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Some Myths and Realities about Real Estate Appraisals and Appraisers

Assessed value should equate to market value.

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Myth: Assessed value should equate to market value.
Reality: While most states support the concept that assessed value approximate estimated market value, this often is not the case. Examples include when interior remodeling has occurred and the assessor is unaware of the improvements, or when properties in the vicinity have not been reassessed for an extended period.

Myth: The appraised value of a property will vary, depending upon whether the appraisal is conducted for the buyer or the seller.
Reality: The appraiser has no vested interest in the outcome of the appraisal and should render services with independence, objectivity and impartiality - no matter for whom the appraisal is conducted.

Myth: Market value should approximate replacement cost.
Reality: Market value is based on what a willing buyer likely would pay a willing seller for a particular property, with neither being under pressure to buy or sell. Replacement cost is the dollar amount required to reconstruct a property in-kind.

Myth: Appraisers use a formula, such as a specific price per square foot, to figure out the value of a home.
Reality: Appraisers make a detailed analysis of all factors pertaining to the value of a home including its location, condition, size, proximity to facilities and recent sale prices of comparable properties.

Myth: In a robust economy - when the sales prices of homes in a given area are reported to be rising by a particular percentage - the value of individual properties in the area can be expected to appreciate by that same percentage.
Reality: Value appreciation of a specific property must be determined on an individualized basis, factoring in data on comparable properties and other relevant considerations. This is true in good times as well as bad.

Myth: You generally can tell what a property is worth simply by looking at the outside.
Reality: Property value is determined by a number of factors, including location, condition, improvements, amenities, and market trends.

Myth: Because consumers pay for appraisals when applying for loans to purchase or refinance real estate, they own their appraisal.
Reality: The appraisal is, in fact, legally owned by the lender - unless the lender "releases its interest" in the document. However, consumers must be given a copy of the appraisal report, upon written request, under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Myth: Consumers need not be concerned with what is in the appraisal document so long as it satisfies the needs of their lending institution.
Reality: Only if consumers read a copy of their appraisal can they double-check its accuracy and question the result. Also, it makes a valuable record for future reference, containing useful and often-revealing information - including the legal and physical description of the property, square footage measurements, list of comparable properties in the neighborhood, neighborhood description and a narrative of current real-estate activity and/or market trends in the vicinity.

Myth: Appraisers are hired only to estimate real estate property values in property sales involving mortgage-lending transactions.
Reality: Depending upon their qualifications and designations, appraisers can and do provide a variety of services, including advice for estate planning, dispute resolution, zoning and tax assessment review and cost/benefit analysis.

Myth: An Appraisal is the same as a home inspection.
Reality: An Appraisal does not serve the same purpose as an inspection. The Appraiser forms an opinion of value in the Appraisal process and resulting report. A home inspector determines the condition of the home and its major components and reports these findings.

J. Myers & Associates Inc. 5098 28th Avenue South West Naples, FL 34116 Phone: 239-793-3430 Fax: 239-793-3430 E-mail: JasonMyers@embarqmail.com E-mail: JasonMyers@embarqmail.com

ONIONS

Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing.

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Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing. What is interesting is how these conditions are addressed in the various states. Some states allow Home Inspectors to identify and report on these issues if the inspector is properly certified/licensed. Meanwhile, other states (California is one) do not allow Home Inspectors to identify wood destroying organisms unless that inspector is also licensed as a Structural Pest Inspector, of which there are very few. But, if the inspector is properly licensed, then the reporting will be done on a report form mandated by the Structural Pest Control Board located in Sacramento, and the reporting process falls under a whole slew of regulations administered by the Structural Pest Control Board. In California, a Home Inspector can only mention a “wood pest” or “white growth” condition and note it in his or her report, and then, can only refer/defer to a licensed Structural Pest Inspector/Company for further details, proper identification of the wood pests involved, and, recommendations necessary to correct/repair the issues present.

