Remodeling Your Home? Don’t Forget to Adjust Your Insurance, Too

Remodeling Your Home? Don’t Forget to Adjust Your Insurance, Too

Homeowner’s insurance is directly linked to the value of your home, and the only way to be confident you have the coverage you need is to be transparent about improvements you’ve made to your property over time. Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a home renovation so you’re covered for during construction and the improvements are protected when you’re done. 

Be clear about which renovations will raise or lower your insurance rates.

Financial preparation includes not just acknowledging the cost of materials and labor but also acknowledging the fluctuation of your insurance policies to come. An addition, for example, will add square footage and value, which means your home will be more expensive to rebuild, so your premiums will rise. If you’re renovating your garage into a den and kicking your car to the curb, keep in mind the cost of your car insurance may jump a bit since it’s simply riskier to park on the street. In contrast, replacing an outdated HVAC system lowers the risk of an electrical problem, and lower risk typically means lower rates. The same goes for adding a fence around a swimming pool or backyard.

Before you finalize renovation plans, watch for ways to achieve discounts.

You may qualify for lower premiums if you add a sprinkler system, update your plumbing or electrical system, add storm shutters, or even simply install stronger doors than you had before. New safety features will lessen your odds of filing a claim in the future, and many insurance plans will acknowledge that with reduced rates.

Don’t DIY if you’re not qualified to do the work safely.

Besides the potential to be disappointed in your own craftsmanship, the real risk is potential injury. If friends and family will be on site to help with the project, consider increasing your home insurance’s no-fault medical protection. This will allow an injured assistant to send doctor’s bills straight to your insurance company, which ultimately lowers your chance of a lawsuit.

Plan for mid-project problems.

Insurance Journal reported in 2014 that approximately one out of every three house fires can be traced back to contracting professionals working on site. Heat guns used for paint stripping or electrical sockets overwhelmed by power tools can mean disaster. Construction risk can also expand to plumbing pipes cracking under the stress of vibrations being caused by construction. You will want to discuss these potential scenarios with your insurance agent before renovations begin–and then again mid-project as plans evolve–to make sure you understand which party would be liable for each scenario and whether you and your contractor are insured properly to avoid a major financial strain.

Ask your insurance agent about weather and theft.

Large renovations are sometimes stalled by acts of nature, sometimes stalled by disappearing acts. If your project is big enough that parts of your home will be covered by a tarp or exposed to the elements, consider a “course of construction policy,” also known as a builder’s risk policy. This will offer protection if you find your home seriously damaged during construction and extends as far as vandalism and theft of construction materials you purchased yourself (think carpet, hardwood, or tile).

Be careful about gaps in coverage if you’ll be temporarily moving out.

According to the International Risk Management Institute, homeowner’s policies are really written for homes being occupied by the homeowner. If your renovation is so extensive that you’ll be leaving the premises–or if your construction will cost 10 percent or more of your home’s total replacement value–read your insurance contract carefully. These benchmarks label your project as a “major renovation,” which may limit your coverage or require you to notify the insurance company before construction begins. If you don’t follow the policy’s requirements specifically, you may find that damage during renovations is only covered at replacement cost less depreciation, rather than replacement cost alone. Your best choices in a major renovation may be to add a renovation policy to your existing coverage or add a builder’s risk policy.

Celebrate the added value to your home.

Once you’ve planned well, relax and enjoy the process. Ultimately, you’re adding beauty, functionality, and value. As you take photos to share with family and friends, made copies for your insurance files, as it is likely that you will also need to update your catalog of valuable items inside your home as well, especially if you purchased furniture or art.

How Homeowners Can Reduce Risks in Winter

How Homeowners Can Reduce Risks in Winter

Our homes protect us from the most severe winter weather, but our homes are not always protected from the same elements. Snow, ice, and even simply freezing temperatures can have drastic effects on our homes and the parts that make them work. As the temperatures drop, risk rises. Here’s how to minimize those risks. 

Leave the heat on at least 65 degrees when you leave

This is less about the temperature in your rooms than it is about the temperature inside your walls. It gets colder inside your walls than it does on the thermostat, and this can be dangerous because your pipes are inside your walls. If it gets too cold in there, your pipes could freeze and burst. A burst pipe can cause anything from light water damage to damage that forces you to vacate your home. In most cases, water damage from burst pipes will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, if your insurance carrier finds that the damage was caused by negligence on your part (such as keeping your heat at too low a temperature or leaving it off entirely when the house is vacant), you may be denied coverage. In these cases, the damage could have been reasonably prevented. This is why it’s best to keep your heat on at least 65 degrees.

