Category Archives: Homeowners Insurance

Easy Steps to Help with Home Renovation

Home-renovationHome Renovation 101: Simple Steps for Building Your Dream House from Integrity First Insurance Services in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Remodeling a home isn’t a new concept. U.S. homeowners spent $130 billion in renovations last year and nearly 75 percent of all homeowners are expected to make some type of home improvement in 2014.

Hopefully, homeowners have or will become familiar with the following checklist, before opening a checkbook or sinking that first nail.

Establish a budget. Renovating a home is often more cost-effective than moving into a new one; however, if this is the route you choose, don’t break the bank. Keep track of monthly expenses (e.g., utilities, mortgage, groceries, etc.) to gauge how much money you can afford to set aside for your remodel. Start by setting up a special savings account specifically for a renovation project and, if needed, talk to your financial institution about the possibility of taking out a loan. Taking the extra time to look for coupons and deals to save money on household expenditures can also free up more money.

Remodeling projects rarely come in under budget, so add a 10 percent cushion and include permit costs. (Contact a local building permit office for more information about requirements and pricing.)

Sketch out your plans. It’s important to know how planned changes might affect the home’s overall structure. Consult with a professional to learn more about load-bearing walls and impacting the house’s foundation before demolition begins. Some architects offer a one-time design consultation to discuss what you hope to accomplish with a renovation and will then sketch a few options, which can later be turned into blueprints for a builder to formalize construction plans.

Certain projects have a better return on investment than others, so before green-lighting construction, decide if a major overhaul is what you seek or if minor adjustments will suffice. Remodeling Magazine compiled a list of 35 projects in its annual Cost vs. Value Report that add value to homes, with replacing the front door the number one most valuable – and least expensive – undertaking.

Consult with an insurance agent. The planning process is a good time to speak with an insurance agent to ensure your home is properly covered for any potential losses after construction has been completed.

“Many people don’t think about how structural and functional changes to their homes can affect their insurance coverage. For example, adding a home alarm may result in a lower premium, but a home office may require a commercial general liability policy in addition to your homeowners coverage, to cover all additional exposures,” said Randy Petro, vice president of claims for Mercury Insurance Group. “Adding more square footage, upgrading kitchens or bathrooms, or replacing carpet with hardwood or stone flooring can also impact the replacement costs of your home For example, the cost to replace a new gourmet kitchen is much greater than the cost to replace your pre-remodel kitchen, so you should speak to your agent to make sure you have enough insurance to cover these upgrades.”

To DIY or not to DIY? The Internet, the “For Dummies” book series, and the abundance of TV shows on HGTV, the DIY Network and TLC empower people with the confidence to undertake certain home improvements on their own. Some money-saving “do-it-yourself” projects include replacing your siding (having professionals install it can cost up to five times more than doing it yourself), plumbing fixes and kitchen remodels (median savings were approximately $4,500 based on census data). However, if you’re uncertain of your capabilities, hire a professional because your mistakes could lead to even more costly repairs if you get it wrong.

Tap into your network. Family and friends can be valuable resources for finding reputable, licensed contractors for a home renovation project. Try to secure at least three bids before deciding on who to hire and be wary of choosing someone just because they had the lowest bid … sometimes you get what you pay for.

“You’ll also want to ensure that they carry worker’s compensation and liability insurance in case someone on their staff gets injured on the job,” said Petro. “This is very important, because if your contractor doesn’t have sufficient insurance then you could be left holding the bag if a worker is injured while working on your property.”

Once you’ve chosen a contractor, be open to their recommendations for suppliers because these are often their professional contacts and may be great sources for less expensive materials. Be sure to agree upon a timeline and contract that clearly outlines when and how materials will be paid for, as well as when the contractor gets paid. Don’t pay for everything up front and keep the dialogue going throughout the process to guarantee the project is ultimately completed to your satisfaction. And once everything is all done … enjoy your new home!

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An A to Z Guide to Auto Insurance

A to Z

Auto Insurance: What You Should Know

 If you drive a car chances are you carry some level of auto insurance. If you don’t, then you better get it quick, because it’s the law in most states. But how do you choose the right company and coverage? You should start by doing a little homework so you know what you’re buying when you begin shopping.

