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Home Buying Tips for the Single Guy or Gal

selling-your-homeWho says you need to be married to purchase a home? According to Bloomberg.com, single Americans make up more than half of the adult population—and many of them want to create their own version of the American Dream. Contacting your insurance agent can be the key to success for single folks who are in the market to purchase a home, but here are some things to consider in the meantime.

The Lone Ranger

Whether you’re single or married, purchasing a home has its challenges. It’s important to be fully armed with information in order to cultivate a plan that works for you.

To start, make a list of your current monthly expenses, take a gander at your savings account and evaluate your personal and professional goals. When you list your monthly expenses, be sure to consider pending expenses. If you’re fresh out of college, you probably haven’t felt the sting of paying student loans every month and going to work every day. If you have only saved enough for a down payment, think again—moving expenses like rental trucks and purchasing new household items can add up quickly.

Finally, don’t forget about life goals outside purchasing a home—if you plan to start a business or retire in three to five years, owning a home should probably be a dream deferred.

Lending a Helping Hand

The majority of homeowners obtain financing through a bank loan. When a married couple applies for a home loan, the bank can depend on two incomes to pay the loan back. But a single person must qualify and handle making the same payments alone. According to Time.com, “Banks are not allowed to discriminate based on marital status, but tighter lending standards can potentially pose a challenge to single buyers because they only have their own income to qualify for a loan.”

Before applying for a bank loan, be sure to tighten up your credit, pay off as many debts as possible and save a nice nest egg in order to show the bank that you don’t need another person to help you repay your loan.

Protect Yourself

You will likely need to obtain homeowners insurance in order to secure financing from the bank, but don’t wait until you apply for a loan to get insurance. Your insurance agent can be a valuable resource right from the start by giving you tips and connecting you with lenders, realtors and home inspectors—they work with these people on a regular basis.

Being single doesn’t mean you’re alone. Your insurance agent is the best partner you can have when you’re ready to buy your dream home.

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The Essential Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

leaves

When the chill starts creeping in through the windows and doors, it’s time to get ready for the big freeze. We’ve put together a quick and easy checklist, so you can prepare your home for the cold with confidence. Some of these items are regional. For instance, you probably won’t need to insulate your pipes if you live in Southern California. But many of these apply to just about everyone. Act on the ones that are right for your home, and skip the ones that don’t apply.

Inside the Home

Indoor preparations focus on two major components: efficiency and warmth. You want to keep as much heat inside the home as you can to use energy more efficiently, which means taking care of leaks and insulation problems. You also want to have the fireplace, heater, wood stove and ventilation system ready to go. Here’s a list to help you get it all done.

  • Fill in cracks around window frames and door frames with caulk. Bob Vila, well-known home improvement guru and host of This Old House, says that this is one of the cheapest and most significant ways you can cut heating costs in winter.
  • Check insulation in attics, garages and basements. If you have a bug or animal problem, you may need to tear out and replace old or chewed up insulation.
  • Make sure any exposed pipes in the attic, basement and garage are properly insulated.
  • Get a check-up for your heating and ventilation system to make sure it’s running as cleanly and efficiently as possible. This can save you a lot of money on utilities.
  • Have a chimney sweep inspect the flue and clean the chimney before starting a fire. There may be bird nests or animals blocking the opening, or a highly flammable buildup of creosote. Either of these can start a chimney fire.
  • Check for cracks and openings in your wood stove. Get a professional to replace compromised glass or crooked vent covers.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector, if you have not done so already. Change the batteries on your existing detectors. The winter months are prime time for carbon monoxide accidents.
  • Have a licensed technician inspect your fire sprinkler system, and ensure it is ready for cold weather.
Outside the Home

To prepare the exterior of the home, you need to focus on protecting it from the elements, especially if you live in a snowy climate. It’s also a good time to start prepping your yard for next spring.

