MF Insurance: Actual Value vs. Replacement Value Opinions

7 Replies

Hello Everyone,

I will be closing on my first MF investment property in about two weeks.  One of the things left is to pick out homeowner's insurance.  I've been shopping around and have gotten different quotes for Replacement Value policies.  However, yesterday, an agent brought up an option of an Actual Value policy. 

The house is a 3-family built in 1890 in central CT and has almost 3,800 sq.ft. Purchase price is $163k.  Because of the size and age of the house, the RV quotes I've received were pretty high:

USAA - Replacement Value @ $938k; $2,950 annually, but agent said they will send out an inspector to do an on-site RV appraisal and there's a chance it might be lowered.

Travelers - RV @ $923k; $2,933 annually

Liberty Mutual - RV @ $718k; $2,128 annually

The agent I talked to yesterday told me about the AV policy through Foremost and told me if they will value it at $200k, my annual premium should be around $1,400, which is a big difference.  

The house is not in the best neighborhood and I think the highest priced house on the street is about $180k, so if something was ever to happen and I had the RV policy, having this house rebuilt for 700k or 900k doesn't make sense to me.  It would only be work maybe 250k in that neighborhood, at the most.  In this situation, would it make sense to take the AV policy?  

What if I just need repairs due to a branch falling on the roof or water damage due to burst pipe?  Do both cover the same way, aside from a total loss instance? 

Are liabilities brought by my tenants covered the same way, given that the coverage is the same?

Looking for opinions and expertise.

Thanks in advance - Konrad

Hi Konrad,

I'm glad you asked this question, as I've been considering writing an article on this ever since I saw a BP article a couple weeks back with a lot of insurance misinformation.  I believe that article has been removed from the site.

I've been a property insurance claim adjuster for about 10 years for one of the companies you mentioned.  Please know that I handle residential (4-units and less) claims, so this info is geared toward that realm as opposed to commercial multi-family -- there are some differences in coverage between the two.

So, I think there may be some confusion on the terms you're using, which is common.  The confusion was evident in the BP article I mentioned, and I've even spoken to insurance agents who mis-use the terms.  I'll try to clarify and differentiate them here.

Almost every property insurance policy provides coverage on either an actual cash value (ACV) basis or a replacement cost value (RCV) basis.  Neither of these determines the policy coverage limit, but instead they dictate how a loss is paid.  

RCV means the full cost of repairs for a covered loss (less your deductible, of course).  ACV means the full cost of repairs, minus depreciation (and your pesky deductible).  The depreciation is figured based on the age and condition of the damaged materials. For instance a 30-year laminate roof that is 15 years old would be depreciated by 50%.

Here's an example that's common in the Midwest where we have lots of hail storms: Suppose a hail storm comes through and causes significant damage to your roof, and the estimated cost to tear it off and replace it is $10,000.  Also suppose your deductible is $1,000.  If you have an RCV policy, your insurance company would pay the full cost of repairs less your $1,000 deductible, so you'd get $9,000.  

If you have an ACV policy in the same example, you would expect to receive the full cost of repairs, minus your deductible, and minus depreciation.  So the 30-year roof that's 15 years old would be depreciated by 50%, or $5,000.  So, your insurance company would pay out $4,000, based on $10,000 repairs less $5,000 in depreciation and the $1,000 deductible.

Also, with an ACV policy, most policies specify (because many or maybe all states require this) that in the case of a total loss, the full policy limit will be paid.  This means that even though it's an ACV policy, the depreciation does not factor into a total loss.

As a side note, most insurance companies make an RCV settlement in two payments -- the first payment (which is typically the ACV amount of the loss) is made when the loss is evaluated.  Then, the second payment is made after the repairs are complete, as long as the repairs are completed by a deadline specified in the policy -- typically 180 days or 365 days from the date of loss or the date of the first payment.  But between the two payments you'd get the $9,000, which you would turn around and pay plus your $1,000 deductible to the roofer to complete the $10,000 job.  The second payment is typically adjusted based on the actual cost of repairs, with the idea being that your out-of-pocket should be no more and no less than your deductible, regardless of whether you shop around for a better price on the job.

Another side note.  Even RCV policies typically settle certain items at ACV.  For a residential (4 units or less) landlord policy, those items will vary slightly by company/policy but are typically landlord personal property, carpeting, domestic appliances, awnings, outdoor equipment and antennas, fences, and other structures that are not considered buildings.