This practice is unfortunate as that process breeds (in California anyway) a huge conflict of interest situation that revolves around the home sale/purchase activity. In California, the Structural Pest Companies perform the “termite” inspections (the term commonly used to describe a Structural Pest Inspection) for little or no money with the intent of getting their “foot in the door” to do the chemical treatments and repair jobs, which can be very expensive. So, lets peel off the first layer of the onion. The scenario goes: The inspector/company you call to make the inspection is the same person/company who provides you with a report that outlines the repairs and chemical treatments that he/she says are needed, which is the same person/company shoving a pen and a work contract into your hands to sign, which is the same person/company that sends out their repair crew to perform the work, which is the same person/company that “inspects” the completed work and then issues a Notice of Completion and certifies the property “free and clear.” I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, that is a big conflict of interest.

But wait, lets take it one more step further. Lets peel off the next layer of the onion. How about the fact that many of the “termite” companies pay their inspectors straight commission on WORK PERFORMED/COMPLETED! Might that smack of a little conflict of interest? How comfortable would you feel having your home inspected under those conditions? How objective and impartial do you feel the outcome of the “termite” report will be, knowing that the “termite” company/inspector lost money the moment the tailgate of the inspectors’ truck went through the shop gate on the way to the inspection and now they need to recoup?

Time to peel the next layer off of the onion (are your eyes watering yet?). Now lets throw the real estate agent into the mix. The agent calls the “termite” company for his client (purchaser) and orders the inspection. All fine and good unless this agent happens to be one of those who has a predetermined idea as to what the outcome of the inspection should be in order to close the deal quickly and with no hassles even though the inspection report may have no basis of reality as to the conditions present. This is why, on occasions too numerous to count, two inspections of the same home are worlds apart. The rule is: both/all reports of the same home should contain the same findings, but the recommendations to repair may differ as inspectors may have different methods to correct the conditions found. It is very disturbing when comparing two reports of the same home, that, the diagram, as well as the findings, are as if the two inspectors looked at two different homes. But, this occurs all too often because of the pressure applied by the agents by “black balling” inspectors that are perceived to be “deal busters” because they actually do their job and accurately report conditions present.

Please don’t feel that this discussion is saying that all real estate agents or termite inspectors/companies are “shady.” More are good than bad, but the questionable still exist and you need to be aware and "do your home work” so you don’t end up in a situation for which you didn’t bargain.

So, lets peel another layer off of that onion, but in a positive way this time. ALWAYS, I REPEAT, ALWAYS interview the real estate agent before engaging them. Just because the agent meets you at the door of the office doesn’t mean you are “stuck” with him/her. If the agent is the listing agent of the property, be especially wary. They will not legally be working for you or have your best interest at heart. That is where the questionable termite inspector/company may suddenly appear. You want to ask the hard questions and get the proper answers! You want to know names and phone numbers---- not of sellers, but of purchasers of property handled by the agent so you can find out how their (the purchaser) experience was. Of course, this is a good time to find out how satisfied they were with the pest work that was performed. You would be surprised by how many buyers are very unhappy with the quality/completeness of the pest repair work but don’t have the stamina to “fight the system.”

In closing, referrals from qualified sources are your best way to find the inspector and real estate agent that will best serve you. Remember, the ones charging the least are most likely the ones to give you the least. A home purchase is probably the single largest investment any of us will make in our lifetime, so don’t shortchange yourself by falling into the age-old trap of the “cheapest.” Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

TV Reinvented

How Television is Adapting to the Internet

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As many of us look to stretch our dollar a bit further our money spent on entertainment is often cut. However, entertainment is a good way to relieve stress and get a quick break from the real world. Increasingly, the fee paid for an internet connection is offering a bigger return on the entertainment dollar. Improved connection speeds have created a mushroom of online content that allows users to watch streaming news broadcasts, missed TV shows, webisodes, viral videos (i.e. YouTube), free online games (and competitions), blogs and chat rooms - to name a few. Everywhere you turn, everyone is trying to get their movie, TV show, 15 minutes all noticed on the web. Television alone has morphed from episode summaries and casting lists on a single webpage to deluxe sites with missed episodes online, behind the scenes footage, games, screensavers, additional back stories and character development, and much more. So who is leading the pack with the best sites and content? Who is side-stepping the pack altogether? You might be surprised!