  • Clean out the gutters, spouts and drains around your home. Usually there is a thick accumulation of leaves after fall, and this can cause trouble when you need your roof to shed snow and water quickly.
  • Fill in any cracks in your foundation or driveway with caulk or a patch, to keep moisture out.
  • Inspect the roof for cracks, loose tiles, or other signs of weakness. Get all repairs finished now, before the snow or winter rains begin.
  • Have a tree service trim the trees near your home, especially around the roof, power lines and back deck. Heavy snow and strong winds can cause branches to break and fall on your home.
  • Insulate outdoor water pipes and pipes beneath the house that are exposed to outside air.
  • Install a thermometer where you can easily see it from inside your home. The Centers for Disease Control says this is especially important for those over 65, because the ability to gauge temperature decreases with age.
  • Empty and store your water hoses.
  • Insulate outdoor water spouts. In mild climates, an old sock and a strip of duct tape is enough to do the trick.
  • Drain and store your lawn equipment for the winter.
  • Inspect and organize snow removal items like your snow blower, snow shovel and rock salt. Make sure they are in a spot that will always be accessible, even if you get surprised by a heavy winter storm.
  • Put away or cover the barbecue and patio furniture, if you do not plan to use them during the cold months. This will extend the life of your patio set considerably.
  • Fertilize and reseed your grass, and plant any bulbs you want to see sprouting in the springtime.
Animals

If you have pets in the home, there are even more preparations to be made before winter hits. Make sure to plan for their warmth and comfort, too.

  • Prepare your home for more indoor dog time. If your pups usually stay outside, you may need to reorient them to indoor life. Give them time to adjust to crate sleeping and set clear boundaries for the rooms and furniture they can use.
  • Give goats, chickens and other outdoor animals adequate shelter. Install heaters where necessary, and be sure coops and stalls are watertight and well insulated.
  • Plan ahead to make sure all animals on your property have constant access to unfrozen water.
  • Strengthen your fencing, and be extra vigilant against predators over the winter months. Small animals are much more likely to be poached by coyotes, wild dogs, bears and mountain lions when food is scarce. Try to keep cats inside as much as possible.
Winterize Your Finances

Now is the time to get ready for all the costs that come with owning a home in wintertime. Decide on a cold weather budget ahead of time, so that you can have adequate funds on hand for the unexpected.

  • Save and keep a reserve of cash on hand. You never know when you may be without electricity, or the car could break down, or the roof might start to leak from the heavy snow load.
  • Contact your insurance agent to make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date, and that you have enough coverage to take care of a leaky roof, a broken pipe, or a fallen tree branch. You may need a home repair policy on top of your homeowners coverage. Check that your deductible is set at a level you can afford if the worst happens.
  • Prepare for winter illnesses and accidents with good health coverage. Your insurance agency can help you find the right policy for your family, at a rate you can afford. Sometimes an independent agent can get you an even better deal than group coverage from your employer.
Get Cozy and Enjoy

You worked hard to get ready for the cold. So now…

  • Start a fire in the fireplace.
  • Put on some fuzzy socks.
  • Snuggle up on the couch.
  • Drink a hot cup of cocoa. You’ve got less to worry about than ever before.

6 Reasons Your Agent Should Help with Your Home Renovation Project

Did you know your home and finances are at risk when you plan a home renovation project?

One of the main reasons homeowners fail to inform their insurance agent about home renovation plans is the assumption doing so will result in insurance premium increases. While this may be true in some cases, it could be even more costly if your insurance agent is not a part of the planning process.

1. You could save money on your insurance.

Fixing your roof or upgrading your electrical system can decrease your insurance premiums. These types of upgrades and renovations lower your home’s risk of loss from the perspective of an insurance company, which could reward you in turn.

2. Your agent cannot protect what they don’t know about.

If you spend $20,000 on a kitchen renovation and don’t report the changes to your insurance agent, your home and finances could be at risk. Let’s say you’re cooking on your new Viking Range stove and the kitchen catches fire— your kitchen could be covered but if the fire extends to the rest of your home, you could be underinsured because the kitchen expense has increased the overall replacement cost value of your home. Your agent will encourage you to insure your home based on how much it would cost to replace it—which is different from the market and tax assessment value of your home. Call your agent and take a cooking class!

3. Trusted Choice agents scare away the boogeyman (shady contractors).

Your agent can be a resource when it comes to choosing a general contractor to do home renovations. If you have a contractor in mind, your agent will likely advise you to ask for proof of insurance for workers compensation and liability coverages. Ask your friends and family members to refer you to trusted local contractor as well. Home renovations are a major investment, which makes it worthwhile to spend a little more on a contractor who has the proper insurance.

