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

Dude, Where’s My Homeowners Insurance Policy? | Brooklyn Covered

Her first thought was to call the builder. You know what the builder said? He told her call me to put in a claim with her insurance company. I told her if she did that, with a brand-new house, I could almost guarantee her brand-new policy would be rejected. I reminded her of her homes ten-year warranty, which included the roof. I told her to inform the builder to have a roofer install a brand-new roof on the house, or her next call would be to the New York State Attorney Generals Office, followed by calls to Housing Preservation and Development, the Kings County District Attorneys office, etc.

She had him at the Attorney General of the State of New York.

(This post will begin a blog arc of posts surrounding the issues concerning what would cause a homeowner to lose their homeowners insurance policy issued by a preferred insurance company. While we’ll continue to return to the subject of Force-Placed hazard insurance, we’ll also examine issues surrounding claims, and  underwriting changes, just to name two.

If you are a victim of Force-Placed hazard insurance, and want to share your story, please drop me an email at eustace@brooklyncovered.com . Don’t worry, your identity will stay a secret. We just don’t want this shameful practice to remain in the shadows. We just need your stories to bring the dirty little secret out of the closet and into the light.

We’ll also examine some of the ins and outs of filing your income tax return this year, and planning tips for a more successful result on your income taxes next year.

So, while it may seem we’re running along different tangents, ours will , over the life of this blog,  converge. The convergence point? Your fuller understanding of things insurance, taxes and even defensive driving.

Thanks for joining us on the best ride in the carnival, BrooklynCovered.com !)

Where’s My Homeowners Insurance Policy?

Remember the movie “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Yeah, well neither do I. For this blog post the title works well since homeowners all over the downstate area of New York State (The five boroughs, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester) are asking the question, “Dude, Where’s My Homeowners Insurance Policy?”

I’m thankful for referrals to me by my clients and real estate professionals for the different insurance and income tax preparation services  I offer. Lately though, the homeowners insurance policy conversations usually start with one of three questions:  

  1. “Why did my company cancel my policy?” 
  2. “Why didn’t my insurance company renew my policy?”
  3. And there’s my all-time favorite, “Well, what the heck do I do now?”

There are several reasons why your insurance company would choose to not renew your homeowners policy. We’ll cover this topic over the next two (2) posts. Let’s begin with;

  1. Claims:

Let’s start with the claims you submit to your homeowners insurance company. As an example, if you submit two (2) claims for water damage within five (5) years of each other, you’re cancelled. Why? Multiple plumbing leaks are a sure sign of deferred maintenance. Too many people think it’s the job of the insurance company to make normal repairs. Read your policy. Home maintenance is your job, not the insurance companys.

This also applies to interior water damage caused by old and worn-out roofs, windows which weren’t properly fitted or sealed, and even a next-door neighbor whose boiler explodes, flooding his/her basement, and yours.

Mold, anyone?

Don’t think new homes are immune to these types of problems. New homes usually come with even more problems than homes built before 1970.  Remember when new homes started springing up all over Brooklyn back in the mid-90s to 2007? I watched the last group of three-family homes in Atlantic Center as they were built. They dug a hole on Monday,  erected the concrete form on Tuesday, poured the foundation floor on Wednesday, and poured the foundation walls on Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday and Sunday, they rested.

Come Monday morning, the pre-fab modules would start rolling in. Jump down, turn around, pick a losing Lotto number, and the house was done. Soon the proud, new homeowners would take possession of the brand-new home.

And that’s when the fun began.

I’ll never the forget the conversation I had with a client who just purchased a brand-new home in another development after suffering through her first rainstorm. Her upstairs tenant called her and said, “I hate to bother you, but it’s raining heavier in my apartment than it is outside.” And when my client reached home, she found the leakage was so bad her first floor apartment, with the new rug and furniture, and well everything was ruined. 

Submit A Water Damage Claim In The First 60 Days? For A Defective Roof? Kiss Your Policy Goodbye.

Her first thought was to call the builder. You know what the builder said? He told her call me to put in a claim with her insurance company. I told her if she did that, with a brand-new house, I could almost guarantee her brand-new policy would be rejected. I reminded her of her homes ten-year warranty, which included the roof. I told her to inform the builder to have a roofer install a brand-new roof on the house, or her next call would be to the New York State Attorney Generals Office, followed by calls to Housing Preservation and Development, the Kings County District Attorneys office, etc.

She had him at the Attorney General of the State of New York. A new leak-free roof was installed, and she joyously anticipated the next rainstorm.

Until the walls around the windows leaked.

Let’s just say the builder spent a great deal of time repairing every defect in her home and most of the other homes like hers. Had she submitted a claim during the first 60 days of her new policy, the insurance company could have rejected her application. Why? Remember this: Every homeowners and auto insurance company in New York State, has the right to reject your policy for underwriting reasons during the first 60 days after your coverage goes into effect for underwriting reasons. That’s one reason why top-tier companies want to have your date of birth, social security number, and last address when you apply for a homeowners insurance policy. They run a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (C. L. U. E.) report on you and your future home, detailing just  every reported claim you’ve had in the last five (5) years, whether as a renter or a homeowner. They also review your credit report to see exactly which “rating tier” to assign you to.

Also, most companies arrange for a company home inspector to come to your home during those first 60 days to guarantee the house meets their requirements. I’ll never forget the first time the New York Property Insurance Underwriting Association (N.Y.P.I.U.A., a.k.a. “The Fair Plan”), rejected an application because the house had outstanding violations and was in lousy condition.

And when the Fair Plan refuses to cover you, you’ve got it bad. Force-placed insurance, anyone? 

Think about it: Why go to all the trouble and cost to issue a policy, only to reject it for underwriting reasons.? Better to underwrite before issue and before a claim.

Our next post will expose other reasons why you lost, or could lose, your homeowners insurance policy with a preferred company. 

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.

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 .