The Usual Suspects
Below is our ranking of the major broadcasting stations that are easiest to use and include extra online content.

  1. NBC.com http://www.nbc.com/ NBC has a slick and clean menu and you can easily find episodes of your favorite shows. A great plus is that you can watch a whole season if you got lost a while back and need to catch up. Also, you don't have to watch the show the same week it originally airs. Videos load quickly and offer chapter selection to jump where you left off or skim through with ease. 
  2. ABC.com http://abc.go.com/ The website is clean and easy to navigate. A big disappointment is that not only does the user have to sign an agreement but then download a special plug in just to watch online episodes. The entire site has a much more proprietary feel to it. However, they did redeem themselves a bit by allowing access to episodes from previous seasons for one of their most popular (and confusing) shows 'LOST.'
  3. CBS.com http://www.cbs.com/ CBS has a fairly easy menu. The best is to go by show as viewing directly by video is a bit more messy and makes it harder to find past episodes. The option to watch TV and chat at the same time is slow to load (I gave up after two minutes of the loading icon spinning). Video without chat loads quickly and is just as fast as the other stations. Plenty of content about shows but the webpages have an older point-and-click menu that takes a bit longer to navigate. There wasn't a lot of clarity in the order of episodes if you were trying to catch up for the season.
  4. FOX.com http://www.fox.com/ A slick moving website that is easy to navigate. However, FOX allows access to fewer full episodes then the other stations. The individual show websites offer a lot of extras but are not as clear to navigate.

Cable Networks
So if you don't subscribe to cable, who gives you the best online?

  1. Discovery Communications Group Discovery Channel - http://dsc.discovery.com/ | The Learning Channel - http://tlc.discovery.com/ Animal Planet - http://animal.discovery.com/ | Science Channel - http://science.discovery.com/ This family of websites has a similar menu and limited selection of full episodes like FOX. However, the fact that current shows with new content is available is a plus compared to other cable stations. Overall, a great way to get highlights of what you're missing for chats around the water cooler. Also, the extra games are a nice touch.
  2. Comedy Central http://www.comedycentral.com/ Full episodes are available for most shows. The individual shows do keep separate URLs which made it a little harder to navigate back to Comedy Central. However, all offered complete sites with extra content.
  3. Disney TV http://disney.go.com/index This site has a slick design and offers plenty of content including games and fan pages for their most popular shows. One negative is there is almost too much content. Many 'teaser' videos play when the user enters a new page without being selected. Although some full episodes are available online, they are not necessarily in discernable order.
  4. Nickelodeon http://www.nick.com Plenty of fun games and video bites for kids. Like Disney, there is background content that loads as soon as you enter a page. The pages are busy and harder to find content.
  5. A&E TV http://www.aetv.com/ Not the easiest navigation at first. However, more episodes and clips of episodes are offered then on some comparable cable sites.
  6. USA Network http://www.usanetwork.com/ A couple to a handful of episodes available of USA original shows. Some are available without commercial interruption which is a nice touch. However, not all series offer episodes for online viewing.
  7. Bravo http://www.bravotv.com/ Some behind the scene information and recaps. Videos are offered with some full episodes. However, the navigation of videos is not user friendly and is geared more towards a fan who knows what they are looking for on the channel.
  8. TBS.com http://www.tbs.com/ Again a required download of a plug-in before being able to view videos. Basically a collection of a few variety shows and reruns. There is not access to the movies, only their schedule.

A Brand New World
Sites without a presence on television but offering television/movie entertainment.

