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Online Insurance

Is online insurance right for you?

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The Internet is a powerful tool for the savvy online consumer. You can review products, compare prices, research companies and purchase almost anything. Following this trend is the increase availability of insurance online. Insurance companies are providing coverage information, quotes and even contracts online. This includes automobile, homeowners, life, medical and even pet insurance. Insurance has traditionally been a high customer service field with direct human contact with your insurance agent. Because of the change in customer contact, the migration towards providing insurance online has not always been a smooth one. Instead companies are finding some tools work and others only cause frustration or confusion. Indeed, the availability of insurance online is still fluctuating and developing. Below we have compiled a few of the ways you can utilize online insurance options and determine if it is the right tool for you. Researching and obtaining insurance online is much easier today. Many websites now offer comparison tools that will provide quotes and coverage information (some of these sites are listed below). Keep in mind if you choose a carrier from these searches, you will then be contracting with that carrier for your insurance, not the original site. This will either be done by forwarding you to the carrier's website or the comparison site will forward your information to the insurance company and they will then contact you. Many insurers still prefer to have a representative call you and discuss your coverage over the phone. Although not the same as meeting with a personal insurance agent, it allows them to make certain you understand the coverage provided. Also, because buying insurance online is new, many companies believe that individualized customer care is still the best way to get your business and a follow up call still provides some of this customer service. The Pros There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance: Easy comparison shopping: Using insurance comparison websites you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online. Your time is money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents. Low pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather then relying on an agent's account. Save money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal with one company, and the uncertainty about other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to one insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can either work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar. Buying Auto Insurance? Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Click hereThe Cons Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online: Understanding coverage options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research. Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value as not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage. Buying insurance coverage in your state: Not all states will allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state. Individual customer care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. This agent can offer coverage that speaks to your locality as it is more likely they live in your community. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care. Whether you choose to shop for insurance online or not, you should look at your insurance carrier websites. Insurance carriers now offer detailed information about coverage online. In fact, once you have settled on a carrier you can often answer coverage questions, pay bills, get updates on claims and find useful tip sheets and information on how to better protect yourself and your property. A primary example of this is your health coverage. Most health insurance carriers still prefer you to sign up through your employer or an agent. However, once you have your coverage, they offer information about doctors, medical options, prescriptions, and claims. Considering health care is one of the most complex types of insurance used, their increasing online presence is an invaluable tool. To explore online insurance options more, please see the links below. More Information Online Insurance Comparison Sites Insurance.com http://www.insurance.com/ Quicken https://secure1.insweb.com/cgi-bin/gic.exe?id=UzB94xbaYQ-wpGWHlZbh8l8ZtxL&page=/gic/Quicken.htj InsWeb http://www.insweb.com/ Insure.com http://www.insure.com/ Insurance Company Rankings AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/portal/site/sp/en/us/page.topic/ratings_fs_ins/2,1,5,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0.html?lid=us_fo_ratings_insurance US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html State Insurance Regulators http://www.consumeraction.gov/insurance.shtml Online Insurance articles. http://www.onlineinsurance.com/ When purchasing any product online you always want to make certain it is an authentic website representing a verifiable company with a good reputation. Here are some tips for a safe and rewarding online shopping experience: Be assertive in getting answers about an online company you have not worked with before. Learn as much as you can about them and ask tough questions. Check reviews online, in magazines, with your Secretary of State/Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or by word of mouth. Call them up and talk to their customer service. If they don't list a contact number be careful. Review posted company information, policies and the privacy policy. If they do not provide this online, you can move on or call them up to ask why. Make sure any payments are made in a website with https or other secured system. Keep a printed copy of every online transaction. Consider using one credit card for your online purchases/payments. This way you know which to cancel in case of fraud. Also, make sure the card is not linked to any bank account. Some prefer getting a pay as you go credit card for any online transactions. These can be found at any grocery store and can be refilled as needed. Keep your computer updated with anti-virus software, browser updates and spyware programs. NEVER provide personal information from an email they supposedly sent to you. This is a common phishing scam. Everything in the email will look legit but lead to a false site collecting your information. Instead call the company with the number on your contract - not the number given to you in that email! Initiate contact yourself. Go to their website yourself from the address they gave you on your contract. To be on the safe side, never go to their website from an email. Don't give account information to anyone. Your online providers have this information and if anything will be emailing you a forgotten password - never vice versa! Change your account passwords often; every six months to once a year. Use strong passwords with numbers, symbols, changes in case and at least 6 characters.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 5

