June 20, 2011

Home Security Tips: Get appropriate homeowner’s insurance.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 2:37 pm

One kind of home security that is too often neglected or postponed until it is too late is adequate and appropriate homeowner’s insurance. But without the right kind of coverage and without knowing how to comply with the terms of the policy is it possible to wind up on the other side of an unexpected accident, natural disaster, or other calamity with little to fall back on for financial relief.

You should get proper coverage, and update it ever so often. You should know what the basics are, how to get the best deal, and what is usually not going to be covered under most policies. Then you should take steps to make sure that when disaster does strike you are prepared for it and can deal effectively and professionally with your insurer to ensure you get treated fairly and compensated appropriately.
Here are some tips to help accomplish all of that:

Understanding the Policy

These days, typical insurance policies are crammed with legal language, special clauses, and page after page of restrictions and policy guidelines. A single homeowner’s policy can often be the size of a small novel, and very few homeowners ever bother to read the description of what their policy covers. Even if they do bother to read the documents it is unlikely that they will have a clear idea of what is contained in the policy unless they themselves are an insurance broker or have a pretty advanced law degree.

That’s why it is a good idea to sit down and have an in-depth discussion with your insurance broker and get them to explain the policy to you at least once. It might take time, but after you have a thorough grasp of the document then it will be easy for your broker or agent to explain any subsequent changes, waivers, or new policy conditions. If your broker can’t answer all your questions to your satisfaction or isn’t keen on the idea of taking time to teach you what the policy means, you may want to shop for a different insurance provider.

Getting the Best Coverage at the Best Price
Cheap is not always least expensive when it comes to insurance. One of the main reasons is that companies that offer bargain basement rates often go out of business because they can’t compete. You should shop for insurance offered by companies with the highest ratings, because they are the ones most likely to survive over the long haul. “AAA” means super strong, whereas “AA” means very strong. Companies with “A minus” ratings, on the other hand, are strong and those with “B plus” ratings are not quite as financially equipped to deal with lots of big claims in the wake of a widespread catastrophe. So be sure to shop not just by price alone, but also by industry credit ratings, to make sure that you get adequate coverage from a reliable firm.

Also shop for discounts because if you are a senior citizen, a nonsmoker, or have multiple policies with the same company you may be entitled to preferred customer rates. Another way to save money on insurance is to minimize your claims. That may not seem fair, but it is how the industry operates. If you have a history of claims then your premiums will probably go higher, whereas if you are able to remedy the problems yourself you’ll enjoy less expensive insurance. In some cases frequent claims can even result in getting dropped by an insurance company, and nobody wants to face that possibility.
Your claims history follows you around, too, because with sophisticated insurance company computer records and data sharing any company can check up on you and see if you have a history of claims. They can also run the property address for the same kind of profile, so you might want to have the history of a home checked by your insurer before you buy real estate.

What Won’t Usually Be Covered
Damage that could have been prevented through more responsible home maintenance may not be covered. So if a tree falls on your house but the insurance investigator finds out that it was dead or rotten before it fell, that’s a problem. In all likelihood your claim will probably be denied.
Damage from insects like termites is not usually covered, either, and neither is toxic mold damage. So have your home inspected, look for trouble areas, and have them addressed before you have a serious problem.

Similarly, home office equipment may not be covered because it is considered part of a commercial enterprise. For your home office you will probably want to get a business or commercial policy, but at least the extra cost of that coverage can probably be itemized as a legitimate business expense for tax purposes.

What to Do to Prepare for a Successful Insurance Claim
Take photos of your property or videotape footage of it, and update that visual record any time you do home improvements. Photograph any damage you find that may require a claim, and use your camera settings to add a date and time to the picture so you have proof of when it occurred. If there is damage, do emergency repairs as needed to keep it from getting worse – but always contact your insurance company ASAP and follow their recommendations. In your policy there should be a section called “Duties after a Loss” and you’ll need to be familiar with it to know your responsibilities so you don’t accidentally spoil your chances of a settlement or claim.

Summertime Home Maintenance Tips: Dealing with health hazards in the yard.

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 2:36 pm

For many Americans, summertime is peak season for many pest and safety hazards around the home, especially if you have kids. So every home maintenance calendar should include some projects that proactively address those potential annoyances. Here are a few things to watch out for and try to prevent by policing the area around your home and staying current on those rather minor home maintenance chores that can have a major positive impact on your health and safety, quality of life, and peace of mind.

Mosquitoes:

After every rain check around the property for standing water, particularly in places like empty wheel barrows, old tires, kids’ swimming pools, or gutter pipes that aren’t draining properly. They are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and every year Americans are infected with serious diseases like the West Nile virus or encephalitis.
You can use small discs or rings of mosquito killer found at hardware stores to kill eggs before they hatch in standing water, but since those can also be harmful if swallowed by pets or children it is generally better to rely on hands-on prevention strategies.
Even minor mosquito bites can get infected, especially when kids itch and scratch, so not only does mosquito prevention make your summer more comfortable but it can also protect your health.

Snakes:

Become familiar with snakes indigenous to your particular part of the country, because the key to controlling threats from snakes is to identify the good guys from the bad ones.