I mentioned above that ACV and RCV coverage do not affect the policy limit, and here's where the terms get a little more confusing.  Many insurance companies give you the option to insure a property at its market value, which may be significantly less (or more, I suppose) than the cost to rebuild the structure (the rebuild amount is typically referred to as the replacement cost, which is where the confusion comes in, as this is not referring to RCV coverage).  In your example, it sounds like the replacement (rebuild) cost is between $718k and $923k and the market value is between $163k and $200k.  If you shop around, you will likely be able to find both RCV and ACV policies for the replacement (rebuild) cost, and you will likely be able to find both RCV and ACV policies for the market value of the property.

Here's an example.  I have a 1905 all-brick 2-family building with a replacement (rebuild) cost around $350k and market value around $60-$80k.  Because I would not plan to rebuild in the case of a total loss, and I don't want to pay the additional premium, I have it insured at $80k, and the policy includes RCV coverage.  

Unless you have significant reserves set aside, I would not recommend an ACV policy on a site-built home (mobile homes, maybe).  Those claims with ACV policies are no fun for the homeowner or the adjuster.

The last thing I'll add, but won't go into because it would involve another article-length response, is that an "open peril less exclusions" policy is pretty much always preferable to a "named-peril" peril policy, though the premium will be somewhat higher.  The reason being that open-peril policies provide coverage for more types/causes of loss.


I hope this helps you (and others) have more informed conversations when out shopping for insurance -- everyone's favorite thing.

Paul C.

@Paul Caudell Thank you very much for your effort in explaining the differences between the two.  It definitely helps me understand it better, although some things are still a bit confusing ( I will be re-reading your post a few times).  

Sounds like going the RCV route would limit my risk a bit more than the ACV.  I would sleep better at night knowing that any major repairs would be fully covered at night (less the deductible).  

You mention how you have your 2-family house insured with a RCV policy, but you have it insured at $80k, rather than the RCV.  In case of a total loss, would you be reimbursed at $80k and have the option to either rebuild or take the money to pay off the loan or buy another property?  One of the agents I talked to, I specifically asked that question and was told I that I can't lower the RCV to less than 95% and I would have to rebuild, with no other option.  After that, I haven't asked the other agents about insuring it at market value - should I go back and do so? 

Also, how would I know whether I choose the 'open perils less exclusions' or 'named perils' policy? 

The Liberty Mutual RCV policy, which I most likely will be choosing, has the following included:
-Standard Coverage with Home Protector Plus;
-Dwelling with Extended Replacement Cost;
-Other Structure on Insured Location;
-Personal Property with Replacement Cost;
-Loss of Use;
-Personal Liability;
-Medical Payments;

However, it doesn't specify as to which perils I am covered, but it does say under 'additional coverages' - Ordinance or Law 10% and Water Backup.

Thanks for your input,


@Konrad L.

I'll answer as best as I can.

You asked: "You mention how you have your 2-family house insured with a RCV policy, but you have it insured at $80k, rather than the RCV."  

-- Just to help clarify and differentiate the terms, I would rephrase the last part of this by saying "...rather than the replacement cost." or even "...rather than the replacement/rebuild cost."  The reason being that any time you see the acronym "RCV" it's referring to the settlement of a loss without depreciation -- not the policy limit.

If it's spelled out as "replacement cost value" technically it should be referring to the same thing as "RCV" -- which is the settlement of a loss without depreciation.

If you shorten it to "replacement cost" that can mean the same thing as "replacement cost value" and "RCV" if referring to the settlement of a loss without depreciation.  

However, "replacement cost" also means the approximate amount it would cost to tear down and rebuild the entire structure with like kind and quality of materials.  This is an amount used to determine the policy limit.  When used in this sense, the acronym "RCV" should not be used.  In my post above, I referred to the replacement cost as "replacement (rebuild) cost" to help differentiate.

There are policies and endorsement that can increase the limit to, say, 125% of replacement cost (for extra premium), and policies and endorsement that can decrease the limit to, say 85% of the replacement cost (in exchange for lower premium).

Besides determining the replacement (rebuild) cost, the other typical way of determining the policy limit is to use the market value, which I think is self-explanatory.  

You asked: "In case of a total loss, would you be reimbursed at $80k and have the option to either rebuild or take the money to pay off the loan or buy another property?"

-- The answer to this will vary by state, and by insurance company, and by policy, and it may also depend on the cause of loss. For instance, Missouri is a "total valuation" state for the peril of fire, so if a fire causes a total loss to the dwelling, the policy limit would be paid.

It would also depend on what the actual cash value (ACV) amount is in relation to the policy limit, since most companies, even with RCV coverage, pay the ACV amount up front and then reimburse you for the depreciation after the repairs are completed.

Here are a couple of scenarios. For simplicity, I’m not factoring in the deductible. Sometimes the deductible is not applied in a total loss claim, but again, that depends on the company/policy.