This month we will discus helpful tips for maintenance every 2 years.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner!

Last month we started Part 4 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. This month we will discus helpful tips for maintenance every 2 years. Every 2 Years

AIR DUCTS:
Consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if family members suffer excessively from respiratory infections, asthma or allergies; if there is visible mold growth inside ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system, the ducts are infested with insects or rodents. Excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR:
Change sensor element.

DECKS AND PORCHES:
If they are professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years. It is necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish. Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings from exterior wood with the appropriate commercial deck cleaner (or homemade mixture) and a stiff brushed broom. Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation. Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak. Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

TILE, NATURAL STONE AND GROUT:
Have your grout, professionally sealed every one to three years in medium to heavy-used areas and every three to five years in lightly used areas.

SEPTIC TANK:
Have the septic tank cleaned and pumped. Join me next month for Part 6 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. We will be starting with tips for each season st Spring Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Summer Safety Tips

The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age.

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The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age. It is a time to take a few days off work, barbeque in the backyard, go for a picnic, a hike, a swim, a bike ride or go out on the water on our boat. It is also a time to mow and weed the lawn, plant flowers and finish countless chores around the home that have been put off until the weather "cooperated." Needless to say, summer is a busy time when we do more activities and chores and can very easily overexert ourselves. That is why this month we are focusing on some tips that can help you have a fun and safe summer. Part of having fun is being aware of what precautions you should take and how you should plan ahead for whatever you choose to do. But we know you are busy, so here is the quick list for a safe summer!

Barbeque and Food Safety:

Always check your grill before using it after a long seasonal break. If propane is used make sure to check all the connections! Check your individual user manual for your grill; all of these will have a checklist of items to review that are specific to your make/model.

Grills are for outdoor use only. NEVER bring a grill indoors to cook. Carbon monoxide will accumulate and can be fatal.

Always set up the grill away from the home (at least 5 feet or more).

If using a charcoal grill, use a charcoal lighting fluid instead of gasoline. Make sure to let the fluid be absorbed by the coals before lighting. Move the lighter fluid away from the grill before lighting. Once you light the fire, stay with the grill, never leave a cooking grill unattended.

That goes for all of you - NEVER leave a cooking grill unattended! Have baking soda handy for a grease fire and a fire extinguisher on hand as well.

For safest results, always grill with a meat thermometer. See the recommended meat temperatures to the right.

Before cooking or preparing anything - wash your hands! In between working with different dishes - wash your hands!

Invest in some long cooking utensils for the grill - this will help prevent burns!

For best grilling results, thaw frozen meats before cooking them on the barbeque. The safest way to thaw foods is slowly in the refrigerator.

If you use the microwave to defrost meats, then make sure you are grilling them shortly afterwards and not storing them again before cooking.

If marinating food then do so in the refrigerator - not on the counter! If you want to have extra marinade to use as a sauce later, make sure to separate a portion ahead of time. Never reuse marinating sauces!

Use one plate for taking meats to the barbeque and another clean plate to take cooked items to the serving area. Never use the same plate. The raw juices can contaminate your cooked meats and side dishes.

When hosting a barbeque, make sure to supply plenty of clean plates and utensils. Encourage guests to get a new plate if theirs has been sitting out in the sun and became a playground for flies, ants, etc. as they waited between helpings.

