Spring into Cleaning Your House
By Susan Orrell
This year when you begin your spring cleaning, do it with a nod toward your homeowners insurance and do some basic maintenance to help avoid having to make any claims this year. You might be surprised at how far a few small things can go toward preventing potentially large problems. Consider these, for example:
Fire claim prevention
- Kitchen: Oil, fat and grease are the primary instigators of kitchen fires. They build up on the stove and in your oven, so spending a little extra time getting these appliances squeaky clean is a good place to start.
- Laundry Room: Have you looked at the area behind your dryer lately? Over time, lint can build up back there and become a fire hazard but you can clean it away in a few short minutes. Yhou should also clean the vent for the same reason. Another place that probably needs a good dusting off is the back of the fridge. Keeping cool on the inside means it can get hot back there.
- Behind the walls: If your home is more than 20 years old, it’s a good idea to have an electrician check out the wiring. Ask him or her about replacing your circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters that can help prevent fires caused by loose connections or bad insulation.
- Fire alarm/extinguisher: Check the batteries in your fire alarm and security monitor and replace them if necessary. Also look over your fire extinguisher to make sure it’s ready to go too.
Start or update your home inventory
While you’re going through the house, take the time to update your home inventory. Doing so will let you know whether your current contents limit – which helps pay to replace personal items damaged or destroyed in a covered peril – is adequate. A thorough inventory also will help speed up the claims process in the event you suffer a covered loss.
Don’t have a home inventory? Spring cleaning is the perfect time to start one and there are several options at your disposal, including the following:
- Notebook: Keep a notebook to which you can add items as you purchase them.
- Video: Grab your video camera (or your phone!) and go through the house recording all your belongings with a running commentary describing the value of each.
- Photographic: Take photos of everything and list their value on the backs or underneath/by them if you’re making a digital file
However you go about it, consider storing the information in a computer file that can be accessed remotely in the event your house burns down — in the digital age it pays to back up everything.
You’re getting ready to clean your home from top to bottom, right? There’s no better time to make sure you’re all set for another year free of home insurance claims.
Grandparents, It’s Time to Baby-Proof Your Home
By Arthur Murray
You’ve got a new grandchild. Right now, at only six weeks old, he’s pretty safe in your home. But it won’t be long until he’s mobile, crawling from danger spot to danger spot. That means you’ve got to start thinking about baby-proofing it.
A side benefit from keeping the baby safe, of course, is protecting your own stuff. No matter how much you love the kid, you don’t want some of your prized possessions to be wrecked.
Following are some tips, by category, for protecting both the child and your things:
- Many families set their water heater temperatures at 120 degrees or higher. But if an infant will be in the house, turn the temperature down to 110 degrees to avoid accidental burns.
- Don’t leave standing water in a sink or tub. Purchase and install toilet lid locks. Babies like water and will play in it, regardless of source.
- Keep safety latches on cabinet doors to keep the infant out of any cleaning solutions or other potential poisons – this also applies to kitchen cupboards. Just in case, keep this number handy for the national poison control center: 800-222-1222.
- Cover all unused electrical outlets with safety plugs. Check behind furniture to make sure you don’t miss any. It doesn’t take much for the baby to get a burn or shock.
- Even if you don’t light a fire while the baby’s there – and you shouldn’t, you’ll need a hearth cover to keep the child from getting too close to the fireplace. Store any heavy fireplace tools elsewhere.
- If you have sliding glass doors, put decals on them so the toddler won’t run into them.
- Put covers on any doorknobs you don’t want the child to turn.
- Keep furniture or anything else that can be climbed away from windows.
- Adjust windows so they cannot be opened more than six inches.
- It’s a good idea to install safety glass in low windows – you don’t want the glass to shatter should a child fall into it.
- Keep the stairway clear so you won’t trip while carrying the child.
- Put a gate at the bottom of the stairs to keep the child from crawling up. Experts are divided on gates at the top of stairs. Many say the child could climb the gate and fall. They recommend placing gates on upstairs rooms where the baby will be kept.
- Don’t keep coins, paperclips or other small objects on low-lying tables where babies can grab and swallow them.
- Furniture edges should be shielded with bumper pads.
