Friday, September 27, 2019

HOMEOWNERS' INSURANCE: What Do You Do When Coverage is Denied or You Need Proof of Repairs?

The homeowner's insurance process can be challenging to navigate on your own. Depending on your claim history, property location, or property condition, coverage may be difficult to obtain. Additionally, in the unfortunate event of a claim, there may be actions required on your part to receive the full claim amount and maintain your coverage.

Act Quickly to Avoid Potential Cancellations
What happens if you receive a cancellation notice? Depending on the reason, you can try to have the cancellation rescinded, or ask your agent to shop for a new insurer. Though your insurance carrier is required to provide advanced notice of cancellation, it is still important to act quickly.

When your insurance company issues a cancellation notice because an inspection revealed an unacceptable risk on your property, repairing the issue can often result in the rescission of the cancellation. If you have an extensive claim history or an unacceptable property condition, it may be time to shop for a new insurer. Your agent can help identify a carrier that will provide the coverage you need.

Documenting Proof of Repairs
Making an insurance claim is stressful, even in the best of times, and payment is not always guaranteed. For example, many insurance companies pay actual cash value for your claim upfront, and will only pay the remainder upon receiving proof of repairs.

When you filed a claim after your home was damaged, you likely accepted an initial settlement amount based on the terms and limits of your homeowner's policy that represented an advance on the final amount. You used this money to pay the contractor's deposit, but now the work is complete, and you need your insurance company to pay the balance of the settlement. While each insurer has its process of verifying that the work is complete, there are several basic methods used to verify proof of repairs for the claim process.
  • Photographing the area of repair. In most instances, your homeowner's insurance adjuster will conduct an initial inspection and photograph the damage to the property. Speak with the adjuster throughout the repair process, follow all instructions, and document the repairs with photos.
  • Sending an invoice and photographs to the adjuster or insurance company. During the initial inspection, you may have gotten the adjuster's contact information. If not, call to determine the best way to submit your invoices, receipts, credit card statements, or photographs to the insurance company for proof of repairs. Adjusters will typically accept supporting evidence by email, fax, or hard copies sent to the local claims office.
  • Obtaining the final invoice from the contractor. Some contractors coordinate all insurance issues for their customers and send the invoice directly to the insurance company on your behalf. This is known as “Assignment of Benefits,” and your signature is required for your contractor to assume ownership of your policy. The contractor may do shoddy work, use substandard parts, or pad the claim to take advantage of your insurance company. If your insurance company objects, the contractor may sue them on your behalf, with or without your knowledge. Be aware that assigning your insurance claim to a third party takes you out of the process, giving control to the contractor. When in doubt, call your insurance agent.
  • Controlling your payment. As a condition of granting a mortgage, lenders often require that they are named in the homeowners' policy and that they remain a party to any insurance payments related to the structure. If you have a mortgage on your house, the check for repairs will generally be made out to you and the mortgage lender. Depending on the circumstances, your lender will ask for proof of repairs, and they will then endorse your claim check over to you so that you can pay the contractor directly.
And remember, when it comes to supporting your insurance claim, there is no such thing as too much documentation. If you need to avoid an upcoming cancellation or non-renewal, find a new carrier, or if you have questions about proof of repairs; Viera Insurance Agency can help. We will assist you in obtaining the right insurance coverage for the best price.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

COLLEGE BOUND STUDENTS: What Insurance Coverage is Needed?

Each year, college students lose millions of dollars worth of personal property from theft, fire, flood, vandalism, natural disasters, and accidental damage. For example, there are approximately 4,000 fires and nearly 12,000 thefts each year in residence halls. As your son or daughter heads to college this fall, make sure he/she is equipped with the right insurance to live on his/her own.

Check Coverage under Your Homeowners Policy
If living in a dorm room, your child’s belongings remain most likely covered under your family’s home insurance policy. Many insurance policies cover possessions up to 70 percent of the home-coverage limits. There may also be lower premiums or higher deductibles for certain types of belongings, such as jewelry. And remember, it is crucial to notify your agent about any changes that may affect your insurance policy.

Renter’s Insurance May be Necessary for Off-Campus Living
Students who live off-campus are most likely not covered under their parents’ home insurance policies. However, some insurance companies may cover personal possessions up to 10 percent and require full-time enrollment. Therefore, ask your insurance agent whether or not your child needs to purchase a separate renter’s insurance policy.

