Whenever I write about renters insurance, I try to remind people about its secret power, which is that its bubble of protection extends far beyond the walls of your apartment to cover the belongings you carry with you. Still, unless you've had a reason to file a claim, you may not realize that renters insurance can help you even when you're far from home.
For example, when you’re on vacation in Spain and everything you’ve brought with you is stolen just hours after your plane lands.
That’s what happened to Andres Modak and Rachel Cohen last fall. They’re the co-founders of the striking new home essentials brand Snowe, which Architectural Digest admired for its "well-made domestic necessities" and Glamour praised for stylish basics "that don’t cost a fortune." Andres and Rachel were traveling overseas to attend a wedding last Memorial Day when their luggage was stolen.
The funny thing is, even though they had renters insurance, they didn't give it a second thought. Were it not for a casual comment from Rachel’s parents, they may never have realized that their renters policy protected them from the loss.
I spoke with Andres from his company’s home base in Brooklyn to find out more about the theft and how the insurance claim played out.
PolicyGenius: You were on your way to a wedding in Spain when you were robbed. What exactly happened?
Andres: We decided to stop off for a week in the south of Spain at my family's home to get some down time before the wedding. We stopped at one of my favorite seafood spots on the beach on the way to our home, and as we came out happy and contented and ready to go out to the house, we realized that the rental car door was unlocked. We opened the trunk and everything had been taken.
Because we were going to a wedding, we had tuxedos and suits and very expensive clothing, and in aggregate, thousands of dollars worth of belongings in the car. And there was nothing left at all whatsoever.
Obviously we were totally shocked. So we immediately ran back to the restaurant and had them call the police, then went over to the police station to file a full report.
PG: Did you think of your renters insurance policy then?
No. I had never even had any renters insurance before last year. With every apartment I've rented, it's always been on my to do list, but at the bottom.
But one day last year--you know when you go to take the garbage out and you switch the bolt on the door so you can get back in without keys? One day I realized that I had done that for an entire weekend, so my apartment had been open and I hadn't even realized it. So I thought, "Wow. This can happen, or you leave the gas on, or you run the a/c and it floods your home." And we had just spent a lot of money in redesigning and re-outfitting our interiors, so it was the right time to do it, frankly.
I remembered PolicyGenius because I had met the CEO Jennifer in the past and I knew about the company from the start-up scene in New York, and so I looked on the site to see if it was available, and sure enough it was.
I bought the policy in the spring of 2015 and completely proceeded to forget about it.
And then six months later, this happened…
At the car, my first call was the car rental company, and they basically said there's nothing they can do, that no matter what happens we're not covered for theft in the car. In fact, they were mainly concerned about any damage to the vehicle.
We called our credit card companies as well, but they didn’t cover the theft.
We pretty much thought all was lost at that point, and so we went out and bought some bare essentials for the next couple of days and started to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of our trip.
I still had no idea then that renters insurance covered you even when you were traveling.
So how did you find out?
My partner Rachel's parents said to us, "Hey, it's too bad you don't have renters insurance, because that would have covered you."
And we said, "Well, we do. And does it really?"
And so at that point we called Assurant.
Tell me a little about how they handled your claim request.
They were incredibly helpful. They talked us through what they needed and how it worked. They told us that we had basically 30 days to file the claim. We needed to provide a full police report, so we sent them a scanned copy. It was in Spanish but we didn't have to translate it or anything. We also had to provide a detailed inventory of all the items that were lost and their value, and in every item’s case they needed some proof of it existing.
Insurers suggest that policy holders created a detailed inventory of their belongings ahead of time, so they have them ready in case of a claim. Did you already have that kind of detailed inventory?
No. But they were very flexible in what they would accept as proof of an item’s existence. They allowed for receipts, credit card statements, debit card statements, and even statements from retailers. In some cases I didn't have anything that indicated that I, for example, purchased a tuxedo 3 or 4 years ago, but I called the retailer and they had it on file and were able to send me proof of purchase, and Assurant accepted that.
In the cases where we didn't have recorded receipts, statements, or otherwise, they actually allowed us to download photographs from Facebook or other sites where we were wearing those garments or what have you.
That’s pretty accommodating, but it still sounds like a lot of work!
We basically had to spend close to a weekend getting everything together. What that led to was a little bit of procrastination on our part frankly because we had too much other work to do. But they were very understanding and actually extended the deadline for us. And Rachel, who was the one in contact with Assurant during all of this, spoke with the same agent every time, which made everything incredibly seamless and nice. I think that is something that needs to be highlighted, because you wouldn't expect that level of service from an insurance company.
How long did it take Assurant to process the claim and issue you a check?
To be honest after we finally got to sending them everything, within 8 to 10 days we received the check through the mail.
Oh and there's another little kicker here. Our bank lost the check after we deposited it, so two weeks later we had to go back to Assurant and ask them to cut us a new check. And they overnighted the replacement check at no cost to us.
So all in all it sounds like a pretty great experience with your renters insurance. Was there anything you wish had been different?
Once we give them the full inventory, they depreciated everything accordingly based on the purchase dates, and then reimbursed us based on that depreciation schedule.
We were a little bit disappointed--not overall but just for that component of it--because there were some pieces that don't really depreciate in the same way, and if you apply that structure to it it just doesn't work in your favor. For example, a pair of expensive Italian shoes that I’d purchased 2 or 3 years before--you only wear them at weddings and they're in absolutely perfect condition, and that model is not made anymore so they're irreplaceable, and even replacing them with something similar would cost you over a thousand dollars--I got several hundred dollars back for that.
_[Editor’s note: Andres’ policy used Actual Cash Value to settle the claim, which determines the value of a lost item after first depreciating it. Alternatively, you can buy a policy that pays Replacement Cost, which will pay the amount it would cost in today’s dollars to buy the same lost item again. Replacement Cost coverage pays higher claims but costs more in premiums.] _
So do you encourage your friends to get renters insurance now?
The funny part of the story is we spent the whole weekend with all of our friends from business school who were also attending the wedding, and the story that was being told was of the couple that had gotten robbed, and so our story was told probably 100 times to different people, and it was always around the wonders of renters insurance.
My partner Rachel and I, we’re founders of a home goods startup, and we take our home very very seriously. The products within our home, not only our Snowe products but frankly the products that we've incorporated into our home, our furniture pieces and the design that goes into it, means a lot to us. We design our home in such a way that we're very proud of it and we care about it very much. And so protecting that home and those pieces and those elements is hugely important.
And now that I understand that my renters insurance not only covers my home but also the components that follow me as I go around the world--that's huge. We travel a lot, both for personal and business reasons. And with that in mind, having something that covers our belongings while we travel, now that we know it's there, is something that we won't give up.
Photo: Andres Modak and Rachel Cohen, founders of Snowe