Preventing basement water damage

Water Damaged Basement

It’s been said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you ever had to deal with the clean up and reconstruction from water damage you’ll appreciate that advice. A wet basement may or may not be covered by your homeowners insurance.

Are wet basements covered by home insurance?

It depends on the source of the water and the optional coverage you purchased on your policy:

  1. If water seeps through your basement walls, floors or windows, that is considered a flood. Floods are excluded (not covered) on homeowners insurance.
  2. If water backs up from a drainage system, such as a floor drain, sewer line or a sump pit, the damage COULD be covered but only if you have optional water and sewer backup coverage added to your policy. Due to the frequency of these claims, the cost of this coverage continues to increase.
  3. Damage from plumbing leaks, burst pipes and water overflowing from sinks and tubs is generally covered on your base home policy. It is all subject, of course, to the terms and conditions of your policy.

Even if insurance does cover the cost of the damage, you will still have to pay your deductible (usually $1,000 or more) and deal with the disruption, mess and paperwork of getting everything put back as it was before. In most cases you will also face increased home insurance premiums for the next three years. Therefore, prevention is a much better way to go!

Early detection is key to prevention

Fortunately, most water damage losses are avoidable. Here are some tips to help protect your home better.

  1. Consider replacing your sump pump regularly. I have customers who replace their sump pump every 7-10 years to avoid having it fail at an inopportune time. Sump pumps are relatively inexpensive, some are less than $100.
  2. Have a backup power source. A major reason for many sump pit overflows is a loss of power, especially during a storm. Battery backups are the most common. There are also sump pumps that can run off your water pressure for backup power. Emergency generators are another option.
  3. Water detectors. These are inexpensive and effective at giving you an early warning for trouble.
    1. For around $11 you can get a simple device that works like a smoke alarm, setting off an audible alarm when water is detected under it.
    2. Internet connected water detectors send an alert to your smart phone when it detects water. The advantage of this system is it can alert you even when you are away from home.

Water detectors should be placed in potential problem areas such as near your sump pit or floor drain to give you early warning. You can buy multiple units around your home, wherever water leaks can appear like under sinks, dishwasher or waterline to your fridge.

Insure your home for the big disasters but be proactive to prevent them in the first place. That’s the best emergency plan! Insurance Gurus represents several top-rated insurance companies. Ask for a free review of your homeowner insurance today.

Internet connected water detector. Just $49 at Menards.

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10 Ways to Save on Car Insurance

How to save on your car insurance

Is your teen driver driving you to the poor house? Did your insurance rates take a huge increase with no change in your driving record? It may be time to review your auto policy to make sure you’re not over-paying. Here are 10 tips to keep your auto premiums in tip-top shape.

  1. Check your driving record.

Your driving record can have a big influence on how much you pay for car insurance. When your insurance is quoted, they run two reports: 1) Clue Report, this includes claims data turned into insurance companies, and 2) Motor Vehicle Report, this comes from the DOT and includes information reported by police like violations and accidents. Clue Reports can be inaccurate so should know the correct driving records of every driver on your policy and record the date and type of incident, including:

  1. Traffic violations
  2. Accidents (both at-fault and not-at-fault accidents such as someone rear-ending you)
  3. Comprehensive claims (like deer strikes, hail, glass damage, vandalism, etc.)

Ask your agent (and anytime you quote new insurance) what incidents affected your rate. You can dispute inaccurate information, but you may need to show proof to get items removed.

  1. Maintain a good driving record

Obviously, if you obey traffic laws and drive safely, you’ll get into fewer accidents and violations. Make safe driving a habit. Consider taking a safe driving course, some companies offer discounts for doing so, but even if they don’t, it has its own rewards.

  1. Participate in telematics programs

Telematics are devices that monitor your driving habits, such as mileage, time of day, fast braking, speed, mobile distraction and others. Insurance companies offer discounts of 5% to as much 50% depending on your driving habits. Find out of the insurance company will raise your rates if your driving habits are unfavorable, some do not. Driving apps that you install on your mobile phone are gaining popularity among carriers as some offer both choices. Since you can monitor your own driving with these devices it is an opportunity to improve your driving habits.

  1. Check insurance before buying your vehicle

Not all vehicles are created equal when it comes to the cost to insure them. Obviously a more expensive car will cost more to insure, but other factors play into it as well. Luxury and less common makes are often more expensive to repair and get parts if they are in an accident. Sportier cars or vehicles that can be used off-road cost more too. Get the VIN of the cars you’re considering and have your agent quote them first.

  1. Maintain good credit

Credit score can have as big of a factor on your rates as your driving record. Pay your bills on time, keep credit card balances low and dispute any discrepancies on your credit report.

