Let’s Set The Record Straight About – Customizing Your Insurance

Today’s clever insurance commercials are a necessary evil. They provide more information about bundling and saving, and less about the coverages you, your family, and your business really need.

We can change that by simply asking the right questions.

Customizing Your Insurance

There is no insurance company that owns a monopoly on helping you customize your insurance.

None.

Commercials, Commercials, Commercials

Commercials are designed to increase brand awareness using gimmicks including celebrity spokespersons, animals, car crashes and chases, and well, anything they think you will remember when it is time to buy insurance.

Does Every Company Allow You To Customize Your Insurance?

You can customize your home, life, auto, renters, co-op, condo, disability, long term care, personal umbrella, and yes, even your flood insurance with any company licensed to do business in the State of New York as well as every other state in the Union.

Every company gives you the ability to customize your insurance.

Every single one.

Problem is, most consumers aren’t served by most of the television commercials aired today.

They are simply goaded into a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with their current carrier, even when their current carrier is doing a good job for them.

It’s What Consumers Don’t Know About Their Insurance Which Hurts Them

Each year, I make at least 25 insurance-based presentations for HUD-approved housing agencies and organizations such as Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, Harlem Churches for Community Improvement, and Impacct. I always ask those in attendance to tell me what their automobile insurance coverages are. Inevitably, 14 out of 15 give the same answer, “Full Coverage.”

Not 25/50/10.

Not 250/500/100.

Full coverage.

And when I ask them how much their policies cover in the event of an accident, they usually reply that they’re not really sure, but they did save money by bundling their home and auto.

Yay,

Buying What You Need Is A Two-Edged Sword

As long as the policy or policies quoted for you meet your state’s required minimum coverages limits, buying the cheapest policy or bundle possible is actually all you need.

What if though, you just struck and killed a pedestrian, or lost control of your vehicle and totaled a house. Will your policy provide you with the actual amount of money you will need when the jury hands down some obscenely massive award against you?

Imagine coming home to find;

  • Your home on fire.
  • Two (2) feet of toxic sewage water sloshing about your finished basement.
  • Burglars paid you an expensive visit while you are at work or the market.
  • Your good dog had a bad day.
  • There are three feet of floodwater in your home and you don’t own a flood insurance policy.

What Questions Should I Ask?

  • What, if any hoops must I jump through in case of a claim?
  • Are policy coverages or exceptions more important to know?
  • Why do I have duties after a loss?
  • In the event of a covered cause of loss, how easily will my claim be settled?
  • Is your claim service fair?


What Should My Insurance Company and/or Independent Agent and Broker teach Me?

  • Why buying home insurance based on your home’s replacement cost is essential.
  • How to determine your condominium and cooperative apartment “walls in” insurance coverage based on what a licensed contractor would charge to completely repair fire or water damaged walls, ceilings, and floors.
  • The importance for renters to complete a personal home inventory, down to the last sweat sock.
  • How owning Life and Disability insurance will prevent financial disaster should death or disability destroy the earning power of a family breadwinner.
  • Reasons why every property policy should include Water and Sewer Backup coverage. And why every cooperative and condominium apartment owner should add the Loss Assessment endorsement to their coverage.
  • Why buying flood insurance, even when their home is not in a high-risk flood zone, is a smart financial move.

And, of course, what coverages do I actually need to protect my family and home from most disasters?

The other day a woman asked me for my honest opinion of who I felt was the best insurance company out there.

My answer?

The one with whom you secured the proper policies, with sufficient coverages, which is in force at the time of your claim.

A company that won’t make you jump through hoops to settle a  claim fairly. An independent insurance agent and broker willing and able to service your policies. With premiums accurately reflecting the coverages your policies provide.

Nothing else matters.

As for the commercials, well, give my regards to Broadway.

At least until we can enjoy live theater again. Until then, stay healthy and safe.

 

Eustace L. Greaves, Jr., LUTCF is an independent insurance agent and broker, licensed to conduct business in New York State. Contact Eustace at 718-783-2722, 718-489-2218, by email at eustace@insuremeeg.com or by completing the contact form on this page, or  one of the many contact forms on his website, https://greavesinsurance.com.

