Your Duties After A Loss | Brooklyn Covered

If your policy includes coverage for additional living expenses (and if it doesn’t, go out today and buy a policy with this important coverage), you must again keep accurate records of your expenses for housing, food, and transportation.

Whether you rent or own your home, your insurance policy, in the Conditions section, lists your duties after a loss. Should you fail to comply with the duties which follow, your insurance company could deny you coverage.

  1. You must immediately notify your Broker, Agent, or your insurance company’s claims department of how, when and where the loss happened. Make sure to include the names, addresses and contact information of any witnesses and other injured parties.
  2. Notify the local authorities.
  3. You must protect the property from further loss or damage. This is where many people endanger their full indemnification after a covered loss. For example, if your roof has suffered damage, take as many photos as possible. Then, make reasonable and necessary repairs to prevent further damage. When this is done, take more pictures.
  4. Keep an accurate record of the expenses you incur to protect the property from further damage.
  5. If your home suffered water damage when the roof was compromised, make an inventory of the damaged property before you toss things out on the sidewalk, for example. Your inventory should include describe each item, and it’s cost. Again, take as many pictures as possible to prove your loss. Original receipts, and/or instruction manuals, are a terrific source of proof of ownership. I always tell my clients to prepare a complete Personal Home Inventory using a Travelers Insurance brochure as a guide. Your work at preparing a claim will go a lot faster and easier when you already have a prepared inventory.
  6. If your policy includes coverage for additional living expenses (and if it doesn’t, go out today and buy a policy with this important coverage), you must again keep accurate records of your expenses for housing, food, and transportation.
  7. Remember, you will be required to sign a sworn statement about all the damages and costs you’ve incurred. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to inflate your loss and expense amounts. These are acts of fraud, and your company could refuse to provide coverage for any insured engaged in these acts.

Suffering a loss is tough, but you can make your recovery easier by following these tips.

Eustace L. Greaves Jr., LUTCF is a New York State licensed independent insurance agent and broker. To get a copy of the Personal Home Inventory Brochure, send Eustace an email to eustace@insuremeeg.com. Or, stop by his office at 651 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY 11238, for a hard copy. Just give him a call at 718-783-2722 so he can tidy up the office before you stop by

Heightened Awareness | Brooklyn Covered

“Increased inflation during their working years left their hard-earned pensions inadequate for the new financial reality of increased rents, and having to purchase Medicare Supplement coverage to fill the gaps in their health insurance. And, even if they own their own home, increased real estate taxes and utility bills will become an increasing burden at a time in their lives when, for the most part, their income will not increase each year.

“Many of these good folk are facing retirement and still have mortgages. Why? They fell prey to the siren song of refinancing during the years of mortgage madness. They used their hard-earned equity for new cars, vacations, window treatments and college educations for their children. They thought the gravy train would still be rolling down the tracks.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing ideas about money, savings, mortgages and the like with Mr. John Dallas, Program Coordinator for the East Flatbush office of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City.

During the conversation, John asked me a question I’d never been asked in all my years of self-employment. “Eustace, as a self-employed person, are you ever afraid?”

Wow. Talk about being leaning into a Joe Frazier left hook.

I told John in all my years, no one had ever asked me such a question. After some thought, the best answer I could give him was, “While I don’t give in to fear, I do enjoy a ‘heightened awareness’ in all aspects of my life.”

“John, several years ago, I sat in my office with some friends, just shooting the breeze, you know, talking about the economy, business, what we were doing to increase the amount of business we had while keeping our current clients happy.  Everyone in the group was an entrepreneur, responsible for their own financial success.

“As I think back on our conversation that day, one thing stands out: Not one of us was boo-hooing about the economy. Instead, we focused on giving each other good business-growing ideas. In some cases, we exchanged leads, and promised to make introductions to other professionals who could be a source of help.”

“At one point several of us jokingly questioned our lack of intelligence for not having gotten one of those “safe” jobs decades ago, especially those of us who would be near the once-normal retirement age.” As we laughed about that, I stated that for many current and soon-to-be-retirees, the future was actually quite bleak.