  1. Shop your insurance

This is perhaps the biggest key to lower rates and yet many people are reluctant to do it. Perhaps it intimidates people who think they may unwittingly end up with less or inferior overage. Always insist on getting an apples-to-apples quote with your current coverage so you can compare fairly. While many insurance agents sell only one carrier, you can get quotes from multiple carriers from independent agents and brokers. Search for independent agents on Google and ask what carriers they are appointed with. That way you can get competitive quotes from more companies.

  1. Don’t assume advertised insurance companies are any better/cheaper than non-advertised ones.

Advertising is very costly and adds to an insurance company’s overhead. While brand recognition may help instill your confidence, advertising in its self doesn’t make a product any better. Some of the best values in insurance can be with small insurance companies you never heard of before. Also don’t assume a particular brand always has a better rate. All insurance companies have their own rating factors to determine what type of customers get the best rates. The company that was good for your brother-in-law may be a poor choice for you.

  1. Maximize discounts

Some of the biggest discounts include multi-vehicle and multi-policy discounts. Therefore, bundling home and auto insurance with the same company is usually cheaper. Paying your policy in full gives you an additional discount vs. monthly pay. Ask what discounts you are getting now and what other discounts are available, but not currently getting.

  1. Consider increasing your deductibles or reducing coverage on older cars

The lower the deductible, the higher the premium so you will save money by raising your deductibles. If the car is financed be sure to check with your loan company to see if they require a maximum deductible limit. If you have an older car or is worth less than $5K and is paid off, consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage. A rule of thumb is if your comp and collision coverage costs more than 10x the value of the car, consider reducing coverage.

  1. Go easy on optional coverage

You’ve seen the commercials that advertise “accident forgiveness” or “disappearing deductibles.” What they don’t mention is those options often cost you more and they aren’t necessarily right for you. Watch the cost of rental reimbursement, GAP coverage and roadside assistance to make sure you feel the benefit is worth the extra premium.

Getting your best rates requires some diligence on your part and combined with a little knowledge you’ll get the most for your money. Take control of your insurance today!

 

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Smart connected homes help protect from big homeowner insurance claims

You’ve probably seen the commercials about home security systems that send video and audio to your smart phone if someone comes to your door. But what happens if your smoke alarm goes off at home and there’s no one there to hear it? If you had early notification you could call for help even if you’re out of town to prevent a much bigger catastrophe.

Discounts on homeowners insurance

Several companies are now making home protection devices that are connected to your home Wi-Fi to send a notification to your smartphone. As more data becomes available about the devices’ effectiveness in reducing or preventing claims, you will see more and more insurance companies offering discounts to homeowners with smart connected devices. One company, State Auto Insurance of Columbus, OH is already offering such discounts for their homeowners policies.

Smart batteries for smoke alarms

There are several types of devices that monitor everything from smoke alarms, water leaks and freezing temps in your home. Smart batteries can be placed in many smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. When a connected device goes off it sends you a notification to your smart phone. The data use is small so it will have only a minimal affect on your data use.

Wi-Fi enabled water leak and freeze detectors

Another smart connected device senses water leaks such as from a sump pump over-flow. Water and sewer backups can be a costly mess to clean up and repair. Insurance premiums for this coverage have been on the rise. Some companies now charge more than $260 for $10,000 worth of backup coverage while others are adding conditions for eligibility.

Additional units can be placed in other areas of the home where water leaks can appear such as:

    • Under your dishwasherWi-Fi water leak detector
    • Near the washing machine drain
    • Ice maker line on your refrigerator
    • Under sinks
    • Near the bathtub or toilet

Some water leak units also sense for out of range humidity and temperatures. If you’re out of town on a winter vacation and your furnace fails, it could freeze your water pipes. When water freezes it expands and the pressure can burst your pipes, releasing a constant blast of water into your home which could go on for days if no one is around. Other smart devices can even turn off your water when a leak is detected.

Encompass Insurance offering customers free connected home program

Smart home connected devices

Images from Roost Home Telematics

Encompass is partnering with Roost, the largest and fasting growing home telematics company in the US to offer smart home devices at no cost. The program includes a smart water leak and freeze detector and a smart 9-volt battery for smoke alarms. The insurance company is offering up to 7,000 packages for policyholders and will be tracking their effectiveness in reducing damage to homes and personal property.

If you have an Encompass homeowner policy in Iowa, contact your agent or Insurance Gurus in Cedar Rapids to register. Supplies are limited. For a free home and/or auto insurance quote from Encompass contact Ed Faber at Insurance Gurus, 319-200-4878.