That evil mayo - did you know according to the Department of Health, it is not really the mayo that is making that potato salad a dangerous game of chance. Instead it is the fact that when making salads usually the ingredients are mixed together when still warm creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, chill all your ingredients separately before mixing them together.

Refrigerate any left over food within 2 hours of its initial serving. If the temperatures are higher, then 1 hour or earlier. Meat should be be kept hot for serving (140°F) and unused meat should be refrigerated immediately as it cools. If you have too much left over meat, make sure to freeze whatever you won't eat within the next 2 days.

When you shut off the grill make sure to shut off the propane as well.

For a charcoal grill, let coals burn out completely. The ashes should sit 48 hours before being disposed of in aluminum foil in a noncombustible container.

Food Safety on the Road:

Wash all fruits and vegetables. Even those with tough outer skins that you do not eat. When slicing these the knife may pick up bacteria from the outer skin.

Pack drinks and food in separate containers. The drink cooler is opened more often changing the internal temperature. This way the food container is disturbed less often and can remain colder.

Once at your destination, keep the cooler(s) out of the direct sun. Keep them in the shade, covered with a blanket. If on the beach, burry it partially in the sand in a shady spot or under an umbrella.

If grilling at the park and you need to dispose of ashes, make sure to place them in heavy duty aluminum foil and soak them in water before placing them in a noncombustible container.

If you use a recreational vehicle such as a camper, always review any canned foods that may have been left there. If temperature fluctuated and cans were frozen and thawed then they need to be discarded. Make sure to thoroughly clean the refrigerator out before using it this travel season.

Bug Prevention:

The best insect repellents contain DEET. However, they should not be used on children under 2 months of age. Also, bug repellent should be applied once per day. Do not get a sunscreen/bug repellent combo as you will need to reapply the sunscreen every two hours.

Avoid using scented soaps and perfumes. Also be careful with bright colored clothes as they attract certain bugs as well. Be extra careful around stagnate pools of water, heavily flowered areas and unused areas as these are more likely to be nesting areas or feeding areas for bugs.

Wear hats and long sleeves in the woods. Make sure to examine clothing and scalp for ticks. If you find a tick gently pull it out with tweezers. Do not use your fingers as you may squeeze it too hard. The methods of burning ticks with matches or suffocating the tick with nail polish don't work for removing ticks from the skin. If you live in a wooded area, try to keep your yard well maintained, ticks do not like direct sun and are looking for overgrowth areas.

Lawn Mower Safety:

Nearly 75,000 Americans are seriously injured in lawn mower accidents each year. About 10,000 of those injuries involve children. Data from University of Michigan

Always read and review your owner's manual at the start of the mowing season. There will be specific checks you will need to perform.

If you can, get a mower with an easy kill switch, a double handle that stops the motor when dropped is a good design to have.

Keep children and pets indoors or well away from the lawn mower at all times. Don't let children ride on the mower for "fun" and it is recommended that children not operate mowers until 16 years of age.

Pick up debris before mowing the lawn.

Wearing protective eye gear is also recommended.

Wear sturdy shoes when mowing. Never move the mower back towards your feet, always go forward.

Sun Safety:

The harshest time to be out in the sun is between 10:00am-4:00p.m. This includes cloudy days as the sun still penetrates the clouds although you may not feel it. During these hours of the day you should have a sunscreen of 15SPF or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. During really hot hours, stay indoors as much as possible.

Sunglasses that protect you from at least 90% of UV sunlight should be worn.

Dress for the heat. Wear light colored clothes of a breathable fabric, such as cotton. Wear a hat or use an umbrella if in direct sun for long periods of time.

Drink plenty of water, drink water even if you do not feel thirsty as you need to keep your body hydrated. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol as these will only aid dehydration.

Eat smaller meals more often. Eat less protein to reduce metabolic heat.

Avoid strenuous activity. If you are going to be doing really strenuous work or sports, do them early or late in the day. Take breaks often!

