Protect your home and belongings with house and contents insurance. We explain the basics, how to save on premiums and cover when disaster strikes.
Protect your assets against major disasters and minor mishaps with the right house and contents insurance policy. Find out what to look for, then compare policies and premiums for 17 insurers.
We've gathered information on 17 house and 17 contents insurance policies.Find a house and contents insurance policy
House insurance covers most structures on your property – your house, garage and fences.
Most policies also cover your retaining walls and recreational features (for example, swimming pools) but the cover is often capped. You can increase these caps for a higher premium.
Some insurers offer different types of policy with different levels of cover:
Basic policies may only cover you for major adverse events such as fire, theft or flood.
Comprehensive policies are what we surveyed. They cover you for major adverse events and for accidental damage to your house caused by you or your family.
Both types of policies cover your legal liability if you accidentally damage someone else’s property.
It is important that you have enough cover because you don’t want to be underinsured.
Unless you have a full repayment policy, the maximum insurance companies will pay is the sum insured. If the rebuild costs are more than the sum insured, you will have to meet this cost.
Homeowners are responsible for estimating the sum insured. If you haven’t specified a sum insured, you’re probably relying on the insurer’s default sum insured – an estimate based on the size of your house and a typical rebuild cost.
If you rely on the default sum, you risk being caught short if disaster strikes.
If you choose a higher sum insured, you’ll be charged a higher premium. But it might not be much higher. Ask your insurer how much an increase will cost. A slightly higher premium is a good investment to make sure your house is fully covered if it’s a total loss.
Contents insurance usually covers your belongings when they're at home or temporarily moved elsewhere in the country.
Contents insurance is also offered at different levels:
It always pays to check the cover: what’s standard in one policy may be an optional benefit in another – or may not be covered at all. This includes credit cards, jewellery, keys and locks, professional tools and equipment kept at home, and items damaged during cleaning.
Some insurance companies require a valuation certificate for items over a certain amount.
If you make a claim against your house or contents policy, you’ll probably have to contribute the first few hundred dollars towards the repair or replacement. This is called the excess.
The standard excess for house and contents claims is between $250 and $400, depending on insurer.
You need to think carefully before making a small claim. As well as the excess, you can end up with a higher premium when your policy’s renewed. You can also lose your no-claims discount – and this discount can reduce your premium by as much as 40%, depending on your policy.
Tip: You can lower the cost of your premium by choosing a higher excess (which means you carry some of the claim risk yourself).
Until a few years ago, most insurers offered full replacement policies. This meant they’d pay to rebuild or repair your home to bring it back to its pre-event standard.
However, after the Canterbury earthquakes, almost all insurers changed to sum insured policies. This shifted the onus to the homeowner for estimating what it would cost to rebuild their home and then insuring it for that amount.
According to Treasury, the switch to sum insured means an estimated 85% of New Zealanders are under-insuring their homes and could be left out of pocket if a disaster hit.
Medical Assurance Society (MAS) is one of the few providers offering full replacement policies. Its cover is pricier than many insurers in our survey, though you’re getting more for your money than with insurers providing sum insured policies.
MAS customers rate it highly for service. In our latest customer satisfaction survey, the company topped our table: 92% of customers with its house insurance were highly satisfied.
MAS is a membership-based organisation. Traditionally, membership has been open to those in health-related fields, such as doctors and dentists, but it is now open to other professionals.
FMG also offers full replacement cover. Its policy is cheaper than MAS’. However, cover is only available in rural areas and specific provincial locations. The company rates well for customer service: 81% of its customers in our survey were very satisfied.
Some insurers offer policies that provide full replacement for events other than natural disasters – for example, you’d get a payout for full replacement if your house burnt down. You still have to stipulate an amount you want the house insured for in the event of a natural disaster.
AA Insurance offers full replacement for events other than natural disasters. The company rates above average for customer satisfaction with 64% of its house insurance customers in our survey very satisfied.
