Protect Your Home During a Vacation

It’s finally vacation time and you’re excited about much needed relaxation. When you go on vacation, you want to be able to forget about the struggles at home and not have to worry about your home and your things. Here a few tips to ensure you have a safe trip without an unneeded insurance claim when you return.

Home Burglary Prevention

First, let’s talk about burglaries. To prevent your home from being broken into while you’re away, take a few precautionary measures.  If you live near neighbors you trust, consider letting them know you’ll be gone on vacation, and offering them a way to contact you in case something at your home looks suspicious. If you’re active on social media, be cautious about what you tell your online friends about your whereabouts. Sometimes we are so excited that we inadvertently give too much information about ourselves, leading would be criminals right to our door while we are away.

Keep a light on. Whether you just keep an inside light on the entire time you’re away, or you put an inside light on a timer for a more authentic feel, having a light on will deter unwanted strangers from entering your home in the evening. The more you give the appearance that you are home, the less likely a home burglar will be inclined to invade your space. In addition, consider trimming back bushes and trees, as many thieves use such items to conceal themselves from the street as they break into your home. Walk around the perimeter of your home and try to think like a criminal, if there is a ladder or box near a window, move it to make accessing your home inconvenient.

Close the shades and blinds of your home before you leave. Doing so will conceal your valuables from a stranger’s view, making “window shopping” not as easy or convenient. You don’t want to advertise to passers by that you have the latest gaming system, or that you own nice pieces of jewelry.

Have your mail and newspaper deliveries held or have them be picked up by a friend. There is nothing more obvious that you’re away than newspapers building up on the driveway and a full mailbox. You might also ask them to check your door for solicitations, asking them to remove any door hangers or advertisements they may find.  If you will be away for a long period of time, have someone mow your lawn. An unkept lawn is another sign of a homeowner who might be away. Lock all your doors, gates, and garage openings.

Now let’s talk about property damage. Spend a few minutes going around unplugging appliances that will not be in use.  In case of a storm, your appliances will be protected from power surges, and possible fires. Turn down the thermostat so the a/c or heater isn’t working constantly. This will save you money, but it will also help prevent something from going wrong while you are away, only to come home to a flooded a/c unit or a burned heating element.

If you’re going to be away for an extended amount of time, you’ll want to consider turning off the main water valve to your home, including sprinkler units, especially in the winter time when ice can break water pipes.

Remove toys and other items from your yard that might cause damage to your home, like windows or your roof, in the case of severe weather.

Taking a few moments to safeguard your home will allow you to take a vacation without worrying about what is going on with your valuables. Do the work beforehand so you can rightfully relax while you’re away!

We also recommend that you give your neighbor your insurance agent contact info. Should something happen such as water damage, you will want your agent to begin handling the claim to prevent further damage.

Things Not to do When in an Auto Accident

As an insurance agent in Arizona, I get several calls a week from clients asking pretty much the same question. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my clients and helping them with their questions. For whatever reason, today I had the case of the giggles (probably too much caffeine) so I created this funny picture of what NOT to do when you find yourself in an accident. Feel free to share.

