Sunday, 30 November 2014

A total loss wouldn't matter much (except for dear Ted)

Let's suppose that tonight at 3.00am my fire alarm goes off and wakes me up. I've got a fire in my house. There's an ominous glow showing under the bedroom door, and it feels very hot to the touch. I'd better not open it. I may have only a couple of minutes of safety left. I'm partially dressed - I sleep in a top and knickers. Slipping on leggings, some flats and a warm jacket takes only a few seconds. My bag, my purse, and my main keys are in another room, and I dare not try to get them. I do have my phone, and my spare car keys. That's enough. I live in a detached bungalow. Everything's on the ground floor. I open a bedroom window, heave myself through it, and drop down onto my front garden. I open up Fiona, start her up, and move her to a spot that won't hinder the fire brigade. I dial 999 and get them on their way.

Inside my car are spare caravan keys. Yes, I still have enough time. I wind up the corner steadies, let off the brake, and push the caravan away from the house and onto the front lawn. Now I'll have somewhere to live if the house is ruined.

I'm thinking of other things I'd like to save, but it's too much of a stupid risk. I couldn't reach Teddy Tinkoes, trapped in the lounge. I hope he'll be OK.

I take some general, from-the-lawn, shots with my phone. The insurance company might need them. And so I await the fire people. With huge thanks, I accept a nice cup of tea from my neighbours. I apologise for all the fuss, for ruining their sleep, for the smoke. The fire people arrive, and ten minutes later I have a smouldering wet shell of a home, but the danger is over. It'll need an extensive rebuild and total redecoration. My furniture, pictures, books and papers are all gone. My PC has melted. Poor Ted didn't make it: that's the one thing that makes me cry out loud, in overwhelming grief. The deeper pain of seeing my accumulated lifetime possessions charred or destroyed - and Mum and Dad's - will hit me later.

But at least I still have my phone, caravan and car. I have somewhere to live comfortably because I have the caravan. It can run on bottled gas, so I can cook there, and have some heating. I have access to all my computer records because I have Dropbox on the phone, and a complete backup of everything - photos included - on a hard drive that I keep in the car. My insurance documents are also all in the car: I set my claim in motion. I ring my bank and my credit card company. By the end of the day I'll be able to buy some new clothes to pop into the caravan wardrobe and cupboards, fresh food and milk to put in the fridge, new pillows and a snug sleeping bag.

I'm alive, alert, and organised. It crosses my mind that if I'd kept my bag and teddy bear in my bedroom at night, and not in the lounge, then I'd have them with me now.

It's a dire scenario. But as you can see, I've already imagined it and will cope.

Things work out a little better if the fire is not quite so advanced when I awake - still confined to the kitchen say - so that I can use the hall, and walk out through the front door with one or two extra things I can reach for, such as my bag, Ted, my main set of keys, and the phone recharger. If I'm actually away on a caravan holiday, then I will have half my clothes and shoes with me - but of course the alarm won't have been raised so quickly, and the house will be completely wrecked.

The funny thing is, I don't care if most things in my house end up charred and ruined. There are no 'family heirlooms' - Mum and Dad were always keen on throwing out whatever was old and no longer smart, and replacing it with something else. Hardly any of the objects around when I was young have survived. There's almost nothing left to feel sentimental about. Just a few of my own possessions.

And why am I talking about all this? Well, it's home insurance renewal time, and I've been considering my cover and its cost. Result: I've changed insurers. I'm also saving money on it.

I had been with Birmingham Midshires, an arm of Halifax General Insurance Services. I was with them because back in 2008 Dad moved his home insurance from Saga (who had become expensive after the first years) to Birmingham Midshires (whose quote was then very competitive). After Dad died in 2009, I stayed with BM because the cost remained reasonable. But now it had become less reasonable. They wanted £341 for the coming year. That wasn't scandalously high by any means, but, alerted by plenty of radio and online advice, I decided to get alternative quotes. An online quote from Aviva - with much the same level of cover - came out at £154. This was if I paid the premium in one go, rather than monthly - it would be a bit more if paying monthly, because of the cost of finance. I looked for another quote. Being a member of the Civil Service Motoring Association (which nowadays styles itself as the CSMA Club) I did an obvious thing, and enquired with their pet insurance company, Liverpool Victoria. For similar cover, they quoted a virtually identical £156. I went with them. The policy begins tomorrow.

Birmingham Midshires hadn't said what the cost would be if I were paying the entire premium all at once, and not monthly, but it could hardly be much less than £280-£290. So the Aviva and LV quotes were very much cheaper. I didn't bother with an extensive trawl of the online price-comparison websites. I'd heard they were too generic to find the very best deals out there, and in any case didn't include every insurer on their database.

BM were very sniffy about my leaving them, and pointed out that I was saving money because I'd reduced my cover.

True, the rebuilding cost insured was no longer 'unlimited' but 'only' £1,000,000. Which was still three or four times what a full rebuild would cost. And contents cover for my possessions was down from £29,246 to £25,000. And I'd opted out of cover for home emergencies - calling out a plumber or locksmith, for example - which I guessed added some £45 to the premium. It wasn't worth the money. The maximum cost they'd cover was only £500. They excluded any problem with my 20 year old boiler, the only thing really likely to go wrong. I lived in a village bristling with competent tradesmen. And if need be, I could now find £500 at the drop of a hat.

But I had also gained by moving to LV. I now had 'accidental damage' cover on both house and contents, plus cover for legal expenses. And the cover for possessions I had with me while away from home - my phone, say - was significantly better. My new LV policy was distinctly more suited to my real needs.

In particular BM's contents cover of £29,246 had seemed way too high. I didn't want to pay for so much. I'd queried it with them the year before. I was told it was a standard, minimum amount. I could request even higher cover if I wanted - but not lower.

But, I said, there is almost nothing of value in the house! Cover for £5,000 would be more than sufficient. All my furnishings and appliances were years old - certainly the items inherited from Mum and Dad - and effectively worthless. Nor did I want to perpetuate Mum and Dad's sense of style. It was too 1980s. It was quality stuff, but heavy and old-fashioned, when I'd be content with light, modern, unfussy, practical IKEA-sourced fabrics and furnishings. So I wouldn't be replacing their things on a like-for-like basis, if any were damaged or destroyed. Even the things I'd bought myself in the last five years (the washing machine and cooker, for instance) could be easily replaced for hundreds of pounds - not thousands. There were certainly no treasures or expensive jewellery, nor fancy electronic goods.

Indeed, it's sobering to reflect that at this point in time, in November 2014, the only thing worth anything much in the house, in terms of its cash value, is my Samsung smartphone. And what might that be worth after seven months' ownership? £300 at the very most?

I am not acquisitive of 'status goods'. I am happy to stay with nice-condition older stuff until replacement is a necessity, rather than because I fancy a swish new version. So thieves, take note! You won't find anything worth your trouble.


  1. £156 sounds about right, Lucy. I tried a few comparison sites. The best was GoCompare, which returned a quote of £76 from the Halifax. My house is worth less than yours and, since the chances are low of me doing something silly like putting my foot through the ceiling, I'll not go for accidental buildings cover. I've yet to decide, though, whether to add legal cover, which is an extra £20.

    I guess it all comes down to probabilities. The last time I claimed was 25 years ago, so the insurance companies have done well out of me.

  2. Yes, the secret seems to lie in recognising the most likely risks that apply to oneself. Over-insurance is unnecessary and very expensive. Some things are just not worth insuring.



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