insuring vinyl

I hope this question is appropriate for this forum--I thought about posting it under "Misc." but worried that it wouldn't receive the same sort of attention it might here.

I'm curious how other people have managed to insure their vinyl collections. I recently found out that my renter's insurance doesn't cover vinyl (nor, apparently, do most homeowner's policies--so some of you may want to call your agents!). My particular insurance company is also uninterested in covering my collection as a whole, though they will cover single items of very high value. Since most of my LPs and 7"s are probably worth $5-25 with a few records maybe up to $50 or $75, this doesn't help much. I was told I need to have my vinyl collection professionally appraised, at which point I can either purchase a specific rider (assuming another insurance co. will issue me one) or hope that my insurance co.'s underwriters will allow me to bump up my total coverage to include the appraised value of my collection.

I'm wondering if anyone here went through anything similar, or has any advice about how to get vinyl insured and/or appraised (most of the appraisers locally specialize in art & antiques). Also, since my collection includes a lot of recent, indie vinyl issued in small editions by largely unknown bands, if anyone knows an appraiser who might specialize in such music I'd really appreciate a tip. I'm worried that many appraisers wouldn't know how to value bands other than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

I think the odds of your renter's insurance underwriter "bumping" your personal property coverage to include the appraised value of your collection are somewhere between nil and less than that.

I'd suggest finding a broker that deals with Lloyd's of London and one of their peculiar offshoots (there are MANY)- they will literally insure anything for enough premium. You may find that since you will be paying dearly for the coverage, you may not need as detailed an appraisal as you might think-- they don't care if the stuff is worth what you say or not, you are going to pay for $XX of coverage on a pile of stuff, and if that stuff is stolen, burnt up, or destroyed, they are going to pay you ($XX - deductible). Provided you document that you have said stuff, you may need no appraiser. States differ here, too. Even if you need an appraisal, that will be subject to their approval, so step one is finding a company that will write the policy. Then you can make sure your appraisal meets their standards. They will also likely be able to help you find an appraiser, which may or may not be someone you want to use.

Might also check out Chubb Insurance. In any event, my advice would be leave your renter's insurance alone-- it's likely with a major low-cost carrier anyhow like State Farm, Farmers, whatever, and they won't be much help to you for this. Get a hold of a broker that has access to many different insurance companies and who wants to get your business. Be ready to get blown off a lot by lazy brokers who'd rather sell 3 homeowner's policies in the time it will take them to help you with this one thing.

In the end you might find that a good alarm system with smoke detectors and water sensors (yes, there's such a thing) and monitoring is cheaper insurance, albeit not foolproof.
I don't know why your insurer said they won't insure vinyl. I asked my homeowners insurance co., USAA, to increase my personal property insurance to a LOT higher to cover my stereo equipment and book, record and CD collections, and they had no problem with that, after a phone call from someone to discuss just exactly what I had and why I felt it needed additional coverage. They didn't need sales receipts or even photos, just my description was enough.
I had a similar experience as SC53 with State Farm. I have taken a number of pictures, but not at the request of State Farm.
I kind of went off (half cocked) in one direction after reading the original post.

AM_Dial: Keep in mind every policy is different, and if you haven't already, make sure you are interpreting your policy right, and /or got good advice on the fact that your particular policy will not cover your collection. Make sure you're not reading the exclusion for media that's not in your home-- an example follows:

PROPERTY NOT COVERED. We do not cover:
1. Articles separately described and specifically insured in this or other insurance;
2. Animals, birds or fish;
3. Motor vehicles or all other motorized land conveyances. This includes:
a. Their equipment and accessories; or
b. Electronic apparatus that is designed to be operated solely by use of the power from the electri-cal system of motor vehicles or all other motorized land conveyances. Electronic apparatus in-cludes:
1) Accessories or antennas; or
2) Tapes, wires, records, *discs* or other media;
for use with any electronic apparatus.

The exclusion of property described in 3.a. and 3.b. above applies only while the property is in or upon the vehicle or conveyance.

If you don't read that all carefully, you could think this applies in your home. In reality it's only if you have the media in your car.