The good news is that it is affordable and covers all possessions, including laptops, TVs, and electronics. When selecting insurance; consider the monthly premiums, deductibles, coverage limits, and replacement-costs. A standard policy offers $100,000 to $300,000 in personal property coverage and personal liability coverage.

Consider Separate Coverage for Specific Electronics
Whether your child lives in a dormitory or off-campus, you should look into acquiring stand-alone policies that provide coverage against accidental damage, liquid spills and other events for desktop computers, laptops, tablets, iPads, and other electronics not included under standard insurance policies.

Review Your Auto Insurance Options
What if your child leaves the car at home? Just notify your insurance company and ask about discounts for cars that are not driven as frequently.

If you send your dependent child to college with a car, he/she will most likely be able to remain on your existing auto insurance policy. If your child is not covered under your policy, he/she will need a separate auto insurance policy. While rates are often higher for people younger than 25, he/she may be eligible for a good student discount for maintaining at least a B average.

Notify Your Agent
Just remember, always notify your insurance company of a change! A change in your life will mean a shift in your plan. Having the right policy will ensure your child will be covered should an emergency happen at school. And as a parent, you will sleep better knowing your child is protected.

Monday, July 29, 2019

THE SWIMMING POOL: Is It Covered Under Your Homeowners Insurance Policy?

Summer is a time for some fun in the sun, and the pool is an excellent way to stay cool. But, before dipping your toes into the refreshing water, ensure your home insurance policy adequately covers your pool.  

Three types of coverage that pool owners need to consider include property coverage, liability protection, and umbrella liability.

Swimming Pool Property Coverage

The property coverage on your homeowners policy protects against physical damage to the pool itself. Depending on your homeowners insurance carrier, in-ground pools may be covered under the “Dwelling” section of your policy, or under “Other (Detached) Structures.” Above-ground pools may be covered under either of these or “Personal Property.” It will depend on the portability of the pool, and whether it has an attached structure, such as a deck.  

Fortunately, in-ground pool insurance claims are uncommon because few perils can seriously damage them. One example of a claim might be a tree falling and destroying part of the pool.

Ask your agent for an explanation of how your pool is covered for potential damages.

Swimming Pool Liability Protection
The liability coverage on your homeowners policy protects you against potential lawsuits. Insurance companies consider pools an “attractive nuisance,” and because a backyard pool increases your liability risk, you should consider increasing your liability coverage as well. If a guest injures himself at your pool, you could potentially incur medical bills or legal expenses stemming from the incident. You are responsible for anyone who uses the pool – even a stranger who decides to jump the fence and cool off in your pool.

Be sure to follow any local laws and regulations about pool construction, and take safety precautions to help keep your pool secure, prevent injuries, and comply with the conditions of your policy. For instance, virtually all insurance carriers will require you to install a fence or screen around your pool and move the ladder away from your above-ground pool while it is not in use. You will also want to check with your insurance agent about whether pools with water slides and diving boards are excluded from your home insurance policy. Some insurance carriers exclude liability coverage for injuries involving a diving board or slide, while others will not insure homes that have them.

Though most homeowners policies include a minimum of $100,000 of liability protection, the Insurance Information Institute recommends that pool owners increase the liability amount to $300,000 or $500,000. 

Umbrella Liability Policy

To add an extra layer of protection, you should consider purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy. Umbrella protection applies only when the required underlying liability coverage on your homeowner's policy has been exhausted. Your agent can help you determine whether you have appropriate protection in place on your underlying policy to help prevent a coverage gap.

Screen Enclosures
There are additional considerations if your pool is surrounded by a screen enclosure. Many insurance companies no longer insure screen enclosures for hurricane damage, or they have specific guidelines and coverage restrictions. You may need a special screen enclosure endorsement to your policy to cover your enclosure for hurricane, wind, or hail damage. Coverage for the frame and screening may be provided at replacement value or actual cash value. It is essential to explore all options when considering screen enclosure coverage as you do not want to be caught unprepared or underinsured. 

By choosing the right insurance coverage for your pool and screen, you can gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have the proper protection in place.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

As Runaway Litigation Spreads, Florida Passes AOB Reform

The controversial 'hot' topic of Assignment of Benefits (AOB) is a decades-old practice throughout the insurance world, and the countdown has officially begun for its much-needed insurance reform. Taking effect July 1, 2019, the new, revamped, and consumer-friendly legislation signifies the end of a seven-year battle between the insurance industry and reform advocates.