 

 

Read Your Homeowners Insurance Policy | Brooklyn Covered

Why did they think their flood losses were covered? I’m sure their insurance agent didn’t tell them they were covered. Heck, I inform each and every one of my clients about the need for flood insurance, even if they live in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, or Prospect Heights. The usual response? I usually get a “Oh, I don’t need that. I’m not near the water.”, or “Why are you trying to take more money out of my pocket? I can’t deduct you on my income taxes!”

Read Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy.

It’s amazing. We nearly go over the fiscal cliff, people are still without heat, hot water, or even a home,  and lawmakers in New Jersey propose legislation to make insurance companies produce a single-page summary of a homeowners insurance policy.

This bill, A-3642, produced by the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, would require insurers writing homeowners insurance policies in New Jersey to provide each and every insured with a consumer-information brochure “written in a simple, clear, understandable, and easily readable way”, explaining the hurricane deductible and the need for flood insurance.

What a bunch of garbage. Just read your homeowners insurance policy.

Now, I don’t know about homeowners insurance policies in New Jersey, but here in New York, the second page of the homeowners policy covers Policy Deductibles, including the Hurricane Deductible, and tells the client their homeowners or dwelling policy does not provide coverage for losses caused by flood or mudslide.

It even gives you the short definition of what a flood is.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the renewal homeowners insurance policy of one of my long-time clients:

Homeowners Insurance Declarations Page One
Homeowners Insurance Declarations Page One

 

Homeowners Insurance Policy Declarations Page Two
Homeowners Insurance Policy Declarations Page Two

My client and I speak every year, and every year I remind them of the need to purchase Flood Insurance. (Heck, we’ve got to increase the Liability Insurance too.) As you can plainly see, page two of the policy clearly describes the Policy Deductibles, including the Hurricane Deductible, and even states there is no coverage for losses caused by flood or mudslide in the bottom half of the page.  It even reminds you who your insurer and mortgagee are.

It’s not that it isn’t there. Policy owners just don’t read it.

After 30 years in the insurance business, I know one hard truth: Ninety-five percent of all policy owners will never read their policy (ies) until, and only when, they suffer a loss. And they’re told they’re not covered for what caused the loss. Then, and only then will they actually take an interest in their policy coverages.

Oh, and this is when they tend to get really ticked off.

Look at what happened with Hurricane Sandy. How many people, either while evacuating, or remaining trapped in their homes, shared the mistaken belief their homeowners insurance policy covered them for losses caused by flood? Only to get the shock of their lives when they learned their homeowners insurance policy offered them zero (0) protection for their losses?

Too dang many.

Why did they think their flood losses were covered? I’m sure their insurance agent didn’t tell them they were covered. Heck, I inform each and every one of my clients about the need for flood insurance, even if they live in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, or Prospect Heights. The usual response? I usually get a “Oh, I don’t need that. I’m not near the water.”, or “Why are you trying to take more money out of my pocket? I can’t deduct you on my income taxes!”

I remind them they’re not covered for flood, which includes the water flooding your basement after a heavy rainstorm, or when the 90 year-old water main running down the middle of your street finally decides to burst and send hundreds of thousands of gallons of water cascading into your basements and cellars.

What’s really sad is it’s not just insurance policies which consumers don’t read. Recently, a client purchasing a condo came in for insurance. During the conversation, the client made statements leading me to believe they thought didn’t have to pay for any necessary repairs  done in their unit.

Luckily, the client had Offering Plan with them which provided not only a drawing of the unit, but the condo association rules and regulations as well.

With minimum effort, I showed the client where repairs to their unit were their responsibility.

Lord, why did I do that?

“They didn’t tell me anything about that!”

“Didn’t you read this Offering Plan from cover to cover?” I asked.

“Man, I couldn’t be bothered to read that whole book. You’re looking at it. What does it say?”

And therein lies the problem.

