Q: We are about to settle on our first home, and we don't know the first thing about buying homeowners insurance. How do we get started, and what do we need to know?
Congratulations on buying your first home! Start by getting a price quote from the company that handles your auto insurance -- you generally get a discount on your auto and home insurance if you have both policies with the same company. If you have an auto insurance agent, find out whether he or she works for one company or is an independent agent who works with several companies. An independent agent can give you price quotes from several insurers. You may also want to contact a few big insurers separately, such as State Farm, which doesn't sell through independent agents. And if you have any military connection in your family, it's worthwhile to contact USAA, too (see USAA's page for a list of who is eligible). If you don't have an independent agent, you can find one in your area through the Independent Agents and Brokers of America agent search.
But before you start comparing quotes, you'll need to decide how much coverage to get. A home's insurance value is based on the cost to rebuild the house, not the market value. And even though market values are still down in many areas, rebuilding costs are on the rise. You can get an estimate of the home's rebuilding cost at AccuCoverage.com, which asks a lot of questions about the size of the house and the building materials and details, then uses the same building-cost database that insurers use. Or you can work with the agent or the insurer to come up with an estimate.