The first thing you need to know about home insurance is that there are two types: buildings and contents. They are separate entities and you can either search for two individual deals, or buy them as a joint policy from one source.
The latter can be a good idea because there are some great deals around. And if you end up in a situation where one incident affects both the building and its contents, such as a fire, there will be no issues as to who is paying for what. So, what's the difference and how do you get the best deals?
Choosing the best deal from the wide range on offer can be a nightmare. Many companies now offer all-singing, all-dancing policies but beware - the number of conditions, caveats and exclusions has also expanded. You need to pick your way through the insurance jungle with the greatest of caution. That's where our home insurance comparison engine comes into play! Be aware that if you move house you may need to change both policies because the risk has changed.
This covers the actual structure of your home. It will always include the main building and can be extended to cover sheds, the garage, fences, a swimming pool and so on. Buildings insurance is your problem only if you own the property. Otherwise it's your landlord's issue. If you own a flat, it's likely the freeholder will include buildings insurance in the ground rent.
A good buildings insurance policy should cover you for fire, flood, subsidence, storms, lightning, theft or vandalism, escape of water and oil, and damage caused by falling trees, branches or other objects. If you can no longer live in your house because of damage, your insurance will also cover alternative accommodation costs. The 'sum insured' - or the amount the policy will cover - should not be the amount your house is worth if you were selling it. It should be the cost of rebuilding the property if it was knocked down.
This covers everything you would take with you if you moved home. That typically includes furniture, household goods, food and drink, TVs, computers, clothing and valuables, usually up to a stated limit. No mortgage lender can insist you take out contents cover and you need to organise it yourself.
The policy pays out if any of your home contents are lost or damaged. Claims are usually made after a burglary or a fire, but a policy should also pay if your possessions are damaged or lost as a result of an explosion, leaks or if your home is vandalised.
Many insurers cover the cost of replacing locks if your keys are stolen. Most policies pay for accidental damage, but the extent of cover varies, so check this.
Most policies may be extended to cover accidental damage or loss of valuable items you frequently take out of your home, such as jewellery, cameras and sports equipment. It is known as an 'all risks extension'.
You should also check whether you are covered if you accidentally injure another person or damage their property. Most policies pay damages for which you are legally liable up to a maximum of £1m.
Some insurance companies provide flexible policies that automatically increase the level of contents cover at Christmas to account for the gifts you are likely to have around the house. Some firms increase cover for couples about to marry who may have wedding presents stored at home.
And some schemes cover children who go to college, providing free student cover for household goods and personal effects. The amount may be up to 15% of the sum insured.