What not to do when in an Arizona Insurance accident

Protecting Your Jewelry Through Homeowners Insurance

When you purchase homeowners insurance, you may find yourself overwhelmed at thinking of all the details of what could go wrong, and what claims you may have in the future. One of our most precious valuables is jewelry, whether they were costly or they have sentimental significance, you’ll want to be sure you have the insurance coverage you need if something goes wrong. Here are a few steps to take to verify that you’re insured correctly, and that you have the information you need in case disaster strikes: Arizona Home Insurance coverage for jewelryFirst, find out what your home insurance covers. Many policies will state a total amount, and a max amount per article of jewelry. For example, your policy might state $1500 total, with no more than $1000 for each item. In addition, you’ll want to verify that your policy will offer coverage in the case of theft, damage, or loss.  Once you find out how much your policy covers, you’ll want to do a little background research to determine if it is sufficient. Second, take pictures of each piece of jewelry. This is not only to prove that you own it, but it will also detail their condition in the case of damage. Catalog your jewelry, with each picture you’ll want to note when it was purchased, or otherwise gifted to you, and how much you paid. Keep receipts, if possible, and place them with the pictures. You may consider having a file just for insurance purposes, with not just pictures of jewelry and descriptions, but also any other insurance related items, like receipts for furniture or appliances. Third, have your pieces appraised.  Find a certified appraiser and find out how much your jewelry is worth. Have the worth of each piece in writing so that you can submit it to your homeowners insurance if needed. Do be aware that the value of jewelry will change over time, as the price of gold and silver fluctuates. So even if you have had them appraised in the past, there is no harm in getting an updated appraisal for your file. Finally, speak to your insurance agent about the coverage you have versus the coverage you need. Having the above information will help your agent offer you the type of coverage that will suit your needs and your valuables. The least expensive way to cover your jewelry is to increase the level of coverage on your existing policy, but if you have a lot of jewelry, or very expensive items, you may want to consider adding a personal jewelry policy, which will cover just the jewelry and often at a higher policy limit than a traditional homeowners insurance. Being armed with the above knowledge and getting the policy that suits your needs will prevent added stress and uncertainty in the face of a crisis. Knowing in advance that you have prepared yourself and your policy for the worst will bring you comfort in the day to day.

Crazy Auto Insurance Claims

Cars ran over by a tractor.

A man driving a farm tractor ran over eight vehicles in the parking lot of a Vermont police station in an apparent revenge scheme, according to local police. Roger Pion, 34, of Newport, Vt., flattened seven marked police cruisers and one unmarked personal vehicle at the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department in Derby, Vt., around 12:40 p.m. Thursday.

“We came out and sure enough there was someone who had run over our cruisers with a tractor,” Chief Dep. Philip Brooks of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Dept. told WCAX.

Protecting Against Roof Repair Scams

It is that time of year again… Monsoon Season!

photo from boomerinthepew.com

During Monsoon Season, homeowners experience the beauty and splendor of the Arizona terrain. Flowers are in bloom thanks to more rainfall, hail and the beauty of our sunsets is magnified. It is the time of year when the animals come out in force- more than any other time of the year. Everything is radiant, until one morning when you look up and see what you have been dreading since the rains first started. Nightmares of that last hail storm begin flooding your dreams: roof damage. This damage is of course, not always delivered in the form of hail. Tree branches and high winds can add damage to already aging roofs and deteriorate living conditions and affect the costs of utilities over time if repair is stalled for too long.

An even bigger hazard to your health, your roof, your wallet AND you standing with your insurance are roof repair scams. Everyone has heard the horror stories of scam artists who took their victim’s insurance money and disappeared into thin air, leaving behind unfinished work or not showing up to do work at all. We have found through the years of taking calls from clients that not all roofing contractors are the same.

Here are a few tips to help protect you from roof repair scams:

Take the time to shop around: There is no shame in getting multiple quotes from different roofing companies. Go for it! In addition, your insurance agent may even be able to provide a list of roofing companies or refer you to roofing contractors that are located in your area. But you will never know if you don’t ask.

Don’t find yourself in high pressure situations: If a salesman is trying to pressure you or if something just doesn’t feel right about it- listen to your gut instincts. A good roofing contractor will work with you in order to get your business, not pressure you into a contract.

Research all roofing companies that you are considering: Before you begin deciding which roofing company you want to use, make sure that they are a legitimate business with a license to do home repair work in Arizona. The presence of a contractor’s license is very important as it can help to identify whether or not the company is a legitimate business. You can look up license numbers and get more information at the Arizona Contractor License Center.

In addition to the above website, you can also refer to websites such as the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) or websites such as Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com), which can aid you through reviews written by previous customers (however, you should always take these reviews with a grain of salt).

-Don’t be afraid to ask questions: This is your roof. It is something that will be hanging over your head (literally), for quite some time. Asking questions is not a bad thing. Often times, a good company will encourage asking questions.

NEVER pay prior to repairs: One staple of being scammed is that the salesman will want the money before the work is started. So don’t give the full amount until the work is complete. Some roofing companies do require money before hand, but a legitimate contractor or roofing company shouldn’t ask for the full amount prior to completing the project.

