Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Pool & Your Homeowner's Policy

You've lined up the contractor and the pool supplies, maybe even planned a pool party or two. In all your excitement as a new pool owner, however, it's easy to overlook a more serious matter -- the adequacy of your insurance coverage.

When you install a new pool, you should re-examine your existing homeowners policy in order to determine what additional coverage you may need. Many people fail to tell their insurance agents that they have a new pool, an omission that may prove troublesome in the future should they need insurance coverage as a result of the pool.

Generally speaking, your home insurance provides two basic things: (1) coverage for damages to your home and other structures on the premises (e.g., pools), and (2) liability protection in the event someone sues you. When you install a pool in your backyard, you increase the likelihood that you will need to call on your insurance company to cover you in one or both of these situations.

Damages to your pool

A pool is considered separate from your dwelling and, as such, is covered under the "other structures" portion of your homeowners policy. Comparable structures include sheds, detached garages, and gazebos. The standard amount of insurance for such items is 10 percent of the amount written for your dwelling, though some policies provide 20 percent of your dwelling coverage for the other structures on your property.

For example, assume your insurance policy provides $100,000 worth of coverage on your home and you have the standard 10 percent coverage for other structures. Consequently, your other structures coverage would be $10,000.

If you have several detached structures on your premises and/or if you spent a lot of money on your new pool, the standard 10 percent coverage may not be adequate. In this case, higher amounts of this coverage can be written for specific structures.

Continuing with the above example, if your pool cost $14,000 and you also have a detached garage worth $10,000 and a gazebo overlooking your pool worth $6,000, you might decide to raise the coverage on your pool.

To obtain a higher amount of coverage for your pool, contact your insurance agent.

What types of damages are covered?

The damages you are covered for depend on what type of insurance policy you have. The most common homeowners policy in the United States will protect your pool from all perils except those specifically excluded in the insurance contract. It is the broadest coverage you can obtain. By contrast, under a less common type of homeowners policy, your pool is protected only against the 17 named perils specifically listed in the contract. Make sure you know what policy type you have.

One somewhat common occurrence for which you are not covered -- no matter what policy type you have -- is damage to your pool by freezing, thawing, pressure, or weight of ice or water. If you live in colder climates, make sure your pool is properly "winterized," especially if you have an above-ground pool.

Liability issues relating to your pool

Liability issues relating to your pool are what give insurance underwriters the biggest headache. We've all seen the headlines: "Child drowns in backyard pool." Though this may be the last thing on your mind, it's a fact that a pool presents dangers, not only to your own family members and friends but also to uninvited guests, particularly children. Every year approximately 45,000 people are injured in swimming pools and nearly 300 people drown in backyard pools. So great is the risk of death or injury that some companies won't even write a policy if your pool has a diving board or slide.

The liability portion of your homeowners policy is designed to protect your assets if someone sues you. When you install a pool, you increase the chance that you will be sued if someone is injured or killed as a result of using your pool (even if such use was without your permission).

Consider increasing your liability coverage

Most homeowners policies pay up to $100,000 each time someone makes a legitimate civil claim against you (though some companies offer $200,000 or $300,000 of coverage as part of their basic policy). If the claim against you is more than $100,000, then you are responsible for the difference. As a pool owner, you should strongly consider increasing your liability coverage above $100,000.

There are two ways to increase your liability coverage. First, you can simply purchase higher liability coverage limits on your existing policy. Such coverage is relatively inexpensive; for example, you should be able to increase your coverage from $100,000 to $300,000 for less than $50 per year. Second, you can buy a stand-alone liability insurance policy that is separate from your homeowners policy called an "umbrella liability" policy. An umbrella liability policy pays up to a predetermined limit (usually $1 million) for liability claims made against you or your family. It is more than likely that you will qualify for an umbrella liability policy due to the risks associated with your new pool. Most agents will recommend that you obtain one.

Pool safety rules

There are several safety rules that go hand-in-hand with owning a pool. If you follow these rules, you will likely decrease your potential liability exposure.
  • Install a fence around the pool area to prevent people from using the pool without your knowledge
  • Never leave small children unsupervised in or around the pool -- even for a minute
  • Keep children away from pool filters because the suction may injure them or prevent them from reaching the surface
  • Be sure all pool users know how to swim
  • Don't swim alone or allow others to swim alone
  • Don't allow anyone who has been drinking alcohol to swim in the pool
  • Don't swim if you're tired
  • Never dive into an above-ground pool and always check the water depth before plunging into an in-ground pool
  • Don't allow your children to let their friends use the pool without your permission and/or supervision
  • Check the pool area regularly for glasses, bottles, or other potential hazards
  • Keep radios, CD players, blow dryers, and other electrical devices away from the pool
  • Keep a secure cover on the pool during the offseason
  • Comply with any additional local regulations

Contractor/building issuesInsurance for your contractor

In your excitement at getting your new pool installed before summer, don't forget to make sure that your pool contractor has sufficient liability insurance of his or her own. Otherwise, you may end up in trouble if a worker gets hurt on the job.

Comply with local permits, other regulations

Your city or town may also have its own rules regarding the installation of pools. For example, you may be required to obtain a permit for the installation work, or you may be required to install some type of fence or barrier around your pool to prevent it from being accessible to uninvited guests. Check with your local town or city hall to see if any such regulations exist.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Does Roommate's Renters Policy Cover Me?

This is an increasingly common question among young singles and other unmarried individuals who choose to share a house or apartment. Unfortunately, renter's insurance and other homeowners insurance policies are designed for single individuals and traditional families. So when unrelated individuals share a residence, insurance coverage can become complicated.

Insurance laws on this topic vary from state to state, and homeowners and renters insurance policies vary from one company to the next. However, most insurance companies recommend that each tenant maintain a separate renters insurance policy to cover his or her personal property. You should each create an inventory of your possessions, so there are no questions about which policy covers which items if you ever have to file a claim.

Some insurance companies allow multiple roommates to be listed on a single renters insurance policy. If your insurance company structures policies in this way, you and your roommates can purchase one renters insurance policy to cover all of your collective possessions. Each person's name should be listed on the policy, and you should make sure you purchase enough insurance to cover everyone's property. You'll have to remember to change your policy, however, if a roommate moves out or if a new roommate moves in.

Things become even more complicated in the case of unmarried couples living together. Some renters insurance policies automatically extend coverage to any resident of the policyholder's household who fits the definition of "domestic partner." But these policies are the exception, not the rule. In most cases, each partner will need to have a separate renters insurance policy to cover their personal property. But this is not a perfect solution, because even unmarried couples often have joint property. The best option in this case may be to keep detailed records of who actually purchased what, allowing you to make an accurate claim if the need arises.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tips on Renting a Vacation Home

Many travelers head off on vacation each year without giving any thought to their insurance needs. Are you one of them? You may think that you've planned your vacation down to the last detail, but there's always something that gets left behind. Don't let it be your insurance.

What if the weather takes your vacation by storm?

A big bad storm can huff and puff and blow the house down, but it's probably not your problem. Similarly, if faulty wiring in the house causes a fire, the owner of your vacation home will need to contact his or her insurer. But in certain circumstances, you could be held responsible for damages, so review your liability coverage before you go.

It needn't be a total loss

You've been saving for months and planning the perfect getaway. But what if the luxurious beachfront home you've rented gets washed away with the tide, right in the middle of your vacation? Your vacation would likely come to an abrupt halt, but it doesn't have to be a total loss. You can purchase trip interruption insurance before you go. It's designed to reimburse you up to the amount you paid for your vacation home. But before buying it (perhaps through the agency that rented you the home), read the policy so you'll know what's covered.

There's no place like home

Homeowners insurance is designed to protect your home and many of the personal items inside. But what if you're staying in another person's home or a rental property--will you still be covered? Most basic homeowners policies will pay up to 10 percent of your policy's limit (e.g., $10,000 on a $100,000 policy) for damage to your personal property that occurs away from home. But if you're traveling for more than two weeks, you should contact your insurer to see if you need any additional coverage.

Protecting the family jewels

If you have any special or high-value items (e.g., jewelry, computer or video equipment) with you, consider adding a special endorsement to your homeowners policy to specifically cover these items. This coverage is important whether you travel or not. You'll see a slight rise in your premium, but it's a small price to pay compared with the cost of replacing that three-carat diamond you wear every day.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Roommate's Renters Policy Cover Me?

This is an increasingly common question among young singles and other unmarried individuals who choose to share a house or apartment. Unfortunately, renter's insurance and other homeowners insurance policies are designed for single individuals and traditional families. So when unrelated individuals share a residence, insurance coverage can become complicated.

Insurance laws on this topic vary from state to state, and homeowners and renters insurance policies vary from one company to the next. However, most insurance companies recommend that each tenant maintain a separate renters insurance policy to cover his or her personal property. You should each create an inventory of your possessions, so there are no questions about which policy covers which items if you ever have to file a claim.