- Keep dresser drawers closed when you’re not using them.
- Fasten bookcases to walls so they can’t be pulled over.
- Cook on back burners whenever possible. Always turn pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove.
These are just some starting points for keeping your grandchild safe while he or she is visiting your house. Use some common sense and evaluate other dangers for yourself. If in doubt, ask the child’s parents for advice.
How to Get an A+ for Your Child’s Graduation Party
by Arthur Murray
Remember your high school graduation? Remember how you celebrated? Remember all the trouble you could have gotten into? Now think about your graduate and how to make sure he or she has a fun – but safe – celebration.
Consider throwing a graduation party for your teen and his or her friends. That way you can keep track of what’s going on. But go into it with your eyes wide open. A legal doctrine called social host liability holds you responsible for guests at parties you throw. Thirty-seven states hold hosts liable if guests drink at their parties – even if the hosts are unaware of it. Consider that nearly 70% of high school students have tried alcohol, and you can see the potential for trouble.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to keep the party – and the party-ers – as safe as possible.
Know the rules
Check the regulations in your state – your home insurance agent can probably help you with this. Agents also can tell you what kind of liability coverage you could expect in connection with the party. Once you learn the rules, have a heart-to-heart with your graduate and explain why alcohol cannot be present at the gathering.
Be clear about the party
Make sure your invitations clearly communicate that drugs and alcohol won’t be tolerated at the party. Limit how many graduates you’ll invite. Teens often find safety in numbers when they want to break the rules.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Before you get too deep in the planning process, recruit enough chaperones so you’ll have plenty of help policing the gathering. In addition to the people on the inside, you’ll need at least one set of eyes regularly checking outside to make sure things aren’t getting out of hand there. Be clear with the adults that you need chaperones – not party-goers – and that adults will be setting an example by not drinking as well. In fact, you should lock up your alcohol for the night, along with any prescription medications.
Watch them coming and going
Have just one way to get into – or out of – the party. That way, you can check everyone out as they arrive to reassure yourself they’re starting out sober. Likewise, give guests the once-over when they leave to make sure you’re comfortable with them getting on the road. Don’t allow anyone to bring water bottles or backpacks into the gathering: Both are easy ways to sneak alcohol into the house.
Throwing a party for a group of high school seniors might not be something you’d choose for fun. But consider the alternatives: Trusting another graduate’s parents to keep a close eye on things or allowing your grad to attend a completely unsupervised party.
By holding the party yourself, you’ll be in the best position to make sure your graduate – and others – remains safe. They’ve got a lot riding on this night. So do you.
Mother’s Day: Is Your Mother Covered?
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about things you can do to show your mom how much you love her. Sure, you can buy her flowers, take her out to eat and spend the afternoon reminiscing about what a perfect child you were, but this year consider reviewing her home insurance policy. You can still do the other things, but making this effort to ensure that she’s covered will give you both great peace of mind, and nothing beats that.
Check policy limits
Does her policy offer adequate coverage to replace her home and all of its contents in the event of a covered loss? Look through the policy forms carefully. If, for example, she has jewelry with a value that exceeds the policy limit, the difference will not be covered unless she schedules an endorsement or adds a rider to increase that limit.
What type of coverage does she have? If she has replacement coverage, her home and its contents will be replaced after a covered loss with materials of like kind and quality without deducting for depreciation. On the other hand, if her policy is written on an ACV, or Actual Cash Value basis, any claims paid will have depreciation deducted.
Does she need additional policies such as flood or earthquake? These perils aren’t covered under homeowners insurance and must be added separately. On the flip side, make sure she isn’t paying for coverage she doesn’t actually need by talking with her insurance company about anything you see on the policy that you don’t understand.
Help mom save money on her insurance
You should also make sure mom is taking advantage of any available discounts offered by her insurance company. A few to look for are:
Auto/home bundle: Most insurance companies will give mom a discount if she buys home and auto coverage from the same provider.
Safety and security discounts: If mom has a monitored security system, dead-bolt locks and a working fire alarm in her home, her insurance company will likely reward her with a discounted premium.
There are a lot of things you can do to show mom how much you care. This Mother’s Day, give her the peace of mind that comes with saving money and knowing she’s well protected in case the unexpected happens. It’s a gift that will last long after the flowers are faded and gone.