Retirement Realities

“Increased inflation during their working years left their hard-earned pensions inadequate for the new financial reality of increased rents, and having to purchase Medicare Supplement coverage to fill the gaps in their health insurance. And, even if they own their own home, increased real estate taxes and utility bills will become an increasing burden at a time in their lives when, for the most part, their income will not increase each year.

“Many of these good folk are facing retirement and still have mortgages. Why? They fell prey to the siren song of refinancing during the years of mortgage madness. They used their hard-earned equity for new cars, vacations, window treatments and college educations for their children. They thought the gravy train would still be rolling down the tracks.

“They never thought it would dry up. And just imagine the financial calamity should the IRS send everyone who refinanced their mortgage a letter asking them to provide, in detail, how they actually used the money they got from refinancing. If they can’t prove they used these funds for the purchase of a property or the improvement of an existing property, and deducted the interest on Schedule A, Schedule E, or a combination of both, they violated income tax law.

“And John, everyone deducted the interest. In many cases, it was the only way the new mortgage was affordable.

“They forgot the story of the three-legged stool we all sit on in retirement. One leg is  income from Social Security, the second is pension income, and the forgotten third leg is personal savings. Just try to balance on a two-legged stool and chances are you’ll fall on your rear end every time.

“You see John, everyone forgot about the third leg. We were too busy cruising, travelling, eating out instead of in, purchasing big-screen tv’s to watch cable and dish programs which added no value to our lives, the newest ‘smartphones’, cellphone packages costing megabucks, and buying clothes which were too expensive and in many cases, never saw the light of day.  And shoes, don’t talk about the shoes.

“John, too many people purchased things to make themselves happy. Instead of cash-value life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, or even a simple bank account, they instead put their money in the street in the form of new cars they really couldn’t afford to insure or maintain, and on their backs for all to see.

“As a result, we don’t own the amount of savings we should. And the stool is real shaky.

John, a really good listener, was taking this all in. ” So what,” John asked, “do people like you do differently than others who work for someone?”

I told John that, while in the meeting, one of my friends used a term so profound, it’s stuck with me to this day. “Heightened awareness”, John, “heightened awareness.”

“My friend deemed those who worked for someone “The Normals.” Most of the time, they don’t even know how much is in their checking accounts because they know in a week or two, more money will magically appear to help them pay the bills. They don’t worry about health or dental care costs because they have benefit plans. Their employer provides them with a pension which may or may not keep up with inflationary pressures.

“What many of them lack is the entrepreneur’s sense of heightened awareness. We know how much a toner or ink cartridge costs. How many miles a gallon our car gets. We turn off lights when we’re not in the room, and are loath to use the air-conditioning until a pool of sweat forms at our feet.

“Most importantly, we spend for fun only after we meet our monthly obligations, not before.”

Now John is one of those folk who while employed by someone else, really has the soul of the entrepreneur. And, as many of my clients deal with the realities of debt, before and after retirement, they too are developing the heightened awareness so necessary to financial success.

So I looked at John and said, “My friend, I’ve yet to give you an answer. While I am never afraid, let’s just say I know when to waste time watching a football game, and when to sit down at the desk and send out an email, or prepare for a presentation. I love coupons in the supermarket, and DSW for the shoes my Little Princess needs.

“I know where just about every dollar goes.

“About a year after my fiancée died, our daughter and I were buying the office supplies I needed for the upcoming income tax preparation season. The total came to just shy of $800.00. When the cashier announced the total, my daughter held up her hand and said “Hold up there Daddy. Are you telling me we just spent almost $800.00 and we didn’t have any fun?”

“I looked at her and said, “No, I’m about to spend almost $800.00. And, should the plan reach fruition, this expenditure will enable me to generate the money necessary for the fun we’ll have in the spring and the fall.”

“That day, my daughter received her first lesson in “heightened awareness”, a lesson I’m proud to say she’s never forgotten.”

As our meeting came to an end, John and I agreed we should all work on heightening our financial awareness.

Otherwise, we may crack a hip falling off a two-legged stool.

