Tag Archives: Home Insurance

Three Major Insurance Events of Which Every Homeowner Should Be Aware

Purchasing a home can be a rewarding, pricey and overwhelming experience, especially for first-time buyers. And, if your aren’t a Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg or one of the many others found on the Forbes 400, chances are your house will be one of the most significant investments you’ll make, so choosing the right home isn’t a decision that’s made lightly.

Shopping for a home can be exhausting as you research neighborhoods, tour homes, apply for a loan, negotiate the purchase price, organize inspections, and wade through a seemingly endless stack of paperwork. You also need to select an insurer and homeowners insurance policy. This is critical, as it will protect your investment for as long as you own your home, so it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make. To protect your investment, your belongings and loved ones, following are some tips for both new and veteran homeowners.

1. Fire and water damage are the two most prevalent causes for insurance claims.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that there were 63,312 wildfires and 3,595,613 burned acres in the U.S. in 2014. Additionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 487,500 structure fires in 2013, which resulted in $9.5 billion in property damage and amounted to approximately one home structure fire per 85 seconds. There are several steps a homeowner can take, both inside and outside of the home, to prevent becoming one of these statistics.

Inside:

  • Install at least one smoke detector on each floor and check them regularly to ensure they’re working. Be sure to put in fresh batteries at least twice a year.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets or use items with frayed electrical cords.
  • If you have a chimney, hire a chimney sweep to inspect and clean it before cold weather arrives. It’s also a good time to check and be sure that your chimney cap is in good condition to catch any stray embers coming up the chimney stack.
  • Keep flammable items (e.g., curtains, furniture, etc.) away from portable heaters.
  • Don’t leave lit candles unattended and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home. Make sure everyone knows how to properly use it and have it inspected once a year.
  • Never leave a lit stove unattended and keep flammable materials away from the burners.
  • Be sure to have an escape plan in the event of a fire and practice it with your family twice a year.

Outside:

  • Regularly mow your lawn and clear away clippings, dry twigs and branches from buildings. Be sure to clean your roof and gutters of leaves and other debris that can become a fire starter.
  • Keep branches trimmed so they don’t hang lower than six feet and bushes pruned to no higher than 18 inches.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel, if necessary.
  • If a wildfire starts, track smoke and its impact on your visibility to determine if you should evacuate prior to an official evacuation notice being put in order. Monitor if the fire and smoke change direction to determine your safest evacuation route.

Using fire-resistant materials around your property and on your home provides added protection and may even save you money in the event of a loss. For example, fire-retardant plants like rockrose, ice plant and aloe resist ignition. Fire-resistant shrubs to consider when landscaping include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples, and hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers. Speak with your local garden center to learn more about the plants that can protect your home from fires.

Water damage is the second largest cause of insurance claims; however, certain circumstances aren’t covered by a standard homeowners policy. To differentiate, damage that is caused by weather (e.g., natural flooding from hurricanes, flash floods, etc.) is referred to as flood damage and requires flood insurance, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Water damage is usually caused by bursting or leaking pipes, plumbing issues, malfunctioning household appliances (refrigerators, hot water tanks, dishwashers, washing machines) and HVAC issues.

Homeowners can take the following steps to protect against water damage.

Inside:

  • Check appliance hoses once a year and replace any that are cracked or have leaks.
  • Review your appliance owner’s guide for maintenance tips to keep them in good working order.
  • Inspect pipes for cracks and leaks. If any are detected, have them repaired immediately.
  • Make sure showers, tubs and sinks are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Know the location of your main water shutoff valve so you can turn off your water supply in the event of a burst pipe or damaged hose.

Outside:

  • Keep rain gutters and downspouts free of debris. Install gutter guards to prevent debris from accumulating and position downspouts to direct water away from the house.
  • Ensure windows are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Inspect the roof for damaged, missing or old shingles and replace them.

2. Some of your belongings may have limitations to their coverage.

Certain items like fine art, rare stamps or coins, wine collections, antiques, expensive jewelry and collectibles may not be fully covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Speak with your local insurance agent to ensure you have the right amount of coverage for everything you own.

3. Home renovations may impact your insurance rates.

If you’re considering building an addition, remodeling or putting in a pool, keep in mind that your insurance premiums will likely be impacted to protect this new investment. Square footage is one factor in determining a premium. Additionally, if renovations include higher value materials, the replacement cost in the event of a loss will go up, affecting your insurance rates accordingly. Swimming pools increase your liability exposure, which will increase your premium; however, pools can be great assets. In addition to providing a fun way to cool off on hot days, pools can act as a barrier for wildfires and an added source of water for firefighters, if necessary. And most renovations add to the comfort and livability of a home, as well as its resale value, which is well worth the added protection. Speak to your local insurance agent to determine how much your premiums will change and be sure to ask about any money saving discounts.