Some insurance companies allow multiple roommates to be listed on a single renters insurance policy. If your insurance company structures policies in this way, you and your roommates can purchase one renters insurance policy to cover all of your collective possessions. Each person's name should be listed on the policy, and you should make sure you purchase enough insurance to cover everyone's property. You'll have to remember to change your policy, however, if a roommate moves out or if a new roommate moves in.

Things become even more complicated in the case of unmarried couples living together. Some renters insurance policies automatically extend coverage to any resident of the policyholder's household who fits the definition of "domestic partner." But these policies are the exception, not the rule. In most cases, each partner will need to have a separate renters insurance policy to cover their personal property. But this is not a perfect solution, because even unmarried couples often have joint property. The best option in this case may be to keep detailed records of who actually purchased what, allowing you to make an accurate claim if the need arises.


Friday, May 25, 2007

How Long Does Insurer Have to Pay My Claim?

How long does an insurance company have to pay on a theft (for my renters insurance)? Are there laws stating a certain period of time that a company would have?

Your state has some form of regulation that defines what is acceptable conduct in the insurance industry. Many states have enacted an "Unfair Insurance Practices Act" or an "Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act", or the regulations may be found in a broader law that encompasses all trade practices. The specifics of these regulations vary widely from state to state, but, generally speaking, an insurer is required to: (1) acknowledge your claim within a certain time frame, such as 15 days, (2) investigate your claim promptly, and (3) make a good faith attempt to process a prompt, fair, and equitable settlement of claims in which liability is reasonably clear. Additionally, an insurer may not refuse to pay your claim without a valid reason.

If you feel that your insurance company's agent or claims adjuster has violated your state's regulations, talk to that person's supervisor. If you get no satisfaction, file a complaint with your state's insurance department. If the department receives enough similar complaints, it will conduct an investigation. If it finds that the insurance company has a pattern of misconduct, it may impose a fine, punitive damages, or, for especially grievous offenses, revoke the company's license.

A minority of states allow you to sue an insurance company privately for a regulations violation against you individually. If you find yourself in such a dispute, some legal rules may help you, such as: (1) coverage provisions will be construed broadly, (2) limitation and exclusion provisions will be construed narrowly, and (3) ambiguities in the policy will be interpreted in your favor. In some states, if you are successful in court, you may only recover the amount of your claim. But, in other states, you may also be awarded legal fees and punitive damages.

Here are a few tips which may be useful for dealing with an insurer about a claim.

Before you buy the policy:

  • Take notes while the agent is explaining the proposed coverages, and save them for future reference
  • Read the proposed policy and understand the key terms, such as deductibles, exclusions, and limitations
  • Complete the application form honestly and thoroughly

Before you have a claim:

  • Read your actual policy

When you have a claim:

  • Review your policy and notes
  • Promptly notify the insurance company of the loss
  • Do not exaggerate the claim
  • Keep a log of all correspondence with the insurance company (especially telephone calls)
  • Gather materials to prove your claim (e.g., receipts)
  • Always keep copies of any documents you give to the insurance company
  • Get your own estimate of the loss
  • Do not submit to an "examination under oath" without legal representation
  • Do not sign a check or release until you are satisfied it is fair


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Empty Nesters: Tips For Downsizing Your Home

You've waited patiently, 18, 25, maybe even 30 years, and it's finally happened--all of your kids are out of the house. Now that you've had some time to enjoy your freedom, you may have discovered that all of those extra bedrooms make your home feel a little empty, and you're thinking about moving. Whether you're moving to a smaller house, a condo, or an apartment, your home insurance needs are going to change.

When size matters

If you've chosen to buy another single-family home, you'll be looking at the same type of homeowners policy as you have now. However, you're likely to see a change in your premium (i.e., the amount you pay). That is because the amount of protection you choose is based in part on your home's value, which in turn affects your premium.

Life in a condo

Moving from a house to a condominium can be a big adjustment. When you buy a condo, it typically means that you own your individual unit and a percentage of the common areas. Review (or have an attorney review) the condo documents before you purchase your condo. These documents include:
  • Bylaws
  • Rules and regulations
  • Master deed
  • Master insurance policy
  • Financial statements

Don't just browse through these documents. Read them carefully, because they'll answer important questions like:

  • Where does my sole ownership end (i.e., bare walls or studs in)?
  • What is covered under the master insurance policy? (You may need loss assessment coverage to pick up the shortfalls of the master policy.)
  • How large is the operating budget?
  • How large are the financial reserves?
  • How are trustees elected?

Show the master insurance policy to your insurance agent to get the right amount of coverage. You're likely to find that your condo insurance is less expensive than your homeowners insurance. That is because you're no longer paying to insure an entire building. Now, you're paying only to insure your unit.

Renting has its advantages

As a renter, you'll enjoy greater freedom than you did as a homeowner. If you sign a typical one-year lease, you're responsible for paying rent (and not causing damage) and your landlord is responsible for maintaining the building. So if something breaks (e.g., plumbing, windows, appliances), you call your landlord, and hopefully the problem will get fixed in a short amount of time, costing you nothing.

You'll even get a break on your insurance. That's right--even as a renter, you should still consider buying insurance. Although your landlord typically has insurance to cover the physical structure, it won't cover your personal property or protect you against liability claims. To get these coverages, you need to buy a renters policy. And fortunately, since you don't have to insure the building, your premiums should be quite manageable.

Get a move on

Hiring movers can make your moving experience more pleasant, but it can be very expensive. Still, when compared to the cost of doing it yourself (time and pain), it may be worthwhile. Whether you hire movers or do it yourself, consider buying moving insurance. Different plans are available, so talk to your moving company or truck rental company for more information.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thinking About Remodeling?

You may be looking for ways to improve your home. Perhaps you want to upgrade your heating system or replace a leaky roof. Or add on that sunroom you’ve always wanted. Before you get started, however, you'll want to know how that remodeling project can affect your insurance needs.

Update your homeowners insurance

Whether you're updating your kitchen or adding on another room, a remodeling project will likely add value to your home. As a result, you'll want to check the property coverage limits on your homeowners policy to make sure that they reflect any changes you make to your home, no matter how small or large the improvements may be.

And if you're adding on to your house, you'll want the addition specifically mentioned in your policy. If it's not, your insurance company may not provide coverage for damages that occur to the new room.

If you hire someone to do the remodeling . . .

If you hire someone to do the remodeling, you'll want to make sure that he or she is properly insured. Any contractor that you hire should have a certificate of coverage for both workers' compensation and contractor's liability insurance.

Workers' compensation coverage protects you from liability claims that can result from a contractor (or his or her employees) getting hurt on the job. Contractor's liability insurance provides coverage for damages to your property caused by the contractor during remodeling.

If you hire a general contractor who is planning on handing off some of the work to a subcontractor (or if you plan on acting as a general contractor yourself), you'll also want to get a copy of the subcontractor's proof of insurance.

For the do-it-yourself remodeling project . . .

Before jumping into a home improvement project, make sure that you're prepared in case an accident occurs. If someone helping you on a remodeling project is hurt, his or her injuries will be covered under the liability portion of your homeowners policy. You may also want to look into a personal umbrella liability policy, which provides coverage above and beyond your regular homeowners insurance and is especially important if you have significant assets that you need to protect.

Other tips
  • Some additional remodeling tips:
  • Before you get started, make sure that your remodeling project meets local building codes--otherwise, damages may not be covered by insurance
  • Check with your local Better Business Bureau to find out if any complaints have been filed against any contractor you are hiring, and ask to see the contractor's license
  • Get copies of the contractor's insurance coverage--have the insurance agency or company send the certificate directly to you
  • Check your homeowners policy (or your contractor's insurance policy) to make sure that building materials and other uninstalled items (e.g., carpet, tile, cabinets) stored on your property are covered against theft and vandalism
  • Keep your insurance agent up-to-date about any improvements to your home--he or she can help make sure that you are adequately covered at all times


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Protection From Winter Storm Damage

Winter's here, and with it comes inclement weather. Here are some questions and answers on how to make sure your property is insured against winter storm damage.

Won't my landlord's insurance provide coverage for damage to my personal property?

No. Your landlord's insurance will provide coverage only for damage to the building itself, not to your personal property. As a result, you may want to purchase renters insurance to protect your property from winter storm damage.

What type of winter storm damage does renters insurance cover?

Standard renters insurance provides coverage for damage to your personal property that results from any of the named perils that are listed on your policy (e.g., hail, wind, fire). As long as the winter storm damage results from one of these named perils, your personal property should be covered.

What if the damage is the result of a flood?

Basic renters insurance doesn't provide coverage for damage that is the result of a flood. If you live in a flood-prone area, you'll need to purchase a separate policy or add a rider to your renters policy for this type of coverage.

What is the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value coverage?

When you purchase renters insurance, you'll want to know whether the policy provides replacement cost or actual cash value coverage for damaged property. Replacement cost coverage pays the actual amount of what it costs to replace the items that are damaged. Actual cash value coverage pays an amount equal to the depreciated value of the item that is damaged. Premiums for replacement cost coverage are higher than those for actual cash value coverage.