AOB Abuse by the Numbers
AOB is a legal contract that allows a property owner to sign over his coverage and grant contractors permission to directly collect a claim payment from insurance companies for services rendered. Once an AOB is in place, the insurance company can no longer discuss the claim with the property owner, and the contractor can invoice and sue on the policyholder's behalf, without consent or knowledge.

While AOB may seem convenient for policyholders, it is an expensive headache for all involved, thanks to widespread, systematic, and fraudulent abuse. Over the years, many contractors have padded or falsified claims, such as residential water-damage, to collect money from insurance companies.

In 2000, there were roughly 1,300 filed AOB lawsuits throughout Florida. In 2013, there were more than 79,000. In 2018, the number of lawsuits filed significantly increased to approximately 153,000. That is a 94 percent increase in five years. These massive volumes of lawsuits and inflated claims have led to less coverage and skyrocketing insurance rates. For example, auto and homeowners rates rose $2.5 billion over 12 years. That does not even count the billions more in excess claim settlements. And consumers often do not even know that these claim settlements are driving cost increases. The abuse acts as a hidden tax.

New Legislative Benefits
In Florida, AOB abuse has fueled an insurance crisis. Reforming how AOBs are executed in property insurance should have a significant impact in Florida. The new legislation seeks to address and alleviate the rampant problem and protect residential and commercial property owners from predatory insurance practices, escalating fraud, and excessive litigation. It will also make it harder for contractors to convince property owners to sign over insurance claim benefits.
The bill allows property owners to have 14 business days to opt out of an AOB agreement and requires contractors to provide insurance companies ten business days before filing an AOB suit on a claim. Additionally, it incentivizes insurers, contractors, and restoration companies to come to the table with reasonable offers of settlement and creates a system that effectively limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits.

With the passage of this law, Florida will see a new litigation landscape in the area of AOBs and the greedy, abusive methods found within the system will begin to fade.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Natural Disasters: What You Need to Know Before, During and After a Storm

Summer is officially upon us, and you know what that means -  thunderstorms, hurricanes, and floods. The more you know about these types of severe weather, the more effectively you can prepare before, during, and after a storm. Do not be caught off guard.

All thunderstorms are dangerous due to lightning and can lead to flash floods.

Before the Thunderstorm
  • Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.

During the Thunderstorm
  • Remain indoors and stay away from windows and doors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
  • Do not use items that plug into electrical outlets. Power surges from lightning can come through the cords. Faucets also conduct electricity; therefore, do not wash your hands or take a shower.
  • Do not touch or stand near “lightning rods” or metal outside – flagpoles, bikes, playgrounds, or fences.

After the Thunderstorm
  • Stay away from areas damaged by the storm or flood waters, and avoid loose or dangling power lines.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a “near-normal” hurricane season in 2019. What does that mean for you? From June to November, you can expect about nine to 15 storms to form including four to eight hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes that reach Category 3 to Category 5.

Before the Hurricane
  • Know your area’s risk of hurricanes and evacuation routes.
  • Gather relevant documents and needed supplies for at least three days. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Do not forget about pets.
  • Protect your property by decluttering drains and gutters, installing check valves in plumbing to prevent backups, and considering hurricane shutters. Also, remember to review your insurance policies.

During the Hurricane
  • Listen to safety authorities for current emergency information and instructions. If told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Stay inside and away from windows and glass doors. If need be, take refuge in a closet or room without windows.
  • Do not open the refrigerator or freezer. In case you lose power, you want the cold air to stay in! Remember to use a generator or other gasoline-powered machinery outdoors only and away from windows.
  • Do not go outside when the rain or winds stop.

After the Hurricane
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear protective clothing and work with someone else.
  • Do not touch electrical equipment or wires that are loose or dangling, especially if wet or you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.
  • To communicate with family and friends, text. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Save your calls for emergencies only.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Document any property damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company for assistance.

Flooding is the most common natural-weather event and occurs in every state. Some floods develop slowly, while others build within a few minutes. People living in low-lying areas – near water or behind a levee – are at a higher risk.