My Homeowners Insurance Policy, Part 2.5 | Brooklyn Covered

Here’s another suggestion. Why not get a whole-house review? I’m honored to refer my friend and client, Mr. Curtis (“Caulk Is Cheap”) Godoy, a NYC licensed and insured General Contractor, Master Carpenter and EPA Certified Painter. You can reach him at 1-347-581-5562, or drop him an email at curtis.godoy1200@gmail.com . If he thinks anything is amiss, he’ll let you know.

(In our last thrilling published post, we learned how failing to maintain our homes can lead to increased and larger claims, causing us to lose our voluntary homeowners insurance policy, and the accompanying threat of the dreaded force-placed policy.)

Okay, Why Should I Care?

Just one word.

Accessibility.

Accessibility to affordable, quality insurance in the voluntary market for you and the community you live in.

Let’s say your community’s claim results spike. Soon, the premiums for homeowners insurance could demonstrate a “similar propensity for growth,” or, go up like crazy. Or, in a worse-case scenario, major companies will choose to neither write nor renew policies in your community, providing fertile ground for the entry of more expensive players.

And, what happens if a homeowner can’t qualify for one of the newer companies due to their checkbook balance, or the credit score from hell?

Well, there’s always force-placed insurance.

Don’t I paint the rosiest pictures?

It’s Time

It’s time to renew your commitment to a disciplined program of home maintenance. With it, you should no longer suffer pipes or roofs leaking with regularity. You’ll replace the flexible hoses behind the washing machine with new, high-pressure hoses designed to resist kinks and sudden breaks. You’ll begin regularly performing a deep cleaning of your clothes dryer to prevent lint fires in either your dryer or dryer vent. (You do have a dryer vent, don’t you?)

You’ll caulk around your windows and doors, saving money on heating and cooling while keeping rain outside. You’ll check to ensure your windows are properly screwed into the frame. You’ll make sure your landscaping draws water away from your foundation, and not towards it. You’ll check and clean gutters and downspouts.

In short, you’ll do what every homeowner should do: Maintain your home.

Here’s another suggestion. Why not get a whole-house review? I’m honored to refer my friend and client, Mr. Curtis (“Caulk Is Cheap”) Godoy,  a NYC licensed and insured General Contractor, Master Carpenter and EPA Certified Painter. You can reach him at 1-347-581-5562, or drop him an email at curtis.godoy1200@gmail.com . If he thinks anything is amiss, he’ll let you know. If he feels you need a new roof, he’ll contact Gus Jean Louis, a.k.a., Gus the Roofer. You can reach him at 1-347-564-3009, or email him at Gusroofing@gmail.com. Pipes leaking? Contact Keith Huggins of Pusky Plumbing at 1-917-531-8385. Mr. Godoy  can put you in touch with qualified professionals who are licensed and insured. Why do I recommend these gentlemen? Because they are the only building professionals I let do any work in my mom’s home. They are true professionals, and have yet to disappoint.

Next time, we’ll see how your home’s location can cause your banishment to the force-placed insurance market.

(Need a plan for home maintenance? Just drop me an email at eustace@brooklyncovered.com, and I’ll email you a copy of the home maintenance schedule provided by Travelers Property and Casualty. And subscribe to BrooklynCovered.com for automatic notification of every new post. No email address? No problem. Just provide me with your address and phone information and I’ll  send you the brochure.)

My Homeowners Insurance Policy, Part 2 | Brooklyn Covered

When the economy was blasting away like a furnace in a steel mill, homeowners actually spent money, copious amounts of money, on the regular maintenance of their homes. This investment, a direct reflection of the pride of homeownership, came with a accompanying benefit: Because of the amount of care and attention paid to keeping their homes in tip-top shape, there were fewer claims impacting, for example, my agencys results. And, the claims which were submitted were smaller in size. Less cost, less frequency.

(In our last exciting segment of “Dude, Where’s My Homeowners Insurance Policy?”, we learned submitting a claim during the first 60 days after applying for homeowners (and auto) insurance is akin to bringing a vampire out in the daylight. Without the special sunshade.

Today’s installment will continue the study of claims and how they affect your ability to purchase homeowners insurance from preferred companies.)