Are there any coverage limits for damage to my property?

Most renters insurance policies have coverage limits for certain items, such as jewelry. As a result, you should consider adding a rider to your policy or purchasing a separate policy that is specifically designed to protect your valuables.

How much will it cost?

The cost of renters insurance varies, and depends on factors such as where you live and the coverage amount, but most people are surprised at how low premiums are. So it's important to shop around and compare policies to make sure you're getting the absolute best deal.

Preparing for winter storm damage claims
There are some steps you can take to prepare yourself in case you ever need to file a claim for winter storm damage:

  • Prepare a household inventory by photographing or videotaping items
  • Keep receipts for valuable items
  • Have insurance information handy (e.g., insurance company phone numbers, insurance policy numbers)
  • Keep copies of the documents and information you've compiled in a safe place outside the house


Monday, May 21, 2007

Are You Liable if Your Guests Get Too Jolly?

Whether you're rockin' with Dick Clark on New Year's Eve or cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 25 of your closest friends, you need to be careful when it comes to serving alcohol. In many states, you could be held legally responsible for the actions of anyone who drinks in your home.

Your responsibilities as host

As the "social host," you may have a duty under the law to prevent your partygoers from drinking too much and then getting behind the wheel or engaging in other possibly hazardous activities. For instance, if your friend hurts someone because he drank too much at your party, the person he injured could sue you for things like medical expenses, vehicle repairs, lost wages, and pain and suffering, simply because the driver drank at your party. In some states, you can also be held criminally responsible. You could also be held liable for property damage. So if your guest breaks a window or runs over a tree in someone's front yard, you could end up paying the bill for that as well.

Once your guests begin to drink, their judgment may become impaired. It is up to you as the host to either take away their car keys and call a cab, or take away their beer and brew some coffee. And although it probably goes without saying, never serve alcoholic beverages to guests who are younger than your state's legal drinking age.

Note: Laws vary from state to state. Whether you could be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated guest depends upon state law and individual facts and circumstances. Contact an attorney to find out more about your legal responsibilities in your state.

Insurance considerations

Protecting yourself against liability claims

Before you throw your next party, check your insurance policy (e.g., homeowners, renters, condominium) to be sure you are covered for property damage and liability. You'll be glad you did if one of your partygoers decides to get behind the wheel after one too many cocktails. Ask your insurance agent to interpret the policy language and explain what coverages you have and what coverages you might need. Your agent may suggest that you purchase a personal liability umbrella policy for added protection.

An umbrella policy is referred to as an "excess policy." This means that if you were to suffer a loss, your homeowners policy (primary policy) would pay first. Typically, umbrella policies require that you carry a minimum liability limit of $100,000 per individual and $300,000 per event (even higher in some states) on your primary policy. Once damages exceed this limit, your umbrella policy should kick in to cover the excess. Umbrella policy liability limits generally start at $1 million and can climb to $10 million or even $20 million. Based on some of the large verdicts being handed down by juries today, these limits are not unreasonable--especially if you possess sizable assets. Remember, it doesn't matter whether you invite 1 guest or 100 guests to your gathering--you'll want to be sure you have adequate coverage.

Special considerations for renters/condominium owners

If you rent an apartment or own a condo or co-op apartment, don't assume that you'll be covered by the building policy. In most cases, the building policy covers common areas for liability and physical damage. It will not provide coverage for your personal property or protect you against personal liability claims that result from a party you've held.

If you are a renter, consider purchasing renters insurance. It is generally less expensive than a homeowners policy, because you are not paying to insure the building. The policy you choose should protect both you and your belongings in case of theft, damage, personal injuries, and lawsuits (e.g., personal injury), up to the limits you select.
If you own a condominium or a co-op, you'll need to purchase a homeowners policy tailored to your needs (type HO-6). You should also review your condominium or co-op association's master policy to find out what your responsibilities are in the event an accident occurs.

Hiring professionals

Most professional party workers (e.g., bartenders, caterers) have liability insurance to protect them, but those policies may not protect you. Typically, these policies state that you must be specifically named on the policy to be covered in the event of an accident. For instance, if one of your guests has too much to drink and goes out and injures someone, the injured person could sue you, your guest, and the bartender who served the drinks. But if you are named on your bartender's liability policy, your bartender's insurance company should defend you in the event you are sued. Otherwise, you would need to rely on your homeowners and umbrella liability policies.

Before hiring professional party workers, find out how much insurance coverage they have and whether you can be named as an additional insured on their policy. You should also determine what specific situations are covered and what exclusions may apply. Don't take their word for it--ask to see a certificate of insurance, then call the insurer to confirm that the information is current.

Should an incident occur, make sure you notify your insurer right away, even if you believe you are covered under a professional liability policy. If you don't provide "timely notice," your insurer may have grounds to disclaim coverage. This means you could be left with no protection against a pending lawsuit.

Preventing accidents
Accidents happen every day. But even though you can't plan for every eventuality, you can take some precautions. Consider the following when planning your next social gathering:

  • Don't serve any alcohol

  • If you do serve alcohol, ask your guests for their keys as they walk in the door

  • Stay sober yourself so that you can monitor the actions of others

  • Don't serve people alcohol if you think they've had too much to drink

  • Serve food--it can shift the focus away from drinking

  • Appoint designated drivers or arrange for cab service if necessary


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Is your Pool Childproof?

Along with the fun of owning a pool comes the responsibility of making it safe, especially for young children. It's an unfortunate statistic that drowning is a leading cause of death for children across the United States and the number one cause of death for children in warm-weather states such as Florida and Arizona.

Safety in numbers

Although the most important rule of pool safety is to never leave a young child alone in or near the pool area, it's a big mistake to think that you can prevent drownings simply by closely supervising a child in your care. Children can easily slip out of view, and a few seconds is all it takes for an accident to occur. To adequately protect children, you'll also need to install barriers and other safety devices.

Installing a fence around your pool or relying on an alarm may give you a false sense of security. Instead of relying on one form of protection, the National Pool and Spa Institute recommends installing several barriers or devices (layers of protection). Here are several ways you can make your pool safer:
  • Surround the entire pool with a permanent fence that is tall enough to prevent children from easily climbing it. Your state or local authorities may require your pool fence to be a specific height (six to eight feet is a frequently recommended minimum).
  • Make sure all gates are self-closing and self-latching. If the gate can be opened from the outside, make sure it is securely locked so that children can't get inside by themselves.
  • Install extra locks on the doors and windows of your home that lead to the pool area. These locks should be high enough to prevent small children from reaching them.
  • Install a removable pool fence inside the permanent fence or screen enclosure that surrounds your pool. This is a good option if you need an additional layer of protection temporarily (e.g., while children are young or while grandchildren are visiting).
  • Attach an alarm to the side of the pool or use one that floats.
  • Have a licensed professional install a safety cover that complies with industry standards and completely remove it before using the pool to prevent someone from becoming trapped underneath.
  • Don't confuse a safety cover with a flimsier pool cover designed only to keep the pool cleaner or warmer--these offer no protection and may even be a safety hazard if water accumulates on them or if children slip beneath.

Other pool safety tips

  • Don't rely solely on flotation devices or swimming lessons to protect a child who is within the pool enclosure or in the water.
  • Clear all toys from the pool when it is not in use. Toys floating on the surface or under the water can attract young children.
  • Don't allow children to play poolside with wheeled toys.
  • Don't put chairs, tables, or other items close to the pool fence that can enable children to climb over the fence.
  • Make sure children understand pool safety rules (e.g., teach them never to go into the pool area alone).
  • Never leave your child alone in the pool area, even if it is just for a moment (e.g., when you need to answer the phone or doorbell).
  • Be prepared for emergencies by mounting lifesaving devices and a phone within the pool area.
  • Teach children how to dial 911 in case of an emergency.
  • Keep pool chemicals out of the reach of children.
  • Inspect your pool equipment regularly and make sure it operates properly. Grates, skimmers, drains, and heaters are particular areas of concern.
  • If you're having a party or entertaining guests and the pool area will be open, make sure someone is posted poolside who can watch the area at all times.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Is Your Home Alone For The Winter?

Winter weather can wreak havoc on a home--especially if you're not there to look after it. And a vacant house can be an open invitation to burglars. Before you leave your home alone, take precautions to make sure your home makes it safely through the winter.

Take a look at your homeowners insurance

Check your policy to make sure you're covered even if the house is going to be unoccupied for an extended period.
  • Conduct a home inventory (including photographs or video of important items) and take it with you. If an item in your home is damaged, destroyed, or stolen while you're away, you'll be able to support an insurance claim.
  • Make sure your valuables are adequately insured. You may want to purchase a rider to increase coverage on collectibles, jewelry, antiques, or other expensive items.
  • Talk to your insurance agent if you have any questions about your coverage.