Auto insurance can be pretty complicated and it can be difficult to understand if you don’t know the basics, so we’ve tried to highlight a few things you should consider when searching for auto insurance.

Auto Insurance –An auto insurance policy is an agreement between you, the insured, and an insurance company to help protect your financial assets if a covered loss occurs. A loss may include damage to your vehicle, liability for damage caused to another vehicle or individual, theft, medical, rental car, etc., depending on your coverage selections.

 Bodily Injury Liability (BI) – Bodily injury liability coverage pays for injuries to other people, within the policy limits you selected, of course.  This may include drivers and passengers in another vehicle, pedestrians and, in some cases, passengers in your vehicle, when the insured vehicle’s driver is legally at fault. It does not cover injuries you may have personally sustained in the accident. Bodily injury is often used to pay for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

 Collision Coverage – Collision coverage pays for damage to your vehicle – or provides you with a settlement that could allow you to replace the vehicle in the event of a total loss – if it collides with another vehicle or object (e.g., potholes, speed bumps, poles, etc.), regardless of fault. Typically, you must first pay a deductible, an amount for which you’ve agreed to be responsible before insurance pays – usually ranging from $100-$1,000.

Comprehensive Coverage – Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle that occurs in a non-collision situation, including damage from wind, flooding, fire, hail, vandalism or theft. As with collision coverage, you must generally pay a deductible before your insurance company offers financial assistance towards repair or replacement costs.

Deductible – The amount you must pay out-of-pocket for damages before your insurance policy will pay an insurance claim is your deductible. If you have a $100 deductible, for example, and your car sustains $1,000 worth of damage, you must pay $100 before your insurer pays the remaining $900. Deductibles are most often found in amounts of $100, $250, $500 and $1,000, but may vary from state to state or by carrier. Also note that the amount of your deductible is inversely related to the amount of your insurance premium. Plainly stated, the more money you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket towards your repairs, the lower your insurance premium will be and vice versa.

Electronic Proof of Insurance – Uh oh, you’ve just been pulled over and, as the officer approaches your car, you realize you never put your new insurance cards in your glove box. Electronic proof of insurance allows you to display your insurance card to the officer on your smartphone. Before you get excited (not that you’d ever get pulled over, right?) check if your state has adopted this law and, as a backup, be sure to always keep a hard copy in the car in case your phone decides to die or freeze at an inconvenient time. Mercury offers customers the ability to save a digital copy of their I.D. cards when they establish an electronic account on the company’s website.

 Filing a Claim – The unthinkable has happened and you’ve gotten into an  accident or your car has been stolen. These aren’t the only circumstances for which you might file a claim, but they are certainly some of the most common. Try to gather as much information as possible at the scene. Notify the police immediately and file a police report. Collect contact information from everyone involved, including witnesses. Document and photograph the damage and the scene, and contact your insurance company immediately. You can use your phone to take pictures of the other party’s driver license and insurance I.D. card. These items will contain most of the information you will need to file a claim, but don’t forget to also get a phone number.

 Discounts – Everybody loves to get a discount! Most auto insurance commercials talk about discounts that can help you save money, but do they? Sometimes yes…sometimes no. Just because you get a discount doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be saving money. Look at the total cost, not the discount. You may notice that some companies start with really high rates and then pile on the discounts to make it seem like you’re saving money. When you compare final rates, however, you may notice the company that didn’t have big discounts is a lot cheaper.

It never hurts to ask, though, because it all adds up. Some of the more popular discounts include the following: Good driver, good student, multi-car, and one of the best is the discount you can get when you insure both your auto and home together. Mercury offers up to 15% off when you buy both, which can save you a lot!

 Liability Coverage – This is not an option in most states. The law says you must have liability coverage, but what is it? Simply put…if the insured vehicle is involved in a covered, at-fault accident, liability insurance is what pays for the property damage (vehicles and property like lampposts and fire hydrants) and bodily injury damages (medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages) for the other people involved. Most states require that you carry some level of liability insurance. However, there are a handful of states where you can drive without a motor vehicle liability insurance policy…if you can prove you’re financially able to pay the liability costs in the event of a collision. All insurance policies have exclusions and conditions, so make sure to review your policy carefully with your agent so you know what’s covered and what isn’t.