Real Housewives of Atlanta or L. A.? We’re all over it.

The Voice and American Idol? We’re watching every stupid episode.

Watching virile athletes vie for athletic glory? Sure, while filling our kegs with booze from a keg.

Reading trashy romantic novels, getting all sweaty over the sex, while your sexually frustrated man (or woman) is lying next to you, waiting for you to read their pages?

Heading for divorce court.

But ask someone to read, question and understand their condominium association’s Offering Plan? Or read the two (2) pages of their policy called the Declaration Pages?

Can’t be so bothered.

Hated it. Two snaps down in the deepest, dankest, dungeon.

Now, this sad state of affairs does not apply to every client. It just applies to too darn many.

I am blessed with more than a few clients who meet with me every year for their annual  homeowners insurance policy review. They want to make sure they own all the coverages they need to be fully indemnified in case of a loss. They may not enjoy being told it’s going to cost them a little more, but most of them upgrade their coverage.

Most important, they know what is covered and what is not.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what counts?

So, don’t make insurers kill more trees. Tell policyowners it’s their responsibility to read their policies. If they don’t understand what they are reading, then they should call their agent and set up an appointment to review their insurance policy (ies). Heck, they should do that every year.

So, save the trees! Read your policy!

 

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

Save Money on Homeowners Insurance|Brooklyn Covered

The most important part of purchasing homeowners insurance is not the price of the policy, it’s the replacement / reconstruction cost estimate. This becomes your policys Coverage A or Dwelling Coverage amount. Without the proper Dwelling Coverage, you put yourself in the position of having to self-fund part of the reconstruction cost of a damaged home at 140% on the dollar. Why 140%?…

How Do I Save Money On My Homeowners Insurance Policy?

A homeowners insurance policy is just worthless sheets of paper unless it gives you the dollars and coverages you’ll need to rebuild your home and your life when a covered loss occurs. 

What’s Most Important When Buying Homeowners Insurance?

The most important part of purchasing homeowners insurance is not the policy premium. What matters most is determining the replacement, or reconstruction cost estimate. This becomes your policys Coverage A or Dwelling Coverage amount. This is the amount of coverage your policy will generate for covered causes of loss.

 Without the proper Coverage A – Dwelling Coverage, you put yourself in the position of having to self-fund part of the reconstruction cost of a damaged home at 140% on the dollar. Why 140%? Well you have to pay taxes on your  gross income before you realize the net income. Also, all the other coverages in Section I of the Homeowners policy represent a percentage of the Coverage A – Dwelling Coverage amount. So a competent replacement estimate is the essential component necessary for building a sound Homeowners Insurance policy.

So, Any Insurance Broker Or Agent Will Do?

No, you should seek to work with an insurance professional who will invest the time necessary for gathering information about you and either your future or existing home. This is key. I have clients who chose me because after talking to me during the initial phone call, they had to go back and find out more information about their home than they thought necessary. Information, in many cases, other so-called professionals either didn’t take the time to ask, or simply didn’t care.  In most cases, you’ll prefer working with a “Mr. Nosey” than someone who simply wants to know what you paid for the house, or how much coverage you now carry. Another way to find a trusted insurance representative is by contacting local housing organizations. They work with many homeowners and are good sources of information and referrals for all the professionals you’ll need as a homeowner. 

Once the information is gathered, a true insurance professional will use either a computer or paper-based system to determine your future or existing homes replacement cost. The  brick for brick, nail for nail, pipe for pipe, wire for wire, and board for board amount necessary to put your home back together again. Then you’ll truly have a sense of how much insurance is really necessary to properly cover your home.

