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Housing Bubble! Don't panic!

Wherever you look, the story is the same. House prices are in free fall. What are the facts? According to the S&P/Case-Shiller national index, house prices fell by 14% in the year to April 2008! Those of you who like history will know that’s a faster fall than the Great Depression of the 1930s. I always like to be encouraging.

So what’s going on? Well, a lot of people convinced themselves that buying property was a sure-thing investment. Buy today, sell tomorrow with a big gain. That made it a no-brainer to buy your own home. Unfortunately, two things happened. There was a boom in the construction industry which produced more houses for sale than there are buyers. Secondly, the credit crunch has made banks more cautious in lending money (actually, some banks have gone bust).

The result? Negative equity! Lots of people who owe more on their homes than the homes are worth. How does this affect the home insurance policy? Not at all! Well, that’s perhaps a little optimistic so let’s explore.

Home insurance is designed to replace your home if it’s destroyed. The value of the cover is therefore not the sale price but the cost of rebuilding. So, no matter how much your home falls in value, it makes no difference to the premium. Except that there are more national statistics to worry about. According to the latest figures published up to July 2008, US inflation is at a twenty-seven year high. The Labour Department monitors the producer price index (PPI), that’s prices at the wholesale level. That rose by 9.8% in July.

So you should care because? Because the prices of bricks and all the other stuff needed to repair or rebuild your damaged home just got that much more expensive. Worse? There’s no sign price inflation is going to slow. So, when it comes to renewing your home insurance policy, it would be wise to get two or three online quotes from “reputable” builders to revalue the policy. Without this precaution, you might find yourself underinsured, even on a small claim. But if you get hit by a hurricane or some other natural catastrophe, you may not be able to afford rebuilding if you don’t have the savings to bridge the gap between the insured amount and the actual cost of rebuilding.

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