It declined to provide premiums, so we used its online calculators to get prices. In Auckland, Hamilton and Dunedin, its premiums were usually lower than the median.
Online quotes weren’t available for Wellington and Christchurch. The company is still providing cover in these areas, subject to its underwriting criteria.
Tower and the brands it underwrites, Trade Me and TSB, offer full replacement cover for fire. For everything else, they offer sum insured cover.
Trade Me quoted the highest prices for our Christchurch properties. For our large house, its price was nearly $300 ahead of the next most expensive premium – making you wonder whether it wants any garden city customers.
With Trade Me’s policy, you’ll also have to pay extra to get cover for temporary accommodation after an event, garden retaining walls and landscaping, and recreational features (such as swimming pools).
Tower offered the cheapest price for our large house in Auckland. But the insurer doesn’t rate well when it comes to customer satisfaction. Just 37% of customers in our survey were very satisfied and it had the highest number of dissatisfied punters (14%).
Eight of the insurers we looked at only provide sum insured policies.
Insurers have default sum insured amounts for homes, but don’t just assume this will be enough to rebuild your home. It’s your responsibility to make sure the sum insured will provide adequate cover.
In a natural disaster, people with private insurance are also covered by EQC (see “When house insurance becomes too pricey”), but payouts on homes are capped, so it’s important your policy with your insurer will cover remaining costs.
Of the eight insurers offering sum insured cover, prices varied depending on region and house size.
Youi had the highest prices in Auckland and Wellington. Its premium for house and contents cover was close to $6000 a year for our large home in Wellington – $2800 above the median. The company would not give us quotes for our Hamilton or Christchurch addresses, due to the “risk of inundation” at the locations.
Lantern also stood out for its pricey premiums, with the highest quotes for our properties in Hamilton and Dunedin. The company rated below average for customer satisfaction in our survey.
State Insurance offered the cheapest prices in Christchurch. However, it also rated below average in the satisfaction stakes.
We asked insurers to quote annual premiums for comprehensive policies for three profiles:
Renter: our young worker wants contents-only insurance for belongings worth $35,000.
Standard home: our couple wants to insure their home for $400,000 and their contents for $90,000.
Large home: our family of four wants to insure their home for $800,000 and their contents for $140,000.
We’ve made these assumptions:
Most companies offered discounts for taking out combined house-and-contents policies and for being claims-free for a set number of years. We accepted these discounts. Other discounts are noted in our premium comparison tool below.
Your insurance premium includes a levy that goes to the Earthquake Commission (EQC).
The Earthquake Commission’s cover is called EQCover. It kicks in after an earthquake or other natural disaster, but you usually have to have private insurance to be eligible.
In an earthquake, EQCover pays:
For other events, such as floods and storms, EQCover is only for land damaged. Just like private insurance policies, there are several conditions to meet and exclusions – it’s worth checking the fine print on the EQC website before disaster strikes.
If you’ve been denied private insurance, you can apply to EQC for Direct EQCover. It’s decided case-by-case . You have to prove you haven’t been able to get private insurance. Less than 500 properties have got Direct EQCover.
If you can’t afford full cover from an insurance company, you could ask if it offers a fire only, or fire and burglary policy. This would be cheaper than all-risk cover and would mean you were still entitled to EQCover.
One of the biggest misunderstandings between insurers and homeowners is over the word “flood”. Every year many thousands of Kiwis find water damage to their homes and properties, which they think is caused by a “flood” but is actually the result of slowly leaking water from outside or from water pipes.
A burst pipe might be classed as gradual damage if it’s simply worn out from continuous use. Sometimes the resulting damage will be covered – but don’t assume it is.
Even when it’s a real flood from a storm or burst pipes, you need to be wary. If you haven’t told your insurer about previous floods you may not be covered. And don’t increase your cover when the floodwaters lap into your home, as one homeowner tried. The insurance company later tracked down regional-council aerial photographs that showed the house was already being flooded when the call was made.