Winterize your home

  • Clean gutters--remove leaves and other debris from gutters to allow melted snow and ice to properly flow away from the house and prevent ice dams from forming
  • Trim trees and branches--inclement weather can cause overgrown trees and dead branches to break, resulting in property damage and/or injury
  • Maintain pipes--make sure exposed pipes in basements and garages are properly insulated; check for cracks and leaks; consider having your water system drained by a professional
  • Drain exterior faucets and remove garden hoses (you can turn off the water supply by using the shutoff valve)
  • Set the thermostat in your house to at least 50 degrees--anything lower won't prevent your pipes from freezing
  • Prevent cold air from seeping into your home--replace cracked or peeled caulking on windows and apply weather stripping to doors
  • Have your heating system inspected--check the furnace to make sure the filter does not need to be replaced, the thermostat is working, and so on; make sure your chimney is free from debris (e.g., leaves)
  • Repair broken stairs and railings--even if you're not home, mail carriers, utility employees, and delivery persons may need to come onto your property
  • Add extra insulation to prevent heat from escaping and pipes from freezing, and pay special attention to attics and basements
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to stop by periodically to check for potential weather-related problems--the earlier a problem is detected, the easier it usually is to fix Safeguard your home against burglars
  • Give the appearance that your house is occupied--use timers for indoor and outdoor lights; have mail forwarded and postpone newspaper and magazine delivery, or ask a neighbor or friend to take in your mail; arrange to have someone shovel your driveway/walkway when it snows
  • Store valuables (e.g., electronics, antiques) out of view
  • Secure all doors and windows with locks; consider installing a security system with motion sensors and glass-breakage detectors with a local service provider that will follow up if the alarm goes off

Safeguard your home against burglars

  • Give the appearance that your house is occupied--use timers for indoor and outdoor lights; have mail forwarded and postpone newspaper and magazine delivery, or ask a neighbor or friend to take in your mail; arrange to have someone shovel your driveway/walkway when it snows
  • Store valuables (e.g., electronics, antiques) out of view
  • Secure all doors and windows with locks; consider installing a security system with motion sensors and glass-breakage detectors with a local service provider that will follow up if the alarm goes off


Friday, May 18, 2007

Hiring a Home Inspectorssss

You're thinking of buying a house. But how do you know whether you are buying a home in good condition or a money pit? You can go a long way toward getting an answer by hiring a qualified home inspector to scrutinize the property before you buy.

Why hire a home inspector?

If you're like most people, the purchase of a home will be your biggest investment by far. So, as with other big investments, you should be knowledgeable about what you are buying. Although you can examine the home yourself, most people simply don't have the expertise of a qualified home inspector. A good home inspector is knowledgeable about construction practices in the area and about what holds up over time. He or she will spot problems not apparent to an untrained eye, and will provide you with a full report on the condition of the property.

When does the inspection take place, and what do I do with the report?

An inspection will usually take place after the parties have agreed on a selling price. Any offer or purchase agreement (typically called a P&S) that you sign should require a satisfactory home inspection. If the purchase contract is contingent on an inspector's review of the property, you should be able to negotiate a price adjustment or ask the sellers to make repairs if unexpected problems are found. If your inspector finds significant problems, you should be able to get out of the deal and have your deposits refunded. Of course, it's a good idea to have a lawyer review any agreements before you sign them to make sure that you are adequately protected.

If the inspector does not discover any significant problems, you will have the benefit of a more thorough understanding of the property. Inspection reports usually provide a lot of helpful maintenance information, so a detailed report is like having an owner's manual for your home.

Note: You should be present when the inspector is doing the inspection. You will learn a great deal about your new home and how to maintain it by accompanying the inspector and asking questions throughout the inspection.

You can expect a home inspector to report on the major components of a home, including:
  • The structure of the house, including the foundation, walls, ceilings, and stairs
  • The exterior, including chimneys, roofing, flashing, siding, gutters, grading, patios, decks, and driveway
  • The interior, including visible insulation and ventilation, steps, counters, railings, cabinetry, and finishes
  • Plumbing, including visible piping, fixtures, drains, and water heater
  • Electrical system components, including wiring, fixtures, and overload protection
  • Heating and air conditioning systems, including type, capacity, condition, and safety
  • The basement or crawl space, including construction, stability, settling, water damage, and visible termite or rot damage
  • The attic, including access, ventilation, insulation, and signs of leakage

The inspector may also take samples for laboratory tests, or recommend a specialist to test for such things as water quality and levels of radon gas. You might have to hire separate experts to inspect for termites or other pests, or inspect special home features such as septic systems, wells, or swimming pools.

After the home inspector completes the review of the property, a detailed home inspection report should be generated that discusses the condition of the property and each of its major components.

When does the inspection take place, and what do I do with the report?

An inspection will usually take place after the parties have agreed on a selling price. Any offer or purchase agreement (typically called a P&S) that you sign should require a satisfactory home inspection. If the purchase contract is contingent on an inspector's review of the property, you should be able to negotiate a price adjustment or ask the sellers to make repairs if unexpected problems are found. If your inspector finds significant problems, you should be able to get out of the deal and have your deposits refunded. Of course, it's a good idea to have a lawyer review any agreements before you sign them to make sure that you are adequately protected.

If the inspector does not discover any significant problems, you will have the benefit of a more thorough understanding of the property. Inspection reports usually provide a lot of helpful maintenance information, so a detailed report is like having an owner's manual for your home.

Note: You should be present when the inspector is doing the inspection. You will learn a great deal about your new home and how to maintain it by accompanying the inspector and asking questions throughout the inspection.

How do I find a good home inspector?

Most states do not license home inspectors, so you will have to do all the screening to find a good one. Ask for referrals from friends, relatives, or your attorney. Because of the potential for a conflict of interest, be wary of inspectors who are referred to you by a real estate agent involved in the transaction. While a real estate agent may refer you to a qualified inspector, remember that real estate agents (both traditional seller's agents and buyer's agents) often get paid only after the sale is completed. An agent might therefore be tempted to steer you to a less-than-thorough home inspector to keep the sale on track.

Home inspectors' credentials

Ask whether the home inspector is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI is a national organization that enforces a code of conduct and practice standards. ASHI also tests applicants and requires that they possess a certain amount of experience before they are granted membership. In addition to ASHI membership, ask your home inspector candidates the following questions:

  • If licensing is required in your state, is the inspector licensed to perform inspections?
  • How long has the inspector been in business?
  • How many inspections has the inspector conducted?
  • Can you go with the inspector on the inspection?
  • Can you review a sample report for thoroughness?
  • Can you have references from previous clients? (Call several to ask their opinion of the candidate.)

Ask about errors and omissions insurance

Ask whether a home inspector candidate carries errors and omissions insurance or is bonded. An insurance policy or a bond will help protect you if the inspector misses a problem that should have been discovered during the inspection. Home inspectors who do not carry insurance will be less likely to pay a claim than those who do. Even among the states that require home inspectors to be licensed, only a few mandate that they purchase insurance or post a bond. So, in most states, errors and omissions coverage or bonding is optional.

Although not all good inspectors carry insurance, inspectors who are unconcerned with protecting their customers are less likely to be insured. Consequently, insurance coverage is one indication that an inspector intends to be in business for the long haul and wants to satisfy every customer to maintain a good reputation.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Legal Liability for Landscaping Help

Many homeowners who hire help are not aware of the potential legal hassles that can ensue when an accident occurs on their property. Workers, such as the kid mowing the lawn, the housekeeper tidying up your home for a big party, or the landscaper planting your annuals, could suffer an injury while on your property. After an accident, you may be financially liable for the worker's injuries and disabilities, and your homeowners insurance policy may not cover you in the event of a lawsuit.

Employees vs. independent contractors

One of the factors used to determine if you are liable for a worker's injury is whether the person is considered your employee or is a contractor (or subcontractor). As a general rule, whether a person is considered an employee or a contractor hinges on the amount of control you have over the worker. If you have the right to control what must be done and the manner in which it is to be done, the worker is probably your employee.

For example, you hire someone to care for your children and do light housework in your home. This worker follows your instructions about childcare and household duties, and you provide the supplies used to do the work. This person is your employee.

Generally, if the worker can control how the work is done, the worker is a contractor. A contractor usually uses his or her own tools and offers services to the general public in an independent business.

For example, you hire someone to care for your lawn. This person provides their lawn care services to other homeowners, uses their own tools and supplies, and hires and pays any helpers they need. Your lawn care provider is an independent contractor, not your employee.

Note: This is an oversimplification. The rules regarding employee and independent contractor status are very complex. If you have any uncertainty regarding a worker's status, you should consult a tax professional.

Workers' compensation insurance for employees

If you have employees (such as a housekeeper, gardener, nanny, cook, etc.), your state may require that you carry workers' compensation insurance coverage for them. Even if you are not required by state law to carry workers' compensation insurance, it may be wise to do so anyway. If an employee is injured, and if you have hired the worker legally and paid for workers' compensation insurance, an injury claim would fall under that policy's coverage. Otherwise, the claim would fall on you. Your homeowners insurance policy is not likely to offer any coverage in this event. If you are hiring regular help who could be considered employees, make sure you consult your insurance agent and/or your state Workers' Compensation Agency about coverage.

