This post is part of a series of insurance blogs on Safeco.com showcasing the expertise of local independent agents and aimed at helping you understand insurance coverage and other important issues
If you feel like you’re paying more for homeowners insurance than you used to, you might be right. Over the past 20 years, these rates have increased over 50% - and U.S. homeowners pay an average of $952 annually, according to ValuePenguin, which provides consumers with research and guidance on financial topics.
You want to make sure your home is protected, but you don’t want to pay more than you have to, either. Here are eight things you can do to make sure you get the best deal on homeowners insurance:
You can lower your risk of drowning by wearing a life jacket — but it can’t be just any life jacket. To truly be effective, a life jacket needs to be the right type and fit correctly.
You probably know you should wear a life jacket when you’re on the water, and you probably know it’s important for kids to wear one, too. (For kids, life jackets typically are required by state law; in states with no law, the U.S. Coast Guard requires anyone under the age of 13 on a moving boat to have one.)
But do you know just how important it is? According to the Coast Guard, drowning causes more than 70% of boating deaths — and more than 80% of victims are found without a life jacket.
Even wearing a life jacket won’t do much good if it doesn’t fit correctly, though. So how do you choose the right one? Here are some tips from experts with the Coast Guard and the U.S. Marine Corps.
First, choose the right type for your activities. Gone are the days when all life jackets were just those bulky orange vests you might remember from your childhood. There are different types for all kinds of activities now — including recreational boating, paddle sports such as kayaking or canoeing, even hunting and fishing. Some life jackets have auto-inflation features, so they can be worn more comfortably but still provide protection if someone falls into the water.
Then, make sure everyone has a jacket that fits properly.According to the Coast Guard, if a life jacket is too big, it won’t keep your head above the water. And if it’s too small, it might not have the buoyancy required to keep your body afloat. Remember, a life jacket sized for an adult will not work for a child. Here’s how to get the best fit.
Don’t forget about your pets. Even dogs that are strong swimmers can struggle in open water or get fatigued. So if you’ve got a dog coming with you on the water, the American Kennel Club recommends a life jacket for them, too! Available at pet stores and online, options include vests, which make it easier to swim, and jackets, which provide more buoyancy.
Remember, nobody expects to be in an accident on the water — and if you think you’ll have time to just throw a life jacket on when something bad happens, think again. In most cases of boating-related drowning, the Coast Guard says, life jackets were stowed on board but not worn by victims.
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy the outdoors by getting out on the water. But no matter what activity you choose, make sure you choose safety — find the right life jacket and wear it!
If you're like most people, you start up the car every morning and get ready to fight traffic on your way to work. But wouldn't it be nice to read a book on your commute instead? Or check your email? Even send a few texts?
Today, that's not possible for drivers. (Actually, it is possible, but it's dangerous. And way too many people do those things and worse behind the wheel.)
Tomorrow, however, self-driving cars might give us all the ability to do those things safely. And two amazing concept cars at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas provided a glimpse of an exciting future.
Each January, thousands of people from across the world attend CES to see the latest innovations in technology. Sam Affolter, senior director of research and innovation at Safeco, was there this year — and he's intrigued by where the auto industry is headed.
"One of the coolest displays at CES was Toyota's Concept-i car," Affolter said. "It has a digital assistant called 'Yui,' an artificial-intelligence personality that customizes itself based on the different people in the car."
With inward-facing cameras, Yui (pronounced "U-E") identifies who's in the car and where they're sitting, and will recommend switching to autonomous mode when its facial-recognition technology senses the driver is distracted or sleepy.
It also learns your habits and preferences, Affolter said. "I prefer to be moving rather than stuck in traffic — and Yui will pick up on that and recommend routes that may be longer but with less congestion."
Honda also made a big splash at CES with its NeuV, which stands for "New Electric Urban Vehicle." Private vehicles are not in use 95% of the time, and Honda says the NeuV (pronounced "New-V") could make good use of that extra capacity. It can function as an automated ride-sharing vehicle, picking up and dropping off customers at local destinations when the owner is not using the car. And when it's idle, the NeuV even can sell energy back to the electric grid.
"It's important to note that neither of these cars is rolling off the assembly line," Affolter said. "They're just examples of the possibilities."
That may be a good thing, because it's going to take time for people to get used to the idea of giving up control.
Both Yui and NeuV help break this barrier by acclimating drivers to the AI system in ways that can build trust, according to Affolter. Providing accurate, helpful information and recommendations over time increases the chances you'll say "OK" when Yui or NeuV offer to take the wheel when you look tired or appear distracted.
"These innovations are paving the way to a more driverless future," Affolter said. "It's going to be really interesting to see where it leads us."
Many people have a limited definition of “distracted driving”: They think it only means texting behind the wheel.
There’s good reason for that, because texting requires visual, manual and cognitive attention - the same attention required for safe driving. But although texting is perhaps the most dangerous distraction, there are many others that can impact how you drive, whether you realize it or not. And they can be just as deadly.
How deadly? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2014 more than 400,000 people were injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers - with more than 3,000 killed.
