So the other day I talked about something a bit more serious than DIY dog beds and creepy blood eyes and blogged about how I got my house. How I got a loan, how I house-hunted, how I found my old fixer-upper and er, how I cried when both my power and hot water system died at once and my toilet blocked and my bathrooms and laundry flooded.
This morning I wanted to continue on a bit from that post and talk about something I have definitely learned from being a first home buyer - and it's not the most glamorous or pretty topic - but it is that insurance is pretty damn important.
When I first moved into the Crap Shack my sensible accountant father harangued me about getting a quote for home insurance and so I did. Eeesh. To a sheltered 24-year-old who had never lived out of home or paid a single water or electricity bill, it seemed a colossal amount. I didn't want to pay that sum right now. I wanted to buy this cute mango wood bookcase because I wanted to alphabetise all my DVDs. I wanted to have friends round for dinner because I wanted them to see my new-old house. And I also wanted some spending money because I just like spending.
I was completely naive and didn't even think I could ask to pay off my home insurance in monthly instalments rather than a lump sum - or even that I could ask around for different quotes. I remember thinking, "I'll just pay the insurance next time I get an invoice paid."
And then there was that storm. That stupid big storm of 2010 that seemed to pockmark half the cars in Perth with hailstones, making owners across the city weep. My power was out for three days after our electrics fried, my hot water system gave up the ghost, the solar hot water system also decided to kick it and my old, cruddy blocked drains ended up flooding all the wet rooms in our house. Now, skip a few paragraphs ahead if you are drinking your coffee and have a disdain for the disgusting….. I figured out this disaster meant that what was essentially toilet water was leaking back up out of our toilets and drains and flooding our bathrooms. The trauma! This was not what owning a house looked like in my much-adored 25 Beautiful Homes magazine.
I had seriously just moved in and straight away not only did I have to stand in my freezing cold house after a freezing cold shower and mop up poo water, I had to fork out for a new hot water system, as well as for the plumber, the drain block plumber and the electrician - and then the insurance on top of that. Oh, I wept. (I later found out that a friend who had let his car insurance lapse – for the first time ever – had left the car outside during the storm and it was absolutely ruined. And it was a beeeautiful fancy car, his pride and joy. I’m not good with cars, but I remember it was a Beamer or a Mercedes. Or it could have been a BMW-Mercedes, as I once said absent-mindedly to a friend who asked me what kind of car my dad had).
On the side, ever since that miserable day, our house has not been uninsured for a day. I won't risk it any more. But a substantial proportion of Aussies do. According to the Insurance Council of Australia, of Australia's 7.7 million households, 23 percent do not have a home or contents insurance policy. Interestingly (well, I’m a nerd, so I find this interesting) non-insured homes were found across ALL household income groups, not just the lower-income households as I was expecting. Even households with an annual income of more than $100,000 were not necessarily all insured.
Whenever there is a natural disaster, like the recent Adelaide Hills bushfires, you hear sad stories about people who lost their homes – and sometimes some who didn’t have insurance. It makes me feel all cold inside. Of course I know you can never replace sentimental irreplaceable things, but if you knew that something was happening to your home and you didn't have insurance at all.... your blood would run cold thinking about how much it would cost to build anew.
When looking for the right insurer for you, read customer service reviews if you can, and ask if there are any things they will give you a discount for. For example, may discount an insurance policy if your house was built after a certain year and if you’re at home a lot – ie: you work from home every day, like me. Working from home means that all my work stuff is here – and even though I would weep bitter tears if something important carrying all my work got stolen, it’s reassuring knowing that my work equipment – camera, computer, iPad – are all covered because I have contents insurance as well.
When you have an older house like ours, insurance also gives great peace of mind. I mean I love my house, but there is a reason we called it the Crap Shack! When there’s a massive storm while you’re having a Walking Dead marathon and you start seeing drops of water collect on the ceiling, and you know the paint will start flaking in two days’ time? At least you know insurance will cover it if you selected the level of cover that suits your needs – which is important.
One morning, we woke up to find that the entire glass sliding door to the sunroom had shattered . None of the glass had fallen into the house – it was all still one piece, albeit one fragmented piece. My first admiring thought was that it looked very pretty, like a sparkly dew-covered spiderweb. My second was that someone must have tried to break in - but it wasn’t an attempted break and enter, because Nala would have barked her head off if someone so much as put a foot on our property. "Can glass shatter on its own" I asked the oracle Google.
And who knew? Glass - even tempered safety glass - CAN spontaneously shatter on its own, often due to differential pressure or different temperatures, like if it’s very warm inside your house and cold outside. Luckily, our insurer covered it (although not all insurers will cover something like this – so check before you get a policy) and they fixed it the very same day. We were very happy about that, because glass repairs are rarely cheap. Mr Nerd put his ear close to the door. “You can hear the glass shattering,” he said, and I put my ear close and holy moly! Even I could hear it. (This doesn’t happen very often). It sounded just like Rice Bubbles when you pour milk on them. Mmmm, Rice Bubbles. Our home insurance even covers my hearing aids which is very reassuring.
So in the case of my 24-year-old self, I would have told her, break it up into monthly amounts and just pay it. It’s not worth it if something goes wrong. I distinctly remember one day years ago when I was living at home with my parents, we were all pottering about on a sunny Sunday afternoon in spring and we heard a colossal, house-shaking crash. The ceiling had actually fallen in on the playroom, bringing with it a ton of insulation, dust and mess.
Horror turned to excited glee, as it sometimes does when something unexpected and disastrous happens. We all tried to crack open the door to peer inside the playroom. Dust motes filtered through the crack in the door, but the ceiling had caved in so much, we could actually only wedge it open. My mum closed it. “Well, we don’t use that room much anyway,” she said dismissively and she went back to her desk, my dad went back to watching the cricket and my sisters and I went back to our aimless pottering about. My parents were completely unperturbed. Insurance covered it, as my parents had opted for the accidental damage cover in their insurance package. (And now the playroom has a nice new solid timber ceiling).
Have you ever let your insurance lapse? Has it bitten you in the butt a bit like it did me? Maya x