Workers' compensation insurance for independent contractors

Contractors, such as builders, landscapers, or other tradespeople who work on or around your home, should be covered through their own (mandatory) workers' compensation insurance, and any injury claims would be covered under that policy. If, for some reason, the contractor does not have coverage or has discontinued the policy to save on the premiums, you would be next in line to pay for a worker's injuries and/or disabilities that occurred on your property (although you may be able to file a lawsuit against the contractor).

If you are hiring a contractor for a job on your property, ask for written proof of the following to cover worker injuries, property damage, and uninstalled materials:
  • Contractor's license
  • Workers' compensation insurance
  • General liability coverage
  • Proof of workers' compensation insurance for any subcontractors working on your project

Check with the carrier listed on the proof-of-insurance certificate that the coverage is still in force. Verifying the contractor's insurance coverage before the work begins can allow time for the contractor to correct any problem with lapsed insurance, or for you to find another contractor.

What your homeowners policy may cover

In some states, homeowners insurance policies contain a provision or endorsement providing limited coverage for minors performing lawn mowing or other similar tasks requiring the use of power tools. Some policies specifically exclude domestic workers such as nannies or housekeepers, while others cover injuries of household employees only under the liability coverage section, so a lawsuit may be required before a claim is paid. Check with your insurance agent.

You may need extra liability coverage

In addition to the liability coverage provided under your homeowners policy, you may want to consider additional liability coverage to protect your assets in the event of a liability judgment that exceeds the limits of your homeowners insurance. Such coverage may be called an excess liability policy, or a personal umbrella liability policy. This type of coverage supplements the liability coverage provided under your homeowners policy.

Check references

Don't forget to do reference checks on people you are considering hiring to work on your property. Reputable tradespeople should be willing to provide you with customer references. In addition, you can check with the Better Business Bureau to see if a business has received complaints (and if the problems were rectified). Your local building department can tell you if a particular trade requires certification or licensing, as well as the name of the local licensing body or official. Don't forget to verify that any insurance policies held by a contractor under consideration are still in force.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can my credit score affect my home insurance premiums?

It pays to have a good credit history. Case in point: Homeowner insurance companies tend to give their better rates and terms to consumers who pay their bills and loans, in full, on time. A number of homeowner insurers weigh your credit history in making underwriting decisions, confirms Selective Insurance spokeswoman Cynthia B. Heismeyer who explains why.

“Insurance scores, based partially or wholly on your credit information, help insurers assess risk and charge the appropriate rate based upon that level of risk,” observes Heismeyer, Selective Insurance’s assistant vice president of corporate communications.

“Statistically, it has been proven that people with poor insurance scores are more likely to file a claim,” notes Heismeyer. “Historically, homeowners rates had been based on the characteristics of the structure itself. The insurance industry is now shifting the focus to include characteristics of the occupants, and insurance scores are one of those factors.”

Heismeyer says that a credit-based “insurance score” from a consumer’s credit report is used to predict how often he or she is likely to file claims, and/or how expensive those claims will be. Heismeyer indicates that studies by insurance regulators, universities, independent auditors and insurance companies all have shown that an individual's credit history is a proven, strong indicator of how likely that person is to file a future claim.Here are some basic facts about credit-based insurance scores, according to the Insurance Information Institute, of New York:
  • They allow insurers to charge lower premiums to customers who are better risks.
  • These types of scores are totally objective and "blind" - insurance scores never factor in a consumer's income, race, address, marital status, age or nationality.
  • They promote competition, which means more choice for consumers.

Chubb doesn’t use credit-based scores in homeowners insurance underwriting decisions, but Chubb spokesman Mark Schussel points out that his company has “other ways to determine the acceptability of a risk.” Chubb goes “beyond what’s contained in the insurance application,” said Schussel who then gave an example.

For instance, Schussel says, the application doesn’t provide enough detailed information about the type of materials and craftsmanship used in a home as well as specific exposures a home faces and what steps a customer has taken to mitigate those exposures. That’s why we visit many of the homes that we insure.”

Credit-based insurance scores are “blind” and objective, points out Lynn Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, in Des Plaines, Ill. She stressed that credit-based insurance scores don’t consider a consumer’s race, nationality, income, marital status or location.

American Insurance Association’s Dave Snyder focused on what he described as one of the benefits of credit scores in the homeowners insurance equation. “They enable insurers to offer many more pricing levels than before,” Snyder says. Citing example, Snyder noted that those with “good credit-based insurance scores can get lower premiums on their homeowners insurance than they could have, say, 10 years ago before credit scoring came to the forefront."
“The addition of credit scoring gives the homeowners insurance company a clearer idea on how to price a particular risk and in the process gives consumers assurance that they’re not paying more than they should for coverage,” says Snyder, assistant general counsel for AIA in Washington, D.C.

Snyder believes that experience has shown that fiscally responsible consumers who have solid credit histories have fewer losses than those with spotty or poor financial track records. “From the insurer’s standpoint,” observes Snyder, “credit information serves as an indicator as to how well a person manages financial risk. A person who keeps his finances in order tends to keep his or her home in good shape, and probably drive more safely as well. In addition, homeowners insurance losses for people with the worst credit tend to run much higher than that of consumers with the best insurance credit scores.”

A final thought on credit scores comes from Safeco Insurance spokesman Paul Hollie. “Personal credit reports are available from several organizations, including Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Reviewing your credit and cleaning up inaccuracies should be an annual ritual, no different than checking on your personal retirement accounts or checking your fire alarm batteries,” says Hollie.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Insurance Tips for Homeowners

You've unpacked your things and settled into your new home. But have you thought about how this will affect your insurance needs? Buying a home involves more than just making sure you have homeowners insurance coverage. If you've recently purchased a home, here are some types of insurance that may be impacted by your recent move.

Homeowners insurance

If you have a mortgage, your lender probably required you to obtain some level of homeowners insurance coverage. However, you'll want to make sure that the amount of coverage that you have will adequately protect you for all possible losses. Homeowners policies set coverage limits for specific items (e.g., jewelry), so you may want to look into purchasing a separate endorsement or a floater if you feel that you need to increase your coverage. You also need to know if you have "replacement cost" coverage on your personal property and if you are covered for earthquake damage.

Flood insurance

Homeowners insurance does not provide coverage for flood damage. But those living on a riverbank or near the ocean are not the only ones who warrant flood protection. Even if you live in a low-lying area (e.g., near a creek), you may want to look into purchasing flood insurance. Most companies that sell homeowners insurance also sell flood insurance, so try contacting your own insurance company for more information.

Auto insurance

If you think that there is no connection between buying a home and auto insurance, think again. If you're ever in an auto accident that is the result of your negligence, all of your assets (including your home) could be subject to liability claims if the claims exceed the liability limits of your auto insurance policy. So, you should re-evaluate the existing liability limits on your auto insurance policy to make sure that you have adequate coverage to protect your home. If you feel that you need even more coverage, you may want to look into purchasing a separate umbrella liability policy, which would pay for damages that exceed the coverage limits on your auto and/or homeowners insurance policy.

Disability insurance

Would you be able to make your monthly mortgage payments if you were unable to work due to an accident or illness? A disability insurance policy will pay you a monthly benefit to replace a portion of your income until you are able to work again. Many employers provide disability insurance for their employees. If your employer does not offer disability insurance or if you are self-employed, you can purchase an individual disability policy.

Life insurance

What if you were to die before your mortgage was paid off? Would your family be able to keep up with the remaining mortgage payments? Life insurance can provide your family with the funds to pay off their debts, as well as replace a portion of your income. While many employers offer some level of life insurance coverage to their employees, this amount of coverage may not be enough to provide financial security to your family. So, you may want to consult an insurance professional to help you assess your family's life insurance needs.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Should I Install a Home Security System?

Not so many years ago, a fail-safe home security system consisted of a good lock on the door, a large family dog, and perhaps a baseball bat propped up in the umbrella stand. Today, most locks can't keep experienced burglars out, fewer people can keep big dogs, and baseball bats provide little protection against well-armed intruders. More and more homeowners--and even apartment dwellers--are investing in home security systems to deter criminals, provide home protection, and give them peace of mind.

If you're wondering whether to install a home security system, then consider the following questions:

What are you trying to protect?

If you live alone with little more than a television and some furniture, and have little concern for your own personal safety (perhaps you have a black belt in karate), then your home security needs may be nil. If, however, you have children and/or other family to protect, you fear for your own personal well-being, and/or you own expensive antiques, art, jewelry, and other valuables, then your need for home security is probably much greater. The importance of what you are trying to protect should weigh heavily in your decision to install a home security system. You want to be able to sleep well at night knowing that both your loved ones and your valuable personal belongings are safe. If you can't do that now, then you may need some form of home security system.

Do you live in a high-crime area?

