Are you moving? Ask these eight insurance questions before you pack

Packing up everything you own and moving is stressful enough. Having your belongings lost or damaged in a move, either by yourself or professional movers, is more stress that you don’t need.

About 37 million Americans moved in 2009. Loss or damage happens during one of every four moves, according to Jim Sullivan, president of Humboldt Moving and Storage in Canton, Mass.

Whether moving across town or across the country, how do you determine whether you have enough insurance to cover any losses? How do you get your belongings insured for a move?

insurance moving

Here are eight insurance questions to ask if you're on the move.

1. Does my home insurance policy cover your belongings when they're being moved or when they're put in storage?

Chances are, it won't. Your policy likely won't pay if your items are broken, scratched, dented or otherwise damaged by a mover. Likewise, your policy likely won't cover you if you can't pinpoint when and where a box of your Grandma's china went missing.

2. What if my belongings freeze or overheat in the moving van?

These are "two big exclusions in many homeowner's policies," says Terry D. McNeil, president and CEO of T.D. McNeil Insurance Services in Folsom, Calif. In these instances, you're probably not covered by your home insurance policy.

3. What if some sort of accident destroys the moving van -- and your belongings?

Your home insurance policy probably will cover the loss if the moving van catches on fire, explodes, is vandalized or is involved in a crash.

4. What does my home insurance cover if I store my belongings before moving into a new house?

If you store your belongings in a public storage facility, you're probably 100 percent covered, says Dwight Moody, a State Farm agent in Cincinnati. However, if you store your belongings in a friend's basement, you're probably covered for just 10 percent of their value, Moody says.

5. What if I'm doing the move on my own?

In this case, you make the move at your own risk. "If something is damaged due to your own negligence, you might be covered, but the (home) insurance company will review the claim carefully to make sure the damage was not intentional," says Debbie Marmitt, an insurance broker with Signature Select in Denver.

If you're renting a vehicle from a place like U-Haul, remember this: Most personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage of rental vehicles with a gross weight of 9,000 pounds or more, according to U-Haul.

U-Haul offers two types of coverage for truck rental customers to protect them from paying for damaging equipment.

U-Haul's “Safemove” coverage includes protection for the truck and everything inside it: cargo, passengers and drivers, with a $100 deductible for cargo coverage. U-Haul’s “Super Safemove” coverage has no deductible, and provides $1 million in additional liability coverage for damage caused to other people and their property.

6. Should I accept the coverage offered by a professional mover?

Experts say it may be a good investment.

If you’re using a professional moving company, there are two types of coverage available: Full value protection, also known as full replacement value, and released value, or basic carrier liability.

Full value protection is recommended by movers because it usually provides cash to repair or replace an item at its current value. Released value coverage is free to customers, but covers only pennies on the dollar for the value of an item.

insurance moving

The valuation is done by weight. For a typical three-bedroom house with 20,000 pounds of items to be moved, full valuation for $120,000 in coverage will cost $700 for an interstate move, says Sullivan, the president of Humboldt Moving and Storage. Basic carrier liability is free for customers and pays up to 60 cents per pound, so a 10-pound stereo component valued at $1,000 that is broken in a move will be worth only $6 in reimbursement.

“You can see that it makes sense for people moving to take out the coverage. Accidents do happen,” Sullivan says.

Loretta Wolters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, points out that this coverage isn't actually insurance. The two options from movers aren't policies governed by state insurance laws. Rather, they're liability contracts governed by federal law.

7. How do I get reimbursed if I've taken out liability coverage from a professional mover?

To collect on coverage, the items must be on an inventory list created at the start of the move. Belongings of extraordinary value, such as jewelry, may be subject to limited liability if you didn't list them as high-value items.

Tom Magrini found out the hard way five years ago after a move from Virginia to Arizona about the importance of jotting down everything on an inventory list. Magrini had some furniture damaged and a Dyson vacuum cleaner lost during the move. The $500 vacuum wasn’t put on the inventory sheet, and he didn’t have detailed before and after pictures of the furniture.

“The lesson learned here is not to rely on the movers to fill out the inventory sheets,” Magrini says. “The homeowner should do it or at least verify every expensive item.”

As expected, moving day for Magrini and his family was busy, and they and the movers were in a rush, so he didn’t fully check the inventory sheet or take photos of high-value items.

Magrini says: "My advice would be to resist the temptation to cut corners. Ensure the mover’s inventory sheets are complete to your satisfaction. The rule seems to be if it isn’t on the inventory sheet, it doesn’t exist.”

With a $500 deductible for his homeowner’s insurance, claiming the vacuum as a loss would have gotten him nothing. He lived with the scratches to his furniture, or moved it around so the damage wasn’t visible.

8. What's the real value of purchasing coverage from a professional mover?

Buying the mover's coverage can prevent headaches with your home insurance company.

"When you make a claim on your homeowner's policy for damage during a move, your insurance carrier will probably go back to the mover to get that money," says Marmitt, the Denver insurance broker. "If you don't want to haggle with the movers, it's worthwhile to see what (coverage) they offer."

More importantly, buying the mover's insurance can leave your homeowner's insurance record unblemished. A move-related claim on your home insurance policy could result in a premium increase, says Moody, the State Farm agent in Cincinnati.

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