Medical Payment Coverage – If you’re injured in an auto accident, this coverage will pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses regardless of who is at fault for the accident (up to your policy’s limits).

 Premium – The price you pay for your insurance policy. It’s typically charged monthly, semi-annually or annually. Some insurance companies will offer insurance discounts if you pay your premium all at once instead of in monthly installments or if you have your payments automatically deducted from your bank account.

 Property Damage Liability (PD) – Covers you if your car damages someone else’s property. It mainly applies to damage caused to another person’s vehicle, but can also apply to fences, shrubbery, trees, light poles, houses and other property. This does not cover damage to your own vehicle.

 Rental Reimbursement – Rental reimbursement is an optional auto insurance benefit. If your car is damaged and the cost to repair it is more than your deductible, this coverage pays for a rental car, usually with per-day or per-accident limits. This benefit is only available; however, if you selected this coverage and the accident is a covered loss.

 Roadside Assistance – Did your car break down on the side of the road? As the name implies, roadside assistance comes to your aid. It is often available as an additional coverage option from your insurance company. For example, Mercury offers this coverage at a cost of less than a quarter a day. It covers a variety of services, up to the policy limit, including towing, reimbursement for expenses if you’ve locked your keys in your car, need a flat tire changed, etc. Roadside Assistance is another optional coverage, so be sure to talk to your agent about adding this coverage if you need it.

 State Laws – Every state has different requirements regarding insurance, including the minimum amount of insurance coverage you need to carry. You can learn more about your individual state’s insurance requirements by visiting the insurance commissioner’s website.

 Tort (PIP) Insurance – The Tort system, which operates in 38 states, makes the driver who causes an accident responsible for paying for damage to the victim’s property and medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. The other 12 states use some form of no-fault insurance coverage. Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow residents to choose between limited-tort and full-tort insurance when seeking insurance policies. If you’re the victim of an accident in one of those states and you opted for limited tort coverage, this means that you give up the right to seek damages for pain and suffering, whereas full tort coverage allows you to seek compensation for whatever you think you’re owed.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage – Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage pays for injuries to you and other people in your vehicle, within the policy limits you selected, when the loss is caused by an uninsured driver. Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury coverage may apply if the person who caused the accident doesn’t have enough liability insurance to fully compensate you and your passengers for injury claims.*

 Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage/Collision Deductible Waiver – Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage will compensate you, up to the policy limit, for damages to your vehicle caused by an identified uninsured motorist.  Collision Deductible Waiver will pay your deductible if your covered vehicle is damaged by an identified uninsured motorist.*

*  In some states these coverages may be combined into one coverage.  Please check with your local insurance agent to learn about different options.

There’s no “one size fits all” insurance policy so your best bet is to do some research and speak to a local insurance agent about your specific needs.

Do I Have Enough Earthquake Insurance?

For California residents, living with earthquakes is something you get used to. Most quakes are small and you may have gotten to the point you really don’t notice anything less than a 3.0. And, most earthquakes don’t do any damage and aren’t strong enough to do much more than cause water to ripple in a glass. However, when a good shock does happen, damage can occur. That’s when you start to worry whether your insurance gives you the proper coverage. 

While most Californians who own homes have some type of earthquake protection clause built in, it may not be enough. Ordinarily, earthquakes are classed as ‘natural disasters; along with such things as floods, forest fires, tornados and hurricanes and handled differently than other losses by insurance companies. This means you’ll want to check out your homeowners insurance policy to make sure you have enough coverage if a big quake does occur.

Working with a great insurance company like Integrity First Insurance in Conejo Valley, California can give you the assurance you’ve got the right financial protection, regardless of where in all of California you’re located. Earthquakes will happen and it’s up to you to make sure you’re completely prepared. Having the right homeowners insurance helps you to be sure.

Spring maintenance for your home

As the days grow longer and the temperatures warmer, many homeowners are beginning to prepare for their annual spring cleaning ritual.

