Insurance: property

Congratulations! You’re a handbell owner! Chances are, you waited a long time for this, and now you want to protect your investment. Insurance may play a part in this.

Your first decision is whether to insure the bells. Depending on your circumstances, self-insuring may be your best option. This means that, instead of paying premiums to an outside company, you assume the risk yourself of any loss or damage. You can do that either from your general savings, or you can establish a fund where, instead of paying a premium every month, you deposit an amount to be drawn as needed to repair or replace the bells. This “fund” can be either a separate account (say, at a bank), or something you track on paper while depositing to an account you already have, like your checking or money market account.

The advantage of self-insuring is that, if you never have a claim, you still have the funds to use for your bell work. You might use it for refurbishing, or to buy other bell equipment. The likelihood that your bells will be stolen and never recovered is remote. The handbell community keeps an eagle eye on eBay, and sounds the alarm when stolen bells surface. Knowledgeable buyers ask questions about the history of a set, and are suspicious of ill-informed answers. (If you are a buyer, call the handbell manufacturer and ask about the set you’re considering. Both Schulmerich and Malmark keep records of bell ownership, so long as transfers of ownership have been reported to them. They can tell you when the set was purchased and by whom, and about any refurbishments done at the factory.) It’s not impossible that your bells will be successfully fenced, or melted for scrap, or bought by a church eager to acquire ‘hot’ handbells, but it’s unlikely. I consider it a bigger risk that fire or another disaster will destroy the bells.

The disadvantage of self-insuring is that if something happens to your bells, you may not have the funds to replace them. If you have limited resources, especially if you saved for years to buy your bells, you may sleep better at night with insurance. This isn’t an either/or decision. You can buy insurance and also start a little fund for your bells, perhaps discontinuing insurance when your bells have a nice nest egg to call their own. Handbells just love to get presents, and what better Christmas gift for your bells than a savings bond?

If you decide to proceed with insurance, figure out how you’re going to insure the bells. If you have homeowners insurance, check whether it excludes musical instruments or other items of special value. Don’t assume one way or another; read your policy, then call and ask questions. It may be possible to get a rider on your policy by declaring the bells and paying a small supplemental premium. This is true both for individuals and for organizations like churches. Even if you’re a community bell choir housed at a church, it would be worth asking about this possibility. Because of the lower administrative costs associated with adding property to an existing policy, a rider is often the least expensive option.

If you don’t have homeowners insurance, or if your insurance company won’t cover the bells, a stand-alone policy is often inexpensive. Carriers used by other musicians include Clarion (the name I hear most often), Marsh, and Heritage. You can Google “musical instrument insurance” to get information. Be sure to get at least two quotes, and take into account any differences in coverage (for example, replacement vs. actual cash value, or differences in deductible).

The next thing to consider is how much coverage to purchase. Your insurer will probably ask for proof of the valuation you’re placing on the bells, like an invoice from the manufacturer or a current price list. When setting the valuation, consider declaring auxiliary equipment: cases, foam, table coverings, mallets, sound system, chimes, or sheet music. These are less likely to be stolen, but could be destroyed in a fire or flood. Though the handbells are the largest part of your investment, the cost of these other items adds up quickly. Remember to include sales tax and shipping.

Consider replacement cost coverage: if the bells are lost or damaged beyond repair, insurance would pay for a new set. It’s often your responsibility to notify the insurer when the bell manufacturer increases prices, to adjust the coverage amount. Check bell prices each year when your policy renews.

The alternative is actual cash value coverage, where the insurer pays you a lower amount taking into account that the bells were used, not new, when they were stolen. If you end up making a claim, it may be hard to agree on a fair settlement, since the value of handbells fluctuates with their age and condition, and the market is so small that it’s hard to get comparables. You may not find a suitable handbell set second-hand without shopping for a long time, and the set you want may turn up halfway across the country, where you can’t inspect the bells. It isn’t like buying a piano, where you’re likely to find a good used instrument locally in a matter of days or weeks. Ask what would happen if your stolen bells are recovered, but have been so badly damaged (in your opinion, since you’re the one who plays them) that you want them replaced, even though they might be repairable. One soloist found his stolen bells stored loose in duffle bags.