Another way to analyze your home security needs is to consider the likelihood that you will be the target of criminal activity. If you have lived in a neighborhood for a while, you probably already know whether it is safe to leave your doors unlocked at night, or whether you should barricade every window around the clock. If you live in a high-crime area, your need for home security is greater. If you are new in town, you might want to do a little research to find out about the level of crime where you live. The police station, local library, neighbors, and local real estate agents are all potential sources of information about the level of crime in your neighborhood. Use that information when making your decision.

Is your house a natural target for a burglar?

Even if you live in a low-crime area, be aware that there are certain types of homes that are more prone to burglary than others. For example, ground-level apartments are more likely to be targeted than apartments three or more stories up. Homes surrounded by thick bushes, plants, and trees are favored by prowlers because they offer plenty of places to hide. Old, weak, or cracked doors and windows are easier to break into. A house on a darkened street where the owners are seldom home is a very attractive target. In contrast, if your house has a wide-open lawn on a well-lit street that is posted with "Neighborhood Watch" signs, it is probably not the ideal spot for a burglar to ply his or her trade. Does your home invite or deter crime? The answer will help you make a decision about whether you need a home security system.

Does your homeowners insurance carrier offer discounts for home security systems?

Aside from safety, you may have a financial motive to beef up your home security. Most, if not all, insurers will give you a discount on your homeowners policy premium if you install a home security system. The available discount will vary from one insurer to another. It will also vary depending on what kind of security system you choose. Usually, insurers will give you a 5 percent discount merely for installing dead-bolt locks. A simple burglar alarm is likely to get you yet another 5 percent. If you decide to go with a more sophisticated home security system, complete with monitoring services, then you can expect a discount of up to 20 percent. (In addition to discounts for security devices, you can get discounts for installing safety devices such as smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.) Check with your insurance agent to make sure you're currently receiving any discounts you qualify for, and to see if you can save any more on premiums by installing additional security equipment.

Can you afford a system?

The price of a security system depends largely upon how sophisticated the system is. A typical higher tech solution is a full-perimeter system, which usually includes a series of sensors that, when armed, detect when a door or window is opened, broken, or tampered with. These systems typically operate on the principal that whenever one of the detectors is tripped, an alarm of some sort will sound. It may be a horn, bell, or beep and may be accompanied by flashing lights. If the system includes off-site monitoring, local police will be notified. Additionally, there are a host of other systems that can protect you if an intruder bypasses your perimeter system and succeeds in entering your home. Floor sensors can detect an intruder by the weight of his or her footsteps. Motion detectors sense any significant movements within their range.

The technology that goes into many modern systems is truly amazing, and if cost is not an object, very sophisticated systems are available. But don't let money discourage you until you have shopped around. There are many security systems to choose from, in a wide range of prices. Whatever you are trying to protect, you should be able to find something within your budget that will help you sleep better at night. Consult your local yellow pages, the Internet, or community newspapers for security system professionals and dealers.

Is there anything you can do to minimize the need for a home security system?

There may be steps you can take to minimize your need for a high-tech home security system. If you want to make your home safer and can settle for low tech, there are a number of things you can do.

  • In addition to installing dead-bolt locks, replace old, cracked, or hollow doors with doors made of metal or solid hard wood.
  • Don't rely on a slide chain to protect you if you are opening a door to see who's knocking. Install a wide-angle peephole device in the door.
  • Make sure your sliding glass doors have keyed locks and cannot be lifted out of their frames from the outside. A pole or rod cut to the proper length and laid in the track of the door can prevent it from being slid open, even if the locks are compromised.
  • Install removable pins, nails, and/or rods to prevent windows from being opened, and replace old or cracked windows and panes.
  • Cut back bushes and trees that surround your house and windows.

Finally, try to create the illusion that you are well protected. Whether or not you have a home security system, purchase adhesive labels that say you do, and affix them to every door and window. Post a "Beware of Dog" sign, whether you have one or not. The illusion that you are well protected may deter a would-be burglar. If you are going to be away from your home, purchase an inexpensive timer that turns a lamp or two on at dusk, and off again at bedtime. It may create the illusion that someone is at home and deter a burglar who is waiting to make his or her move when the home is vacant.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Can a claim by a previous homeowner on my house affect me?

Your homeowner insurance premium could very well rise if your house has what one insurance industry official called 'a history of problems.' A home that has "a history of problems, regardless of who owns it, faces higher premiums," emphasizes Dr. Robert Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Offering an example, Hartwig says that "a home with a history of burst pipes would reflect a plumbing problem that hadn't been addressed, so the new owner would probably face a higher premium until the problem is corrected. That should be a homeowner's incentive to make sure his or her home is in good working condition."

Among Hartwig's other observations on the subject …

  • A strong statistical correlation has been established between an individual property owner's prior claims history and the likelihood that claims will be filed in the future. Policyholders who file one claim are more likely to file future claims.
  • There also is a strong correlation between a particular property's claims history and the probability of additional losses at that location. Properties with a history of claims are likely to have more claims filed in the future.
  • As a result, insurers look at claims information related to both the applicant and the property itself. It is important to note that claims history is only one of many factors that go into determining whether to insure the property, and the appropriate premium to charge a homeowner.
  • Property claims history reports are collected and maintained in databases by at least two companies: ChoicePoint and the Insurance Services Office (ISO).

Hartwig's position drew no argument from Lynn Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, in Des Plaines, Ill. "When evaluating applications for homeowners coverage, insurers may consider loss history of the dwelling as well as that of the applicant. Claims relevant to the dwelling may be an important determinate of future risk of loss even if those claims occurred prior to the applicant's purchase of the house.

Unfortunately, some homeowners insurers might find it necessary to take an adverse action on an application without requesting or waiting for proof that prior problems with a dwelling had been resolved or that the potential for future loss has been mitigated. This is because by law insurers have limited time to evaluate new business applications and often lack sufficient time for further investigations," says Knauf.

Offering a different perspective on the subject is Selective Insurance spokeswoman Cynthia Heismeyer. "While a damage claim made by a previous owner won't cause your homeowners premiums to be higher, the claim may be an underwriting factor that causes an insurer to not accept the risk," says Heismeyer, assistant vice president of corporate communications at Selective Insurance, in Branchville, N.J.

Elaborating on her point, Heismeyer offers an example. "While a claim such as off-premises theft would follow the person and not be a consideration during underwriting of a new homeowner policy," Heismeyer adds, "a claim for water damage might indicate a recurrent issue that would need to be considered during the underwriting process."

Your home's loss history is available. The Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange has a data base containing homeowners insurance claims history. "Your homeowner insurer may request a CLUE report on a given piece of property," explains Chubb spokesman Mark Schussel. "A bad report can hurt a seller's chances of getting the asking price, and could make homeowners insurance more difficult to obtain for the buyer."


Saturday, May 12, 2007

My laptop was stolen from my car. Will my homeowners insurance cover it?

Imagine how awful you would feel if someone breaks into your car and steals your laptop. If that does happen, you could take solace in knowing that your homeowner insurance policy probably would cover such a loss.

Your homeowners policy generally includes off-premises coverage [that] would provide coverage for your laptop or other possessions you own that were stolen from your car," says Cynthia Heismeyer, assistant vice president of corporate communications for Selective Insurance, in Branchville, N.J. Heismeyer described another insurance wrinkle - "If, however, your laptop was actually 'installed' in your auto, your coverage is under your automobile policy. The amount of coverage you have would be specified in your policy."

"In all likelihood yes, subject to the deductible of course," says Bob Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, in New York. "There could be homeowners policies that exclude that, so double-check your policy wording to be sure of what's covered and what's not."

Your homeowner policy covers theft. "Your policy follows your possessions around, so if you carry your laptop from your home office to your car, and someone breaks into your car and steals your computer, you'd be covered," says Eric Goldberg, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, in Washington, D.C.

Goldberg offered advice on the matter of policy deductibles. "Homeowner policies have deductibles, which are amounts the insured must pay before coverage kicks in. Deductibles often run $500 or $1,000. Keep that in mind if you are thinking about filing a claim. Let's say that you have a laptop that you bought for $2,000 five years ago. That computer may only have a replacement value of $700 today. That means that if you have a $1,000 deductible, you're carrier isn't going to pay you anything."

Chubb spokesman Mark Schussel took a different approach on the subject. "The old saying of 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' applies in this instance. By that I mean, you shouldn't leave a computer, purse, jewelry, or other personal valuables on the front or back seat of your car. Don't leave something in the car that could attract the attention of a thief. However, if you have to leave a laptop in your car, put in your trunk and lock it."

"Under a Chubb homeowners policy, there is coverage for both theft of equipment and for the expense of recreating any data lost with that lap top," says Chubb's Schussel.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Get Your Home Ready for Winter

Winter can vary from place to place depending on where you live. However, the one thing that does not change is the beating a house can endure during the winter months. That is why has provided some helpful winterizing tips to help keep your home safe and secure during the winter season.

Give your Furnace a Check-up

During the winter your heater is the last thing you want to break down. That is why it is important to schedule a yearly maintenance check-up with a certified Heating and Cooling professional to make sure everything is functioning properly.