Here’s a small sample of the types of information you should be prepared to provide your insurance representative:

  • The square footage measured using the outside walls.
  • The types of flooring materials used in the house and the percentage of each.
  • Whether the walls are plaster, drywall, or some other material and the percentage of each.
  • The number of kitchens and bathrooms, and whether they are builders grade, or have some form of customization.
  • What kind of roofing material you use.
  • What type of heating system you use.
  • Maintenance and upgrade information about your roof, plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. A good insurance representative will want to know maintenance or upgrade dates, and whether a licensed professional performed the work. (Note: few, if any insurance companies will insure any home which doesn’t have circuit breakers. Fuses will result in the automatic non-renewal or rejection of your policy.)
  • Whether you have any pets, especially any of the no-no breeds, (Dobermans, Akitas, Pit Bulls and Wolf Hybrids to name just a few). Also, if any of your pets have a bite history, even that lovable little Yorkie which loves to nip strangers, you might want to seek out a company which is more forgiving about that type of risk exposure.

When It Comes To The Basic Coverages, Are Any Companies Really Cheaper? 

When you compare most Homeowners Insurance policies using an apples-to-apples comparison, (Same dwelling amount, same policy form, same state), you’ll find most companies homeowners insurance premiums for policies with the same coverages are usually within $50.00 to $100.00 of each other. So here are a few tips to really impact the premium amount you’ll pay for your Homeowners Insurance coverage:

  • An excellent credit score and history. If you have repossessions, collection items, judgements, late payments, and bankruptcies in the last five (5) years of your credit history, you will pay more for insurance. In extreme cases, you may even be denied. For example, I recently insured two (2) homes in Brooklyn. Both were in the same neighborhood, of similar construction, and had the same replacement cost. One familys premium was $1650.00, while the other familys premium was $2550.00. The difference? The first family owned a credit score you’d kill for. The second family owned a credit score which was killing them.
     
  •  Many companies will give you a first-year credit of 10-14% if you are a first-time homebuyer. Great, right? Just one thing: This credit decreases over a period averaging 10 years. Still, a great way to save money when you first purchase your home.
     
  • Along with number 2, purchasing a brand-new home  generates an additional discount.
  •  Installing a central-station monitored burglar and/or fire alarm system in your home will qualify you for policy discounts of 10-15% with most companies. Keep in mind insurance companies will not give you credit for the system without the proof of installation letter from the alarm company.
     
  • If an alarm system is not financially feasible, buy fire extinguishers. Along with the installation of deadbolt locks, you can realize a premium discount of 5%.
     
  • You should consider bundling your auto insurance with your home insurer. Some companies give up to a total of 30% in discounts, and this will be a nice piece of the savings “pie.” And, you also qualify for a similar discount on your auto insurance.
     
  • For more protection, you should considering purchasing a Personal Umbrella Liability policy. This policy provides added liability coverage starting in increments of $1,000,000.00. This generates more discounts and provides an extra layer of protection against third-party claims, whether or not they’re justified.
     
  • Choose a higher deductible. You’ll save about $200.00 annually by choosing a $1,000.00 deductible over a $500.00 deductible. If you bank the savings each year in what I call your “Deductible Account,” you’ll have your deductible in five (5), and have earned interest in the interim. Remember, “The higher the deductible, the lower the premium.”
     
  • Last but not least, consider your home’s construction. Brick homes usually cost less to insure than brick. Why? Remember, bricks get damaged, but wood burns.

So, What’s My Next Step?

Want more information, or your own up-to-date replacement / reconstruction cost estimate of your home? Well,  just drop me an email to eustace@brooklyncovered.com  or eustace@insuremeeg.com . Please include your name and a daytime contact telephone number. Or go to my website, https://insuremeeg.com and download a copy of my Property Insurance Worksheet.

Thanks for reading, and please, tell a friend.

Wind vs. Water: Like Floods, A Debate Rages|Brooklyn Covered

You are literally better off having the 80-foot tree in your front yard fall into and cause part of the front wall of your home to collapse. Then, as the rainwater pours into and further destroys your home, you can rest easy in the knowledge it is a covered loss. Why? Because the covered cause of loss (the falling tree), preceded the additional loss from an outside source of water. If, however, a flood surged through your neighborhood and ripped the front wall away from your home first, you wouldn’t be covered, unless you owned a flood insurance policy with adequate coverage.

