Tag Archives: homeowners

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

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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

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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.

Yearly Disaster Preparation Check-Up

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When was the last time you thought about an emergency-preparedness plan? “Never,” is the answer most people would give, which could have terrible consequences if you happen to be caught in the middle of a disaster. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), natural disasters in the U.S. have increased 700 percent since 1950 and reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate severe weather events are also occurring more frequently, so now is the time to get prepared.

September is National Preparedness Month, but since disasters can strike at any moment, it’s important to   prepare before disaster strikes …Today. Creating an emergency plan is a good start, but remember, you should review it with your family annually. For example, do you have a newborn in the family? Did you adopt a pet? Have emergency kit materials expired? If you’ve experienced any of these or other changes, then you need to update your plan to make sure you’re prepared. Here are six things to consider during your routine yearly disaster preparedness check-up:

  1. Check emergency kit materials
    Refresh everyone’s memory of where the emergency kit is located.  Check expiration dates of materials in the kit to assure perishable items will last for at least another year, including food, water and batteries. According to FEMA, here’s a full list of materials to include in a basic emergency kit.
  2. Update your emergency plan
    A basic plan should have a meeting place in case disaster hits and your home becomes unsafe, as well as at least two escape routes. Each year, make sure to remind everyone of the meeting place, ensure it is still a safe location and evaluate everyone’s escape routes to avoid new obstructions. Take into account any special needs of children, seniors, people with disabilities, family members who don’t speak English and pets.
  3. Know how to turn off your utilities
    Learn where the utility shut-offs are located and how to operate them. Turning off gas mains can prevent leaks and turning off electricity can help prevent potential fires started by electrical sparks. Additionally, turning off your water main can help prevent flooding.
  4. Practice home safety
    Home safety should be observed year-round, not just in the event of an impending disaster. Install smoke detectors in each room of your home and replace the batteries every six months. Store heavy items on the lowest shelves. Combustible items such as firewood, picnic tables, boats and flammable liquids should be kept separately and 50 feet from your home and other structures.
  5. Prepare your insurance
    Getting ready for a natural disaster actually starts by choosing your insurance policy. Ask yourself: Do I have enough insurance to repair or replace my home if it is damaged or destroyed? Mercury recommends you get an insurance check-up from your agent or broker once a year to help you make an informed decision about the coverage you need.
  6. Catalog your property
    Recovering from a disaster takes time. To ease this process, keep a detailed inventory of your property and update it annually. Photos and videos of your home can be presented to insurance adjusters to help your claim. Mashable, a technology blog, provides a list of eight home inventory apps that make creating inventory of your property easy. Visit the Mercury Insurance website for additional tips to help with the claims process in the event your home suffers damage.

Be proactive about disaster preparedness. You’ll be investing in your family’s safety, property and peace of mind.

Protect Your Home While on Vacation

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We all look forward to vacations. Whether you’re planning on soaking up the sun on a tropical beach, or camping in a local park, it’s great to get away. You can relax and enjoy time with your family and friends and forget about the pressures of home and work for a little while … or so you thought.

You’re not the only one who likes it when you go away … burglars love it, too.

The FBI reported an estimated 2,103,787 burglaries in 2012, which resulted in an estimated $4.7 billion in property losses and an average of $2,230 loss per burglary.

Guess which months have the highest burglary rates … that’s right, July and August. And it’s not a coincidence that these are the two most popular travel months, too. Thieves are opportunists who prey upon the naive, unobservant and ill-prepared, and they love it when they know homeowners won’t walk in on them in the middle of a robbery.

So how do you protect your home when you’re away? Nothing is foolproof, but here are few tips that can help protect your home when you’re away for an extended period of time.

  • Secure your home. Often times burglars don’t need to forcibly enter a home because they can easily get in through an unlocked door or window. It seems simple, but make sure everything’s locked before you leave, including windows located on the second floor and higher, and entrances from the garage into the house. Don’t hide spare keys under door mats, rocks or other easy-to-find places. Instead, give a copy to a trusted neighbor in case of an emergency. Keep shrubs trimmed below window-level so as to not create inadvertent hiding places for thieves, and cut back tree branches that would allow an agile climber access to upper-level windows, balconies, ledges or the roof. Installing an alarm system and activating it every time you leave the house provides an added level of security, which may qualify you for an additional homeowners’ insurance discount. And, just in case, place dowels in sliding glass doors and windows to prevent them from unwanted opening.
  • Notify a trusted neighbor.Neighbors are a great resource for recognizing when unfamiliar vehicles or people are in the area. Tell your chosen neighbor when you’ll be away, if you have anyone who’s scheduled to stop by your house in your absence and how to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Make your home appear occupied. Don’t let your mail and newspapers pile up while you’re away. Instead, ask a neighbor or friend to regularly bring them inside, or stop your delivery services until you return. Arrange for someone to mow your grass and trim your hedges in your absence. Setting light timers is another way to give the appearance that someone’s still around.
  • Don’t share plans on social media. Social media makes it easy to share great vacation experiences with family and friends, but it also has become a great way for burglars to learn when you will be away. It happens all the time, but just in case you don’t believe us, take a look at what happened to this unsuspecting family in Fontana, Calif. when they went on vacation to Las Vegas.
  • According to SocialMediaToday.com, 54% of burglars say posting status and whereabouts on social media is the most common mistake homeowners make. So, while you may be tempted to check-in at every trendy hotspot you visit or show off photos of you lounging by the ocean or pool … don’t (at least until after you get home). If you’re a social media addict who breaks out in hives at the idea of not sharing every moment of your life online, hire a friend to housesit and keep an eye on things for the duration of your trip.
  • Know what your insurance policy covers. Mercury Insurance recommends that you speak with your local insurance agent before your vacation to ensure your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers potential losses that may occur in your absence. Additionally, keep an up-to-date inventory of everything that own to make the claim’s filing process easier, if necessary.