4. Insurance coverage during renovations can be very complex.

Asking a general contractor for credentials may seem pretty simple, and you may have done enough research to know you should ask. But your agent could spot other issues you may not think about right off the bat. If your contractor has insurance coverage, your agent may want to verify the amount of insurance in order to keep you safe. Workers who are injured in your home can sue you or claim damages from you if the contractor they work for does not have adequate coverage. By default, your homeowners and umbrella liability policies can become an injured workers’ insurance coverage—an unwelcome development for those who pay the premiums and do the claims paperwork.

5. Your home and personal property could be at risk.

The outcome of your renovation may be beautiful, but when you renovate your home, you expose yourself to risks like fires, construction accidents and especially theft. According to RealtyTimes.com, “If you have to vacate your home during the renovation process, your home becomes a target for thieves.” More important, your coverage can be reduced, perhaps significantly, while your home is under renovation. Speak with your agent to see determine the best course of action.

Your agent may advise you to consider temporarily increasing homeowners and/or umbrella policy limits or changing your deductible until you complete the renovation process. Plus, the renovated or expanded space in your home may fill up with new furniture, exercise equipment, electronics and appliances. Track those purchases with receipts and a written or electronic home inventory, and don’t forget to check the coverage in your homeowners policy for personal property.

6. Your exposures may have changed.

Are you finally finishing the basement to run your home-based business? Will you be renting out a portion of your home to create another stream of income? If you’re changing the way you use your home and don’t let your insurance agent know, these upgrades and renovations may not be covered at all.

Anything that changes your home, especially its structure or usage, can change your insurance coverage. Make sure you consult with your insurance agent during your renovation planning process.

Did Your Grad Receive a BB (Bachelor of Boomerang) Degree?

College graduation! The pictures, the gown, the caps in the air, the world awaits!

Yet many recent graduates will find themselves awaiting that world after returning to live in their parents’ home. Whether due to lifestyle changes, generational preferences or simply the economy, today’s graduates often find themselves wondering how their parents’ generation ever survived striking out on their own during and after college.

Those nostalgic times of “gone to look for America” via small apartments, shared houses, trailers or tents seem more fairy tale than reality to today’s often student-loan laden graduates and young adults. And it is not just recent graduates that return. Often adult children who have previously established separate residences find themselves returning to the nest following economic trial, divorce or illness, sometimes with their children in tow. This phenomenon of adult children returning home to live has become so common it has garnered its own name: the boomerang generation.

Regardless of the motivation or reason, Tower Insurance Agency reminds you that wherever your adult children choose to live, proper personal insurance protection is crucial. And not just the obvious health and auto coverages. Even those living in their parents’ home may have accumulated significant personal possessions requiring protection in case of fire, storm or theft. Add in children, pets, hobbies, possible home-based businesses and visiting guests, and your boomerangers are also subject to allegations of liability for injury or property damage to others.

There may be options to provide some of the needed protection under the parents’ current insurance. But there are often complications, limitations and other considerations in play, based upon myriad factors — such as your child’s age, marital status, and medical condition.

The best solution? Once you are aware your child will be moving back in (or staying after a previously assumed move-out date), schedule a time with your agent for a complete review of your current personal insurance program. At that time, your key coverage considerations can be reviewed and options discussed. Armed with the proper information and counsel, you can then adapt your program to your revised circumstances. In those areas best addressed by your child purchasing his or her own coverage, your agent will be glad not only to arrange those policies, but also to be sure they coordinate properly with yours to avoid needless gaps or overlaps.

We also recommend you consult with your financial and tax advisors as to any changes or impact your new situation may have on your personal financial planning and retirement savings, especially if your resident adult children are in need of significant financial assistance.

Own a Home-Based Business? Take Charge Of Your Risk!

Are you the proud owner or founder of one of the estimated 59% of established businesses in the United States that operate from a home? Then, for your business you are the top dog, head cheese, or grand high poobah.

But just as you realize that there are similarities to all businesses, wherever located, you also know there are often concerns, considerations and risks unique to a home-based environment. And Tower Insurance Agency wants to remind you that designing proper protection encompassing both those common and unique risks requires ongoing communication and review of your current insurance and risk management programs.