Need to know "HEAT" definitions:
Heat definitions from www.redcross.org

  • Heat Wave: More than 48 hours of high heat (90°F or higher) and high humidity (80 percent relative humidity or higher) are expected.
  • Heat Index: A number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15°F. Heat cramps:
  • Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes the cramps.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
  • Heat Stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high--sometimes as high as 105°F. Call 911 or your local EMS number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan it. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on each of the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down

Sun Safety for your Pet:

Dogs and cats don't sweat to lose excess heat, instead they pant. Most of our pets know better and will not over exert themselves in high heat. However, if chained in the sun or locked in a car, there is little they can do to avoid it. Never leave you dog unattended in a car. Although it is only 75°F outside, in the car it can reach up to a 100°F in one half hour. If you return to your car and your pet is agitated, wide-eyed and panting rapidly they may have heat stroke.

Always provide shade and water for your pet on hot days. If there are heat wave warnings bring them inside with you.

Animals have a natural higher temperature than humans (100°-102°F for both cats and dogs). However, anything 105°F is a sign of heat stroke. Other signs of heat stroke in animals include rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, pale and dry gums, staggering and weakness. They may even become unconscious.

The best way to treat heat stroke is to get them wrapped in wet towels and fan them as you would a human. Some suggest immersing them in cold water, but depending on the severity this may be too much too quickly. Also run cold water in their mouth. Keep track of their temperature, get them down to 103°F. Call your vet or animal hospital immediately.

Hiking Safety:

Plan ahead for any hiking trip. Take a look at the route and consider what equipment and skills you may need. Discuss emergency plans with your group before heading out. Know where the nearest ranger station is from where you start. Also, leave a detailed itinerary with someone back home. Let them know what car you are taking, where you will be starting and how long you expect to be.

Always hike with at least one other person. In more remote areas it is suggested that you hike with at least four people in your group. This way you will have one to stay with an injured person and two to go for help.

If a trail is marked as closed DO NOT go there. If an area requires special permits - DO NOT go there unless you have already obtained them.

Be prepared for bad weather and extreme weather changes. You should have enough supplies to get you through a night if needed.

Always assume the water from streams and rivers is NOT safe for drinking.

A Hiking Backpack Checklist:
Info from www.redcross.org

  • Candle and matches
  • Cell phone
  • Clothing (always bring something warm, extra socks and rain gear)
  • Compass
  • First aid kit Food (bring extra)
  • Flashlight
  • Foil (to use as a cup or signaling device)
  • Hat
  • Insect repellent
  • Map
  • Nylon filament
  • Pocket knife
  • Pocket mirror (to use as a signaling device)
  • Prescription glasses (an extra pair)
  • Prescription medications for ongoing medical conditions
  • Radio with batteries
  • Space blanket or a piece of plastic (to use for warmth or shelter)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Trash bag (makes an adequate poncho)
  • Water Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof tin
  • Water purification tablets
  • Whistle (to scare off animals or to use as a signaling device)

Survival Pack - one pack should be carried by EACH person in your group and should include: a pocket knife, compass, whistle, space blanket, nylon filament, water purification tablets, matches and candle in a waterproof container.

Bicycle, Skateboard & Scooter Safety:

Always wear a helmet when bicycling. If on a scooter or skateboard, wear the proper protective gear such as knee and elbow pads and a helmet.

Only ride a bike that is properly fitted for you. If not fitted correctly you may hurt your knees, back, arms and will not be able to maneuver or stop as well as you should be able.

When entering the roadway from the driveway - always look! This is a high accident area as many cars do not see those coming out of driveways on bikes, skateboards and scooters.

If traveling on the road, make sure to follow all the road signs and lights. Bicyclists should follow the same rules as cars and use standard hand signals. Skateboard and scooter users should be extra carful on roads as well. HOWEVER, it is strongly suggested that scooters users stay on sidewalks and skateboarders stay well away from roads, preferably skate at the skate park.