Where’s My Homeowners Insurance Policy, Part 2

Let me start by saying in all my over 29 years in the insurance business, I’ve never seen claims come across my desk with the frequency and size the like of which I’ve seen in the last 20 years. You can blame Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee all you want. Truth is, too many people are simply not investing any real money and energy in maintaining their homes.

I blame the sin and disease of deferred maintenance.

Home Maintenance, The Economy, Deferred Home Maintenance

I believe there is a direct correlation between the state of the economy and home maintenance.

When the economy was blasting away like a furnace in a steel mill, homeowners actually spent money, copious amounts of money, on the regular maintenance of their homes. This investment, a direct reflection of the pride of homeownership, came with an accompanying benefit: Because of the amount of care and attention paid to keeping their homes in tip-top shape, there were fewer claims impacting, for example, my agency’s results. And, the claims were smaller. Less cost, less frequency.

Sounds like an old television commercial. The kind I really like.

The Years The Music Died

Then came 2006, 2007, and (why, oh why Lord?), 2008 and 2009, 2010, and 2011.

When once non-existent claims found life, and once-small claims became huge. When diamond rings began to “disappear,’ and water damage claims once averaging $3,000 to $5,000, suddenly ballooned to $10,000, $20,000 and beyond.

In one case, a clients home suffered interior water damage from a heavy rainstorm, caused by a leaky roof, caused by deferred maintenance, caused by reduced family income, further exacerbated by the family purchasing a home which was overpriced and in poor condition, inspected by an appraiser who over-appraised the property, accompanied by an equally unaffordable monthly mortgage committment.

The company I’d insured them with paid the claim. The check they received, less their deductible, should have been used to repair the defective roof, and replace water-damaged furniture, rugs and clothes . This way, when the raindrops fall in the future, no more leaky roof, no interior damage.

Your Homeowners Insurance Policy Is Not A Piggy Bank

Guess what? The next year, after a heavy rain, the same homeowner submitted yet another claim for the same cause of loss! Even the insurance company’s claims department was shocked they’d submit the same claim two years in a row.

I called the client, basically asking “What the hell? Why are you submitting the same claim two (2) years in a row? Why didn’t you repair the roof with the money you received last year?”

Their reply? “We used the money to catch up on the mortgage.”

Oy.

So, the company paid the claim, again. When policy renewal time rolled around, though, they got a different letter from the insurance company. Basically it read, “Your policy is being non-renewed for the following reason: Negative claim history.”

When you receive a letter like this from most voluntary companies, your options are few. You are done. End of story.

Now, this particular story could have had a happy ending, were I able to place them with another preferred company.

No one wanted them. Well, that’s not entirely true. One company did. At a premium of over $9,000 each year. (Don’t get all self-righteous and indignant. You want to dance to the band, you’ve got to pay the man, or in this case, the insurance company.)

So, once the bank learned their voluntary homeowners insurance policy lapsed, they graciously agreed to place a force-placed policy on the home. At a premium of $4,800 each year.

Heck, it was cheaper than the other policy I offered them.

(Our next post will address why home maintenance is important to individual homeowners and the communities they live in. Also, for the first time in the history of BrooklynCovered.com, referrals to home maintenance professionals! And please, take a minute and subscribe to BrooklynCovered.com by entering your name and email address at the top of the column on your right.) 

Get Ready For Irene|BrooklynCovered

“No matter where Hurricane Irene makes landfall, if she does so as a Category 4 Hurricane, she’ll be packing winds ranging from 131 to 155 miles per hour. The potential for damage from a hurricane like this is extreme.”

Cue Winston Desmond…Or is it Desmond Winston?

Tony Powell, the original “Soul Man” of the Imus in the Morning radio show has several laugh out loud characters he plays. One of my favorites, (along with Congressman Charles Rangel), is when he imitates a proud Jamaican. When Imus introduces him, he always says, “Everyting irie, I-man, everyting irie.”

Well get ready because Hurricane Irene is coming, and we don’t really want the everything she’s bringing. The National Weather Service is projecting a storm track where Irene will “kiss” Bermuda (talk about your weather cooties).  According to the experts, while the entire east coast will be affected, Irene will probably make landfall anywhere from Miami, Florida to North Carolina.

Yeah, right.

