The fine art of insurance

Many households are not adequately covered for their antiques. Tim Collison reports

EVEN if you only own one or two antiques, their value could run to several thousand pounds. Despite this, many people are still not insuring their antiques and fine art properly.

Insurance experts believe that at least half of all households with high- value antiques are not on the right policy. This could mean that the value of their household contents (the "sum insured") is too low.

The best cover for someone with an antiques collection, or just high- value possessions, is a "high net worth" policy. This is offered by experts in insuring antiques and fine art. To qualify, you must usually have contents worth over pounds 100,000, though many insurers are flexible on this: Cox Insurance has a minimum sum insured of pounds 75,000 and Albion's insurance starts at pounds 50,000.

A high net worth policy can actually mean you pay a lower premium. Cox says that a detached house in Virginia Water, Surrey, with pounds 40,000 worth of general contents and pounds 60,000 of antiques, with an excess of pounds 100, would cost pounds 457.60 to insure on an ordinary policy but pounds 404.56 under high net worth.

Anthony Lumsden-Cook, managing director at Cox, says: "With a high net worth policy you can list the art and antiques in different sections. This enables the insurer to more fully understand the level of risk.

"Antiques often have a lower theft risk because most opportunist thieves go for things like TVs and hi-fis. This can be reflected in the premium."

Premiums can also be lowered by taking a higher policy excess - the amount deducted on each claim. Commonly, a 20 per cent discount will be offered for an excess of pounds 250, and 30 per cent for pounds 500.

Virtually all high net worth policies are sold by specialist brokers, who can tailor cover to meet your particular requirements. Nevertheless, there are certain things you should look out for in a policy. First, check on the single article limit; every item over this limit must be listed separately. Most policies set the single item limit at pounds 2,500. Cox and CGU are unusual in setting it at pounds 15,000.

Most policies are now warranty-free, but one or two do have security requirements. For example, Guardian requires a Nacoss-approved alarm linked to the police.

Check the maximum period for which you can leave the house empty. Most policies are set at 30 days, after which theft and malicious damage will be removed from the cover. Independent allows properties to be empty for up to 90 days.

Avoid policies that are not flexible; don't let an insurer force you to replace a stolen ring because it has a discount agreement with a certain shop. Also, make sure the policy has "pairs and sets" cover; if you have a pair of vases and one gets broken, the payout should be for the replacement value of the two.

Albion, 01303 850851; Chubb, 0171-867 5555; Cox, 01608 648007; CGU, 0171- 283 7500; Independent, 01732 865211; Guardian Insurance, 01473 212422; Hiscox, 0171-423 4200; Nordstern, 0171-626 5001; Royal & SunAlliance, 0171-957 4900.

Tim Collison is editor of 'Professional Broking' magazine.

theft busters

Several initiatives have been launched to recover stolen art and antiques.

The Art Loss Register lists stolen items on its database, including, where possible, pictures. The ALR trawls the world's auction houses looking for stolen art and antiques.

TRACE magazine, published each month, provides pictures and descriptions of stolen art and antiques for dealers, auction rooms and law-enforcement agencies.

Smartwater is a DNA-based device leaving a unique, invisible mark on any high-value item. It retails for about pounds 400.

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