Be predictable. Do not weave in and out of the roadway or cars. If you come to an obstruction in your path, stop and look around and behind you before going around it. A sudden swerve out into the road will not be anticipated by automobiles that are traveling much faster than you are.

Pay attention at all times. Obstructions such as wet leaves or loose gravel may come upon you quick if you are not paying attention. Also be careful around parked cars, you may not see someone opening the car door until you are right on top of it.

Try to avoid being out on the road at night or in bad weather. If you are out, be extra careful; imagine the cars cannot see you and ride defensively. You should have bright colored clothing and reflectors or battery operated lights as well.

All skateboarders should learn out to fall. Considering fractures and breaks from falls are the most common skateboard injuries, knowing how to brace yourself is important. If starting out in the sport, start small, skateboarding is just like any other sport, it takes practice and time to develop the skill.

When riding on the trails always give pedestrians the right of way. If passing from behind let them know by using a bell or stating "on your left," before passing. Keep a controlled speed on trails as you do not always know who is there around the bend. If the trail is shared with horses, slow down and give them a wide space when passing. Again, let them know you are coming by stating "on your left."

Water Safety:

Learn to swim! This is a skill everyone should take time to learn. Even the basic knowledge can help!

Children and inexperienced swimmers should use an approved floatation device/life jacket when in or, in the case of children, near the water.

Never leave a child alone around water. Make sure someone is watching them at all times!

Never swim alone. Always swim with a friend or in a supervised area. Never snorkel alone. Never surf alone.

Read and OBEY all posted signs. Do not dive in the water unless the area is clearly marked as safe. Even when marked, make sure to check for any person or debris below before diving. If the area is not marked, always enter feet first.

If swimming in lakes, rivers, or the ocean, be familiar with these bodies of water. Make sure you are aware of risks such as debris, under tows, and currents. Also, always be aware of your energy level; you need enough energy to make it back to shore!

Pay attention to your surroundings. Pay attention to the weather. At the first sign of bad weather, leave the water!

If pulled out by an ocean current do not swim against it. Instead swim parallel to it gradually moving towards the shore. You have to move out of the current by swimming across it before you can head back inland. Think of an arc instead of a straight line.

Check surf conditions before entering the water. Keep away from piers and pilings when in the water. Watch out for wildlife and have some basic knowledge of what animals and plants are in the water. Know what you need to avoid and leave wildlife alone!

Do NOT mix alcohol and swimming activities - they do not mix!

If you own your own pool, make sure it is supplied with emergency equipment and first aid. Keep a phone nearby and have instructions for emergencies posted. Have CPR instructions and make sure to take lessons in CPR. Every adult responsible for watching kids around the pool should have CPR training.

Take lessons before attempting SCUBA diving. Never dive alone. Only dive for areas you are trained for. Be familiar with your equipment and check it often.

Boating & Watercraft Safety:

Always have on life jackets. Make sure they properly fit everyone on your boat - especially children!

Learn to swim! Also, take a boating class, learn everything from navigation rules to information about your particular boat.

Do NOT mix alcohol and boating activities - they do not mix!

Let someone on shore know how long you will be gone and where you are going.

When using jet skis or other personal watercraft make sure to know the rules of the water body you are on and obey these rules. Be courteous to others and look out for swimmers, skiers in the water, etc.

Do not water ski at night. Always have someone in the boat to watch and aid the skier. Always approach a skier in the water with the engine off.

If fishing, scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as they are caught. Wrap fish separately in plastic and keep on ice. It is recommended that fish be cooked and eaten within 2 days or frozen. Frozen fish can last up to 6 months. Shellfish should be kept alive until cooked. Lobsters and crabs should be cooked the same day they were caught. Oysters, mussels and clams should be cooked within 5 days.