 

Wind vs. Water Equals Hurricanes vs. Floods

 

By my estimation, at least 50% of the losses faced by those who lost property in Hurricane Irene’s aftermath are not insured. Why? The losses they faced are directly attributable to flooding, not the hurricane-force winds. And many people in the Northeast don’t own a flood insurance policy.

Former Hurricane and Tropical Storm Lee will bring similar financial pain to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other Southern states. For insurance purposes, the damage suffered by most will be considered  caused by water, not wind, and thus not insurable.

The wind vs. water rages on.

 

What’s The Difference?

 

Most people will ask, “What’s the difference?” or “I have a homeowners policy and I suffered a loss to my home, so this should also be covered.” Unfortunately, damage by flood is not covered by your typical homeowners insurance policy.

Many communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Jersey are monitoring the rivers, streams and levees with trepidation. Many home and property owners will face the double whammy of losing everything, and not having the means to rebuild.

Insurance Policies Make Good Reading. Seriously.

Most people don’t really read their homeowner or auto insurance policies until they suffer a loss, whether the loss is insured or not. Take a moment, find your homeowners policy, and give it a good read. While most people feel they know what’s covered under their policy, they really don’t.

You are literally better off having the 80-foot tree in your front yard fall into and cause part of the front wall of your home to collapse. Then, as the rainwater pours into and further destroys your home, you can rest easy in the knowledge it is a covered loss. Why? Because the covered cause of loss (the falling tree), preceded the additional loss from an outside source of  water. If, however, a flood surged through your neighborhood and ripped the front wall away from your home first, you wouldn’t be covered, unless you owned a flood insurance policy with adequate coverage.

Your homeowners policy specifically excludes coverage when damage to your home results from a source of water from outside your home.  This is why every homeowner should own a flood insurance policy, with limits equal to at least 80% of the homes Replacement Cost Value. (I’ll be discussing just what Replacement Cost Value is in a future post.) Renters, and co-op and condominium owners whose units are below the third floor in an apartment building should also own a flood policy, as well as those who rent or own townhouses.

So, before the next hurricane comes a-calling, this is a great time to purchase flood insurance equal to at least 80% of your homes Replacement Cost Value. Also, arrange an annual homeowners insurance policy annual review with  your insurance representative to guarantee you own, at minimum, 100% of the Replacement Cost Value of your home in your Homeowners Insurance policy.

Hurricane Irene Was No Bo Derek|BrooklynCovered

When a storm forms off the west coast of Africa, it begins life as a Tropical Cyclone. Once the Tropical Cyclone reaches sustained winds of 39 mph, it becomes a Tropical Storm, and remains so until the sustained winds exceed 74 mph.

Once the sustained wind reach 74 mph, we now have a Hurricane. These are categorized according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale which measures wind velocity and based on this measurement, places a hurricane in one of five Categories.

If Hurricane Irene Was A “10”…

Remember the 1979 movie “10” starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek? In this movie, Moore’s portrays a man stupefied by a woman whom he considers the most beautiful creature on the face of the earth. A woman he considers a perfect “10.” Well, Hurricane Irene was no “10.” 

Affected property owners who wondered if and how much their homeowners insurance would pay for wind damage should thank their lucky stars Hurricane Irene was either just a Category 1 or a Tropical Storm.

Isn’t A Higher Number Better?

Only if you think a Class A felony is better than a Class E. The Class E felony actually carries a lot less jail time than a Class A.

Cyclones work much the same way, where you’re punished for getting a higher grade.

What Are Hurricanes, And How Do We Measure Them?

When a storm forms off the west coast of Africa, it begins life as a Tropical Cyclone. Once the Tropical Cyclone reaches sustained winds of 39 mph, it becomes a Tropical Storm, and remains so until the sustained winds exceed 74 mph.