1) Say my duplex is insured for $80k, but a tornado hits it and causes $250k in damages (Remember, this is possible since the cost to rebuild is around $350k -- even though it's only insured for the $80k market value.). The adjuster might write a $250k estimate and apply the depreciation -- let's say it's 50% overall for simplicity's sake. Since the ACV amount of $125k is more than my policy limit, my insurance company would likely pay the full policy limit, probably minus the deductible, up-front. At that point, I would have the option to pay off the mortgage and sell the property, which might require tearing it down and selling just the lot. Also, some municipalities require that insurance companies pay the municipality a percentage of the settlement in a total loss, so they’re not left with an abandoned property. Or if it is abandoned, the municipality has the money to tear down the remaining structure.

2) A tornado hits the same duplex and causes $90k in damages, and the adjuster applies 50% overall depreciation, so the ACV amount is $45k. My insurance company would pay the $45k up-front (although depending on the policy/state, the full policy limit might be paid up-front, even though the ACV amount is less than the policy limit – it just depends and it may take some digging to find out). At that point, I would need to decide whether to rebuild, with around $10k coming out of pocket on the rebuild ($90k damages minus $80k policy limit), or use the money to pay off the loan and sell the lot, if possible.

You asked, “Also, how would I know whether I choose the 'open perils less exclusions' or 'named perils' policy?”

-- You’d have to ask the agent which policies are which, and they might stumble around at first and have to get back to you on it. It doesn't hurt to have an agent walk you through each type, just to get a sense of what they cover and don’t cover.

You said:

The Liberty Mutual RCV policy, which I most likely will be choosing, has the following included:
-Standard Coverage with Home Protector Plus; -- I’d bet this is open-peril less exclusions, as it does not appear to be a low-end policy, but don’t take my word for it. 

-Dwelling with Extended Replacement Cost; -- This probably increases your coverage to (I’m guessing here) 125% of the policy limit if you comply with several conditions, such as selecting an increased dwelling limit equal to or above the estimated replacement cost (or rebuild cost), and you must actually repair, rebuild or replace the dwelling after a loss.-Other Structure on Insured Location; -- This is for a detached garage, fence, shed, etc. The Other Structure limit is usually a set percentage of the Dwelling limit, maybe 10%.-Personal Property with Replacement Cost; -- For a landlord policy, personal property is typically property owned by you that’s “usual to the occupancy or maintenance” of the property – so appliances, furnishings if you provide them, or tools/materials used for maintenance.

-Loss of Use; -- This reimburses you for loss of rents if a covered loss makes any unit(s) uninhabitable, up to the reasonable amount of time for the repairs, or a set period such as 12 months, whichever is less. Depending on the policy, it may pay the full monthly rent amount to you, or instead it could be 1/12 of the Loss of Use policy limit per month.

I don’t handle liability claims, so I won’t try to elaborate on liability and medical payments.

Ordinance or Law 10% and Water Backup. – Both are great to have. Not all policies cover water damage from the back-up of a sewer or sump, and the building ordinance coverage kicks in if there are code upgrades needed for proper repairs.

There are differences by state and by policy, and of course it'd be impossible to discuss every nuance.  All that to say, I hope this helps you more than it confuses.

 Paul C.

@Paul Caudell Thanks a bunch for going over my questions and addressing them.  I decided to go with the RCV policy and asked the agent to reduce the replacement value as much as he could while still keeping the benefits of this policy, which dropped down to $628K.  I have lost the Home Protector Plus benefit and the Extended Replacement, but I think I have enough to be covered in case of any losses - damage repairs or total.

This has reduced my premium slightly, but I am at the point where the benefits justify it and allow me to be more comfortable, while not overpaying.  It's amazing how much premiums differ from company, to company.  It pays to shop around, do your research and ask for the not-so-obvious options. 

Again, I appreciate all your help and time you've put into explaining everything.


Glad to help!

Paul C. 

Great info @Paul Caudell

 I had similar with purchase price around 170k, and replacement value nearly double.  (320k I think).  The way I understood (although my insurance agent did not explain it well) was that I would get a percentage based on the proportion of replacement cost I had insured = repair cost * (policy amount / replacement cost).  For example your tornado example 2, if you could show it was totally destroyed, you could get the full 80k, but would be responsible to either demo building or replace it  Otherwise, you would be insuring 23% of the building (80/350) so would only get 23% of repair costs.  Which seemed like an incredible risk.  Your description makes much more sense.

@Konrad L.

 make sure you check with lender, they will likely have specific rules on insurance you have to have.

This may have been one of the most useful, insightful, practical discussions I've come across (all are good on BP, but this one stands out!).

I'm in a similar situation where my property is being purchased for 130k and the est. rebuild cost is 170k.  Not sure which coverage I'm going to take just yet!

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