HOMEOWNER’S TIPS

IMPORTANT HOME INSPECTION TIPS

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IMPORTANT HOME INSPECTION TIPS

1. Order a home inspection soon after your purchase offer has been accepted. Real estate contracts typically allow a limited number of days to complete a home inspection (and then to request repairs, if applicable). 

2. Reputation is important. Choose a home inspector who is known for competence and professionalism — a referral from your lender or realtor is a good place to start. Make sure the inspector you select has access to ongoing technical support and offers you post-inspection advice, if needed.

3. If the home has been vacant, ask the seller to have all utilities turned on during the home inspection. Failure to do so may require a second trip to the home and may involve additional fees. To properly evaluate the home, an inspector must be able to operate all systems.

 4. If your inspector recommends a further evaluation, have a specialist in that area conduct a more extensive examination prior to closing.

5. Be sure you understand all conditions identified in the inspection report and reported defects/and or areas of concern have been resolved to your satisfaction before closing. 6. Your inspector can arrange for other services such as radon screening, termite inspection, water analyses, lead-based paint testing and septic/well system evaluation. Take advantage of your inspector’s contacts when necessary to further minimize unexpected after-sale problems or hazards in your new home.

More information at: http://www.southernhomeservices.biz/index4.htm

Insurance Coverage in an Economic Recession

Limiting Your Risk When Cutting Costs

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Lately, when we turn on the news, we hear about a troubled economy and an unstable job market. The constant barrage of bad news has encouraged most of us to cut spending wherever possible. Perhaps a household will cancel cable TV for a year, limit their cell phone plans, reduce the number of times they eat out as a family, or tackle another cost reducing option. As many different "belt-tightening" measures are taken, everyone should be careful they don't cut the essential items. One annoying essential is the cost we pay for insurance - there is no guarantee we will need it in the near future (in fact, we hope to need it as little as possible), however, if an accident does happen and we don't have coverage, the costs could send us into bankruptcy. Understandably, if a bread-winner of the household loses their job, it is tempting to cut costs where we cannot see the immediate need. This said, it is far better to reduce coverage than to go with no coverage at all.

Before we discuss insurance any further, let us get this down now - it is not worth the risk to eliminate insurance coverage completely.

  • For homeowners insurance, your mortgage lender will require that your home is at least minimally insured. However, it is possible to let your insurance coverage lapse if you don't pay your bills or mortgage. A few months lapse does not mean you lose your insurance right away. However, letting it go longer than a couple of months will leave your home uninsured. When you then try to reenroll your coverage, the insurance company may charge you as much as 2 or 3 times more depending on how long you went uninsured - you have become a higher risk client. If you do not reenroll and let your insurance continue to lapse, your lender can take action to protect their investment. A lender may enroll the house in an insurance policy which they then add to your loan payment. However, they will be the party to receive funds if the home is damaged (i.e. fire). Essentially, you will be forced to pay for an insurance of their choosing (maybe at a higher rate) but you will not receive the benefits of the original coverage under your name.
  • Basic automotive insurance is required by law in most states. If you are driving uninsured, you could be faced with a lot of out-of-pocket expenses as well as legal fines if you are ever in an accident. Again, if you drop insurance coverage and reenroll later, the insurance company may charge you as much as 2 or 3 times more depending on how long you went uninsured as you are a higher risk client. For a chart detailing the amount of coverage required in your state, click here to visit Insure.com. Before you cut your auto insurance to the bare minimum listed, consider some of our insurance shopping tips listed below that may help you lower your costs.
  • Finally, what about health insurance? It is estimated that this year the number of Americans without health insurance is as high as 52 million. Most Americans rely on their employers to help cover some of their health insurance cost. However, as premiums rise for companies, they are forced to increase the contributions of their employees. So in today's economy, both those with jobs and those who have lost their jobs are struggling to keep affordable health insurance. Everyone should have health insurance to offset the astronomical cost of emergency health care. Those without insurance may find that the ambulance ride alone may break the bank and leave them with more debt than they can possibly afford to repay. Below we have provided some strategies for obtaining cheaper health insurance.

