Floodplains Outside Your Front Door

Unfortunately, for many homeowners, the answer they receive from their agent or broker will be “No, you don’t have flood insurance. You’re three and one-half miles from the nearest coastline. And if you recall we discussed adding flood insurance coverage to your insurance portfolio and you refused to spend money on a flood insurance policy when you lived in what you considered a very safe flood zone.”

Floodplains in Bedford-Stuyvesant? Bushwick? Brownsville? Park Slope? Fort Greene / Clinton Hill? Carroll Gardens? Getouttahere!

Floodplains are everywhere?

Who knew?

Picture this. It’s another beautiful day in the wonderful city of Brooklyn, New York. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and that annoying depression in the middle of the street halfway down the block (which happens to be right in front of your house), suddenly erupts into the most glorious of geysers. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water burst into the air,  land on the street and your sidewalk, and begins to pour into the first floor, garden level, and basement of your beautiful home.

Well, your formerly beautiful home. I mean, you can still use the upper floors.

You hope.

Strange how you never noticed your block is one of three forming a shallow valley. No matter which point you turn to on the compass, you realize adjoining streets and avenues all slope down to where you stand. In fact, it reminds you of the pictures you’ve seen of floodplains around the country. So that geyser spewing tens of thousands of gallons of water each minute from a broken underground water main, is filling up yours and the surrounding blocks as though they were one huge swimming pool.

And the water is getting deeper by the minute.

You suddenly realize what floodplains are, and your existence in one.

Thank Goodness For City Services

One real positive about living in New York City is how quickly the Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP), reaches your block and shuts off the main which gave life to the geyser, just an hour or two. Once they shut the water off, they set about pumping out the water which collected underground. After that they’ll invite each local utility with underground pipes, tubes and wires in the general vicinity of the water main break to come and check their equipment, making any necessary repairs.

Once this and other work, including repairs to the water main, are completed, the giant crater in the street is repaired, the water service restored, and all will be well with the world again.

Well, almost. You see, several major problems remain.

Property Owner, We Have A Problem

As the water poured into your home, you quickly called your homeowners insurance company to report the claim, only to learn your loss isn’t covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

Flood, as your insurance company’s customer service representative explained, is not covered by the typical homeowners insurance policy. This is clearly discussed in the Exclusions section of each homeowners insurance policy which reads,

“WATER DAMAGE, MEANING:

a.    Flood, surface water, waves, wave wash, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these, whether or not a result of precipitation; or driven by wind … “

So, even though your property located miles from the coast, and you are not in a high-risk flood zone, you suffered a loss caused by a flood.

Your basement is a disaster. You need to rip out and replace floors, ceilings and walls, and replace your hot water heater and boiler and the freezer. Where will you find the money going to come from for all of these unexpected expenses?

The customer service representative asks you a frightening question. “You don’t have a flood insurance policy with our company. Do you have a flood insurance policy with any other company?”

Will You Get Good News or Bad News?

Now comes the moment of truth. You call your insurance agent to see if you have a flood insurance policy.

Unfortunately, for many homeowners, the answer they receive from their agent or broker will be “No, you don’t have flood insurance. You’re three and one-half miles from the nearest coastline. And if you recall we discussed adding flood insurance coverage to your insurance portfolio and you refused to spend money on a flood insurance policy when you lived in what you considered a very safe flood zone.”

If you think this is wrong, look at the situation in Baton Rouge, where they recently suffered heavy rainstorms which lead to wide-spread flooding. In Baton Rouge and its surrounds, some 82% of the houses suffering flood damage lacked flood insurance.

To make matters worse, some 7,000 plus businesses in the affected area suffered severe flood damage, causing them to at least temporarily, close their doors.

Over 73,000 employees are now unemployed until the affected businesses can secure bank and federal loans to reopen. If they ever reopen.

And some 80% percent of the affected homes and businesses are located in “X” flood zones, the zone where you should only have to worry about floods every 500 years.

Climate Change, Anyone?

This and other past and future flooding events prove there is a new model of what is a “safe” flood zone. Here’s a hint: There are none.

New construction which places concrete and macadam on what was permeable ground, changes the very nature of a community, increasing the flood risk.