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Insurance Gurus now represents Encompass Insurance!

Insurance Gurus now represents Encompass Insurance!

I’m proud to announce that Encompass Insurance has now joined the product mix offered by our agency! Encompass is one of the largest home and auto insurance brands sold exclusively by independent agents. We are looking forward to placing our clients with a company with the resources and financial strength of an Allstate Insurance company. Contemporary insurance options are available for today’s modern economy. Insurance that is “competitive, flexible and customizeable” for your home and auto.

Available Auto Features:

  • Encompass Ride Share coverage for drivers working for Uber or Lyft for example.
  • Accident Forgiveness to protect your renewal rates in case you have an accident or violation
  • Auto Replacement Protection that includes new car replacement, better car replacement and loan/lease gap
  • Telematics App that gives drivers real-time feedback on driving behavior, and promotes safer, less-distracted driving
  • Transportation Expense, broader than rental car reimbursement because it includes reimbursement for things like train tickets or Uber rides
  • Discounts, such as multi-policy, homeownership, new car, good student, Encompass Easy Pay and pay in full—with no cap!

Available Home Features:

  • Ability to customize coverages as needed, such as adjusting limits up or down for Other Structures, Contents and Additional Living Expenses
  • Multiple deductible options provide flexibility for pricing and protection for our consumers
  • Home Sharing coverage for customers who periodically rent their house
  • Guest Protection for when your customers are traveling and cause property damage at places they are staying
  • Water Backup with multiple limits and deductible options
  • Discounts, such as multi-policy, claim-free and protective devices

Let us see if Encompass is the right fit for your family’s insurance needs!

 

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Nation’s Lowest Auto Insurance Rates

Auto insurance rates

States with the Lowest Auto Insurance premiums

Do you feel like your auto insurance rates have gotten out of hand? Be thankful if you don’t live in Michigan, Oklahoma or Louisiana. Residents there pay more than $2,000/per year on average to insure each vehicle. Iowans may also complain about raising rates, but should take some comfort in knowing they pay the lowest auto insurance rates in the nation! According to the November 2017 newsletter for Independent Insurance agents of Iowa, Iowans pay on average $1,125/year for auto insurance. Premiums vary by zip code and are based on the loss (claims) experience of insurance companies in each zip code. Therefore rates can vary widely even within a state. For example people in Detroit zip codes will pay a lot more than those in Marquette, MI.

Iowa’s lack of large urban areas helps reduce traffic congestion and accidents. However lower crime rates (theft and vandalism) as well as relatively fewer weather-related losses also work in the state’s favor. On the other hand, Iowa was the fourth highest state for deer-vehicle collisions last year according to State Farm. Of course the car you drive, driving records, credit history and age and experience of the driver(s) are important insurance rating factors too.

Uninsured Motorists

Iowa also is the 12th best state for the lowest percentage of uninsured drivers at just 8.7%*. This is despite the fact that Iowa doesn’t have a compulsory insurance law. Iowa’s Financial and Safety Responsibility act requires that drivers have the financial means to cover injury or property damage to others. Financial responsibility can be satisfied either from one’s personal wealth or with auto liability insurance.

The top 10 states with the lowest average auto insurance premiums are ranked below, with Iowa being the lowest:

  1. Iowa
  2. North Carolina
  3. Ohio
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Maine
  6. Idaho
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Kansas
  9. North Dakota
  10. Arizona

* Percentage of uninsured drivers, as measured by the ratio of uninsured motorists claims to bodily injury claim frequencies. Source: Insurance Research Council, 2015.

Get a quote from a Cedar Rapids auto insurance agency.

 

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Prevention is Best Cure for Water Back-up Claims

Prevention is Best Cure for Water Back-up Claims

It’s been raining for days and then you step down to your basement and “squish!” You have water problems. Just how big of a problem it is depends on how long and how much is wet. Your base homeowners insurance policy usually won’t cover the damage caused by water or sewage backing up or overflow from your sump pit. You need to add the optional sewer and water backup coverage to your policy. Water back-up coverage may also be added to your renters insurance policy to protect your personal property. Unfortunately, that coverage isn’t as cheap as it once was. Water back-up insurance can cost upwards of $200/year for a $10K coverage limit. Loss occurrences have become increasingly common in Iowa and other states with higher rainfall amounts, premiums have risen dramatically. The average water backup claim is $7,500 which may include cleanup costs as well as damage to your dwelling (flooring, base trim, drywall) and personal property.