Monitor any alternative heat sources you use

Some homeowners like to utilize alternative or auxiliary sources of heat such as a space heater or fireplace. If you haven’t used your fireplace or space heater since last winter, make sure it’s still in good shape before turning it on. Read up on space heater safety before use, then keep a close eye on it during the first few uses. Keep combustible materials away from fireplaces and space heaters, and never cover a space heater in any way. Fires can start in an instant and cause extensive damage in just minutes.

Remain aware of common risk areas outdoors

Outside in the elements, there are several common risks that homeowners face. First, there are risks to those that visit your home. Icy driveways and sidewalks can easily cause a visitor to slip and fall. If you know it may snow, take the time to treat your outdoor surfaces to prevent the buildup of slippery snow and ice. Keep an eye on your trees to check for dead or damaged branches that may fall on people, vehicles, or structures. You should also have your gutters cleaned routinely, especially if you notice a buildup of icy leaves and debris.

It is not only cold in winter but also full of risk. You don’t have to live in fear of disaster, but there are steps you can take to help prevent having to make any insurance claims. Reach out to your agent if you want more advice on how to reduce risks at home.

Have a Safe and Happy Halloween by Avoiding Insurance Claims

Have a Safe and Happy Halloween by Avoiding Insurance Claims

Halloween is a special day of the year that many people young and old get excited about. However, Halloween poses more dangers than scary masks and fake blood, so you need to stay safe and protect what you care about. Here are some useful tips for staying safe, having fun, and avoiding insurance claims!

Safety When Driving on Halloween Night

It’s a given that you need to be more vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings when driving at night. Threats ahead are more difficult to see, and incidents like wildlife running into the road can happen suddenly. But on Halloween, there is more than just wild animals walking along the roads. First, depending on where you are driving there may be trick-or-treaters out for a stroll. There could also be teenagers getting up to no good, playing pranks or hanging out in wooded areas. Even if you are driving on an empty road or in a place with no houses around, remain on alert. 

Young adults and adults celebrate Halloween, too, and drunk drivers are another threat to look out for when you are driving on Halloween night. Scan the road for anyone who is driving erratically, and do not be afraid to place a call to a non-emergency phone line. 

You do not want a night that’s supposed to be full of spooky fun to turn into a real life nightmare, where you have to make an unfortunate auto claim. However, in the event of an accident, remember your agent is only a call away. Calling your insurance agent is one of the first things you want to do after an accident occurs. 

Trick-or-Treating Safety

If you’ll be spending Halloween with your children, there are some important safety precautions you can take to ensure you have a fun yet enjoyable holiday. If your children will be trick-or-treating in yours or a friend’s neighborhood, make sure you and/or another adult are present at all times. Gone are the days that kids can just be turned loose to get candy from strangers’ homes. Even if your children are older, it’s still risky to let them walk alone – especially on Halloween when predators may be more likely to be out. 

If you wish to be extra precautious, you can have your children’s candy scanned at your local police department – to make sure there are no harmful objects or substances inside the pieces. Even if you don’t go this far, still glance over your child’s bag of candy before letting them begin eating. If you see any candy wrappers that look damaged or otherwise off in any way, it’s safest to simply throw the candy away. 

If you’ll be passing out candy from your home, make sure all walkways and steps are clean and well-lit. Children may get excited when there’s a bowl of candy ahead, and it’s possible they could trip and fall and get hurt if the path to your door is dark or has debris. Avoid a potential insurance claim by ensuring your home is safe for little monsters and witches to visit. 

Staying in on Halloween

If you are spending Halloween at home and do not have any children around, there are still some safety precautions you can take. If you have pets, keep them inside for their safety. There may be strangers who want to harm them in the name of Halloween, but they could also just get frightened by the commotion and run off. You also need to protect your home and possessions. Make sure your garage is securely shut, or if you leave your vehicle outside, that its doors are locked and any enticing electronics or other personal items are taken inside the house. Double check that your home’s doors are locked, even if you plan to stay in all evening. Thieves and vandals often take advantage of the Halloween commotion to perform their nefarious deeds. If something happens, you have insurance in place to protect you, but you certainly don’t want to have to use it, so take proper precautions on the 31st. 