The above said, let us see how you can cut some of your insurance rates!

Cutting your insurance costs does not mean you should go without coverage. Instead, be a savvy consumer and do your research and shop around. Recently an insurance company ran an ad where they asked consumers how long they shopped for their car and received answers from a week to even a couple of months. When they then asked how long they shopped for insurance, there was a pause and the usual answer of, "Er, uh, less than an hour." This commercial proved a good point about how many people approach shopping for insurance with less care than the big ticket items to be covered. Here are some shopping tips to help you find the best price and coverage.

Strategies for obtaining discounts on home, automotive, and health insurance

SHOP before you DROP your money! As the commercial we used as an example above, and as we keep mentioning over and over, nothing can beat comparison shopping. Use the web to your advantage as there are so many quote and comparison sites available. If you aren't comfortable with the web, do some calling around to your local agents. It is worth your time and money! 

Considering the online insurance option? You may give up on some individualized care, but the cost savings may be worth it. Consider these PROS and CONS before you buy online insurance coverage:

The PROS - There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance:

  • Easy Comparison Shopping: Using insurance websites, you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online.
  • Your Time Is Money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents.
  • Low Pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather than relying on an agent's account.
  • Save Money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal to one company, and the uncertainty of other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to their insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar.

The CONS - Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online:

  • Understanding Coverage Options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak,' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research.
  • Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value because not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage.
  • Buying Insurance Coverage In Your State: Not all states allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the Internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state.
  • Individual Customer Care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care.

For more information about purchasing insurance online, read our article 'Online Insurance: Is Online Insurance Right for You?'

  • Look for and Ask about Discounts: All insurance companies offer discounts, however, not all of them will offer a discount if you don't ask. Since not all insurance companies are upfront with all the discounts they offer, it is best to shop with this at the top of your list of items to ask about. Discounts are available for all types of coverage and include everything from being a long-time client to paying your policy in full (rather than monthly). Homeowners can get discounts by making certain upgrades to their home that make the home more secure and/or energy efficient. Automotive insurance often has the most selection of discounts ranging from a good driving record, a short daily commute, or even a high grade point average (for those student drivers in the house). Health insurers will give discounts for clients in good health - if you lead a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, no smoking or drinking, you may find completing a health survey will save you money on your premium.
  • Raise your Deductibles: By raising the amount you pay out-of-pocket in the case of an emergency, you can lower your rates substantially. Higher deductibles will mean that you may have to pay as much as $1000 or more out-of-pocket per event. However, it does provide a safer gamble compared to no insurance at all. For health care you may consider a high deductable plan for "emergency" or "catastrophic" insurance. These plans will only cover a major accident but, if you are in good health and don't need a lot of medications, this plan can help offset high rates. However, keep in mind that you will have to pay over $1000 out-of-pocket and these plans will not cover routine doctor visits. Instead, combine this insurance with a Health Savings Account for the best rounded coverage.

MORE Strategies for obtaining discounts on home and automotive insurance: Flood damage is not covered by homeowner insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between FEMA and isnurance companies that offers coverage. 

  • Bundle to Save: Using one insurance provider to cover your home and vehicle can help save you money as most insurance companies provide a discount to get your business. This will save you money if you check with your current provider, but don't be shy, take advantage of online comparison sites or do some calling around. You may be surprised at the differences!
  • Review your Policy: Make certain you review your policy at least once a year. There may be adjustments you can make in coverage. For example, as your car gets older and subsequently worth less than when you first bought it, you may find you need less coverage. For your home, you may find you have sold high insured items from your household or take inventory and realize you don't need to cover that old computer or entertainment center for as much as you did before. Examining your Personal Property Value may lead to areas you can logically cut coverage.

For more information about homeowners' insurance, read our article 'Understanding Homeowners Insurance.'