Storm Damage:

If you do have storm damage and you have extensive water damage in your home, you should call a water damage repair contractor. Many times you will have a tree that has fallen and you need a tree removal company.

For more tips and articles regarding insurance, please visit: Arizona Capital Insurance.

What’s Covered in Your Home Insurance Policy

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions I get as an insurance agent that will be helpful to any homeowner in Arizona. In addition to questions and answers, I have included coverage items to look for before purchasing your next homeowners insurance policy or upon your next policy renewal.

What is covered in my home insurance policy?

This may sound like a basic question but it is a very important one. The good news is the standard homeowner insurance policy covers most hazards or “perils” to the dwelling. It is probably easier to answer what is not covered vs. what is. Although this list is not complete, below are a few of the major ones.

–       Flood

–       Earth movement (Earthquake, landslide, sinkhole)

–       War

–       Nuclear hazard

–       Intentional loss

–       Wear and tear

–       Governmental action

–       Birds, vermin, rodents, or insects

Do I need to purchase a different type of homeowners policy if I am renting my home?

Yes. There are many different types of policies depending on the use of the home. Insuring a home with the wrong type of home insurance policy could leave you exposed and at risk of not have coverage when a claim arises. Landlord or rental policies cover you for the extra exposure of having a tenant in the home. For example, what if the tenant of your home is found liable for an injury to someone while on the property? If the home is insured as your primary home there would potentially be no coverage for the risk associated with the tenant.

Does a tenant need his own insurance policy if he is renting my investment property?

Yes, for multiple reasons. By having the tenant purchase what is known as a “renters” policy, the landlord and the tenant both benefit. The landlord gets an added layer of protection in the event the tenant is found liable for some damage or injury to someone while on the property. The tenants get coverage for their personal belongings (furniture, clothes, T.V. etc) as well as liability protection for their actions as well.

Is their added home insurance coverage I need if my home is vacant?

Yes. Many people in Arizona do not realize there is a vacancy exclusion in almost every home insurance policy. The time limit can vary, but most policies state that after 30 to 60 days of the home being vacant coverages are limited (if the home is seasonal and is correctly insured this would not apply). Losses from theft, vandalism, and water leaks could potentially go uncovered. If you know your home is going to be vacant for an extended period of time, having a property management company check on the home periodically could mitigate a lot of the risk.

How can I save money on my home insurance?

This is the question everyone wants to know. Home insurance pricing is based on many factors (age of home, proximity to fire station, estimated replacement cost, security features, etc).  Although insurance companies use basically the same criteria, you will find that their rates will vary greatly. Probably the best way to save money is to quote your insurance with multiple companies. You can call several companies for a quote, or use an independent agent that can get multiple quotes for you. Choose a high deductible. A $1,000 deductible should be a starting point. It is not uncommon for policies to be written at 5,000 deductibles or higher. The savings can be well worth it. Make sure you let your insurance agent know about any security features. Monitored alarms for fire and/or burglars will shave off 10% or more.

Now that you have a great quote on your home insurance, does the policy have the coverage you need? Many people think home insurance coverage is the same from company to company.

Here are 3 things to look for in a great home insurance policy:

1. “Guaranteed replacement cost.” What happens if your home burns down and the cost to rebuild is 300,000 and your policy is written for 250,000?  Most policies have some sort of “extended replacement” cost, but that may or may not be enough. Having a policy written with the language “guaranteed replacement cost” puts the burden on the insurance company to make sure there is enough coverage in the event of a total loss. However, to qualify for “guaranteed replacement cost”, you will need to make sure you inform your insurance agent if you make any changes to/in your home. Talk to your insurance agent about what can disqualify you from having this coverage.

2. “Water back up coverage.” I often hear, “Why would I need water back up coverage on a home in the AZ desert?” This is an essential coverage often times overlooked by insurance agents and insured’s. If water backs up through your toilet, sinks, bathtubs, etc, and causes damage to the flooring, chances are you may be out of luck. The standard home policy does not cover this.

3. “Building ordinance coverage.” Many cities in AZ are requiring the construction or remodeling of homes to include certain extras or upgrades to bring up to city building code. What if the city your home is in now requires all homes to have fire prevention sprinkler systems throughout the house? If your home needed repair from an insurance claim, you might be stuck paying the bill for the extra work. Such a law was passed in Scottsdale, AZ not too many years ago.

