiven for devoting all their energy to the task of simply getting a loan.

But there's plenty of other paperwork to occupy new homeowners and much of it is related to insurance. As soon as you become an owner rather than a renter, everyone from your bank to your utility providers will begin offering you "vital" policies.

Sorting out the necessary from the not-so-necessary can seem like a chore, but it's worth remembering that while a landlord will no longer be taking a share of your hard-earned cash, they'll also no longer be fixing the broken boiler.

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Bricks and mortar

For most homeowners, buildings insurance won't be optional - anyone with a mortgage will be required to have insurance that covers the building.

However, you don't usually have to purchase it through your lender, so shop around to get the best deal. You must have insurance in place when you exchange contracts on a property, so this should be a priority.

Buildings insurance only covers your property, so you'll also need contents insurance for your possessions. This is usually taken out in conjunction with buildings cover, but you can also take out a standalone policy.

Do a detailed inventory to work out how much cover to get - many people underestimate their needs. If you are underinsured, your insurer is likely to reduce the value of any claim.

Life's little emergencies

The idea of being without heating strikes terror into the heart of many people, particularly given our recent winters. Some homeowners take out insurance to cover boiler breakdowns, and there are also policies for central heating systems, plumbing and drainage.

The cheapest way to get cover is often through home emergency cover, which is usually offered as an add-on by buildings insurers and covers things such as plumbing and heating breakdowns or power failure.

However, the maximum payout is quite low when compared with more comprehensive standalone policies.

Many people choose to take out separate boiler cover, but the need for this is debatable. Research by consumer body Which? found that 90% of households would be financially better off doing without a contract and simply paying for repairs as they arise.

Blane Judd, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, says buyers should consider the age of their boiler and if it's still under warranty when deciding whether to take out cover.

The age of your property will also be a factor when deciding whether you need drainage, electrical or plumbing cover. "If it's a new property and is still covered by certain guarantees, it may not be worth having all the insurance," says Paul Lawler, spokesperson for

Life insurance

The other big issue to consider when taking on a 25-year mortgage is what would happen if you became sick, sustained an injury or died.

Life insurance is an important consideration if you have dependants who need financial support. Term assurance, for example, will pay off the entire mortgage if you die before it has been repaid.

If you have a repayment mortgage, you can get cheaper, decreasing term life insurance, as the amount to be repaid will fall over time. If you have an interest-only loan, you'll need a level term plan.

In addition, find out if your employer offers a death-in-service benefit. These typically pay set multiples of your salary if you die while employed by the company, which may cover your outstanding mortgage.

Ray Black, independent financial adviser and founder of Money Minder, says if you have a large mortgage you should also consider products that cover illness or injury.

"Critical illness insurance to pay off the debt if you suffer a critical illness and income protection if you're unable to work due to illness or injury are just as important, or potentially more important, than life insurance."

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