To quote the Weather Girls,  have I got news for you. Based on the rainfall of biblical proportions we’ve “enjoyed” here in the New York Metropolitan area, Irene is coming to New York. Why, you ask? Gee, I don’t know. Maybe she wants to see “Memphis” on Broadway.

No matter where Hurricane Irene makes landfall, if she does so as a Category 4 Hurricane, she’ll be packing winds ranging from 131 to 155 miles per hour. The potential for damage from a hurricane like this is extreme.

Gee, no kidding.

Folks, if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to prepare.

Your home

In  my of recent video posts, I demonstrated, using a little paper house, several of the ways to move water away from your home. Take the time either today or tomorrow to perform the following checks:

  1. Make sure your gutters are absolutely clear of any and all debris. Anything in your gutter will serve to impede the flow of water toward the downspout. You can go to your local hardware store, Home Depot, Lowes and buy mesh-like covers and screens which attach to your gutters. These devices will allow water to flow through and leaves, branches, baseballs, and beer cans to fall off the roof.
  2. Check to make sure your gutters are firmly attached to the roof. And make sure those roof edges are sealed or else water could seep under the shingles and into the house.
  3. Make sure the downspouts are also clear. And install a mesh screen in open downspout openings.
  4. Add at least a 2-3 foot or even longer extension to the end of each downspout not routed directly into your main drain or drywell (And when’s the last time you had them checked or cleaned?). The further away from the building water is carried, the better.
  5. Check the landscaping around your home. Make sure the land, ground or cement which meets the walls of your home slopes away from the house, not towards it. It doesn’t make sense to do numbers 1-4, only to have the water pool around the foundation so it looks like you’re having folks over for a pool party.
  6. If you own the type of home which sits on a slab, and/or has a roof attached to the walls by clips, check to make sure these connections are tight and waterproof. Hurricane Andrew, the Irene of 1992, showed too many people their houses weren’t as well constructed as they thought.
  7. Sump pumps. Every home should have at least one sump pump.  Just one thing – test it/them to ensure operational integrity. In other words, make  sure it/they work.
  8. Inspect your roof and make temporary repairs to loose shingles, cracked tar paper and similar defects. Or, even better, secure a tarp to the roof.
  9. Hopefully, you’ve purchased flood insurance, and are past the normal 30-day waiting period. Should the flood waters rise, the land fall, or the mud slide, you’ll be glad you bought it.

You And Your Family

You and your family must have a family emergency plan. While you’ll find a more detailed list at www.Ready.gov (click on Get A Kit and Make A Plan), here are some basic ideas:

  1. Each family member should know exactly where everyone will reunite after a disaster.
  2. If you can’t use the first designated spot, make sure you have a backup site where you’ll meet.
  3. Know how to get out of your home and neighborhood. And practice using these escape routes.
  4. Have an out-of-state friend  or relative everyone can call to tell of their well-being and location.
  5. Purchase a water and fireproof security chest or safe and keep copies of your important documents there. When at all possible, keep originals in a safe deposit box.
  6. Make copies of the front and backs of all credit and debit cards, and drivers licenses.
  7. Have emergency cash, if the ATMs are not functioning.
  8. Make sure every family member has a Go Bag. Go to www.Ready.gov to see what should be in your bag.
  9. Prepare a stash of emergency supplies for your home. For example, non-perishable canned foods, one gallon of water for each person for each day for at least 4 days. Some other items are a first-aid kit, flashlights and extra batteries, whistles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and feminine hygiene products.

You’ll find videos on preparing for emergencies at https://insuremeeg.com/Emegency_Preparedness.html. Actively use this information and you and those you love will increase your chances of better surviving a local or national disaster.

And about the earthquake we had earlier, I apologize for making the earth move as I did. Carry on.

A Death In The Family | Brooklyn Covered

A Death in The Family

It finally happened.

My toaster, the first toaster I ever owned, died last week.

Requiem For A Toaster

“Old Toasty” was a black and silver Hamilton Beach / Proctor Silex Model 22208. Series B1699. Type T16. I purchased it back in 1980. Oh yes, 1980. And believe me, we enjoyed good toast. Man, could “Old Toasty” toast.