Another confusing aspect of home policies is the breakdown or separation of the coverages. What exactly are all those numbers and letters referring to and do I need less or more? Below is a summary of the coverages sections for you to refer to.

Coverage A – Residence (Dwelling)

This provides protection on: the house and attached buildings (dwelling, attached garage and porches, etc.), building equipment (furnace, hot water heater, etc.), fixtures, built in components, outdoor antennas including lead-in wiring and accessories, carpeting, building materials and supplies located on the insured premises for use in construction of or to the residence.

Coverage B – Other Structures
This covers fences, driveways, sidewalks, and other permanently installed outdoor fixtures, outdoor antennas including lead-in wiring and accessories, carpeting, building materials and supplies located on the insured premises for use in construction of or to a related private structure.

Coverage C – Personal Property
Personal property you own or in the care of you or your relatives residing in your household is covered. This coverage includes detachable building items such as window air conditioners, curtains, drapes and outdoor equipment not permanently installed.

This also includes coverage for the property of students who are resident relatives while temporarily living away from home at school or college.

Certain types of personal property are subject to specified limits of protection.

Coverage D – Additional Living Expense
Any extra reasonable and necessary costs incurred (up to your policy’s specified limit) is covered if you’re forced to live in temporary quarters due to the loss or repair of your home following a covered loss to your property. This coverage is for additional expenses above and beyond your normal household expenses. The increase in living expenses applies to such expenses as rental of temporary quarters, meals in restaurants, and laundry service.

Coverage E – Personal Liability
Personal liability coverage protects you against covered losses caused to others while on your property and elsewhere. It also safeguards you against accidental damage to someone else’s property.

Coverage F – Medical Payments
This coverage provides for the necessary medical expenses (subject to policy limits) for non-residents injured on your property, regardless of fault. Medical payments will be paid if expenses are incurred within three years from the date of accident.

Make sure you are not just getting a great rate, but also getting the protection you need. Having an insurance agent that understands these risks is more important than ever. Your home is one of the biggest investments you will ever make. Making sure you have the right home insurance policy is essential to protecting that investment long term. Also keep in mind that home insurance policies in each state are different. For example, an Arizona home insurance policy is going to be different from other states in the nation.

Keep Your Pool Safe and Prevent Insurance Claims

As the summer heats up, many Arizona residents want to cool off in their own pool. While splashing around in the water can be a great source of family entertainment, backyard pools can also be potential liabilities. According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I):

There are over 3,400 fatal accidental drownings in the U.S. annually, with children ages one to four having the highest drowning rates. Fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury related deaths for children ages one to 14 years old, according to the CDC. In addition, for every child who dies from drowning another four children will be treated for “nonfatal submersion injuries” which can cause brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g. permanent vegetative state).

Pool owners need sufficient liability coverage to cover their pool. Most homeowners insurance policies have at least $100,000 of liability protection. However, since pools are considered an “attractive nuisance,” homeowners may need additional liability coverage. The I.I.I. recommends at least $300,000 to $500,000 of liability coverage for pool owners. Homeowners also need enough insurance coverage to replace the pool if it is destroyed by a natural disaster.

Homeowners need to be aware that they can be liable for damages even if the person injured was using the pool without permission. In addition to purchasing sufficient liability coverage, homeowners should also consider the following safety precautions:

  • Completely surround the pool with a four sided fence that is at least 5 feet high, as required by law. If a residence makes up one side of the pool enclosure, there must be a barrier between the home and the pool that is at least four feet high.
  • Install an appropriate pool cover. Arizona requires a motorized, key-locking, ASTM approved pool cover.
  • Layer child safety measures such as pool alarms that sound when a child enters the water, self-closing latches that prevent a child from opening the pool gate, and alarms on exterior doors or windows that will alert when doors leading to the pool are opened.
  • Install a VBG compliant pool filter. Keep children away from pool filters or other suction devices and make sure that supervising adults know how to shut down the filter in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure that pool guests know how to swim. Proficient swimmers should accompany beginners, and adults should supervise children at all times.
  • Have emergency supplies such as ring buoys, reaching poles, and a first aid kit easily accessible. Post emergency numbers on the phone. Keep a phone close to the pool.
  • Regularly check the pool area for hazards such as glass bottles or toys that could cause an accident. Keep radios or other electronic devices away from the pool.
  • Restrict alcohol use near the pool. Alcohol is involved in almost half of water related deaths for both adults and teens.
  • Learn basic life-saving techniques such as rescue breathing and CPR.