You may have a choice of deductible, that is, the amount you’re responsible for paying out of pocket before the insurer will pay a claim. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Choose the highest deductible you can afford. After all, the premiums are a certainty, but the deductible has to be paid only if you have a loss. Better to bank the amount saved by the lower premium, and use it to pay for the small issues that crop up. Avoid nuisance claims. If you make a claim every time you break a spring (a one dollar item), your insurer may cancel your policy or jack up your rates. The purpose of insurance is to pay for losses you can’t afford to cover out of your income or assets, not every minor expense.

The exception to the rule about high deductibles: if the premium saving is minuscule compared to the increased deductible. Calculate how many years of premium savings it would take to equal the higher deductible, and how likely you are to make a claim during that time. That will give you your answer. For example, if you save only $10/year by increasing the deductible from $250 to $1000 ( a difference of $750, or 75 years’ worth of premium savings), then it’s worth paying more for the lower deductible.

Scenarios to explore while talking to your insurance company:

• Taking the bells to a concert venue or retirement home.
• Taking the bells to a handbell event, where they’re likely to be left unattended at times – don’t assume the Guild event insurance will cover bells you bring for your own use.
• Taking the bells out of the country.
• Using the bells in a situation where you’re being paid – this may require a commercial policy.
• Lending the bells to others, like a handbell event or another handbell group.
• Borrowing bells from another source – sometimes you can’t insure property you don’t own; other times you can, but it must be declared, or borrowed for a limited time.
• Destruction by an event not covered by your basic policy, like a flood or earthquake.
• Sending the bells somewhere, like for refurbishment, or shipping ahead to an out-of-town performance – you may need to buy insurance from the shipper.

Review the insurance company’s summary of coverage to ensure the equipment is accurately described in detail, including the number of bells, brand, range of pitches, and the number of cases (or details about other equipment covered). If you ever need to make a claim, the policy document will govern; it’s too late to make changes once you have a loss. Make sure your claim matches that document exactly. I’ve heard of an insurance company rejecting a claim for a Bb bell because it was described in the policy as A#.

Your insurance company may require you to send photos of the bells. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to have photos on file to give the police if the bells are ever stolen. Take pictures of the bells in their cases (using a ruler for scale), the outside of the bell cases, and the bells lined up on a table. Put a CD containing the photos someplace safe along with a description of how you marked the bells. I’ll talk about marking bells another time.

If your bells are ever stolen, notify the police, and ask your police contact how to notify local scrap metal dealers and pawnshops. Get a copy of the police report, which you’ll need to file an insurance claim. Also notify the manufacturer, and ask them to flag your records. Someone may find your set for sale and call the factory to ask about the history. Get the word out to the handbell community on the Internet. You can use the handbell groups on Facebook, Google, and through your area of the handbell guild. (If you aren’t a member, find someone who is.) I’ve seen several situations like this: someone in Virginia posts that her handbells were stolen. Six months later, someone comments about bells for sale on eBay. Someone else looks at the listing, notices the bells are at a pawnshop in Virginia, and asks the online handbell group, “Didn’t someone have bells stolen in Virginia earlier this year?” Then the person in Virginia gets several emails suggesting she check the eBay listing, she calls the police, and (after a certain amount of red tape) there’s a happy reunion of bells and owner.

It goes without saying that you need to secure the bells at all times. Situations to beware of: keeping bells overnight in a car (especially unlocked), hiding shared keys to a church bell room, leaving bells unattended at a handbell event or concert. Although sometimes these situations are unavoidable, creative solutions exist. If I need to load bells in my car the night before a solo gig, I park the car in the locked garage. When I give a concert in a public place like a library or city hall, I set up and dress my tables, change into my performance attire and put on makeup, and then I unload the bells from the car. Otherwise, I’d need to leave them unattended while getting dressed. This is less of a problem at a church or retirement home, where family, friends, or helpers are around to keep an eye on the bells. Even at a church concert or worship service, though, I pack and lock up the bells before leaving the sanctuary to attend the reception.

What coverage did I buy? I got a rider on my homeowners policy for replacement cost coverage for 2 sets of bells and cases with no deductible (though the deductible on the rest of the policy is quite high). This costs $20/year for $18,000 worth of equipment, with coverage valid worldwide. My bells are not insured if used to perform for pay. That works for me, because I perform only as a volunteer, and ask the venue to pay my accompanist’s fee directly to her. For a stand-alone commercial policy, expect to pay something in the neighborhood of $100/year for a 3 octave set of bells, though this varies widely, depending on the circumstances.

Thanks to Christine Anderson, Linda Krantz, and Michele Sharik for their input into this article.

Copyright © 2012 Nancy Kirkner,