How to minimise home-buying risks in earthquake-prone areas

New Zealand is called the Shaky Isles for good reason so, when buying and insuring property in earthquake zones, make sure all your risks are covered.

Swish kitchens, beautiful bathrooms, great light and indoor-outdoor flow … ask people what they’re after in an idea family home and you’re unlikely to hear the word “earthquake” come up very often. Despite our country’s shaky reputation, most of us spare little thought about the ground beneath our feet when buying a home, or earthquake insurance.

While major disasters over the past decade ­– such as the quakes in Kaikoura, Canterbury and Wellington – have highlighted the risks to life and property, it’s easy to put the risk to the back of your mind, especially if you live outside of the affected areas.

However, wherever you live in New Zealand, earthquake vulnerability must be a factor when purchasing a home. The Earthquake Commission’s GeoNet website is a stark, albeit interesting, reminder that there are risks wherever your live.

Buying bricks and mortar

When hunting for a house or apartment in an earthquake-prone area, it’s essential to consider how well they’re going to stand up to a violent shake.

Unfortunately, while many older buildings built of bricks and mortar are solidly built, their rigidity in the event of an earthquake can be their own undoing. But, while research into our recent big quakes showed that these older homes suffered the most damage, many modern homes fared no better. In Canterbury, desirable open-plan homes with walls of glass, and especially those built on slopes, proved particularly vulnerable.

Apartment buyers need to exercise even more caution. Remedial strengthening work is very expensive and, despite the Government offering some financial assistance in last year’s budget for private owner-occupiers, the costs can still be crippling for residents. A first stop if you’re considering buying an apartment should be the register of earthquake-prone buildings, which can instantly point out any red flags.

Insuring against disaster

While your choice of dwelling can make a big difference to protecting your home and family in a natural disaster, the best insurance is financial. Sorting out the right mortgage before you start your property search is always advisable but, as soon as you find your dream home, you also need to ensure that you will get approved for insurance on your property. Otherwise, you may not be able to secure finance. This is especially important because many insurers have recently changed the way that they calculate risk.

For the past 50 years, insurance companies calculated risk in the same way: they took a wide view of a region and shared the costs out across all their customers. More recently, however, insurance companies have started looking at risk on a house to house basis, especially in places such as Wellington, and are sometimes requiring new building assessments before issuing policies.

The upshot is, if you choose to live in a risky house in a risky location, you’re going to end up paying more for your insurance than a comparable house in a less earthquake-prone zone. That’s why it’s so important to do your homework and choose the right insurance company and cover to suit your needs.

At Canstar, we can support you with this process. To help you make a choice, Canstar compares home and contents insurance providers, so you can see how satisfied New Zealanders are with the options available in the market.

Compare home and contents insurance providers

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