Taking these basic safety precautions can help you and your friends safely enjoy your pool this summer. Pool safety doesn’t just prevent claims on your homeowners insurance policy, it also saves lives.

For more information on pool safety, you can view the state guidelines at the Arizona Department of Health Services website.

Prepare for Fire Season by Evaluating Your Homeowners Insurance

The 2012 Arizona wildfire season has already started, and the U.S. Forest Service estimates that the 2012 season could be as bad as the historic 2011 fire season. The 2012 National Seasonal Assessment predicts an “above normal significant fire potential” for the mountains, with a normal significant fire potential predicted for other parts of Arizona. As of May 16, the Gladiator Fire had already destroyed four structures and threatened almost 400 more.

There are several steps homeowners can take to prevent fire damage to their property, including using fire resistant materials, providing a firebreak, and creating a defensible space around structures. If the worst does happen, homeowners also need to be sure that they are adequately insured to cover a catastrophic loss of their homes. The Insurance Information Institute lists four key questions homeowners should ask to ensure adequate coverage in case of a disaster:

    1. Is my insurance coverage enough to rebuild my home at today’s costs?

Insuring your home for its value may not be enough to rebuild your home at the price of current construction. Adequate coverage should include a replacement cost policy that will pay for the replacement of damaged property with comparable materials. Arizona homeowners might also want to consider an extended replacement policy that will pay an additional 20% above policy limits if a disaster–such as a widespread wildfire–raises the cost of materials and labor. Other options include inflation or ordinance riders which help cover the impact of inflation or new ordinances on construction costs.

    1. Is my insurance coverage enough to replace all of my possessions?

Most homeowners insurance policies cover possessions at a rate of 50-70% of the amount of insurance on the structure of the home. A home inventory is the best way to determine if this is enough coverage to replace your personal possessions if they are lost to a fire or other disaster. You can insure your personal possessions by either a cash value or replacement cost policy. Cash value policies cover the cost of replacing your property after depreciation. Replacement cost policies cover the replacement cost of your possessions at today’s prices. Your insurance agent can help you determine whether a cash or replacement policy is the best option for you.

    1. Will my insurance cover my extra expenses if my home is destroyed?

If your home is destroyed in a wildfire or other disaster, there will be additional expenses beyond replacing your home and possessions. Coverage for additional living expenses would pay for the extra cost of living away from home and includes expenses such as hotel bills and restaurant meals. It could also cover lost rental income if you rent out a portion of your property.

    1. Will my homeowners insurance adequately protect my assets?

This question isn’t directly related to disaster planning, but it is still an important factor in evaluating your homeowners insurance needs. Liability damage protects you against claims made for bodily injury or property damage caused by you, a family member, or a pet. Liability damage covers court costs as well as any costs incurred in a court judgment up to the limits of your policy. Additional coverage beyond your policy limits is available in the form of an excess liability or umbrella policy.

Wise preparation for fire season should include making sure your home is adequately insured. Your insurance agent can help you evaluate your insurance needs.

How to Head-off Potential Claims on Your Homeowners insurance policy

Now that you’ve purchased your homeowners insurance, it’s time to think about steps you can take to prevent, or lessen, future homeowners insurance claims.

