Don't let home improvements damage your insurance
If you're building a conservatory, extending your home or knocking through a wall to combine two rooms, did you know you could accidentally invalidate your home insurance in the process?
Between planning and comparing quotes for the job, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the insurance implications of the work - or, in fact, for not even realising there were any in the first place.
Well consider this a reminder, as we show you the importance of making sure your home improvements don't damage your insurance.
Before the work starts
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Your best defence is to contact your home insurance provider before the work starts. Let it know what you're planning and exactly what work will be carried out on site. If your insurer doesn't mention it, ask in no uncertain terms if you need to increase your buildings and contents insurance for the period of construction. Calls are recorded so this will count as evidence to support you should you ever need to make a claim and encounter problems.
If you're building an extension, you'll need to make a more permanent change to your buildings insurance - because your current policy will be based on the house as it stands.
As well as damage to the bricks and mortar and fixtures and fitting of your home, your buildings insurance covers the cost of an entire rebuild of the property if the worst were to happen and it was destroyed in a fire. Obviously an extension will increase that rebuild value and your policy needs to be reviewed accordingly.
That rebuild value isn't necessarily the same as the market value of the house. This is because it might fetch more or less than the cost of rebuilding depending on where you live and housing market conditions. The Building Cost Information Service can help you get a more accurate rebuild value.
During the work
Depending on the work you're having done, there are likely to be people in your home lugging around building materials, which could damage your possessions, fixtures and fittings.
While the odds of a Three Stooges style plank mishap smashing your 50" LCD TV are low, it could happen. In this case it pays to make sure your contents insurance will cover you, or if not, that you have accidental damage cover which might result in a slight increase to your existing premium.
If the work involves taking out doors or windows for a prolonged period, your home may be temporarily more attractive to thieves and less secure, so you may want to inform your insurer. They may increase your premiums temporarily while the work is being carried out.
On the other side of the coin though, you might also take the work as an opportunity to upgrade your home's security with stronger locks, security lights or alarms and surveillance cameras - in which case you should also tell your insurer about it, because it may bring your premiums down.
Stay safe from the cowboys
For as long as there have been honest tradesmen there have been rogue traders ripping people off.
If an unscrupulous trader was to take your money and leave the job half-finished, or to disappear altogether, your home insurance wouldn't necessarily cover you unless you also have legal cover included.
Legal cover is an optional home insurance extra which pays for any legal costs you may incur if you have to take legal action against rogue traders. Ideally, however, you should take steps to make sure you don't hire a cowboy builder in the first place.
Go with a recommended tradesman - whether it's someone a friend or family member has hired before or someone recommended by a website like ratedpeople.com or jobsorted.com.
These websites allow you to post details of the work you need doing and give you a selection of recommended tradesmen and their quotes for the work.
However you get your quotes, be sure to get at least three separate estimates for the work in writing if possible. This should also be itemised to show how much you'll be charged for materials, labour and VAT.
You may be offered a cheaper quote for cash payment, foregoing VAT - but remember that you'll have no come backs if you later find a problem with the work because there will be no 'paper trail' to the work.
It's sensible to pay with a credit card if possible, because if you did get stung by a rogue trader, you'd be able to claim the lost money back thanks to the Consumer Credit Act and the Consumer Credit Directive.
Under the two pieces of legislation, the credit card issuer is jointly liable with the merchant or service provider if what you paid for turns out to be faulty or doesn't materialise. The combination of these legal protections covers you for purchases worth between £100 and £60,260.
The final, obvious thing to check is that your tradesmen are certified with the relevant trade associations. For example, if the job involves gas works, make sure they are on the Gas Safe register or have NICEIC certification if it's electrical work.
This ensures they have industry-standard training and qualifications, including safety best practices, so you can be sure they'll do the job properly and safely