Keep Your House Safe From Thieves With These Tips

Burglary Prevention Tips!

Burglaries are one of the most common threats that you face at your home, and they can easily be prevented with a few simple steps. To help make sure that your house stays safe from thieves, keep these tips in mind.

  • Choose the right alarm – an alarm system can help to make sure that if somebody is able to break into your house, they will not have long before the police show up. Choose an alarm that works with a company that will notify the cops that something is wrong. If you cannot afford a high tech alarm, simply placing an alarm sign in your front yard can be enough to keep any would-be burglars away.
  • Consider your garage – garages are the most common points of entry when it comes to burglaries. Whenever you are not home, keep your garage door shut so that burglars cannot scope out what you have to steal.
  • Be a good neighbor – neighbors are a great asset when it comes to protecting your house. If you see any suspicious activity around your neighborhood, call the cops. Knowing that you are watching out for your neighbors will make them much more inclined to do the same for you.
  • Light it up – install bright sensor lights around the exterior of your house. If a burglar cannot hide in the shadows, they are less likely to break in. You should also consider the lights in your house. A dark house is a sure sign that nobody is home, making your home a good target.

Having the right homeowners insurance policy can help to make sure that your house and belongings are protected in case of a break in. Contact the insurance professionals at Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California to keep your Conejo Valley house safe.

Tips To Get Your Home Ready For Spring

Spring Home Maintenance Tips

The first day of spring is just a couple of days away, which means it is time to start preparing your house for the warm weather. Keep these spring home maintenance tips in mind to ensure that your home is ready for the season.

  • Have your roof inspected – although Southern California is not known for spring storms, they can happen. Make sure that your roof flashing, shingles, and caulking are all working properly to prevent any water damage to your roof and attic.
  • Inspect your windows and doors – check the caulking around all of your windows and doors in your house. If you find any missing or damaged caulking, re-caulk the area to ensure that your house stays airtight.
  • Change your fans direction – if you changed the direction of your fan in the fall to help keep your home warmer, it is time to turn it back. A properly working ceiling fan can help to make your house feel much cooler without having to run your air conditioner.
  • Clean your dryer vents – clogged dryer vents will not allow the warm air from your dryer to escape, causing the room with your dryer to get too warm. A quick cleaning can help to ensure that your home stays at the right temperature.
  • Swap out your lights – replace all of your standard light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, also known as CFL bulbs. Not only will they help you save on your energy bill, but also will give off less heat than typical bulbs, keeping your home cooler.

The changing season is also the best time to look over your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure that you have the right amount of protection for the new season. Contact Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California for all of your home insurance coverage needs.

Know The Difference Between Water Damage And Flood Damage

Water Damage vs. Flood Damage

When dealing with broken pipes, burst water mains, and other water issues in your home, you likely do not think about whether you should file a water damage claim or a flood damage claim. Many homeowners do not realize there is a difference between these two types of claims. Gathered is some vital information about water damage and flood damage to help you better understand the issues you may be dealing with.

Floods

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a flood is defined as a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres and two or more properties of normally dry land. Within this definition, flood damage can only be caused by:

  • Overflow of inland or tidal waters.
  • Unusual accumulation of runoff of surface water.
  • Mudflow.
  • The collapse of land along a body of water, as a result of erosion caused by waves or currents.

So What Is The Difference?

In simple terms, the difference between a flood damage claim and a water damage claim is that a flood involves water from a natural source and includes more than one property. If only your home is dealing with water issues, chances are you are dealing with a water damage claim, not a flood damage claim.

Flood Insurance

Most home insurance policies do not include flood insurance. If you are in an area at risk of flooding, you should contact the National Flood Insurance Program for a policy. This will allow you to stay protected from flood damage and be able to file a flood damage claim. You can learn more about purchasing flood insurance here if you are concerned about your home’s risk.

For all of your homeowner’s insurance needs throughout the Conejo Valley, contact the insurance professionals at Integrity First Insurance Services in Thousand Oaks, California.

Why do you Need a Personal Umbrella Policy?

Protect your assets!  Umbrella insurance is designed to give one added liability protection above and beyond the limits on homeowners, auto, watercraft  and other personal insurance policies.  This helps prevent you paying out of pocket to cover the cost of a disastrous situation. Typical personal umbrella insurance policies start at $1 million.

Contact the insurance experts at Integrity First Insurance in Thousand Oaks, California for all of your Conejo Valley umbrella insurance needs. We will make sure that you have the right policy to provide protection from any unfortunate situation.