Yet studies show that of the 11 million-plus home-based businesses, nearly 60% do not have insurance specifically recognizing and providing coverage for these unique risks. When asked about the reasons for this lack of additional insurance, business owners responded:

  • They thought they were already properly covered by their personal insurance: 40%.
  • They thought their business was too small to insure: 30%.
  • They could give no specific reason: 20%.

The first assumption is demonstrably false. Standard homeowners policies are designed for personal exposures, not business. While there may be small areas or limits of coverage available for certain types of home-based businesses, the vast majority will find coverage severely limited or specifically excluded for business losses related to such common risks as theft, vehicle usage, employee injuries, or life/health/disability. The largest potential gap in proper coverage arises from the lack of liability protection for claims arising out of business activities, whether the claim occurs in the home or elsewhere.

The second assumption above is also wrong, and the third response, at a minimum, shows a dangerous lack of knowledge.

Starting a home-based business may be the first step on your road to successful entrepreneurship. Whether your business ultimately remains in your home or grows into the need for outside facilities or a relocation, Tower Insurance stands ready to be your ongoing valued partner.

What’s My Risk for Earthquake Insurance?

Earthquakes are few and far between, but when they do occur they can be devastating. In fact, among natural disasters, earthquakeearthquakes are the most costly to recover from. Despite the enormous financial impact that an earthquake poses to one’s home and belongings, many view earthquakes as an abstract risk—one that will likely never happen to them. However unlikely it may seem, it is important to get the facts and take prudent financial precautions, including opting for earthquake insurance to protect your assets.

Typically, we think of earthquake risk existing only in a small portion of the country: California, Oregon and Washington. However, recent experience tells us that the Midwest region of Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee is also at a relatively high risk due to a fault line that runs through those states. And we know all too well locally that earthquakes ARE occurring.

  • Earthquakes have occurred in 39 states since 1900 and about 90 percent of Americans live in seismically active areas.
  • There is a 40 to 60 percent chance that a major earthquake will strike in the eastern U.S. in the next 20 years.
  • The Midwest region mentioned above has a 40 to 63 percent chance of suffering a major earthquake in the next 15 years.

Earthquake Insurance

Many people do not realize this, but most homeowner’s and commercial property policies do not include earthquake coverage. You will need to purchase either a supplemental policy to your current policy, or a separate earthquake insurance policy. (Automobile insurance policies generally cover vehicles for earthquake damage under the optional comprehensive portion of the policy.)

What Does Earthquake Insurance Cover?

Earthquake policies typically cover damage to your house or commercial property and your belongings, up to the insured amount. If possible, you’ll want to buy enough to cover the cost of rebuilding and replacing your belongings. While your standard property policy may cover fire damage that results from an earthquake, an earthquake policy is important to cover damage that results from shaking, such as structure collapse.

How Much Will it Cost?

Because of the massive potential risk associated with an earthquake, coverage tends to be expensive. Your premium amount will depend on your location, along with the age and structural composition of your property. In addition, earthquake policies include a percentage deductible, generally ranging from 2 to 20 percent of total damages, which means you’ll still have significant out-of-pocket costs in the event of an earthquake. However, you’ll want to weigh the cost against your perceived risk of experiencing an earthquake, and your ability to survive the financial aftermath of such a catastrophic event. In assessing your risk, it’s important to know that the government typically will not provide much financial aid for earthquake victims, and help may be limited to low-interest loans that you will need to repay.

Other Considerations

When buying a policy, you should read it closely to be sure you understand what is covered and what is not. Find out if it covers your house or property only or the garage as well, whether it will cover additional living expenses if necessary, and any other exclusions or limitations. You also should know how much time you have to file a claim following a quake, as damage is often not apparent immediately after the incident. Each policy is different. Tower Insurance Agency can offer you recommendations and help find the policy that best fits your needs.

New Stuff for Christmas? Time to Update that Home Inventory

Christmas was just a few days ago and your probably acquired some new stuff.  At the very least, your house probably isn’t empty. Thankfully, your homeowners insurance covers some portion of your possessions after a loss, such as a fire or burglary. But how much does it cover, and is it enough to replace your most treasured assets and all the new ones?

How much have you thought about your insurance protection? If you have purchased or inherited valuables over the years, or even if you have not taken a recent inventory and assessed the replacement value of your daily use items, maybe it’s time for a review.