In a few days, Jay Gatsby gets another chance to charm his way into our hearts. It wasn’t enough that he was the title character of the fantastic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. Gatsby also has been in the movies, played most notably by Robert Redford in 1974 and by Leonardo DiCaprio in the version that’s coming out.
Whether on the screen or the page, Gatsby stands as one of the most enduring characters of American fiction. He had money, looks and a mansion. But, as it turned out, he had terrible taste in women and a bit of bad luck, and he would have been a terrible risk for something most of us take for granted — home insurance.
Location, location, location
The first thing an agent would ask him is where he lived. The West Egg, Long Island, location of the mansion would have been a problem right off the bat. It is too close to the ocean, which means it has a higher risk of severe weather, even flooding. At the very least, his provider would have required Gatsby to have a separate flood insurance policy, because flooding isn’t covered under a standard home insurance policy.
The house itself would have been insurable. But local construction costs in West Egg mean the replacement cost would be pretty high. And considering all the expensive shirts he showed Daisy, Gatsby probably would have had other valuables – jewelry, furs, art objects to fit in better with the Old Money families on Long Island. These valuables might not have been fully covered by the personal property and contents portion of a standard policy. An agent would have recommended that Gatsby schedule an endorsement or purchase a rider to cover these expensive items against damage from fire or another covered peril.
Party down? Pay up
Gatsby also would have a problem because of all the entertaining at the mansion. Those parties, designed to attract Daisy from across the bay, would have caught the attention of an insurance carrier. Gatsby would be asked, at the least, to increase his liability coverage limit because of the risk of a party guest having an accident on the way home. Standard policies start with a personal liability limit of $100,000. Gatsby could expand that to a $500,000 limit by spending a few more dollars. It wouldn’t take many accidents for even that larger limit to be exhausted. His carrier probably would want him to buy an umbrella policy and increase that limit to $1 million.
His problems wouldn’t stop there, though. Gatsby also has a swimming pool, with no fence or locked gate — not to spoil the ending, but it turns out he could have used both. This would have been a huge deal breaker for many companies. Fences and locked gates keep people out, lessening the chance of an accident on the property and a big payout.
Of course, Gatsby also would have troubles on his insurance score because of the phony name, not to mention the illegal bootlegging he was involved in and the illegal gambling by his friends. Even with all his money and a likely sparkling credit score, Gatsby would have had trouble getting a quote for coverage.
Drives him crazy
He might have had better luck getting auto insurance on his yellow Rolls-Royce because there are fewer red flags there. If he had a clean driving record, there would have been no reason to deny him coverage.
Think how it might have worked out better for Gatsby with a really good auto insurance policy. Had George Wilson known he could collect from Gatsby’s liability coverage for the wreck, he might not have come after him. And while Gatsby wasn’t actually driving at the time of the accident, most auto insurance carriers have a provision known as permissive use. That means Wilson still could have benefited from Gatsby’s auto insurance policy for his wife’s death.
Of course, with an alternate ending like that, The Great Gatsby might not have been so great.
You’ve suffered through the cold and dreary winter, and now it’s time to reward yourself. That’s right – time to shed those winter layers, step out into the sunshine and fire up the grill. It’s been out there waiting for you all this time, and you’ve dreamed about this reunion for months. Your fingers tingle with excitement as you reach out and grab the handle, opening the lid for the first time this year, your mind playing back scenes from last summer’s cook-outs with friends and family. Life is good.
Want to make sure it stays that way? Keep some basic safety rules in mind.
Keep your eyes on the prize – outside
It’s simple: Don’t ever use your gas or charcoal grill indoors, and never leave it unattended outside. Keep your gas or charcoal grill at least 10 feet away from the house and anything that could catch fire. That huge branch might provide some nice shade while you’re cooking, but there won’t be anything nice about it if it catches fire and your home burns down.
Children’s laughter provides a welcome soundtrack to any summer barbecue, so keep the kids entertained and happy – and far away from the grill.
Clean start for a safe finish
Grease builds up in a grill faster than you might think, so before you fire it up this year, give yours a thorough cleaning to get rid of all the grease from barbecues past.