Once the sustained winds reach 74 mph, we now have a Hurricane. Hurricanes are categorized according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. The Saffir-Simpson scale measures wind velocity and based on this measurement, places a hurricane in one of five Categories:

  • Category 1 has wind speeds ranging from 74-95 mph. It’s damage potential is minimal. Hurricane Dolly in 2008 was a Category 1.
  • Category 2 has wind speeds ranging from 96-110 mph. Its damage potential is extensive. Hurricane Frances in 2004 was such a storm.
  • Category 3 has wind speeds ranging from 111-130 mph. It’s damage potential is devastating. Also in 2004, we had Hurricane Ivan.
  • Category 4 has wind speeds ranging from 131-155 mph. It’s damage potential is extreme. Hurricane Charley, another 2004 hurricane, wreaked havoc in Punta Gorda, Florida.

The year 2004 was a hot mess, wasn’t it?

  • And finally we have Category 5, which has a catastrophic damage potential. It’s wind speeds? Anything over 156 mph. I’ll never forget Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and neither will anyone else who lived in Miami-Dade County then. Andrew’s devastation was so great, building codes in Florida, like many of the houses, were strengthened.

How Does This Affect What My Homeowners Policy Will Pay?

Your homeowners policy contains two (2) deductibles for windstorm-related damage. Any  damage caused by either a Tropical Cyclone or a Category 1 hurricane will have a deductible equal to the higher of your all-perils deductible or $1,000. So, if your all-perils deductible is $500.00, you’ll pay $1,000.00. If however your all-perils is $2,500 or higher, that’s the deductible

Should the damage be caused by a Category 2 or higher hurricane, you’ll pay a deductible equal to anywhere from two (2) to five (5) percent of your Coverage A, or Dwelling Coverage. So, if your Coverage A amount is $500,000, and you have a 5% windstorm deductible for Category 2 or higher hurricanes, your deductible, or the part you’ve contractually agreed to pay for this loss, will be $25,000.00.

Yes, I’m serious. $25,000.00. Now you see why so many people become angry with their particular insurance company after a Category 2 or higher windstorm. They, like many homeowners, didn’t know how their policy covered different causes of loss. It really pays to read your policy and ask questions of your agent or broker if there is something you’re not quite sure of. Better safe than sorry, or, better covered than uncovered.

What Coverages Are Affected By Windstorm Deductibles?

The following Section I coverages of your policy: Coverage A (Dwelling); Coverage B (Other Structures); and Coverage C (Personal Property). Check your policy as different companies apply these deductibles to other policy coverages differently.

What Are Coastal Counties?

No matter where your property is located, should both Category 1 and Category 2 hurricane force winds exist during the same hurricane deductible period anywhere in any coastal county, the deductible for a Category 2 or higher hurricane will be in effect.

In New York State, the coastal counties are the Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, New York, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester. So a Category 2 in any of the coastal counties means you’d better have significant dollars in the bank to handle your deductible.

So again, let’s be thankful Hurricane Irene, in New York State at least, was just a Category 1, and dropped down to a Tropical Storm and eventually a Tropical Cyclone. Based on the amount of wind-related damage in several states, the devastation could have been far worse.

 

 

“Four Doorbells for a Two-Family House?”|BrooklynCovered

So, I received a telephone call the other day from a two of my favorite clients, let’s call them The Searchings, Desperately and his lovely wife, Really. Both are long-suffering participants in the house-hunting and purchasing madness merry-go-round. (I told them to call the real estate brokers I know, but N-n-n-n-o-o-o-o.)

“One ringy-dingy. Two ringy-dingies…”

So, I received a telephone call the other day from two of my favorite clients, let’s call them The Searchings, Desperately and his lovely wife, Really.  Both are long-suffering participants in the house-hunting and purchasing madness merry-go-round. (I told them to call the real estate brokers I know, but n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o. They had it covered. Right. Two years later and they are finally seeing the type of houses they wanted to see two years ago).

Thankfully they found a house with everything the wanted: An easy walk to public transportation, good schools, nearby supermarket, healthy trees, and no empty lots on the entire block.

Just one little itsy-bitsy problem. They think the house listed in city records and the real estate brokers’ (again, they didn’t use any of my real estate professionals) listing as a legal two-family brownstone had a previous life as  a rooming house, or SRO.

What Clues Should We Look For?

