How do I protect my book library with renter's insurance?
May 21, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

How do I protect my book library with renter's insurance?

I'm moving to a basement apartment in an area that has frequent basement flooding, and I'd like to make sure that if my burgeoning book library gets water damage, my future renter's insurance covers buying new copies of everything.

This is not a question about how to protect the books from water damage in the first place--I know how to do that. I'm interested in how the estimate/payment process will go--how I can make sure the renters insurance will cover the cost of replacing all damaged books in the event of catastrophe.

1. Will I probably need to give my insurer an estimate of the $ amount to buy new copies of all my books when I first set up my insurance plan, or do insurers usually lump books together for some pre-set figure? (I figure that many individuals getting rental insurance care most about electronic devices, which are easier to give estimates for)

2. Seems like a good idea to have a record of all my books in case they're destroyed beyond recognition (e.g. fire). Any ideas on streamlining doing this for about 1,000 paperbacks (e.g. spreadsheet and looking up current price on Amazon)? If some works are out of print, what kind of estimate would an insurer accept--a higher cost since they're irreplaceable?

3. I know I'll want to document any expensive items (e.g. computers) with a digital camera, but what about my library? Will the insurer likely want a photograph of the entire library or of individual books?

Any anecdotes about getting rental insurers to pay for replacement of libraries or other large amounts of books are also appreciated.
posted by ollyolly to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
These would be good questions for your insurance agent. If it's anything like CDs, the policy for covering replacement is all over the place.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:18 AM on May 21, 2010

With regards to your second question, about a record of your books: with a CueCat and a LibraryThing account [free accounts are limited to 200 books, but a lifetime unlimited account is only $25] you can scan all of the bar codes on your books into the LibraryThing website and tag them if you'd like. Each book's page links to places like Amazon and AbeBooks for pricing, and you can easily print a hard copy listing of the books.
posted by alynnk at 8:29 AM on May 21, 2010

You should be able to get a "rider" specifically for the books. I got one for my electronics (computer, TV) and I think the cost was pretty negligible. Figure out roughly how much the whole collection is worth, because the rider will include a dollar amount.

Every insurance thing I've ever read says to take copious photographs of everything, so that may be a good idea. If you have receipts, great; otherwise, maybe a scan/photo of the copyright page in each book (to establish which printing and how old they are, especially if they're rare or out of print).
posted by backseatpilot at 8:42 AM on May 21, 2010

I know (thankfully not from experience) that in Ontario renters and home owners insurance (at least from my supplier) differentiates the type of flood, and what they cover. Pipes bursting, etc was covered in my standard policy. Sewage backup not so much - you have to pay extra to get a clause added on to the policy.
posted by csmason at 8:43 AM on May 21, 2010

When I had renter's insurance I was told that for any amount under $15,000 they typically just pay it without issue. Even if you don't have $15K of books, I think it would be a really good idea to have photos of your packed floor to ceiling bookshelves just in case you need to prove to a jerk-of-a-claims-adjuster that you really did have a massive quantity of books. You will need to take individual photos of any rare, hard-to-replace items.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:49 AM on May 21, 2010

Investigate your insurance policy choices for the "replacement cost" level of coverage, not the standard level. In my personal experience with making a claim for a massive loss of books, CD's, and movies, for which I had replacement cost coverage, they gave me a depreciated-value first check. I had to go out and repurchase any books that cost more than their estimate, and show them the receipt documenting the difference in pricing, before they'd pay any more. It took a good year of searching around, and in the end, there were some items I was never able to get more than the base amount for, because I couldn't find a replacement copy (oh, life before ebay).

In my experience, they didn't care anything about documenting what I had before the fire. They cared that I had a policy that said "$x coverage", and that I had paid that premium. They were very picky about what could replace what, when it came to electronic stuff, but even with an add-on rider for all my media, they really only cared about it in aggregate value. Unless you have some book that costs $5,000 for a single copy, I expect your agent will have the same level of interest. The documentation does have value though, in helping you rebuild, and making sure you don't accidentally double-purchase some items during the rebuild phase.
posted by nomisxid at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2010

I was in an apartment fire several years ago and lost several hundred books - paperbacks and expensive college textbooks. I have a renters insurance policy through Allstate.

My experience was similar to nomisxid's. I got a check for the depreciated value of the books. Books depreciate severely and rapidly. For my old paperbacks, I got something like a few cents per book. I got more for the textbooks, which were claimed separately, but it was still a severe loss. For anything I went out and bought to replace, I got full reimbursement with receipt. They never asked me to document anything (i.e., prove that I had the books before the fire), but then again, I only replaced maybe a couple dozen things.

Make sure you get a policy that covers replacement, because again, books depreciate severely and rapidly.

Also, check into whether flooding/water damage is covered and what type. Flood insurance must be purchased separately for homeowners, so the same may be the case for renters.

I was never asked to document a thing when I purchased the policy.
posted by unannihilated at 11:56 AM on May 21, 2010

If you're not one for putting your data in someone else's hands, a cuecat and datacrow for cataloging works well, and will pull down the pertinent information for amazon, et. al. automatically.
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2010

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