If you’re using a gas grill, check the gas tank hose for leaks. Your propane dealer can help you do this safely if you aren’t sure how. Never smoke around the gas grill, and always store the tank in a well-ventilated area out of the sun so it doesn’t get overheated.
Start your charcoal grill safely – if you’re using starter fluid, be sure it’s charcoal starter fluid and never use it once the fire is going. You can also find charcoal chimney starters and electric charcoal starters that are safe to use. When the food is all done, let the coals sit until thoroughly cooled and then transfer them to a metal container – never plastic – for disposal.
Follow these basic rules and you’re all set, regardless of whether you want steaks, burgers, hot dogs, veggies (corn, squash, zucchini and onions do well), chicken or something else altogether.
Say goodbye to winter, and let the grilling begin!
With summer approaching, many families are finalizing vacation plans. Those plans should include at least considering travel insurance to make sure you don’t lose out financially in case something derails your getaway.
First, think about the scope of your trip. If you’re just spending a weekend at the beach or staying a few days with your sister and brother-in-law in a neighboring state, you’re probably OK without buying insurance. But if you’ve got bigger plans – maybe that trip to London or Rio you’ve always dreamed about – you should definitely consider insuring your trip.
Here are a few reasons why:
- What happens if you get sick or injured? This is especially relevant if you’re leaving the country, whether it’s for that trip to London or Rio or whether you’re taking a cruise to Jamaica and the Caymans. You probably didn’t know that a medical evacuation back to the U.S. can cost as much as $100,000. And that’s only part of the problem. Some health insurance policies in the U.S. do not cover you once you leave the country. Many hospitals in foreign countries make you pay up front for treatment.
- You arrive at your destination only to discover that the guy who jostled you at the airport took your wallet and passport.
- Your spouse injures her knee the weekend before you leave and has to have surgery.
- You booked a condo in Orlando, Fla., for a week and the threat of a hurricane causes you to leave early.
Travelers insurance can help in each of these scenarios, whether it’s getting the health care you need in a foreign location, replacing your passport and providing some emergency cash or being reimbursed for nonrefundable expenses.
What to look for
Here are some of the factors you should consider as you look for a policy:
- Single trip insurance vs. annual insurance. Most vacationers should opt for single trip insurance. It provides coverage for one single trip. The cost is determined by the cost of the trip, the age of the traveler and how long you’ll be staying. It can include trip cancellation and interruption coverage. Annual plans are best for business travelers who make several trips during the year. They mainly provide medical and medical evacuation service.
- A Cancel for Any Reason benefit. Face it, the most likely reason you’ll use travel insurance is because you’ve had to cancel your trip. Many policies limit the reasons you’ll cancel; if you take one of those, you’re still gambling.
- Personal liability coverage. You might not think of this one, but suppose you rent a car in your destination and cause an accident. Your auto insurance policy likely won’t be in effect, so you could be on the hook for major expenses.
How much will it cost?
The short answer is less than you might think. Policies generally range from between 4% and 8% of the total cost of your trip, depending on how much coverage you want.
No one wants to spend part of the vacation budget on insurance. But consider the high costs you could incur on the trip and the money you’ll lose if you have to cancel. You might decide that it’s a smart investment to buy some peace of mind.
Today, nearly 10% of American families utilize some sort of off-site storage space. Here are a few insurance factors to consider if you’re part of that statistic:
Coverage from your existing home insurance or renters insurance policy
Many homeowners and renters insurance policies include off-premises property protection for theft and damage from disasters such as fire. However, different insurance companies have different rules and regulations for how that coverage applies to items in storage. Typically, stored belongings may be covered if their total value is less than 10% of your overall homeowners insurance coverage, but you should check with your provider to be certain of your coverage.
If you’re using a unit to store your kids’ old college futon or other low-value items, your off-premises coverage may offer all the protection you need. However, if you’re storing high-value items such as antique furniture, you may be underinsured. Some renters choose to raise their insurance coverage limits or purchase separate floaters on their existing policies in order to protect their stored belongings. Others simply opt for different storage solutions, such as a bank safe deposit box for valuable jewelry.