Here’s the first tip. As you approach the front door to the house, count the number of doorbells and mailboxes.

Two families in one building don’t each require two doorbells or mailboxes.

Two families, two mailboxes, two doorbells. Total.

Once inside, look for electrical piping running to outlets attached to the wall, and the same for plumbing and gas lines. These are major components of any home, and should be located inside the walls. If they’re not, you’re probably looking at a handyman special which could lead to disastrous results such as fires and explosions.

What Else Should I Look For?

Two family house? There should only be two (2) kitchens. Please laugh in their faces when the current owner tells you the have a kitchen in the basement “for convenience.”

Want convenience? Make reservations or call for take out.

And pay close attention to the number of full versus half bathrooms. Look at the doors and door frames. If there are screw holes, whether open or repaired, (Plastic Wood does wonders with holes), it could indicate the bedrooms were actually rented as rooms or sleeping areas.

Or, they keep a Bengal tiger in the apartment.

Inspect the walls which separate each “room.” Do they appear legitimate, or hollow “Home Depot” specials?

What’s a Home Depot Special?

To make additional rentable “rooms”, i.e., sleeping sections, the owner or even the tenant will go to Home Depot for some sheet rock, 2 x 4’s, nails, and the other materials necessary for building a wall. With each “special”, another rentable space.

Make sure you inspect the floors in each room. Why? Again, look for recently patched holes which could suggest these types of walls were recently removed so the house could sell a bit faster. And without the homeowner having to lower the price when a home inspector like Colin Albert, P. E., the owner of ACES Home Inspections, comes to give the house an ASHI-certified inspection.                                                                                                

There’s Got to Be An Easier Way!

Sure. Just ask the current owner if they’re renting out to more than the legal number of families.

No, seriously. Stop laughing.

Ask them. Let’s see if you get an honest answer.

Come On Now – No One Really Lives Like That, Do They?

Oh, yes they do. A surprise visit to a random apartment in many parts of Brooklyn would surprise the heck out of you. A friend of mine recently went to write a life policy for a gentleman he met while handing out business cards on the street. When he went to the apartment, a two-bedroom apartment, there were 19 men sleeping in sleeping slots attached to the walls!

Lucky dog wrote twelve  (12) life insurance policies in one sitting. Got a bunch of referrals, too.

The legal tenant, in many of these cases, is collecting so much ‘space rent’ they really don’t even have to go to work. One lady had the audacity to tell me she works only to keep her health benefits and accumulated vacation time. And to make an extra mortgage payment each month on her fabulous home in Pennsylvania.

So, What’s the Solution?

Know what you’re buying. You might be forced do a great deal of repairing to make your home “insurance legal.”

Great. What do you mean, “Insurance Legal?”

Simple. A two family is only inhabited by two, (2, duo, deux, more than one, less than three) families. A three family, three. Not four or five.

In my agency, I refuse to insure any property not being used for it’s intended, legal purpose. I am not in the business of “writing claims.” I only write sound risks.

And, just so you know, most insurance companies now inspect every house they insure. Both at the inception of the policy and at renewal.

And yes, I’ve had new clients’ policies rejected when the inspector saw four doorbells, and four mailboxes on the front of a two family house. Don’t forget, for a new policy, the insurance company has the legal right to cancel any new policy within the first 60 days of it’s inception for the property’s failure to meet the company’s underwriting requirements.

And believe me, everything we’ve talked about and more is enough reason for cancellation for cause.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Oh, almost forgot. They’re in contract. They are purchasing the house. And the seller is making major concessions on the price and the amount to be held in escrow. Just in case more problems rear their ugly heads.

A Look Into the Crystal Ball…

Dorothy Adonolfi. Remember her name.

Once income tax preparation season, (Puh-leeeeze keep those W-2′ s coming, folks), is over I will begin a series about the tragic costs of illegal conversions in Brooklyn and its surrounding counties. We’ll look at every aspect of how those “Home Depot Specials” affect us now, will affect our ability to secure insurance in certain communities in the future, as well as the other horrible costs we could face.

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 .