Insurance Company Rankings

• AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp
• Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/
• US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html

Online Insurance Comparison Sites

• Insurance.com www.insurance.com
• Quicken http://www.quicken.com
• InsWeb www.insweb.com Insure.com www.insure.com
• eHealthInsurance www.ehealthinsurance.com

 

Selling Your Home in a Buyers' Market

How to step out from the crowd!

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The phrase "buyer's market" is used a lot in the news today. Frankly, it is one. The interest rates are encouraging, although not the lowest for 30 year loans, they are still low and make it a good time to buy. Also, there is quite a choice for buyers to choose from on the market. This only increases as we get into spring and summer. So how do you get your home for sale to stand out from the crowd? Set a realistic sale price. First, know the appraisal value of your home. If you don't, hire an appraiser. You need to know what the bank thinks your home is worth. Setting your price too high can break a sale at closing. Next, take a good look at the market around you. Compare yourself with like homes; homes that are the same age, similar square footage, comparable yards, and in similar neighborhoods. Then see which of these homes have been selling and which have been sitting. Consider how long you want to be on the market. Depending on your location, even a well priced home may take 60-90 days or longer in a buyer's market. Make sure to concentrate on here and now, do not get stuck looking at what your home might have sold for last summer or fall. Facing the reality of how much your home is worth on the current market will help you avoid reducing your price or offering incentives you would rather avoid. Know your competition. As stated above, make sure to compare yourself to like homes. Also, check to see what, if any, incentives comparable homes are offering. Tour some of the homes. Get an idea of what updates have been done. Take a look at how comparable homes are being staged or what they are lacking in their staging. Sometimes using a critical eye on homes you are not attached to can help you discover what potential buyers may be seeing in your home. Get an experienced realtor. Find a realtor who has been selling homes for a while. Especially with the recent fall in home sales for most of the nation, you want to make sure you get a realtor who will avoid knee jerk reactions to a market they haven't experienced before. A realtor who is familiar with your neighborhood and knows what buyers are looking for can help you prepare the house for sale. Stage your home for showing. Set your home up as a model home. Go to an open house at a new development or home and garden show in your area. Notice how there are tasteful decorations that offer the aesthetics without the personality? Take down family pictures, collectables, anything that tells about your personality. You are moving anyway, so get these items boxed up now. You want buyers to walk through your home seeing the home as one they can picture themselves in. You don't want the buyers to walk away thinking, "Wow, they really like Elvis!" Ramp up the curb appeal. Make sure to keep the yard and front walkway pristine. This is the first impression before a potential buyer walks in or even picks up that flyer. Your backyard should be cleaned up as well. Sometimes people forget that the outside of the home can say a lot about the owner. If you have a neglected yard, buyers may wonder if you are neglecting other problems inside your home as well. Fix or update problem areas now. The last thing you want is to get an offer and then have something come up in a home inspection that can break the deal! If you aren't sure, it is not uncommon for buyers to have their home inspected before placing it on the market. Unless you are pricing your home below value as a fixer-upper, then you need to get any repairs done before going to market. Be realistic, although a new kitchen may add to your home, most likely the cost of remodeling will not be recuperated in your selling price. Instead concentrate on items that either have to be done or you can do easily and at little cost to yourself. Offer incentives for buyers. Incentives can vary in scope. Perhaps the carpets are old but you don't want to get them replaced; you can offer a carpeting/flooring allowance. Perhaps you want to drive the buyers to close by offering to pay closing costs. You can pay for other buyer costs such as homeowners insurance, home appraisal or home inspection. In the case of a condo, you can offer to pay the first 6 or x months of homeowner dues. Another incentive that might help is being flexible on your move in date. Respond to offers and questions quickly. Don't let potential buyers sit wondering what happened to their offer. Get back to any offers or questions about the home as quickly as you can. This will include the help of your realtor as buyers will contact them first. Make sure your realtor is a good communicator and will respond quickly!