Stricter Laws For Hand-Held Devices While Driving

cell-phone-in-hand-while-driving

What Californians Need to Know About Assembly Bill 1785

Smartphone technology is ever-evolving and while these phones conveniently allow us to carry the Internet in the palm of our hands, they’re also a source of distraction for modern-day drivers.

Many states have passed laws against hand-held cell phone use to combat distracted driving, and California’s is about to get stricter.

Distracted driving has declined since 2009 due to laws regulating cell phone use for drivers, but it continues to be a big problem and it’s the cause of many collisions.

The new law Governor Jerry Brown recently signed, Assembly Bill 1785 (AB1785), prohibits ALL hand-held use of electronic devices while driving. Drivers should be encouraged knowing that the law is intended to protect them by keeping their undivided attention on the road. So, put down those smartphones while driving because it’s now against the law to:

  • Read, write or send a text message.
  • Hold your phone and talk.
  • Check or post to social media.
  • Take a video.

Basically, it’s against the law to use technology in your hands in any way while behind the wheel.

This new law requires drivers to mount their smartphones to the windshield or dash, similar to the mounting of GPS devices in vehicles, provided that the device’s use is activated by a simple swipe of the screen to turn features on or off. These conditions impose much stricter rules surrounding cell phone use in vehicles with the aim of reducing distracted driving crashes that are caused by smartphone or electronic device use.

Mercury Insurance wants to remind everyone that distracted driving is not worth the risk. Visit our Drive Safe website for driving tips, vehicle tips and tools to help keep you and your family safe behind the wheel.

 

Understanding Car Safety Ratings

Understanding-Car-Safety-Ratings

Although newer vehicles are generally more expensive to insure than older ones, consumers can often get discounts if their new vehicles have the latest safety features. Advances in crash and accident avoidance technology mean that consumers who buy a new vehicle equipped with the latest safety features are often less likely to be seriously injured in a car crash.

Safety ratings are a function of two major factors: prevention—how well the vehicle is designed to prevent an accident—and, crashworthiness—how well the vehicle performs in a crash.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks its Top Safety Picks based on good, acceptable, marginal or poor performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a rollover test, and evaluations of seat / head restraints for protection against neck injuries during rear impacts. Crash tests are conducted on a half-dozen types of vehicles, including large cars, mid-sized cars, small cars, minivans, mid-size SUVs, and small SUVs. You can also visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for a full report on recalls and defects.

Currently, some of the top-rated safety features are:

  • Adaptive front airbags
  • Side airbags
  • Side curtain airbags
  • Knee airbags
  • Electronic stability control
  • Anti-lock braking systems
  • Brake assist
  • Tire pressure monitors
  • Back-up sensors
  • Park assist
  • Blind-spot warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Forward-collision warning
  • Smart headlights
  • Crash-alert systems (such as OnStar)
  • Built-in car seats

Technology is ever-improving, and, as time goes by, manufacturers and the government are standardizing these features. Doing your homework ahead of time and knowing what your options are can make the decision-making process smoother and get you into that new car faster!

Insurance 101 for College Students … And Parents Too

college-student-insuranceMoving away from home to go to college is an exciting time for most kids. It’s their first real taste of independence, but this newfound freedom also comes with increased responsibility.

Mom and dad aren’t around anymore to nag you about the hours you spend on your smartphone or to wake you up for school in the morning, but this also means they aren’t there to fix problems either. What, for example, would you do if someone were to steal your precious smartphone?

Students can easily get swept away in the excitement and bustle of the college social scene, forgetting that not everyone they meet at school has the best of intentions. Crime exists in most communities, and college life is no exception. According to the FBI, 97 percent of crimes reported by college students in 2012 were property crimes and a whopping 41 percent of these crimes occurred on campus grounds.

Students bring many pricey belongings from home – electronics like laptops, smart phones, tablets, televisions and gaming systems are common dorm room items. They may also have a skateboard, bike, vehicle or combination of all of the above.

Another on-campus threat to personal property is fires. Firefighters responded to an average of 3,870 college housing structure fires per year1. These fires caused an annual average of $15 million in personal property damage and losses.

