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.) 

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.

“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 .