  1. TV.com http://www.tv.com/ There is definitely more content on this website then some of its competitors. This site has a larger variety of shows and even news broadcasts are easy to search and view here. TV.com offers an easier navigation if you want to find information and summaries of a particular television show. However, the video interface is not as friendly.
  2. Hulu.com http://www.hulu.com/ Hulu offers episodes of series from all different TV channels. Episodes are separated by genre rather than channel, but an easy search will help you find your favorite quickly. Interestingly, some episodes will load directly from Hulu whereas others will take you to the home website making Hulu act more like a search engine. An added plus are the movies. Many of your re-run favorites from Sunday afternoon can be found here. Load time is good, even for full movies.
  3. Boxee http://www.boxee.tv/ This is a free membership website that dose require users to download their program. It checks all your media on your computer and then creates a one stop area for everything from photos to music. With an open source code it is intended to be manipulated by users so they can add user generated content. However, it is not really ready for all computer systems at this time and was overall frustrating to install. PC to TV or TV to PC? Considering the competition for your entertainment dollars, it should be no surprise then that many TV's offer WiFi connection to your computer to make certain you can enjoy all these extra goodies from the comfort of your couch. However, some computers are also pushing their new models of All-in-Ones aimed at being one-stop entertainment centers. These new computers are offering bigger and better viewing screens, more compact CPUs and easy plug and play for cameras, music players (iPod, Zune, etc.), and much more. Depending on your budget and your pocket book, there are some wonderful choices on the market already.

Bankruptcy Law 101

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write.

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As of December 2007, bankruptcy filings are up 28% from last year and are expected to increase in 2008 due to the combined factors of high household debt and rising mortgage costs. American Bankruptcy Institute

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write. The word 'bankruptcy' is weighed down by such doomsday words as failure, defeat, impoverishment...well, you're getting the depressing idea. However, it is not 'the end of the world' to declare bankruptcy. Instead of running away from this topic, it is time to demystify bankruptcy with a little 'Bankruptcy 101.'

What is bankruptcy?

For most people, bankruptcy is a way to get a fresh start after acquiring too much debt. Most individuals who file for bankruptcy will file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Depending on which is filed, one may get most of their debt erased or work out a workable solution with lenders to pay off existing debt.

Are bankruptcy laws determined by Federal or State government?

Bankruptcy laws are made by the Federal government. States can pass laws that protect the "lender and debtor relationship" but they cannot regulate how a bankruptcy is processed or if it is to be granted.

Can all debts be erased?

No. Whichever type of bankruptcy is filed, there are certain debts that cannot be erased at all. These include alimony, child support, most student loans and legal judgments against fraud or criminal negligence such as a drunk driving accident. Some taxes may be erased, but not all. In fact, taxes have their own set of bankruptcy rules.

Do I need a lawyer?

When filing for bankruptcy it is important to find a bankruptcy lawyer who can help you navigate the process. Bankruptcy lawyers specialize in this area of law and are familiar with the distinct differences and effects of the process; they can be your greatest ally in a tough, seemingly bureaucratic system.

How long will bankruptcy effect my credit?

Bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. There are ways to improve your credit rating and make yourself more appealing to lenders. For more information on this, check out this useful website: www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com. It is not an easy road back and those filing for bankruptcy should have a realistic expectation to work hard at their future spending practices.

Do I have to do debt counseling?

Yes. Under the new bankruptcy act passed in October 2005, it is now required that all persons applying for bankruptcy meet with a government qualified debt counselor first. After one has successfully filed for bankruptcy, the debtor must again meet with a counselor before the bankruptcy file will be closed.

What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as a "liquidation of debt." A person can file for Chapter 7 every 8 years. This usually involves the liquidation of property to pay back debts. An appointed trustee sells all secured, non-exempt property for the debtor and distributes money raised among the lenders. Unsecured debts, such as credit card bills and most medical bills can be erased. This may mean the loss of secure debts such as a home. However, most states do have protections for debtors in place to insure they may keep life necessities such as clothing and some furniture. Retirement funds such as IRA's are also protected and debtors may keep these as well. After the changes to bankruptcy law in October 2005, many debtors may not get approved for Chapter 7 and be required instead to apply for Chapter 13. In short, if you still have an income and make more than the median for a household of your size in your state you may have to file for Chapter 13. To find out if you should be filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you can use a mean calculator like the one at legalconsumer.com. Again, this is where consulting a lawyer becomes very important.