Back up your Sump Pump

There are steps you can take to help prevent the likelihood of water back-up in the first place or at least lessen the impact of the damage if it does happen. The most common cause of water back-up claims is a malfunction with the sump pump. The storms that bring the extra water can also knock out the power to your home including the sump pump. Getting a sump pump with a battery back-up will allow your pump to do its job even when the power is out. Water powered sump pumps uses the water pressure from your home rather than electricity to pump water from your sump pit.

Another cause of sewer and water backup claims are floor drains that back up when city sewers are overwhelmed, causing it to flow backwards into your home. A properly installed back-flow valve or check valve can help prevent sewage backing into your home.

Early Warning System

water detector

A battery operated water detector (about $10) can provide early warning of water problems.

Let’s say you took all these precautions and you still get water backing into your basement. A water detector placed on your basement floor sets off an audible alarm, like a smoke alarm, to alert you of trouble before it gets serious. The early warning can tell you there’s a problem with your sump pump so you can take care of it before your property is damaged. These cost only about $10 so you can buy extra ones to use around your home where water leaks can form, such as behind your refrigerator (with automatic ice-makers), under your sinks and under your dishwasher. They also make water detectors that are connected to your home’s Wi-Fi and will send a text alert to your mobile device anywhere you may be.

Act Quickly to Prevent Mold

One of the biggest cost for water back-up is the mold remediation which can start forming in just 24-48 hours after exposure to water. Therefore, you need to act quickly if your carpet does get wet. Some useful equipment to help remove the water and start drying things down are:

  1.  A wet vac and/or carpet cleaning machine
  2. Carpet blowers or high-speed fans
  3. Dehumidifier(s)

You will first remove as much water possible with the wet vac and carpet cleaner then place the blowers/fans in line to move the air in the same direction around the room. The dehumidifiers will pull the moisture out of the air. If the water collects in a corner of the room you might want to pull back the carpet and pad in that area to facilitate drying. Check for mold on the back of the carpet and pad.

Water Backup Coverage isn’t Flood Insurance

Not all wet basements are due to water back-up. Which type of coverage applies depends on where the water entered your home. If it seeps through walls or enters through windows, that would be considered a flood and only flood insurance would cover it. Even so, flood insurance provides only limited coverage in basements. For example, personal property and floor coverings that are below grade are not covered. While water from a frozen or leaking pipe as well as water that overflows from a sink or tub may be covered in your base homeowners policy.

If you’ve had water damage in the past, you are more susceptible for having damage again. And of course, a water backup claim can lead to 3-year surcharge and loss of claim-free discounts, not to mention putting you at risk for cancellation if there are multiple claims. The best policy is to take the steps necessary to protect your property in the first place and mitigate damage by taking action quickly.

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The rich History of Johnson Avenue

Johnson Ave looks like many other thoroughfares in Cedar Rapids with a mix of residential and retail properties along it’s three mile stretch. It is home to one of the largest Hy-Vee food stores in the city, two drug stores, medical offices, small bars and eateries, auto service centers, car washes, gas stations, a Dairy Queen store and at least five insurance agencies.  The diverse residential area includes many well-kept owner-occupied homes, apartments buildings, assisted care and aging mobile homes.

Driving down this humble stretch of road today, most people would be surprised to learn that it was once part of one of the nation’s first transcontinental highways. Dedicated in 1913, the Lincoln Highway ran more than 3,000 miles from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

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Difference between Condominum Insurance and Homeowners Insurance

Difference between Condominum Insurance and Homeowners Insurance

Condo Insurance vs. Homeowners Insurance

The major difference between owning a condo vs. a single-family home is condominium owners own and maintain the inside of their units themselves while jointly owning and maintaining the exterior of the building and common areas of the property. The common property is governed by a condominium association or a homeowner’s association (HOA). Each homeowner is a member and the members elect the officers.

The HOA is responsible for maintaining the landscaping, walks, parking lots, building exteriors and any jointly held property like a clubhouse or pool.  Monthly dues are collected from the members to pay for ongoing and future expenses such as insurance and re-roofing as needed.

The HOA also maintains a master insurance policy that covers the building’s shell such as the roofing, exterior and common areas. The master policy may also provide liability coverage for the commonly maintained areas of the property such as lawn, sidewalks and clubhouse. The master policy can be in two typical forms:

  1. Completely rebuild the building including all interior units to their original state (not counting any subsequent improvements made by the homeowner).
  1. “Studs out” policy. This is the more common of the two and covers just the rebuilding of the building’s exterior shell and any common space such as hallways between the units. The condo owner is responsible for rebuilding from the studs inward.

The individual members still need their own insurance to cover their property and liability where the master policy leaves off. In the first scenario, the unit owner may just have coverage for their personal property and personal liability, like a renter’s policy. The policy will also include loss of use (coverage D) which can pay for your additional living expense such as hotel bills if your home is not livable during repairs from a covered loss.