No matter what you’re doing this Halloween, you can stay safe and avoid having to make a claim. But if you need us, our agency is only a phone call or email away! 

 

How Does My Dog’s Breed Affect My Homeowner’s Insurance? 

How Does My Dog’s Breed Affect My Homeowner’s Insurance? 

It has long been said that dogs are humankind’s best friend. If you have a canine companion you love, chances are they are an integral part of your family life. They snuggle with you (or on the dog bed) at movie nights, attend your barbeques and parties, and run to greet the delivery worker. But for some dog owners, living with their furry friend can cause home insurance rates to rise. It all depends on what breed of dog you own. That is why the assistance of an independent insurance agent is invaluable. They can shop the market to find you the lowest rates that will cover the “risks” that the insurance companies believe your dog’s breed pose.

Here are the most common breeds:

  • Akitas
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Chow Chows
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Pit Bulls and Staffordshire Terriers
  • Presa Canarios
  • Rottweilers
  • Siberian Husky
  • Wolf Hybrids

First Thing’s First 

Do not conceal your dog’s breed from your insurance agent. This may be tempting since, as we will soon discuss, owning a “high-risk breed” dog will probably increase your home insurance rates. You may believe that your dog is the most angelic creature in the world, but dogs are animals and we can never know what may frighten or intimidate them into aggressive action. If there is an incident where your dog harms either your property or a visitor, you will wish you’d been paying those higher premiums all along. The average claim payout for dog bites, one of the most costly claims, is a whopping $30,000. If your insurance carrier denies you coverage because you lied or concealed information from them, you could find yourself responsible for that hefty check. Yikes. 

What Will Happen?

When you own a dog that is considered a more “high-risk” or traditionally “aggressive breed,” it can be difficult to even find an insurance carrier that will cover your dog under your policy. Once you do, with the assistance of your independent agent, you will likely be required to increase your liability coverage limits. The amount can vary – it is best to rely on your agent’s expertise for this. Remember how we mentioned the average payout for a dog bite is 30K? You want to make sure you have adequate coverage or else some of that money could have to come out of your own pocket. 

It’s possible your insurance carrier may want you to purchase a separate umbrella policy instead of simply increasing your liability limits. An umbrella policy can be useful, not just in the case of pet damage or attacks, but also for any incident that happens on your own property. 

Take Preventative Measures 

In order to reduce the risk of your dog biting someone or otherwise causing injury, there are some steps you can take. Do not engage your dog in aggressive play, put your dog in its kennel or room in situations where it seems stressed, and be sure to work on socializing and training your dog when you first adopt it. Maintain a securely fenced yard if your dog spends significant time outside, and always supervise your dog when it plays with visitors – especially children who may not yet know how to treat an animal gently. 

Your beloved dog’s breed does not have to stop you from being properly insured. Independent agents can shop the insurance market for you in order to find you a homeowner’s policy that provides adequate coverage and allows for your “high-risk” breed dog. 

What Kind of Insurance Does a College Student Need?

What Kind of Insurance Does a College Student Need?

With colleges starting back up, maybe you have a child returning to school or leaving for the first time. You’ve got the twin XL sheets, the posters and the textbooks. Did you know that you also might need insurance for your college student?

Auto Insurance

If you already have auto insurance for your child’s car (and you should!), don’t cancel it if they are not taking their vehicle to college with them. There is a chance your auto insurance premiums could actually drop significantly if your child moves more than 100 miles from home. Most importantly, your child will still be covered when they return home and drive their vehicle. If they do take their vehicle off to college, thankfully they should still be covered under your policy. However your premiums may change depending on where your child is living during college – especially if they go out of state. 

Renters Insurance 

The good news is that if your child will be living in on-campus dorms or other university sponsored housing, their possessions should remain covered under your homeowners insurance. It’s important to note that the coverage limits may be different, so be sure to thoroughly discuss everything with your insurance agent before your child leaves. 

If your child will be living off-campus, their possessions will no longer be covered under your homeowners policy, and you will need to purchase a separate renters insurance policy to cover their items. A renters policy can protect your child’s expensive electronics such as a laptop or TV as well as other high value items like musical equipment or instruments. Like your homeowners insurance, your child’s renters policy also covers their insured possessions whether they’re inside your child’s living quarters or not. 