What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a "reorganization of debt" or the "wage earners' plan." One can file for Chapter 13 more often as long as any previous filings are already closed. This is the bankruptcy for those trying to a find a way to get out of debt but still expect to pay off some of their debt. Generally speaking, if you still have a source of income and could make payments, just not the high ones you have now, you can be restructured into a debt payment plan under Chapter 13. This is the most likely to be used to try to stop a mortgage foreclosure. In this scenario, you can keep the house, car and more than you could under Chapter 7. There are limits to the amount of debt that can be restructured. If one is above those limits they would file under Chapter 11, however, the average American Joe/Jane is not in this category.

More Resources
US Department of Justice - US Trustee Program
www.usdoj.gov/ust/
A complete listing of approved credit counseling agencies is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
A complete listing of approved providers of financial management instructional courses is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/de_approved.htm

American Bankruptcy Institute
www.abiworld.org
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest multi-disciplinary, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues.

Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-256

Bankruptcy Action
www.bankruptcyaction.com
The objective of this website is to provide the person, thinking about filing bankruptcy, the information he or she needs to make an informed decision.

Lawyers Listings
www.lawyerslistings.com/about.shtm
Our mission is to present to the Internet community an easy-to-use site in which to search for law firms and individual lawyers.

Life After Bankruptcy
www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com
On this website you'll discover everything I did to recover so quickly...and many other bankruptcy recovery and credit repair strategies you'll find nowhere else.

NOLO Bankruptcy Library
www.nolo.com
Nolo is your legal companion, empowering you and saving you money whenever the law touches your work, life or finances.

US Courts - Bankruptcy Basics
www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/bankruptcybasics.html 
Bankruptcy Basics provides basic information to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media, and the general public on different aspects of the federal bankruptcy laws.

What can you do to prevent Bankruptcy?

  1. Continue to take care of essential bills first: mortgage/rent, taxes, child support, and utility bills.
  2. Eliminate frivolous expenditures. No more department store credit cards, cable TV, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, etc. Be honest about what you can live without with for a while. 
  3. If you own your home, consider a home equity loan to get rid of high rate debts such as credit cards.
  4. Watch your credit report. Close unused accounts, check for errors and resolve any questions with lenders immediately.
  5. Know the warning signs: -Are you using credit cards to pay off bills or credit cards? -Are you borrowing against unprotected debt? i.e. Are you borrowing from a credit card to pay the mortgage? When you see you are bouncing debt around and not making any headway, it is a good time to look at credit counseling.
  6. Warning about credit counseling: If you choose to do debt consolidation recognize that it will effect your credit score. Also, make sure you understand how the payments will work and if you can really make the payment - sometimes they are set too high!
  7. Avoid aggressive lenders. If you begin to get offers for loans that sound too good to be true - they are! There has been a big push to penalize aggressive lenders who only help people acquire more debt. However, they are still out there and you should be a careful shopper of any loans you take.

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

 

One roof or two?

My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms.

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Q. My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms. Recently, I had a new shingle roof put on, and the roofing contractor told me that I could save a little money by putting the new shingles on top of the old ones. I wonder if this could be contributing to the cracking of my plaster ceilings.

A. The new roof over the old is most likely the reason for the ceiling cracks. Some roofing contractors will put new shingles over old ones because it saves them time and money, but this is no benefit to the home owner. Your house was framed to handle the weight of one shingle roof, but not the weight of two. The extra load on the structure is placing stress on the rafters, braces and ceiling joists, and causing stress cracks in your plaster ceilings. At this point, your best option is to just live with the cracks, because if you patch them without relieving the extra load on the roof, the cracks will just come right back. Next time you are ready for a new roof, insist that the roofer remove all of the old shingles, felt, tar paper and any other materials right down to the plywood or boards and start from scratch. This will not only eliminate the extra weight problem, it will give you a better looking, tighter and longer lasting roof.