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Tips for Home Insurance Shoppers: An Interview with Susan Merrill of Farm Bureau Insurance

By Susan Merrill

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Farm Bureau Insurance first began doing business in South Carolina in the early 1950s. During this time, it was often difficult for farmers to obtain affordable insurance. The leadership of South Carolina Farm Bureau, organized in 1944 by some of the state's most prominent farmers, recognized that the organization's members had difficulty obtaining affordable, reliable insurance.

During the summer of 1952, Farm Bureau Insurance® began selling automobile insurance policies to members. Within just one year, more than 18,000 vehicles in South Carolina were insured by the company. Word quickly spread about the savings and service Farm Bureau Insurance offered compared to other insurance companies. Today, Farm Bureau Insurance is a leading provider of auto, home and life insurance across South Carolina. While our first customers were farmers, now anyone can take advantage of the savings and exceptional, local customer service Farm Bureau Insurance offers.

What are some of the services your company provides?

Farm Bureau Insurance offers a wide variety of services and products including: personal and commercial auto insurance, recreational vehicle insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, farm property and equipment insurance, farm liability insurance, flood insurance, life insurance, business insurance, earthquake insurance, and much more! Also, be sure to ask your Farm Bureau Insurance agent about banking services through Farm Bureau Bank.

Please briefly explain the idea of home insurance to our readers, what it is, why it was created, etc.

Your home is likely one of your biggest investments. If you lost it and all the contents inside, it would be financially devastating. Homeowners insurance is a package policy that protects against losses to the property and the contents inside, and it also includes liability coverage. If someone gets hurt on your property and you're found liable, your homeowners policy helps protect your assets.

Damage caused by most disasters is covered by homeowners insurance but there are exceptions. The most significant exceptions are damage caused by floods, earthquakes and poor maintenance. You must buy two separate policies for flood and earthquake coverage. Homeowners insurance does not provide coverage for losses due to maintenance-related problems, which are the homeowner's responsibility.

It's important to carefully review your homeowners policy to understand what is covered, any exceptions and the deductible you will be required to pay under the policy should you suffer a loss.

What facts should I gather about my new house before I start shopping?

Location of the house
Square footage
Year the house was built
Type of construction
Roof type and age
Number of bedrooms, bathrooms and stories
Garage type (if applicable)
Foundation type
Security systems- burglar alarms, smoke detectors, etc.
Type of heating and air-conditioning systems

How can the location of my home affect my insurance costs?

The cost of homeowners insurance is based on the unique characteristics of the risk and varies by location. For example, the cost of homeowners insurance will be higher for areas at greater risk for hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. How close your home is located to a responding fire station also impacts what you pay for homeowners insurance. In addition, building costs vary by location and affects the cost of insurance.

How do I make sure I am not underinsured? What does it mean to make sure I insure my home to "replacement value"?

Ask your insurer for a customized estimate of your home's replacement cost, which should take into account its unique features, construction details, age, and any costs of meeting new local building-code requirements. When evaluating the amount of coverage you need, it's important to consider the replacement cost, or in other words how much it would cost you to rebuild today. If you underinsure your home and you suffer a total loss, you will not recover enough to rebuild your home as it is today. If you suffer a partial loss, it may also significantly reduce the amount that can be recovered under the policy.

Over time, as the cost for goods and services increases due to inflation, you may find your home is underinsured. To guard against this, check your homeowners policy and make sure you have an "Inflation Guard" endorsement. This will allow your policy limits to increase automatically with the rate of inflation for your area.

When it comes to personal property, you don't want to make the mistake of underestimating the value of your home's contents. Coverage for personal contents is a separate policy limit under the homeowners policy. Take an inventory of your personal property and make sure your policy limit for contents is enough to cover everything you own, including new items purchased each year.

In your personal opinion, is it worth it to get additional coverage for some of the valuable items in my home?

Yes. Homeowners insurance automatically provides coverage for your possessions based on a certain percentage of your home's insurance value- 50% is typical. So if your home is insured for $200,000, you'll also have up to $100,000 of coverage for your possessions. But homeowners insurance policies usually have lower limits for certain kinds of items- such as $2,000 or $3,000 for all of your jewelry, for example. If you have any valuable possessions- such as jewelry, guns, artwork or special collections- you should consider extra coverage for those items.

Can I save money on my monthly premium if I add certain safety features to my home?

Yes; however, the amount of discount varies based on the type of alarm installed in your home.

How can I ensure that I am working with an insurance provider that I trust?

It's important to have an insurance professional who can help you navigate the ins and outs of your policy. Farm Bureau Insurance's reputation of reliability was built on our ability to provide quick, quality customer service to our policyholders throughout the state. With a network of exclusive agents and claims professionals who live and work in communities across South Carolina, we're never far away when our customers need us.

Ask family and friends for referrals and whether they've ever had a claim. If you have a claim, you'll want to know you're doing business with a company that will respond promptly and professionally. Having a local office and agent can provide some added peace of mind.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your company?

You can search for a local Farm Bureau Insurance agent and office near you by going to our website www.SCFBIns.com. You can also reach us toll free at 1-800-799-7500.

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