So, how can you protect your belongings while you’re away at school? The first step is to check with your insurance agent to see if your stuff is covered under your homeowners insurance policy. Some policies, like those offered by Mercury Insurance, will extend coverage to college students living away from home.

Another option is to purchase renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance is designed to protect property owners in the event that their belongings are stolen or damaged in a fire. It will also provide liability coverage in the event someone is injured while visiting your apartment or dorm room.

To maximize your college experience, here are a few tips to protect personal property:

Cover personal belongings with an insurance policy. Students who live on-campus may have coverage available through their parents’ homeowner’s policy. Some companies have policy options that extend personal property coverage for students away from home. Students living off-campus may not be covered by their parents’ policy and should look into purchasing renters insurance.
Create an inventory. Record the value of all personal property to determine the right amount of coverage needed in the event of a loss.
Always lock doors. Talk to roommates and make sure to communicate the importance of securing personal belongings.
Conceal valuables. Never leave electronics or other valuables out in plain sight, and do not advertise their presence on social media.
Secure valuable electronics, like TVs and laptops, to stable fixtures with locking mounts in your room so they can’t be easily removed. Also, protect personal electronics with passwords to guard accessibility and discourage theft.
Use a bicycle lock when you’re out and about or for added security while on-campus. Steel and titanium locks are difficult to cut and provide thieves with a challenge. Reinforcing these locks with cable locks, which can be threaded through wheels, will provide extra security.
Install or activate an alarm if you have a vehicle on-campus. Insurance companies frequently offer discounts for vehicles equipped with anti-theft devices. Students with good grades – at least a B average – may be eligible for an additional discount as well.
Ensure your auto insurance is up-to-date. Coverage for vehicles left at home while in school should be maintained to protect the vehicle from theft or any damage that may occur while it is parked. This will also protect you if you forget to notify your agent to add coverage back to your vehicle when you return.

Consult with your local Mercury agent to learn more about renters insurance and they’ll help build the protection plan that best suits your needs.

The bottom line: with greater independence, comes greater responsibility.

1 The National Fire Protection Association reports this annual average occurred during the five-year period from 2009-2013.

Home Security Tips

Useful tips to keep your Thousand Oaks, CA home safe while on vacation.

Planning for your next vacation can be very exciting. While packing up your bags and printing out your boarding pass, it is important to make sure that your home stays safe and secure while you are away. Keep these home security tips in mind while enjoying your next vacation.

  • Install a security system – new security technologies are making it much easier to keep your home safe while you are away. From video cameras that let you keep an eye on your house from your smartphone to central alarm systems that will alert the authorities for you.
  • Lock up – while it may seem simple, making sure that all of your doors and windows are locked before you head on vacation will help to keep your home safe. If a burglar doesn’t have to work hard to get into your house, they are much more likely to target your house. Make sure that all windows on the second story of your house are locked as well.
  • Hide your spare key – if you usually leave a spare key out, bring it inside. Thieves know the most common hiding places for spare keys and will have easy access into your house once they find it.
  • Befriend your neighbor – having a pair of eyes on your house while you are away will help to ensure the right authorities are alerted if something goes wrong. Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your house and let you know if something looks out of place.

Before heading out of town, make sure to take a look at your home insurance policy to ensure that you have the right amount of coverage while you are away. Contact the independent insurance professionals at Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California for all of your Conejo Valley homeowners insurance needs to keep your house and personal belongings safe.

Fire Resistant Landscaping Tips

Reduce the fire risk at your Thousand Oaks, CA house with these tips.

The current drought situation means much more than strict water restrictions. It also means an increased risk of a wildfire that can completely destroy your house and personal belongings. Even if you do not live in a rural area, you are still at risk of experiencing a wildfire. Luckily, making a couple changes to your landscaping can help to keep your house safe. Keep these landscaping tips in mind to reduce your risk of fire damage.

Create a defensible space

  • Plants that are close to your house should be planted with plenty of space between each plant and should be low growing.
  • Incorporating hardscape elements in your landscaping, such as gravel, rock, and stepping stones can help to break up the vegetation in your yard, helping to slow down how fast a fire is able to spread.
  • Keep up with your regular yard maintenance, such as trimming your bushes and mowing your lawn to help contain any overgrowth.
  • Avoid using very flammable mulches, such as pine bark mulch, that is much more flammable and will easily catch fire.