At least I’ll always have those happy memories of toast so perfectly tanned, all the beautiful people in South Beach cried with shame and jealously.

With no fear of skin cancer.

After all of those years, however, the electric cord and an interior filament finally gave out.  The resulting spitting sparks produced a sound and light show lasting about ten seconds, the likes of which I never want to witness again.

Your toaster died. Who cares?

You may think I’m being overly sentimental about a 30 year-old toaster going to the big scrap metal yard in the sky. Well, if you own a Brooklyn home, condo, or co-op, think again. Just like “Old Toasty,” every appliance and component in your home or building has an expected useful life. And, if you’re not careful, you could find yourself replacing them before their time. Which will result in unexpected costs for repairs, or  an increased monthly maintenance bill.

Think about this: Unless you’ve just purchased a brand-new home, everything in the home you own is already into it’s life expectancy. And if your home is over 80 years old (hello, Brooklyn) the time to plan for component replacement may be sooner than you care to think about.

I recently read  “Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components”,  produced in February, 2007 by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Bank of America. The results of this study were based on telephone surveys of people in the trades, home manufacturers, and researchers to learn how long parts of houses should  last. (You’ll find the full study on the National Association of Home Builders website, http://nahb.com)

Now, remember climate, quality of installation and other factors play a huge role in how long and well home components last. In my opinion, the most important facet in keeping a home in tip-top shape is to do just that – keep it in tip-top shape. Owning a home is not just about watching your big-screen TV’s, entertaining in your home theatres, and backyard barbeques. It’s also painting the house, making sure the landscaping continues to draw water away from the house, checking the roof for damage, and cleaning your gutters and leaders, just to name a few regular chores.

Take the Kink Out Of Your Hoses Before You Spring A Leak

It’s caulking around windows and door frames to create a greater level of energy efficiency in your home, thus saving valuable cooling and heating dollars. Making sure you clean lint filters in clothes dryers, and replacing the metal vent hose. Running the washing machine with just detergent and bleach to clean and disinfect it. Changing the old hoses with new metal-reinforced, high pressure hoses to decrease the risk of blown hoses and the floods which follow.

So, How Long Should Things Last?

Here’s a sample of the expected life of common home components:

  • Countertops:  Natural stone countertops should last about 20 years.
  • Faucets and fixtures have an average life expectancy of 15 years
  • A bathroom shower enclosure should last about 50 years.
  • Different roofing materials will vary greatly in expected life expectancy. Slate copper and clay or concrete roofs last longest – over 50 years. Asphalt shingles about 20 years and wood shakes about 30 years.
  • Aluminum windows should last about 15 to 20 years. I found it a bit shocking to learn wooden windows should last for upwards of 30 years!

Of course, without the proper maintenance like painting window frames and trimming trees so heavy branches don’t land on and crack roofs (yes, I’ve paid several claims for Spanish Tile roofs cracked by falling branches), any component will fail to live up to its expected useful life.

There’s Another Reason To Care

Take a moment and take out the homeowners insurance policy for your Brooklyn brownstone, brick, or frame home. When you look under exclusions, you’ll see losses caused by your failure to properly maintain your insured premises are excluded. This means the only way to repair the damage will depend on you taking money out of your own pocket.

So, if the brownstone or limestone on your exterior wall is chipped, call a company which specializes in this type of restoration. Water from the ruptured pipe in the wall creating a pool in the basement? Call the plumber.

And don’t wait. Do it right away.

You can also enroll in the Neighborhood Housing Services Home Maintenance course conducted at the Bedford-Stuyvesant office on Gates Avenue. There, you’ll learn how to do everything from fixing a leaky faucet to rebuilding a bathroom.* 

So, if you want your appliances and other home components to last as well and as long as “Old Toasty”, it’s time to really pay attention to their care and maintenance.

And don’t worry, we have another toaster. And yes, it’s another Proctor Silex.

Always have a backup.

“Old Toasty” is dead. Long live “Old Toasty.”

* To learn more about NHS’s Home Maintenance Course, call the Bedford-Stuyvesant NHS office at 718-919-2100, or go to their website, http://nhsnyc.org/en/find-an-nhs-near-you/bedford-stuyvesant .