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Insurance Institute Urges Consumers to Update Coverage

An organization representing the insurance industry is urging homeowners, in the wake of recent hurricanes, to re-examine their hazard insurance policies to make sure coverage is sufficient to include improvements, major purchases and increased rebuilding costs.

"Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters are a reminder that homeowners should contact their insurance agent or company representative at least once a year to make sure that their insurance is up to date," said Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president for public affairs at the Insurance Institute of America. "A major alteration or addition to your home or lifestyle change such as a marriage or an elderly parent moving in with family heirlooms should also trigger a call to your insurance company."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeowners spent $11.8 billion on additions, $82.3 billion on alterations and $28 billion on maintenance and repairs in 2004. "Over the last several years, homeowners have taken advantage of record low interest rates to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms, and add rooms to their homes," Ms. Salvatore said. "If these improvements are not properly insured, homeowners can find themselves underinsured in the event of a fire, hurricane or other major disaster."

Also, the Insurance Information Institute noted that building costs have increased sharply in recent years, largely reflecting higher lumber prices. The cost of lumber alone increased 17% between 2003 and 2004, the institute said. The widespread building expected in the wake of Katrina also may put upward pressure on building costs. The institute urges homeowners to regularly review policies to make sure they have enough coverage to rebuild, replace possessions and protect assets.

With regard to home rebuilding, the institute said homeowners should consider insuring above strict "replacement cost" measures. Homeowners are encouraged to consider coverage that provides additional insurance, sometimes called "guaranteed" or "extended" coverage, to include rising building costs in the wake of a widespread disaster. Coverage can also be found to guard against inflation and building code improvements that may raise the cost of building if a structure must be improved to be up to code.

Most insurers offer add-ons to standard policies that cover damage from water backups from sewers or drains, the institute said.

Standard insurance policies offer coverage for disasters such as fire, lightning, hurricanes and winter-related damage such as burst pipes. But they do not cover earthquake or flood insurance, which must be purchased separately.

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