However, to get the most out of your home, consider using this time to perform a maintenance inspection as well.

Start with your roof. Check shingles for warping or curling as well as for cracking granules. While you can take a look at your roof yourself, do not attempt to make repairs on your own. Hire a professional to do any needed work, both for your own safety as well as to ensure the job is done properly.

Examine your gutters and downspouts as well. Following winter’s freezes, gutters sometimes crack or fill to the point that they are no longer performing adequately. It may be time for a simple cleaning, or you may find it is necessary to replace some or all of them.

Finally, test your air conditioning. It is better to have it serviced now than to find out you should have once summer’s heat becomes the daily standard.

If you have questions about insurance coverage for your Westlake Village or Thousand Oaks, California home, contact Integrity First Insurance to learn more about homeowners insurance options.

Mercury 50 Year Anniversary

Mercury Insurance Group is celebrating its 50 year anniversary. Mercury Insurance Group began in 1962 and still believes in the old-fashioned concepts of integrity, hard work and dedication. Mercury Insurance believes that the customer always needs to come first, and the founder of the company has stated that it is very important to him that his customers are always taken care of no matter how many years pass and how the insurance industry changes. The founder of Mercury Insurance, George Joseph, believes that Mercury Insurance Group can establish personal relationships with the help of their exceptional staff of agents.

The company cuts back on nonessential items of overhead so that they can offer the best possible prices to their customers. The company has been named four times as one of Forbes’ America’s Most Trustworthy Companies. They believe that a personal touch is very important in all business dealings. They also believe that while technology is a wonderful boon to society today, it is not a replacement for personal care. The company believes that this individual service and their low overheads have contributed to their success.

For more information about Mercury Insurance Group and the Mercury 50 Year Anniversary contact Integrity First Insurance or watch this video on YouTube.

Integrity First Has Been Awarded Service Excellence Certification

Integrity First Insurance has been awarded a Service Excellence Certification based on the Company Customer Astonishment Program. Integrity First Insurance is dedicated to making sure that their customers are always taken care of and are always satisfied. Integrity First Insurance company has been saving their customers money since 1981 and offers many types of insurance product for the protection of their customers.

Integrity First Insurance agents search through all the possible insurance offerings for a client to ensure that they get the best possible insurance offerings. This includes auto insurance, health insurance, property insurance, boat insurance and life insurance. Integrity First Insurance services the entire state of California. Integrity First Insurance can also offer businesses many types of property and liability insurance. Integrity First Insurance offers unparalleled customer care options including an online web portal that allows them to manage insurance information effectively online. There are also many discount programs available for the bundling of different insurance packages. Free quotes are available for many types of insurance so that customers can find out in detail the options available to them for the coverage they need.

For more information about insurance, especially in the area of California, contact Integrity First Insurance today.

Mercury Named One of ‘America’s Most Trustworthy Companies’ by Forbes

Forbes Magazine has, for the fourth time, bestowed upon Mercury Insurance the title of one of “America’s Most Trustworthy Companies.” Mercury provides homeowner and auto insurance through 6700 independent insurance agents in 13 states. Integrity First Insurance is your Authorized Mercury Agent serving all of California.

Mercury Insurance is celebrating its 50th anniversary. According to Mercury CEO, Gabe Tirador, the company has always strived to supply low-cost insurance with the best customer service. Developing personal relationships with the company or individual agents are the basis for creating trust. This was true fifty years ago and it still holds true today.

According to the Mercury News article, Forbes used GMI Ratings to analyze 8000 companies traded on the U.S. Stock Exchange to narrow the field to 100 honorees in three different categories. Solid corporate management and transparent conservative accounting principals were among the valuations that GMI used to determine their choices.

Mercury Insurance deeply appreciates this tribute from Forbes. George Joseph, Mercury’s chairman and founder, says he has dedicated his whole career life to the insurance industry. The 90-year-old still works a 5-day week. He says he founded Mercury to provide low-cost insurance for a wide variety of customers and that is still the basis of their success.

Isn’t that the type of company you want to deal with? Your California Authorized Mercury Agent is Integrity First Insurance. Make an appointment to discuss your insurance needs today.