If AM-Dial's renter's insurance policy excludes or limits vinyl /media at his house (limits is more likely), he might be able to get a policy from another company that won't (some renter's policies are better than others) but he's still going to have to look at policy provisions such as:

3. "Replacement cost" coverage shall not apply to property:
a. which by its inherent nature cannot be replaced.
b. not maintained in good or workable condition.
c. which at the time of loss is either obsolete or useless to the insured.

So, taking AM-Dial's example, with lots of rare vinyl that is not replaceable, the insurance company would only owe the actual cash value (replacement cost minus depreciation)** of the item. Now, with no appraisal, and no stated value on the collection on which you've been paying premiums, the adjuster is going to have a difficult time understanding why he/ she should be paying you $75 for an obsolete (to their way of thinking) piece of software. I'm sure they'd pay you the $15 for a new CD of your choosing. BUT, unless you've got either an appraisal or a stated value on that collection, you will have to fight on every single piece of irreplaceable vinyl you've got to receive decent value for it. That would be your duty in the event of a loss, not the insurance company's, BTW. Absent any documentation from you that the mint vinyl pressing of "We're a garage band" by "insert name of unknown local indie artist here" is really worth $75, you'd be in for a big fight. If these albums are from pressings as small as you say, where exactly would you locate one for sale that you could compare with to determine market value? How long would that take for your whole collection?

Even if your collection runs to mint pressings of more popular LPs, do you want to have to prove the value of each of those albums after the fire to get the $$ you deserve? Sure, you could find one for sale on Audiogon, watch what it sells for, print the page, repeat 1500 times-- but wouldn't you rather have a pre-negotiated value based on your own leisurely appraisal of your collection? Just a thought.

As always, you'll need to balance the expense of the insurance product with the benefit to you. Hopefully someone jumps in here with a good company for you to buy renter's insurance from.

**This problem is further compounded by most states' legal definition of actual cash value = replacement cost (in free market conditions) less depreciation. Read that replacement cost limitation again-- it says that if the item, by its inherent nature can't be replaced, we'll use the (non-existent?) replacement value less the (determined how?) depreciation to calculate its value. It's a catch-22. Add to that the issue of pre-loss condition-- after the fire how will the adjuster know if you had a pile of musty rummage sale garbage or truly mint LPs? Should the adjuster be expected to know that one album is worthless even in mint condition, while another is priceless in any playable condition? Assuming they don't, are they just going to take your word for it?

If I had a big collection of valuable vinyl on any full replacement cost homeowner's policy I've seen in WA, OR, or ID I would seriously consider separate insurance on that valuable collection. That's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
USAA is awesome--if you can get them do. I have never worked with an insurance company that was so compitent. Yes, they insure vinyl and I didn't even have to take a rider out because they were collectable. The value was inside my home owners insurance and they said, it and all of my stereo equipment was insured. Fortunately, I have had few claims with them, but I have to say--when a pipe broke upstairs and water came through the ceiling they were amazing at how well they handled the situation.
Sc53 and Rives,

Were you guys officers in the military? I thought that was the only way to get USAA insurance. We grunts don't qualify as far as I can tell. From everything I've heard it is the best insurance carrier in the world. I envy you.
Thanks, everyone, for all the excellent advice so far. I did spend the evening perusing my renter's policy, and Pmkalby is correct--there is no mention of any sort of limit or lack of coverage to sound recordings except in the exclusion cited about recordings on a motor vehicle. So perhaps the agent I spoke to has incorrect info.

It's heartening to hear that some others have had decent luck getting agents to increase limits. I think I'll visit the local Met agent tomorrow (my wife and I qualify for group rate insurance through her employer, so we haven't really dealt with anyone in person). If that doesn't work perhaps I'll switch the policy to State Farm! USAA doesn't look like an option for the reasons Lugnut cited.

I think Pmkalby's second post brings up an interesting (and frightening) point about what happens in the event a claim is necessary--how to prove value, condition, etc. I actually have catalogued every single record in my collection (per the advice of a previous insurance agent), but I agree that condition and value are difficult if not impossible to document, and anyway as we all know used vinyl is a volatile market in a lot of ways--basically it's worth what someone is or isn't willing to pay for it. And certainly we've all bought valuable records for next to nothing because the seller didn't know the value.