Aging infrastructure in the shape of bad roads places more stress on underground water pipes, which themselves are in serious need of replacement, causing more and larger water main breaks.

For properties closer the shore, rising sea levels, and a warmer Atlantic Ocean create hurricanes packing increasingly greater destructive power, resulting in more damage to sandy beaches and dunes, and the homes they were designed to protect.

And the hurricane season, which is ‘supposed’ to only run from the first of June until the first of November, seems to start earlier, and end later, each year.

So please take this simple bit of advice: “Hurricane Season” is no longer just a season, it is a year-round event.

Flood zones are just lines on a piece of paper, and water is no respecter of lines on a piece of paper.

We are all at risk from the danger of flooding, and the rebuilding costs which follow.

Stay dry.

Eustace L. Greaves, Jr., LUTCF is an independent insurance agent and broker based in Brooklyn, NY. Call him today at 718-783-2722 to make an appointment for your personal insurance review of your home, auto, flood, renters, coop, condo, life and disability insurance policies.

You can also reach Eustace with an email to Eustace@insuremeeg.com.

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

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.) 

Hurricane Irene Preparation Tips From Travelers|BrooklynCovered

Re: Hurricane Irene Preparation

As Hurricane Irene approaches our area, we wanted to make sure you and your customers were aware of the steps you can take to stay safe and our claim response plans as the storm approaches.

I, along with all the other Travelers independent agents across this great nation, received the following information about preparing for Hurricane Irene. Normally, the content you’ll find in BrooklynCovered is my own, but in situations such as this, I trust you’ll forgive me for cutting and pasting some extremely important information.

To: Travelers Agents in New York

Re: Hurricane Irene Preparation
 
As Hurricane Irene approaches our area, we wanted to make sure you and your customers were aware of the steps you can take to stay safe and our claim response plans as the storm approaches.
 
Safety for individuals
 

  • Create a disaster plan. Plan an evacuation route in advance and determine where you would go if you were told to evacuate.
  • Prepare a survival kit. Stock up on drinking water, non-perishable goods, a first-aid kit and medicine for everyone including your pet. Include extra clothing, blankets, batteries, flashlights and a portable radio.
  • Conduct a home hazard hunt and make your home as safe as possible. Secure all outdoor objects such as garbage cans and lawn furniture. Close storm shutters and board up all windows.
  • Review how to shut off utilities in an emergency with all family members.
  • Locate important papers and documents and have them ready to take with you should you need to evacuate. Protect documents in plastic storage bags if you’re remaining in your home.
  • Make sure you have insurance policies with claim contact information, an inventory of your home’s contents and cash.
  • Ask an out-of-state friend to be your family contact. After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long-distance than to make a local call.
  • Finally, leave promptly when ordered to evacuate. Leaving too late or not leaving at all only endangers yourself and others.

 
Safety for businesses
 
In addition, you and your business insurance customers should consider taking the following precautions to help protect people and property and guard against disruption of operations:
 

  • Review your business continuity plan and communicate emergency evacuation and business interruption instructions to employees. If you don’t have a written plan, now is the time to create one. Each business should have an emergency plan including a detailed procedure for evacuation, a checklist for shutting down processes and protecting buildings, contents, equipment, and yard storage. Procedures should include salvage instructions to follow post-event.
  • Back up critical data and computer records off-site so that operations can continue after a disaster. Consider keeping a backup generator and plenty of batteries on hand so your business can continue to operate after a power loss.
  • As a hurricane approaches, quick actions should to be taken to install temporary protection features including:
  • Shutter or board up windows to protect them from flying debris
  • Clean out floor drains and catch basins to ensure maximum drainage
  • Anchor structures, trailers and yard storage so they are more likely to stay put in high winds
  • Fill emergency generator and fire pump fuel tanks
  • Shut down production processes safely
  • Shut off all flammable and combustible liquid and gas lines at their source
  • Shut off electrical power at the main building disconnect before the hurricane strikes
  • Once the storm has subsided and it is safe to return, a salvage team should be assembled and repair work prioritized, assuring proper supplies are available and safety procedures followed.
  •  

    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 .