Coverage from the storage facility
Many self-storage facilities offer insurance options for renters. In fact, a large number of storage facilities require a minimum amount of coverage and other regulations in order to even sign a rental agreement. About 75% of storage unit renters are covered by this type of insurance.
Within your rental agreement, it’s also important to note the maximum value your facility allows per unit. While the value of the contents in your unit probably won’t ever actually be appraised, this figure typically doubles as your renters’ insurance coverage limit – the maximum amount you could recover should you experience a total covered loss. That means if you’ve stored $10,000 worth of belongings in a unit with a $5,000 coverage limit, you’re way underinsured and should be prepared for the possibility of losing half your investment. Consider renting multiple units or raising your coverage limits.
Choosing the right facility
Typically, if your belongings are destroyed as a result of a poorly maintained storage unit, you’re on your own. For example, if the facility that houses your valuables doesn’t properly maintain its storm drains or other safety features, a heavy storm could leave your entire unit water-logged. The resulting water damage, mold and mildew most likely will not be covered by your homeowners insurance.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) recommends doing some research on a facility before storing any valuable items there. Check for a high level of security as well as good maintenance. For example, a permanent, reliable pest and rodent extermination contract is an excellent sign that the facility is well-maintained. You should also be sure to inventory every item you place in storage by taking photos and maintaining receipts and other documents in case you have to prove what you’ve lost in a covered claim.
If you have questions about how your belongings are protected when they’re in storage, contact your storage facility and your licensed insurance agent.
The term ‘multigenerational household’ may sound a little dated, but the concept is anything but. In fact, as our parents (and their parents) live longer and our homes grow larger, it only makes sense that more families than ever are welcoming elderly relatives into their homes at some point.
Additionally, adult Americans are moving back in with their families in record numbers. It’s less unusual for post-college grads to consider moving back home while they search for employment in a tough market.
Shared households are becoming commonplace. But while your home may be suited to accommodate more residents, is your home insurance policy ready as well?
What – and who – is covered
While insurance varies from state to state, in most regions of the country, family members who move in with relatives are covered under the existing homeowner’s policy. If, however, the individuals who move in are not related to the homeowner, they will typically not be covered under the existing policy.
Consider Umbrella Coverage
With a larger households comes larger risks for liability claims and other damages. If you’re concerned about gaps in your coverage, consider purchasing an umbrella policy. Umbrella policies offer pure liability coverage over and above that afforded by your regular policy. In the case of multigenerational households, your umbrella policy will help cover any gaps in your home or auto liability coverage.
The first rule in insurance is to never assume you know what’s covered. If you are welcoming an elderly relative or an adult son or daughter back into your home, make sure to report these changes to your insurance company. Your agent will let you know what exactly is – and isn’t – included under your existing policy.
It has been six years since real estate markets collapsed across the country. Six years of bad news for homeowners, home sellers, and real estate agents.
But now, finally, the news is looking good. In some markets, real estate is showing amazing signs of recovery both in terms of home value as well as number of sales. Inventory across most major metropolitan markets has declined –which means fewer houses are sitting on the market.
What about home buyers?
Fewer houses on the market means more competition. More competition means higher prices. Sure, this spring could be very promising for home sellers across the nation. But if you’re a buyer, it may mean the time to buy is now or never.
Here are a few tips that will help you deal with the rebound.
Be realistic with your offer
With the market bouncing back, your lowball offers might not stand a chance. Sellers have gotten more realistic with their pricing. That, combined with less inventory, has even led to bidding wars in some markets. Bottom line: your offer should be pretty close to the asking price in order to be taken seriously. But don’t fret – those asking prices are still nowhere near the market highs we saw a decade ago. So you’ll still get a good deal, relatively.
Play the banks against each other
Mortgage rates are low, but loan requirements are still much tougher than in the past. If you’ve got solid credit and finances, you’re in a position to get an incredible deal. Don’t be afraid to play banks against each other. Get a good-faith estimate from a reputable lender (be prepared to pay for the credit check) – and then use that quote as a benchmark. Show it to other lenders and ask whether they can beat it.
Compare insurance companies before you close
Don’t wait until closing to figure out home insurance. Once you’ve found your dream home and secured financing for it, compare multiple insurance rates, too. It can only save you money in the long run.