Prevent Freezing Pipes

Many times you will hear home owners complain that their pipes froze and burst while they were away on vacation or on a business trip. To prevent this from happening while you are away, turn off all running water to the outside and all non-essential appliances. This will prevent water from freezing in the pipes and help keep your house dry.

In addition to turning off unnecessary water sources, you should also wrap your pipes with heating tape and insulate unfinished rooms that have exposed pipes.

Keep Your Fireplace and Chimney Safe

Who doesn't love to curl up next to a roaring fire on a cold day? But no one loves an unsafe fireplace or chimney! That is why it is important to have both your fireplace and chimney serviced once a year. During this time, it is also a good idea to install carbon monoxide detectors around the house and replace the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Trim Back Bushes and Cut Down Tree Branches

Ice and snow can collect on tree branches and bushes, weighing them down and causing them to become weak and break off - potentially hitting your home, your car or even worse, your neighbor's home or car. To help prevent this from happening, trim back your bushes and cut down dead or hanging tree branches.

Check the Condition of Your Driveway and Sidewalk

Over time your driveway and sidewalk's foundation can crack or shift. That is why fall is the perfect time to check the condition of both. While you may not be able to fix the problem now, you will be able to note the location of the problem and take care of it in the spring, before it becomes worse.

Add Warmth to Your Home with Extra Insulation

Check the insulation in your basement, attic and crawl space. If these areas are lacking adequate insulation, you will want to add more, especially in your attic where ice and snow can collect on the rooftop.

Keep Your Stairs, Handrails and Banisters

SecureDepending on how your home is set up, your mail carrier may have to walk up to your house to deliver the mail. If this is the case, you will want to make sure that your stairs are stable and that your handrails are securely attached. This will help keep your mail carrier and anyone else walking up to your house safe and secure, while helping you to avoid a potential safety problem.

Set Your Thermostat at a Safe Temperature

Your thermostat should be set at least 65 degrees. Going any lower than that could cause your pipes to freeze and burst. To help you stay at the 65 degree safe zone, consider purchasing a programmable thermostat. This will help you keep your home's temperature stable 24/7.

Clean Out the Gutters

Because snow and ice collect in your gutters, you will want to clean out any debris sitting inside the gutters while the weather is still good. This will help ice and snow to move freely and prevent your gutters from leaking. While you are working on the gutters, you will also want to make sure that your downspouts and splash blocks are clear and pointed away from the house.

Clear Objects Away

From Your Heat VentsYou may not even realize it, but items can easily be pushed in front of your vents - obstructing the flow of air. So before you turn on your heater this winter, take a look around and make sure nothing is in front of the vents.

Check your Home Owner's Insurance

Many times home owners forget what is and is not covered under their home owner insurance policy. It is a good idea each fall to review your policy and see if you need to change, delete or add something on. If you are interested in changing your home owner's policy, log on to's Home Insurance Center. It is designed to help new or current home owners find the best home owners insurance rate available by evaluating multiple rates from best-in-class insurance providers.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

A hurricane hits and causes my house to flood. Does my homeowners insurance cover it?

Homeowner insurers get flooded with claims over property damage caused by rising waters, and underwriters usually turn them down. The Hurricane Katrina experience, among other things, served as a reminder to consumers that homeowner policies exclude flood exposures.

Worried about possible floods where you live? If so, buy flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), advises Lynn Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), in Des Plaines, Ill., and Dr. Robert Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute (III) in New York.

"Consumers typically can buy flood coverage through their insurance agent," Knauf adds. "With few exceptions, virtually anybody can purchase the coverage." She warns consumers that they might be lulling themselves into a false sense of security if they see no need to buy flood coverage because they reside in locations that are not prone to floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

"Even if you don't live in an area prone to flooding, you may want to consider purchasing coverage," contends Knauf. "Floods can happen in inland areas and away from major rivers in any and all 50 states. If a hurricane hits your area, you'll certainly take comfort in knowing you have flood insurance. Consider buying a flood insurance policy if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek or pond."

One other piece of flood insurance advice from Knauf - "Don't wait for a flood season warning on the evening news to buy a policy-there is a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect."

III's Bob Hartwig discusses why homeowners insurance doesn't cover flood exposures. "Flooding reflects water rising from below, and that exposure has always been excluded from your homeowners policy," emphasizes Hartwig.

As an alternative to NFIP, Hartwig says that there are a small number of private insurers such as Chubb that sell coverage to its customers, but not necessarily in every state. "So you need to check with your agent to see if that particular carrier sells coverage in your state," advises Hartwig

Standard homeowners policies typically cover all perils that are not specifically excluded, says Eric Goldberg, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association in Washington, D.C. Water damage is typically excluded, says Goldberg. He also points out that you can purchase flood coverage directly through your homeowners insurance agent. However, flood protection is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (1-800-427-4661, ).

Under NFIP, replacement cost coverage is available for the structure of your home, up to $250,000 in limits. However, through NFIP, only actual cash value coverage is available for your possessions. Replacement cost coverage can pay to rebuild your home as it was before the damage, up to NFIP policy limits. In terms of your possessions, NFIP provides actual cash value coverage, which is replacement cost coverage minus depreciation. That means that the older your possessions are, the less you will get if they are damaged. There may also be sublimits on coverage for furniture and other belongings stored in your basement. Sublimits for your possessions stored in your basement typically are less than the overall NFIP limits for your personal possessions.

The federal flood insurance program provides only limited coverage. If you need more coverage than the federal program provides, additional coverage known as "excess" flood insurance is available from specialized insurance companies. Depending on the amount of coverage purchased, an excess flood insurance policy will cover damage above the limits of the federal program on the same basis as the federal program-replacement cost for the structure and actual cash value for the contents, Goldberg says.

A final point from Goldberg: Flood insurance is available for renters as well as homeowners.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

My tree fell on my neighbor's porch - whose homeowners policy covers the damage? or Not

Dr. Robert Hartwig knows first-hand how homeowners insurance can come into play when one of your trees fall on a neighbor's property.

If one of your trees falls and damages a neighbor's property, "generally speaking, it is your neighbor's insurance policy that is called upon to pay the damage," points out Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute (III), in New York. "Since his insurance is being impacted," Hartwig continued, "you probably won't face an insurance premium increase as a result."
However, here's a cautionary word from Hartwig, on the basis of his own experience. "Your neighbor could come after you to cover his deductible. Matter of fact, when one of my trees fell on my neighbor's fence, it destroyed some of his fence and damaged fruit trees. In the interest of neighborly relations, I voluntarily paid for a new pear tree, so between what the insurer paid and what I paid, he didn't have any out-of-pocket expense."

The upshot for Hartwig? "My neighbor and I are still on speaking terms, which is a good thing. I paid for the new fruit tree, because I thought it was the right thing to do, although I was not obligated to do that."

Hartwig’s take on the insurance question resonates with Eric Goldberg, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, in Washington, D.C. If a tree falls on your home and the incident happens to involve a covered peril such as lightning, no matter whose tree, your insurance company should pay for your home repair," says Goldberg.

However, Goldberg brought up an exception. That "would be if the damage occurred as a result of negligence," he says. "For instance, if the tree was dead before it fell, and you had proof that your neighbor knew or should have known that the tree was dead, the damage becomes your neighbor's liability."

Under that same type of negligence scenario, Goldberg has something else for you to consider. "You could be held liable if your tree is dying or dead, it falls on your neighbor's property, and you did nothing to prevent property damage." Under that scenario, Goldberg says, "your homeowners policy could come into play."

For example, Goldberg says, “your neighbor could file a lawsuit against you alleging negligence, and if that were to happen your homeowners insurer would defend you and investigate the claim. If it turns out that you are legally responsible for the damage to your neighbor’s house, your carrier will pay for damages up to your policy limits. Similarly, your neighbor simply submit a liability claim against your homeowners insurance policy.”

Goldberg's advice? "Ask your insurance provider for clarification if your homeowners insurance contract isn't clear on that issue. If you anticipate a problem -- such as the possibility of your tree falling -- you might consider doing something akin to an ounce of prevention. "If your tree is dead, remove it before it falls. That way you can head off the potential for a bigger bill later and stay on good terms with your neighbor.”

Insurance trade group representative Lynn Knauf focuses on the issue of how the standard homeowners coverage includes a section of "additional coverages" under the liability portion of the policy. There is also an "additional coverages" section under the property portion of the policy, says Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), in Des Plaines, Ill.

One of the "additional coverages" is "Damage to Property of Others," Knauf explains. "This coverage is typically $1,000, and it covers unintentional damage caused by an insured. The coverage is offered without a deductible because it's under the 'liability' section and offers a minimum amount of coverage for damage without the burden of proving that the insured is legally liable for such coverage."

This amount of coverage for "Damage to Property of Others" is above and beyond the limit of liability in the policy, Knauf indicates. She says that coverage comes in handy "when one damages the property of a neighbor. Most people just pay for damage to a neighbor's property in the interest of goodwill, but where the damage would represent a financial burden some will turn to their homeowners policy."