Before the Flood
  • Know the types of flood risk in your area, sign up for your community’s warning system, and plan your evacuation route.
  • Build an emergency kit with needed supplies. Put essential documents in a waterproof container and purchase extra batteries and charging devices for phones.  
  • Purchase or renew a flood insurance policy. It typically takes up to 30 days for the coverage to go into effect. Homeowners’ policies do not cover flooding.

During the Flood
  • Listen to authorities and safety officials for current emergency information and instructions. If told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Do not walk, swim, or drive through flood waters. Always turn around. Do not drown!
  • If there is a possibility of flash flooding, move immediately to higher ground. Never climb into a closed attic. You may become trapped by rising water.

After the Flood
  • Avoid wading in flood water. Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away. It can also be contaminated or contain dangerous debris, substances, or animals.
  • Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge the water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock.

Although there is often little that can be done to prevent a natural disaster, you can take steps to reduce the effect that it has on yourself and your property. Not only will this save your property from excessive damage, but it may also help to save the lives of loved ones.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Distracted Driving Month: The Most Common Distractions Behind the Wheel

Chances are, you see absent-minded, distracted and inattentive drivers each time you hit the road. Unfortunately, distractions are easy to come by and prevalent while driving, especially with the addition of new gadgets and technology. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is any activity or action that diverts attention from driving and poses a danger to the driver and others.

In honor of Distracted Driving Month, it is time to look at the most common reasons why fatal distracted driving accidents occur.
  • Texting
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Reaching for your phone
  • Talking to another passenger
  • Turning knobs in your car, such as adjusting your temperature controls
  • Checking and adjusting your GPS/navigation system
  • Adjusting the radio station
  • Reaching for objects

Texting may be the most alarming, according to the NHTSA. Reading or sending a text tends to take about five seconds. At 55 mph, that equates to driving an entire football field with your eyes closed. In 2016, texting behind the wheel led to 3,450 deaths. Unfortunately, measuring these types of behavior can be difficult; therefore, this number is much, much higher. 

Distracted driving can easily lead to an accident. Focus on the road and remember to take another look in the rearview mirror.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spring Cleaning: Preparing the Exterior of Your Home for the Season

Start fresh this spring by tackling some necessary home maintenance projects. Just like a car, certain parts of your home need regular upkeep to maintain their excellent condition. Here are several tips that will help you prepare the exterior of your home for spring.

Roof and Gutters

  • Remove accumulated debris from gutters, check for potential clogs and ensure all the downspouts steer away from your home. Taking these precautions will help you avoid water backing up toward your home and causing havoc when the spring rain arrives.
  • Inspect your gutter system for damage, such as holes or cracks.
  • Visually check the condition of your roof by scanning for damaged or missing shingles. Also, inspect your attic for any signs of leaks or moisture. If you find any problems, you will want to have them repaired.
  • Use caution when working on your gutters or roof, especially on a ladder. Contact a professional for help if you are not comfortable inspecting and cleaning these parts of your home.

Air Conditioning System

  • Inspect the panels enclosing the electrical system to ensure each is secured and has not sustained damage.
  • Remove leaves, twigs and other vegetation around and inside the air conditioning unit. If not removed, debris can limit its efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • The HVAC system’s air filter may have gathered debris and dust during winter. It is a good idea to swap in a new one before you turn on your home’s A/C for the season and change it out regularly.
  • Although you may be able to perform some maintenance yourself, it may be wise to hire a professional to check your unit for unforeseen issues.

Home Exterior Maintenance

  • Inspect the exterior walls of your home to determine if any cracks, holes or rifts need to be repaired. If you can fit a nickel into any crevices, you should have a professional check the area. Also, monitor for peeling or cracked caulk around the seals and repair as necessary.
  • Repair siding that is extremely weathered or cracked. If you have painted wood siding, peeling or loosening paint should be scraped off, sanded and repainted.
  • Trim shrubs, trees and other landscaping away from your home to help prevent your siding and outdoor air conditioning unit from becoming scratched or damaged.
  • Consider resealing or replacing your wooden deck if it shows age, deterioration or loosened boards. At a minimum, it should be treated every six years. Also, fix screens with holes to prevent bugs from entering your home.

By setting aside time to prepare your home for spring, you can ensure any potential problems following the winter season have been remedied, offering you more freedom to appreciate the new season ahead. And remember, contact your insurance agent to see if your homeowner’s policy covers any repairs you may need.