Health Insurance 

Although your child is eligible to remain on your own health insurance plan until they turn 26, there are still some things to consider when they leave for college. If your child will be living out of state during the school season and is not willing or able to return home for doctors’ visits, they may struggle with finding in-network providers. With the exception of emergencies, many health policies offer limited or no coverage for out of network providers. Before you make any moves, check with your child’s school to see if there are any in-network providers close to campus. 

If there are not, you have two options. First, you can have your child knock out all necessary medical appointments before leaving for school and schedule future appointments to coincide with breaks. If you do want the peace of mind that good coverage offers, look into supplementing your child’s health coverage with a student health insurance policy. Coverage may also be available through their college or your child could purchase their own coverage in the health insurance market. 

Sending your child off to college is an exciting time, whether they are a freshman or a fifth-year senior. Make sure your student has all the protection they need by utilizing the right insurance tools. 

This Is How Your Insurance Can Cover You During a Vacation

This Is How Your Insurance Can Cover You During a Vacation

School’s out, the sun’s out, and pretty soon you might be out of town! As you’re packing for your summer vacation, insurance is probably the last thing on your mind. You’re probably thinking about what clothes to bring, whether you need both your phone and tablet, or trying to dig out the snowboard you haven’t used in months. However as with every big moment in life, there are always insurance considerations to keep in mind.

Property Damage

This can come in two forms – damage or loss of your own property or damage to others property. In the first instance, the same homeowners or renters insurance that covers your personal property against theft, vandalism, or some acts of nature when you’re at home also covers your possessions you take with you on vacation. This is especially important for more expensive items such as electronics, jewelry, or even sporting equipment you take on vacation. On the flip side, this coverage also ensures you are safeguarded against any loss that happens to the property you left behind when you’re away from home. The important thing to note for this kind of coverage is that your policy must have certain limits of coverage in order to protect everything you want protected.

The other way in which your insurance can protect you in the case of property damage while you’re on vacation applies to the property of others. This is especially important if you’re renting a house or condo and end up breaking or damaging the property itself or something inside it. This type of coverage is called your personal liability policy, and if you cause damage in the place you’re vacationing, you may be covered by it.

Medical Emergencies

This one depends on where you are vacationing. In the case of medical emergencies inside the U.S., you should not encounter many obstacles regarding your insurance coverage extending to other in-network hospitals. You should expect to pay rates similar to what you’d pay at home. However, depending on your policy you may not be covered if you visit an out-of-network hospital in another city or state. It is best to know up front before you embark on your journey – for this you will speak to your insurance agent. You should also put “insurance card” on your packing list, if you don’t already carry it with you at all times (which you should!). Your home doctor may also offer “tele” services – meaning he or she can diagnose you over phone or video chat, and you get to stay in network no matter where you are in the country.

If you’re traveling out of the country, you may be surprised to learn that your coverage is more than you expected. Again, this is an instance in which it is most appropriate to speak to your agent before your trip to find out exactly what the out-of-pocket expenses would be for medical care abroad. Keep in mind this only applies to medical emergencies, not elective procedures.

The most important thing is to notify your insurance agent that you’ll be traveling, and to ask them if there are any updates needed to your policies. With an independent insurance agent on your side, you’ll have a friend to help you properly prepare for this exciting upcoming trip.

Spring Maintenance Checklist for Homeowners

Spring Maintenance Checklist for Homeowners

Winter can be tough on a home. Snow, ice, wind, rain and freezing temperatures can all place stress on your home’s structure. Now that Spring is here, it’s time to start taking stock of any needed repairs or updates to get your home back in top shape. Here are a few of the things you should be doing and looking for:

  • Check windows and doors for broken or damaged frames, hinges, or locks.
  • Inspect window or door screens for rips and have them repaired to prevent insects entering your home.
  • Have your roof professionally inspected. Pooling water or hail damage can cause failures in the material and structure of your roof, but you may not even know unless you have an inspection.
  • Look for cracks in your driveway. Water from heavy rain or snow can cause cracking in concrete, and you may want to get your driveway resealed to prevent further damage.
  • Clean leaves and debris from your gutters and downspouts, or have a professional clean them if you are unable or uncomfortable. This is a basic maintenance task but one that is essential to the upkeep of your home.
  • Inspect your fences for loose or rotten panels, and replace them promptly.
  • Have a deck? If so, you’ll need to pressure wash and reseal it on a regular basis. Many experts recommend doing this every few years, depending on the intensity of the weather in your area.
  • Test run sprinklers and outdoor faucets to ensure all systems are operational. If the water flow seems low, there may be an issue with the pipes.
  • Remove debris from on and around your air conditioning unit to ensure maximum efficiency.