Here are some tips that might help in keeping the homeowners insurance claims adjuster away:

  • Buy enough coverage: Find out what it would cost to rebuild your house in your area. Want to keep the same look to the house? Ask a builder for an estimate on the cost to rebuild. Don’t skimp on coverage, and forget about paying that little extra for that piece of mind for insuring your home and belongings.
  • Bring on the fire department: Ask your local fire station to come by your house and do a fire safety inspection- and include your kids when they come to your house. Spotting fire hazards and fixing them will certainly pay off in the long run.
  • Insure that Picasso: Okay, maybe you don’t have a Picasso hanging in your entryway, but you might have a few, so-called luxury items like jewelry and an heirloom desk sitting in the den. Make sure you have the ‘rider’ for coverage, if needed.
  • Water… water: Everywhere. If only you would’ve changed that leaky hose on the washing machine before you left on vacation. Do a survey of your in-house connections. Sprinkler system? Make sure the automatic timer is working correctly and not ‘hanging up’ for hours on that station by your basement window. 
  • Accidents waiting to happen: Walkways and steps invite all sorts of potential for liability claims from strangers or friends coming to your property. Make sure step rails and decking are in good repair. 
  • Wind and hail: It’s not uncommon, or rare, for a major onslaught of wind and hail to hit parts of Arizona. Heed warnings by battening down patio furniture, or screen doors…and even keep tree limbs trimmed back. 

It makes good sense to review your homeowners insurance coverage with your insurance agent at least once a year.

 

Insurance Tips: Don’t Let Wildfires Take You by Surprise!

Anyone who knows the difference between a “Zonie” and an “Arizonan” can tell you what May brings: the beginning of wildfire season.  As the last traces of coolness head toward the mountains and beyond, homeowners in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler  and Tucson and surrounding counties can look forward to the simple joys of burn notices, monsoons, and eventually, wildfires.

Last year, the Wallow Fire near Alpine burned more than 500,000 acres in Eastern Arizona, destroying homes and businesses, claiming the title of largest wildfire in Arizona history.  Arizona insurance adjusters were swamped with claims, and many home and business owners found out too late that they were underinsured.

Arizona Wild Fires

The reality of life in the desert is that sooner or later there are going to be fires.  According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, drought conditions in Arizona are expected to persist or intensify through the end of July, 2012.

There are some tips to protect your home during drought seasons.  The Arizona Division of Emergency Management offers several tips to help homeowners protect their assets.

  • Housekeeping is your friend.  Old branches, dead leaves, overgrown or drying shrubbery, and clogged gutters are just a few of the hidden flash spots for wildfires.  By removing both organic and man-made debris to at least 30 feet from your home, you can create a defensible space around these structures.
  • Don’t skimp on storage.  Combustible or flammable materials need to be stored properly, in approved containers.  Also, remember to keep wooden structures like picnic tables and woodpiles a safe distance from your home.
  • Be aware of power lines.  It’s important to prune bushes around the house, removing dead leaves and branches.  But don’t forget any trees that may have branches hanging near power lines.  All it takes is one monsoon wind to turn that lovely tree into a fire trap.
  • Protect your most precious assets.  A house can be replaced.  But your family cannot be.  Always be aware of hazardous conditions, and make sure your family has a well-defined emergency procedure.  Identify more than one route to and from your home or neighborhood, and agree on a predetermined place to gather in times of disaster.

Homeowners can also use some of the following preventative measures to decrease their risk of suffering wildfire-related losses:

  • Replace roof with fire-resistant materials
  • Provide fire breaks to prevent the spread of fire
  • Provide fire roads to aid in firefighting
  • Install smoke detectors in your home
  • Teach each member of the family how to use a fire extinguisher
  • Regularly check fire extinguishers and smoke alarms to ensure they are in working order
  • Create a disaster supply kit  that includes the following items: a three-day supply of water (1 gallon per person), non-perishable food, a change of clothing, a medical kit that includes prescription medications, credit cards and important documents, personal hygiene products, extra eyeglasses, matches in a waterproof container, and a map of the area which includes important phone numbers.

Finally, ask a family member who lives outside of the area to act as your “family contact.” In times of disaster, this contact would be the go-to person to coordinate information, keep track of family members’ whereabouts, and maintain contact addresses and phone numbers.

Arizona is an amazing place to live, with abundant natural beauty.  While wildfires are to be expected, they don’t have to be devastating.  With preparation and common sense, you can protect your home and your assets from the dangers of summer.

We would also recommend that you take the time to sit down with your local insurance agent, and let him/her know your fears and get their expert opinion on any changes you should make to your home insurance policy.  If you don’t have a good relationship with your insurance agent, it’s time to find a new one!