Knauf offers a final point on the subject. "Keep in mind however, tapping into this coverage will represent a "claim" under the policy - regardless of how small the dollars paid are. The homeowners policy should never be considered a maintenance policy or a 'slush fund' to pay for expenses."


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hurricanes: Are You Protected?

Hurricanes can wreak tremendous damage, devastation and death on a community. If a hurricane warning is issued, homeowners can board-up their houses and try to minimize the damage. But what if a storm damages their home regardless?

The most common homeowners policy - called a homeowners-3 policy or HO-3 - covers damage caused by a hurricane except for exclusions specifically outlined in the policy. For example, damage caused by hurricane flooding is usually not covered. Since policies vary, suggests homeowners review their policies before a storm hits to determine what would be covered.

For anyone whose home may be damaged by a hurricane, offers the following tips to help get back on their feet.

Secure the building with temporary repairs - Fix whatever is needed to make the home habitable and prevent further damage. Be careful not to invest in extensive repairs at this time, as an adjuster must appraise the damage first. Save any receipts so that your insurance company can reimburse you later.

Call your insurance agent to report the loss - Get any information you may need from your agent at this time. If the disaster is widespread, keep in mind that the agent may be very busy. Be patient.

Save receipts - If temporary living arrangements are needed, be sure to save receipts for living expenses, such as food, temporary housing costs, storage, and furniture rentals. Your insurance company should advance you the money for these costs.

Make a list of the damaged property - Try to include makes, models, and serial numbers. Take pictures of the damaged items, if possible. Organize old bills and receipts, if they are available, to establish value and age. Work from memory, if necessary. Don't throw anything away until the adjuster has a chance to inspect and appraise it.

Identify structural damage - Don't forget the garage, sheds, and pool. Look for cracks and missing shingles or roof tiles. You may want to hire a licensed engineer to identify damage you can't see. Have an electrician inspect the electrical system and a plumber review the plumbing system (most policies cover these inspections). Get bids for the repair work.

Have an adjuster appraise the damage - Your insurance agent should arrange this, and there should be no charge. Or, you can hire a public adjuster for a fee. When your adjuster comes, ask for a complete inspection and appraisal. If it can't be completed at one time, arrange for a second look. Be sure to identify all damaged areas.

Fill out the forms - Complete the "proof of loss" forms, which will be sent to you by your insurance company. Return them as soon as possible and keep copies of all forms you send back. Send copies of lists and other documents as needed to prove your losses, making sure to keep the originals.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Your New Year's Insurance Resolution

Throughout the year, changes in circumstances and responsibilities typically occur. A new baby, pay increase, higher monthly expenses, or a recent move may happen, and with these changes comes the need to reevaluate your car, homeowners and personal life insurance coverage - especially in the New Year!

" recommends that life insurance policyholders make taking a more active role in managing their life, homeowners and car insurance coverage a New Year's resolutions this year," said an executive at, the online insurance resource. "They can start by understanding their policy needs, and then begin to shop around and compare their current rates with other insurance providers."

Life Insurance Resolution

Adequate coverage is a must. It is important that policyholders understand how much coverage they need to protect themselves, as well as their families. When the New Year rolls around, reevaluate your current life insurance plan, and see if it is good enough to protect your family in the event of a misfortune. It is also important to note the following tips when reevaluating your life insurance policy:
  • Life insurance should be covered by both parties, not just the main "bread winner" (this helps to replace income or rise in expenses in the unfortunate event of a death)
  • Add extra protection to cover the cost of outstanding debt
  • Add extra protection to cover six months of emergency living
  • If college for your children is a concern, add more protection to ensure their education will be covered

Homeowners Insurance Resolution

Maximize your existing coverage. It is important to know the differences of what your liability insurance covers, compared to what your property insurance covers. Typically, liability insurance will cover up to $100,000 in damages, but based on your individual needs and situation, more may need to be added. The difference between homeowners insurance and liability insurance goes as follows:

Homeowners insurance covers:

  • Structure of a home
  • Contents of a home

Liability insurance covers:

  • Personal liability
  • Medical payments
  • Damage to someone else's property
  • Personal injury to others

Auto Insurance Resolution

Shop around for auto insurance. Instead of receiving your car insurance renewal in the mail and just paying it and filing it away, consider shopping around for a new car insurance policy. You may find one that is considerably less expensive, and have more benefits than your current car insurance policy has. suggests drivers review their current car insurance policy and ask themselves the following questions:

  • Are competitive rates offered by their current car insurance provider?
  • Is their underwriting agency going through any big changes or mergers? Are they able to support claims?
  • Are they eligible for discounts with their insurance provider? Are they receiving all discounts available to them at this time?
  • Does their auto insurance company offer 24-hour claim services? Is the staff knowledgeable? Do they offer extended hours of operation services?

By taking the time to shop around and view what other auto insurance companies have to offer, you may not only save yourself money, but you also may save yourself hassle in the event something happens and you need to file a car insurance claim.

If you are interested in getting a life insurance, homeowners insurance or car insurance quote, log on to Here you will be able to evaluate multiple rates from best-in-class life, homeowner's and car insurance providers - helping find you the best insurance coverage for your budget.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

An Overseas Traveler's Guide For What Insurance They Need

There's nothing like the feeling of excitement when you're going on an overseas vacation. The red X's on the calendar boldly show the countdown to your trip. Your bags are packed, your tickets are ready, your passport is ready for its stamp, and before you know it, you'll be on your way! But what happens when you get to your destination and the unthinkable happens? What if weather makes your trip too treacherous to chance? You end up getting sick? You get pulled over or your baggage is lost? has a few suggestions as to what you can do to make your trip as smooth as possible, even when the unthinkable happens.

What to check before you leave:

Health Insurance: In most cases, health insurance plans do not extend outside of the United States, so it is a good idea to check with your insurance provider and see exactly what your coverage entails.

Car Insurance: If you are going to be renting a car and driving when you go overseas, it is a smart idea to apply for an international driver's license. Be sure to read up on the rules for driving in the country you are going to, because they may differ from the driving laws here in the United States. Lastly, be sure you have adequate car insurance before you leave. Because unless you have a true umbrella policy which covers you worldwide, your personal car insurance policy will not cover you if you are out of the United States. You can do this by contacting your auto insurance company or agent before you leave. If you'd like to learn more about driving overseas or to get information on an international driver's license or traveler's insurance, log on to the AAA website, which offers answers and insights on what you may need when traveling overseas.

Lost Luggage Insurance: Lost luggage insurance is something that would be a good idea to check up on before you leave on your overseas vacation. Though homeowners insurance policies cover theft or destruction of personal property, they only cover the items that are listed in the actual policy. With lost luggage insurance, you get the added protection of knowing that if your bags are lost during your vacation, their contents will be covered.

Trip Interruption Insurance: There's nothing worse than being excited and ready to go on a trip, then it being canceled due to conditions that are out of your control. A newer kind of insurance called "trip interruption insurance" is now available that may help cover all, or part of the expenses you paid in the event the trip is canceled. Examples include if a cruise line you booked on goes out of business before your departure date, or if inclement weather causes a cancellation you will be reimbursed. Another perk of trip interruption insurance is that in some cases, if you must cancel the trip due to sickness or death in the family, you may be covered for the flight and hotel costs.

What's in an overseas insurance pack? Many insurance companies offer full-overseas insurance packs for the overseas travelers, beginning with a possible seven-day coverage that costs less than $50 per person. Age, number of people in your party, and how long you plan on staying at your destination determines the reimbursement price. Packages generally include:
  • Emergency medical evacuation
  • Emergency medical and dental
  • Accidental death and dismemberment
  • Repatriation of remains
  • Visitor to bedside and return of dependent children
  • Pre-existing condition waiver
  • Lost/damaged baggage
  • Rental car protection
  • Trip cancellation/delay/interruption/default overseas travel tips

  • Do not leave your money in bags you check. Be sure to keep cash, travelers checks, travel ocuments, valuables and jewelry in your carry-on
  • Add something to your suitcase that makes it easily identifiable-tie a brightly colored ribbon to the handle or mark an "X" on it with duct tape. This will make it easier to identify in the event your luggage is lost
  • Choose a rental car that has a trunk-hatchbacks are a homing beacon for thieves
  • Drink bottled water instead of tap. Though many places have filtered water now, it may still make you ill, which can potentially ruin your vacation
  • Phrase books definitely come in handy when going to a country where the predominant language is one you aren't familiar with. The book may also save you a lot of time and headaches when someone actually knows what you're trying to ask for
  • Travel in the off-season. To save the most money and find the best deals, it's a good idea to plan ahead and look to traveling to your destination at a time that not everyone and their mother is going.

Whether you're preparing for that romantic getaway, an action-packed adventure, or just a trip to new overseas destination, is here to help. If you are interested in receiving a travel insurance quote, log on to Here you will be able to evaluate multiple rates from best-in-class travel insurance providers - helping you find the best travel insurance coverage to protect you in your overseas travels.