Homeowners Insurance Can Protect Your Home

The best way you can protect your home is with homeowners insurance. As part of your spring maintenance, check in with your insurance agent to make sure you have the right coverage for your needs.

How Marriage Can Change Your Insurance Needs

How Marriage Can Change Your Insurance Needs

You already know that marriage will change a lot of things in your life. When you say “I do” you are combining your entire world – and often your home – with someone else’s. Among the changes that come with married life are adjustments you should make to your insurance coverage.

Home & Property

If you and your spouse move in together after getting married, you will want to have both of your names listed on the policy to ensure you both benefit from its protection. In addition to this change, you should consider increasing or adjusting your personal property coverage. Even before the wedding, you will want to get the engagement ring covered. Even if you never take the ring off and have no chance of losing it, there is still a chance that stones could fall out. Over the course of your engagement and even after the wedding, you may also receive valuable gifts. Whether you live together prior to marriage or combine your households after, wedding gifts can increase the total value of your possessions and require updates to your personal property coverage.

Auto

Auto insurance can undergo some of the biggest changes for married couples. Studies have found that married people have fewer motor vehicle accidents and take fewer risks while driving. Your auto insurance rates may decrease significantly after you get married. However if one spouse has a poor driving record, combining policies may not be the best option. It is best to get your agent’s advice on this matter, since he or she will be in the best position to tell you how you and your spouse can benefit from policy changes.

Life

If you and your future spouse do not already have life insurance policies, the event of your marriage is a good reason to consider purchasing life insurance. After all, once the two become one, you will most likely come to reply on each other financially. If either of you already possesses life insurance, you may want to update your beneficiary information to include your new spouse. Younger couples may not believe they need life insurance, but this coverage is likely going to be the least expensive while you are young and healthy. Life insurance will help protect your new family from the unexpected for years to come.

Health

Marriage is one of the qualifying life events that allow you to make changes to your health insurance policy outside of open enrollment. Usually valid within 60 days of the wedding, you can change your policies or add your spouse to your plan. Even if both partners already have health insurance through your employers, it can be worth it to speak to your agent about whether your current health coverage has everything you need.

Last but not least, if you are changing your name after getting married, be sure to submit the change to your insurance company after finishing the legal side of the process! Marriage can be a wonderful thing, and when you have the proper insurance you are able to enjoy it even more fully.

Tips for Using Electric Blankets Safely

Tips for Using Electric Blankets Safely

One of the most comfortable things on a cold autumn night is a warm, self-heated blanket tucked around your freezing toes! Electric blankets are one of the best modern inventions for warming up your body, but they can also pose safety risks to you and your home if they aren’t properly used. Before you get too cozy this season, take note of these safety tips for using electric blankets.

 

Use a Blanket That Was Made with Safety in Mind

In the past, electric blankets were notorious for starting house fires. Now, though less common, electric blankets are still the cause of several house fires per year. The reason? Older blankets. Blankets that have been around for awhile are more likely to be worn through, and their rheostats (the part that gauges both the blanket heat and the user’s body temperature) are more likely to malfunction. When people fall asleep with old or malfunctioning blankets, they run the risk of overheating, suffering from skin burns, and, in some cases, ignition.

 

Keep the Blanket Undisturbed

Electric blankets work best when left unobscured. As tempting as it may be to bunch up the blanket, sit on it, or lay it under your bed sheets, these things can trap heat and increase the risk of overheating and ignition. Moving the blanket around can also cause the fabric cover to slip away from the plastic heating part, which commonly leads to burns in users’ sleep. Play it safe and keep the blanket flat and uncovered while using it.

 

Keep Furry Cuddlers Away

Cats and dogs love warm spots too, and they will take advantage of your electric blanket if you let them. It isn’t a good idea to give your pets access to the blanket, though. Teeth and claws don’t mix well with a blanket full of heating coils and electric current. If left unattended, your pets could easily create shock and fire hazards for themselves and your family. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to keep them away, consider purchasing a low-voltage blanket instead.

 

Protect Your Home!

Winter weather brings an abundance of risks to your home. Make sure your house and belongings are covered by a solid home insurance policy from an independent agent! Not only can independent agents find you the best rates, but they get to know your family and understand the extent of coverage you need. Give us a call with any insurance questions you have today!