Questions for Property Owners
As you’re determining whether your current coverage is adequate, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How do I determine whether or not I have enough coverage?
  • In terms of personal property, what is covered? What isn’t?
  • What should I do if I have to file a claim?
  • Have I made any large purchases lately?
  • Having answers to these key questions will give you peace of mind if the unthinkable should happen to your home.
  • Do you have enough personal property insurance?
  • Does Your Homeowners Policy Include Contents Insurance?
  • Your homeowners insurance policy comes with contents coverage based on the overall value of your personal property and up to approximately 50 to 70 percent of the amount of coverage on your home’s structure. For example, if you have coverage on a $200,000 house, your policy may include approximately $100,000 in personal property coverage.

However, if you have lived in the house for a few years and are a collector or have acquired valuables (such as diamond jewelry or a work of art), your basic homeowners insurance policy may not cover the replacement value of these items if they are destroyed or stolen. In this case, you may need to purchase a rider on your homeowners policy to cover these special items. Your local Trusted Choice member agent can help to go over these items and the contents insurance needed to cover them.

Be sure to discuss coverage for all possessions of value, such as your new iPhone, furs, golf clubs and carts, computers, fine art, china, musical instruments or expensive sporting equipment. You may even want special coverage for that elk’s head above the fireplace or other taxidermy.

Taking Stock of Your Personal Property for Insurance
This is a key component of the personal property insurance process. Your inventory should be extensively documented, noting any valuable item that is irreplaceable (such as heirlooms). Document your possessions by taking pictures of your home’s contents, including your antique armoire, diamond collection or firearms.

It is a good practice to provide detailed descriptions with each photograph, such as serial numbers or brand names when appropriate. Alternatively, you can scan each room of your home with a video camera and narrate each item included in your home’s inventory of contents.

Be sure to keep your inventory as current as possible, and store it in a secure place, such as a fire safe. If you need to file a claim, a current inventory will help streamline the process. Not only will you not have to sit and think about everything you lost, but you’ll be relying on records, not memory.

Does a Home Policy Cover Personal Property in Your Car?
Surprisingly, in the event of theft or flood damage, automobile policies usually do not cover personal property in a vehicle.

However, homeowners insurance policies generally consider all personal property from the home, even if it is temporarily located or stored in the vehicle. So, an item in your car is considered to be personal property covered in your homeowners policy. Be sure to discuss the details of your policy with your agent to ensure that your important possessions are covered.

Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost
It is important to understand these terms and how they apply to your policy, especially when it comes to contents insurance. In the event that you have to file a claim due to fire or burglary, your independent agent can help you determine the most optimal fit to suit your needs.

“Actual cash value” accounts for an item’s original cost minus depreciation. This type of coverage is standard.
“Replacement cost” refers to the actual cost of replacing a lost item. For example, the actual cash value for an older appliance may be $800, but the current cost of replacing your appliance may be $1,500. Thus you can potentially receive the amount of compensation needed to buy a replacement item at its current cost if you have this kind of home and contents insurance. Note that getting appraisals for very expensive items is an important step in making sure they will be covered in a loss.

Be sure to discuss these two options with your agent and decide which type of coverage is best for your needs. Replacement cost coverage will most likely cost about 10 percent more, but it may be well worth it, given how quickly some items depreciate in value.
Filing a Contents Insurance Claim
The claims process is much easier if you have a complete and accurate inventory of your personal property. First, with your detailed inventory on hand, note the claim date, reason for the loss – such as burglary or fire – and provide detailed item descriptions. Provide this information and an item photo, if possible to your agent, who can work with you to quickly complete the claim process.

How to Get a Contents Insurance Quote
Contact your agent if you want to shop for the best coverage at the best price, or you know you need more personal property insurance.

Because independent agents can access multiple insurance companies and policy types, they have the ability to compare policies and quotes and customize affordable rates based on your needs. Your agent also can assess how much coverage you need for your specific items of value.

Protect the Property that Makes Your House a Home
Your home – and its contents – give comfort to your family and make your house more than just a roof over your head. Your belongings and treasures transform your house into your home and provide the quality of life you are accustomed to. Many of us don’t stop to assess the value and importance of our belongings until something happens to them. Be prepared, and don’t let unexpected events derail you financially.