Most pit vipers like copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlers have triangular-shaped heads, for example, and their bites can cause painful injury, long illness, or even death. Sometimes juvenile venomous serpents have more potent venom that full grown snakes, too, and stumbling across a nest of baby copperheads can be a scary event. So keep the landscape well groomed; wear protective clothing, high boots, and leather gloves when working in tall weeds or wooded areas; be especially cautious when working around piles of wood or if you overturn stones in the yard; and call your local animal control agency if you encounter poisonous snakes.
But keep in mind that other kinds of snakes like the black snake and somewhat rarer king snake can help you get rid of threats and pests. That’s because these harmless snakes will feed on mice and rats and will even attack and eat poisonous snakes. So if you have a friendly black snake living in the yard you may want to protect it instead of killing it out of fear that it might hurt you as many uninformed homeowners unfortunately do. Good snakes are an asset, not a liability, so learn to differentiate between various kinds of snakes and you’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Poisonous Plants:
Poison ivy and other plants that can cause skin irritations also need to be identified and controlled. Even dead poison ivy vines can hurt you if, for example, they are clinging to pieces of wood you toss into a summertime campfire. The fumes can cause a nasty reaction and turn a pleasant outing into a trip to the emergency room.
The best time to kill of poison ivy and similar poisonous plants is in early spring when they first begin to grow. If you missed that chance this season then locate the plants now and avoid them. But make a note on the calendar to come back next year and spray with a chemical weed killer especially formulated for that kind of plant. Whatever you do, don’t attack them with the lawn mower or weed eater. That only disperses them in all directions, where they will have a chance to drop their seeds and spread like wildfire.

Toxic Chemicals:
Yard word usually involves potentially hazardous chemicals, too, and those may include everything from fertilizers and gasoline to radiator coolant and charcoal lighter fluid. Be extra vigilant this time of year about using and storing these kinds of items, otherwise you can invite disaster.
A little spilled fuel can erupt into a spontaneous fire – even ignited by intense sunshine. Swimming pool chemicals or engine coolants can accidentally poison children, plants, or animals. Fertilizers and paints can also be potential hazards, so keep everything stored out of reach of youngsters, away from pets, and in a cool, dry, well ventilated area. Use safety glasses and chemically resistant gloves when working with such products, too, because sometimes one splash is all it takes to create a serious injury.

If you want to really educate yourself and your family about ways to stay safe all summer long – and what kinds of hazards to avoid around the yard – enlist the help of a professional. There are home inspectors, for example, who can do a child safety check of your property if you have young ones. An ounce of that kind of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.

The Value of a Termite Inspection for Buyers and Sellers

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 2:34 pm

Summertime is here, and nature is flourishing. That means that while many homeowners are planning family vacations or enjoying themselves on the deck or around the back yard grill, others are fretting over costly damage from wood-devouring insects. Nothing ruins a summer like having to stop to deal with that kind of expensive and labor-intensive headache.

Buyer Inspections
But home owners are not the only ones who need to be concerned about wood-munching insects, because those looking to buy a home are also at risk. Without a professional inspection to try to uncover evidence of termites, carpenter ants, or other destructive insects it is possible to buy a home that is literally about to fall apart around you. The structural damage may be completely camouflaged to the naked and untrained eye, and a home can function just fine for months or even years despite being colonized by wood-eating culprits.

By the time the problem is discovered it is often too late to salvage the home without extraordinary repairs, because wood damage can attack a home like a cancer. The structural integrity and health of the home is wrecked from the inside-out in a hidden and insidious fashion.
But eventually the visible traces of rotten wood finally emerge from beneath the exterior paint. Or major structural beams collapse because they have been chewed into sawdust. The safety and value of the home is severely compromised, and the extent of the destruction may run throughout the entire building. Thanks to a labyrinth of tiny tunnels, networks, pathways, and nests that result from unchecked and untreated insect infestation many homeowners suffer a catastrophic loss. But the whole scenario can usually be prevented by affordable routine maintenance and annual professional inspections.

Seller Inspections

If you are hoping to sell your home in today’s market – or even in a bull market, for that matter – evidence of prior insect infestation can spoil your whole effort to successfully market and sell. Buyers and their Realtors often get nervous about a purchase once they find out that something as serious as termite infestation and damage is a possibility. Rather than waiting around for you to fumigate, repair damaged wood, and then have the property inspected again to ensure that everything is okay most buyers simply move along and buy someone else’s house instead. So before you find yourself in that awkward situation it is a good idea to order a homeowner inspection.

The process works essentially the same way as it did when you had a termite inspection done in order to buy your home, except that the Wood-Destroying Insect Inspection Report (WDIIR) is delivered to you. After checking it over you can solve any problems that the WDIIR might have uncovered. Or if you have a clean bill of health you can use that as a marketing benefit. Showing potential buyers a recent termite inspection can substantially increase their confidence level and convey to them that you are a conscientious homeowner and a seller who believes in full disclosure and transparency. They’ll still have to get their inspections done, but termite inspections usually only cost about $50 or $100 so that’s not really an issue. But knowing that a home is free of problems can be invaluable, and that often translates into a faster sale at a higher price.

Home Maintenance Inspections
If you own a home, are buying a home, or even lease the home you live in then a termite or wood-destroying inspection is a good idea and a real bargain. You’ll have added peace of mind knowing that a professional has examined your home and can monitor it for you once a year or so, and that kind of reassurance is priceless.
Choose an inspector who is certified or licensed to perform this kind of inspection in your area, and if possible try to be on hand when they perform the actual inspection. That way you can ask any questions you may have and also get some valuable tips on how to look for telltale signs of termites, carpenter ants, and other unwanted insects.

Most termite companies also offer significant discounts to homeowners who order year-round protection, so you may want to look at the value of a package deal to save you extra money over the long run.