Think before you plant

  • Find plants that are more likely to resist ignition during a wildfire, such as iceplant, rockrose, and aloe.
  • Look for fire-resistant shrubs to add some greenery to your yard, such as bush honeysuckles, hedging roses, and currant.
  • When picking out trees, consider hardwoods, such as poplar, maple, and cherry, which are not as flammable as pine and fir trees.
  • Most fire-resistant plants do not require a lot of water to help keep them looking their best, which can help you reduce your water usage throughout the drought.

Having the right home insurance policy in place can help to ensure that your home and belongings are protected in case of a fire. Contact Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California for all of your homeowners insurance coverage needs.

Keep Your House Safe From Any Natural Disaster!

Disaster Preparedness Tips

Typically, there is very little warning before a natural disaster hits. While there is no way that you can control Mother Nature, there are steps that you can take to help ensure that you and your family stay safe. Keep these disaster preparedness tips in mind to ensure that you are ready for whatever Mother Nature has in store this season.

If you have to deal with a flood:

Floods can easily destroy your home and belongings in a matter of seconds. Elevate your water heater, furnace, and other electrical components above the flood level in your area to help keep them safe. Keep in mind that your homeowners insurance policy will not provide any coverage, only a specific flood insurance policy will. Flood insurance policies have a 30-day waiting period, so the sooner you invest in a policy, the sooner you will be protected.

If a wildfire threatens your house:

Use fire resistant plants and shrubs in your landscaping. If it is time to re-do your roof, consider using fire-resistant roofing materials. Keep your rain gutters clear of any fallen leaves or other flammable materials. Take a look at your home insurance policy to ensure that you have enough coverage if your house is damaged or destroyed by the flames.

If an earthquake shakes your Conejo Valley house:

Secure all heavy items to the wall, including mirrors, shelves, and dressers. When placing items in cupboards, make sure that the heaviest items are on the lowest shelves. Just like a flood, your home insurance policy will not provide any protection for damage done during an earthquake. You will need to invest in a specific earthquake insurance policy to keep your house and assets safe.

To ensure that all of your insurance policies are working to keep you safe, contact Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California.

Get Your House Ready For Fall With These Tips

Fall Home Maintenance

There is less than a month until the first day of fall, which means it is the best time to make sure that your house is ready for the cooler temperatures. Keep these fall home maintenance tips in mind to help prevent any issues with your house this fall.

  • Check your gutters – a very strong El Nino is predicted to hit California this fall, which means that rainstorms are on the way. Clean out your rain gutters and make sure that your downspouts are facing away from your house to prevent water damage. Backed up rain gutters can easily cause water to back into your roof and walls.
  • Check for drafts – take a look at all the weather stripping around your windows and doors to make sure that it is in good condition. If you find any missing or broken weather stripping, replace it to prevent the cool fall air from making its way into your house. A tight seal around your windows and doors will also help to keep your energy bills lower.
  • Inspect your roof – get on your roof and look for any missing or damaged shingles that can be a sign of a much more serious issue. Fix any issues that you find as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your roof and attic.
  • Fix your walkway – if you have any cracks in your driveway or walkway, fix the problems before the wet season hits. Heavy rains can make your walkways even more dangerous and cause any cracks to get deeper and bigger.

The new season is also the perfect time to look over your home insurance policy to make sure that you are covered from any peril. Contact the insurance professionals at Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California for all of your homeowners insurance needs.

Smart Phone Apps To Help You Create A Home Inventory

Home Inventory Apps

Your homeowner’s insurance policy is meant to provide protection for all of your assets in case they are damaged during a disaster. However, would you be able to name every single belonging that you have? Creating a home inventory is the best way to ensure that all of your belongings are protected in case of a disaster. Download one of these smart phone apps to make creating your home inventory even easier.

  • MyStuff2 Lite – this app is available for iOS and allows you to keep track of all of your items in separate categories. There is also barcode scanning and an Amazon integration setting that makes it even easier to put all of your items into your home inventory.
  • Visual inventory – all you have to do is take a picture of a room in your house, and then tag the different items in the room. The inventory list will show up room by room with a total value assigned to each room.
  • MyHome Lite – this Android app has a free version as well as a pro version for $3.99 and will password protect your inventory. It also has a setup wizard feature that will help you get organized faster.
  • Inventory Buddy – if you own multiple homes, or work as a property manager, the Inventory Buddy app will allow you to put in an unlimited number of locations and belongings.
  • Home Inventory Photo Remote – this companion app allows you to take a photo, or scan a barcode to easily enter an item into your inventory that will show up on your desktop computer.

Updating your home inventory may also mean you have to update your home insurance policy. To ensure that you have the right Conejo Valley home insurance coverage, contact Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California.