In the second scenario, you will need enough building coverage limit (coverage A) to rebuild the part of the building you are responsible for. This can include interior walls, kitchen and bath fixtures, flooring, window and wall coverings, light fixtures and other improvements to your unit’s interior. Coverage B (other structures) is not usually needed for a condo because detached garages, gazebos, fences, etc. are generally common property covered by the HOA’s policy. Coverage C (personal property) is needed by the condo owner as well as Coverage D, E and F – loss of use, medical payments and liability.

When getting insurance quotes for your condominium be sure your agent gets a copy of the master policy as well as the HOA bylaws to help avoid potential coverage gaps. For “studs-in” coverage, your insurance agent will run a special replacement cost estimate that doesn’t include replacing your building’s shell. It will use your unit’s square footage, type of construction, grade of kitchen, number of baths and other interior features to get a more accurate estimate. This estimate will be used for your building coverage limit. Your personal property limit is based on an estimate to replace your property that is not permanently attached to the dwelling.

Condominium insurance quotes in Cedar Rapids

Condominium living can provide many of the rewards of home ownership such as building equity but with fewer maintenance responsibilities. Whether it’s your first home or your retirement home be sure to get the right insurance coverage for worry-free living!

Condo photo

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Time for Changing the Time

Time for Changing the Time

The days have gotten increasing longer this past month as we gained an average of 2 ½ minutes of daylight per day. At Cedar Rapids’ latitude, there is a 6-hour variance in daylight between winter and summer. Of course, daylight savings time doesn’t really give is more daylight. By setting our clocks back an hour, we are just shifting the early morning daylight to the evening when we are more likely to be awake and thus able to utilize it. If we didn’t shift our clocks our morning twilight in late June would be about 4:00 AM rather than 5:00 AM. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually sleeping at that hour so I would be “wasting” daylight!

Daylight savings time arrives at 2:00 AM, Sunday March 12, 2017.

It seems nearly every year at around the time change, people talk about abolishing daylight savings time. And nearly every year, nobody does anything about it! Arizona and Hawaii do not follow daylight savings time. That’s understandable, as the closer you are to the equator the less variance there is in daylight throughout the year.

I’m a fan of daylight savings time and the long summer evenings. It feels like you have more time to do things. In the depth of winter, my wife sometimes like to get out of her work close and go straight to bed clothes at 6:00 in the evening. Now that makes for shorter days! In my first career, I worked as grocery manufacturer’s rep and sold charcoal, among many other products. The charcoal industry used to say the outdoor grilling begins and ends with daylight savings time. So there’s another reason to embrace the time change. Bring on the burgers!

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Ridesharing? Check with your insurance agent first.

Ridesharing? Check with your insurance agent first.

Ridesharing networks such as Uber and Lyft have changed the way we call for a ride. Once approved, drivers use their personal vehicle to give rideshare app users a ride for a fee. Most personal auto policies specifically exclude coverage when the vehicle is being used as a “public or livery conveyance.” In fact many insurance carriers will not accept a vehicle at all if it’s used for ridesharing or will cancel the policy if it is subsequently used this way. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation with your insurance agent before you decide to get into the ridesharing business.

Introducing Progressive’s new Ride-Sharing Coverage in Iowa

For the insurance companies that do allow it, there may be a gap in coverage where you’re off your personal auto policy and yet covered buy the Transportation Network Company’s (TNC) policy. Your personal auto policy may only cover you when you’re not using the TNC’s app. As soon as you turn on the app and are available for rides, your personal coverage stops. The coverage from the TNC’s policy doesn’t begin until a match has been made between the driver and the person hailing a ride. If that’s the case, there is a gap in coverage between the time the driver turns on the app and is “available” for rides and when a passenger match is made.

Ridesharing Coverage Gap

Safeco Insurance for example is coming out with their “RideSharing Coverage” that is designed to provide coverage during this specific period of time when the driver is not covered by the Safeco auto policy or the TNC’s policy. Note that this endorsement is rolling out state-by-state and as of January 2017, is not yet available in Iowa. The endorsement covers only the vehicle identified for ridesharing, not necessarily all vehicles on the policy.

Progressive, State Auto and Integrity are some of the carriers currently offering TNC coverage. As ridesharing increases in popularity more and more insurers will offer this coverage.

Don’t assume you are always covered if you plan to become a driver for a TNC, check with your agent first. Of course if you use Uber or Lyft as a rider (not a driver), this doesn’t apply to you. Learn more about your personal auto insurance from your local agent.

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