And I learned something about Builder’s Risk insurance in the process.
Let’s start with an overview of what insurance is and isn’t. Insurance is a financial product where the insurance company agrees to indemnify you in the event of a loss. For insurance to work, three conditions must be met:
- You have to feel there is sufficient risk to justify paying for the policy. (In redevelopment, there always is.)
- There must be a sufficient number of policy holders that need the coverage to interest the insurance company in writing the coverage.
- The insurance company must believe there is a profit to be made by indemnifying you, generally by spreading the risk over the “pool” of insureds.
Like the name implies, with builder’s risk the insurance company agrees to indemnify the builder (you and me) against specific types of loss during the process of building or remodeling a property. The word “indemnify” screws up many people. All it means is that the insurance company will pay you a specific amount of money if you suffer harm or a loss, up to the maximum coverage. That is, the insurance company will make it financially as if the loss never occurred.
The question that makes builder’s risk insurance interesting is, “What is the amount of the loss?” You suffer less damage if a tornado levels your project the day before you start redevelopment than if the same thing happens the day after you complete it. And it is different on any day between those two points. I’m using a tornado in this example because a total loss is much easier to define than a partial loss, such as a minor fire.
So let’s say you bought a house for $70,000. You expect to spend another $70K redeveloping it over the next 60 days. When you’re done, you expect the house to be worth $180K. The beginning and end points are fairly clear. If the tornado happens on day one, the insurance company would pay you about $70K. If it happens after completion, you could justifiably expect (but might not receive) $180K.
But the amount of harm you suffer would vary at any point along the way. Let’s say you spent the first week cleaning up a jungle that had grown around the house. You spent $2K. That investment might not be counted a loss because it wasn’t spent on the structure. But if you spent $8K replacing the roof the next week, you have improved the value of the structure by at least $8K. The insurance company would probably pay you at least $78K of the $80K you have invested.
The same holds true for demolition costs. Do they actually increase (or possibly decrease) the value of the property and, therefore, the amount of loss you suffer? You could argue that you’re still out the money for demolition, and you’d probably win, but….
What the insurance company pays in the event of a loss depends on the amount you have invested and the actual loss you suffer. Both of these depend on you keeping squeaky clean records with receipts and all sorts of other documentation. I wouldn’t expect the insurance company to cover anything over your actual costs unless the project is complete or so close to completion that you are actively marketing it. Even then, it depends on how your policy is worded.
- Always carry builder’s risk insurance on your redevelopment projects.
- Make sure you understand how the insurance company will determine the value of a loss before you sign the contract.
- Document everything.
- Don’t expect the insurance company to pay more than you can prove you’ve spent.
The first three of these take-aways hold true even if you are a regular homeowner instead of an investor. Then the last one that the insurance company probably will not pay more than actual market value, no matter what you think you home is worth. They have not emotional attachment to it.Hermann says please like and share!