I once sold some of my records to a guy who'd lost all of his in a house fire. He was reassembling his collection, bit by bit, with the insurance settlement money. This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

Our 12,000 plus record collection is covered by our Home Owners insurance. 5 years ago we had a ice cube maker water valve that frooze in the open condition and flooded a section of our basement. The insurance appraiser viewed the damage which included about a 12 inch wide stack of 1950's to 60's jazz. The appraiser saw that I was a serious collector, had several jazz price books around and asked me what the records were worth. I gave an honest appraisal and the check was sent to us for the total damage along with a detail for each loss within a few days. We still have the same insurance conmpany and our rates have not increased more than 2% since.

Just my experience,
AM_dial: Glad you found out you got bad advice. You hopefully also learned a valuable lesson: agents don't always know about claims. It's always amazed me that the same agent that would laugh his rear off if I tried to sell insurance, thinks nothing of trying to advise people regarding claims...

BrianW- glad you had a good experience- that is the way claims are supposed to work. Just keep in mind that if you change one thing in that experience, it could have been very frustrating for you.

Possible change #1: Grumpy, inept, or just plain burnt out adjuster. There are 2 of these for every competent, courteous and professional one at some companies.

Possible change #2: Instead of a little water leak, you come home from work to find a smoking hole in the ground where your house once was. Now demonstrate the quality of your collection.

Possible change #3: Insurance company is struggling financially. Stock prices are down. They're trying to pretty up the balance sheets for a possible purchase by another company. New claims manager comes in and starts hammering staff adjusters to reduce loss ratios. Suddenly people aren't so willing to see your side of things.

Just food for thought.

Someone mentioned taking lots of pictures, and that is excellent advice. Take a ton of digital pics of your gear, your room, your software (take LPs out of the sleeves to show condition)-- put that CD-ROM in a safe deposit box, at your mom's house, or in your desk drawer at the office. At least then you'll only have to worry about replaceability, not proving you had the stuff, or its condition.

Sorry for being long winded.
I just checked my homeowner's policy with State Farm (I'm in Virginia if it matters). It does cover both my electronics and the collections. I regularly file a CD of photos with my insurance agent, and perhaps I will take a few of the important items in the collection. I file the CD regularly becuase I'm a little spooked by recent discourse in the papers about CDRs having less than archival duration. Fortunately they're now dirt cheap and sending one to my sister 100 miles away and one to my insurance agent is not an interesting expense. (My tax returns, quicken backups, and some other stuff go up there too.)
Just a quick follow-up to my earlier posts: I spoke to a local agent who advised me that, while my collection is covered for replacement value as part of my renter's policy (as personal property), I should still get the collection professionally appraised and then attach a rider to the policy for it. Her brother, apparently, is an Elvis collector (how strange to hear an insurance agent talk about "clear blue vinyl LPs"!) and bought a special rider because a) if the record turns out to be irreplaceable (say you can't find one for sale), you won't get any money for it, and b) you'll only get replacement value, not collectible value. With a rider, according to this agent, I'd be paid the full value of the collection as determined by the appraiser, whether or not I can replace every record in it. Given the investment my own collection represents, this sounds (to me, at least) like a better idea than simply bumping up the amount of total coverage I buy. Just thought some of you might be interested in this. Thanks again for all the responses.

Blw- did you see anything in Snake Farm's policy about what replacement cost does / does not apply to? You have any irreplaceable vinyl? Oh, and the state you're in definately matters- policies can differ a little or a lot from state to state. The core policies are often all the same (in many cases they come from ISO as stock policy forms)- where many differences are is in endorsements used to customize that policy for a given state, and in the issue date of the form. The endorsement will be at the back, and change a sentence or two here or there in your core policy to add, delete, or modify coverage. Some companies write on an old version of a policy form as long as they can if that's favorable to them.

Also, notice that all the "my policy covers me" answers thus far have been homeowner's policies, which are more standardized than renter's policies, AND these answers assume replacement cost is not in dispute with the claims staff. The good thing is you are all looking and now you know what you've got.