Here are just a few of the things that can distract drivers on the road:
With distractions more prevalent than ever - more than 150 billion text messages are sent in the U.S. every month, for example - how can you, and those you love, be safer behind the wheel? Here are a few tips:
Home improvement: It’s a never-ending process for many people, and for those of us who aren’t necessarily handy, it can be a hassle, too.
But there are plenty of simple maintenance tasks and other improvements you can handle to make your home safer - whether you’re handy or not. And you won’t have to break out the power tools (or any tools at all in some instances) or worry about getting in over your head.
You need running water in your home - but not water running in your home, if you know what we mean. Even minor leaks can cause major problems, from higher water bills to damage requiring costly repairs (maybe even the kind you can’t tackle yourself). Here are some easy ways to make sure your water stays where it should:
Millions of Americans - many of them older adults - are injured in falls each year. About 2.5 million were hurt in 2013 alone, according to the National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Look around your home. Should you make some of these fixes?
Pollution isn’t just an outside thing - the air in your home can be unhealthy, too. But helping people breathe a little easier isn’t hard when you follow these steps:
It’s Not Just a Quote, It’s a Relationship
Shopping for insurance? You may think you’re simply looking for an insurance policy. But, perhaps, what you’re really looking for isn’t a what but a who: Someone you can trust to guide you through the plethora of insurance choices, rather than trying to make sense of all the options yourself online.
That someone is an insurance agent, but there are countless agents out there – not to mention different types. So, how do you choose? Use these four steps to select the type of agent that’s right for you and find one you want to work with to purchase, review and manage your policies on an ongoing basis.
1. Know the Types of Insurance AgentsSome insurance agents represent only one insurance company. These are known as direct, or captive, agents, and they are direct employees of the company whose policies they sell. Any policy he or she sells will be from that company, and that company only.
An independent insurance agent, on the other hand, represents a number of different carriers, oftentimes as an employee of a local agency in your community. An independent agent isn’t restricted by what any one carrier offers, so he or she has more flexibility to help you explore a broader range of options.
And, what about commissions? Both direct and independent agents receive commissions from the companies they represent.
2. Get RecommendationsThe best way to predict what kind of service you can expect from an agent is to find out what kind of service he or she has provided in the past. Ask for recommendations from family, friends and neighbors, and then ask for more details.
Tell the agent what you’d like to insure, and ask how he or she would be able to help. If you or a friend has gone through difficult insurance experiences before, ask how he or she would deal with a similar situation.
Ask if he or she gets involved in the claims process, or ask any of those other questions you’ve always wondered about insurance. Pay attention to whether the agent offers specific examples or speaks in generalities, as well as to whether he or she is talking about insurance in a way that makes sense to you. You can also ask for references.
A prospective agent may be able to give you a quote at this point. But, what you really want is a sense of how well you could work with this person. Is this someone with whom you can communicate easily and in whom you can place your trust?
Because, when you’re shopping for an insurance agent, you’re not just looking for an attractive quote. You’re looking for a good working relationship that can endure through new cars or homes, fender benders, storm damage and much more.
A condominium is different from a house or an apartment — you own part of a building or a property, but not all of it. Insurance for condominium owners is different, too.
Just like homeowners and renters, people who own a condo unit want to be insured against financial loss brought about by such dangers as theft, fire and lawsuits. But, a condominium will typically be covered by two separate insurance policies that protect different parts of the whole.
The first of these two policies will be held by your condominium association, or other administrative group. It’s sometimes known as the master policy. This policy covers the structures and areas owned in common by all the unit owners. This usually includes the roof and exterior walls, stairways, recreation rooms, elevators, swimming pool and grounds.
The other policy is your individual coverage, and it needs to protect your personal property and that portion of the building that belongs to you.
What do you own?But, which parts belong to you? Depending on the state where you live and the particular condominium you buy into, you might own — and have responsibility for insuring, if coverage is available — everything between the bare walls, floor and ceiling of your unit. This could include carpeting, floor tile, bathroom fixtures, cabinets, appliances, countertops and interior walls.
In some cases, the master policy might cover your unit’s original fixtures, making you responsible only for any alterations or modifications that you make. In still other cases, you might also be responsible for what’s inside your walls: plumbing and wiring.
If your unit comes with a patio, balcony, garage or garden area, those will also likely be your responsibility. If it includes a “limited common” area, such as a balcony or room that you share with only one or a few other units, you will probably want to insure your share of it as well, if possible.
The details of what property you own should all be spelled out in the association agreement you get at the time you purchase the condominium. You’ll want to bring that agreement along when you discuss condo insurance coverage with your independent agent.
What does condo insurance cover?One feature of condominium insurance, as with homeowners insurance, is coverage for the structure – the inside of your unit, that is. A condo policy will generally cover interior structures, such as cabinets, flooring and countertops within your unit’s surrounding walls, but only as specified in your policy. For example, damage to the interior of your unit due to fire or vandalism may be covered. Damage caused by neglect may not be.
A standard policy usually provides even more protection than that. Typical condo insurance coverage, within the limits of your particular policy, may help to cover:
Pay Less for Condo InsuranceA variety of factors will impact how much you pay for condominium insurance. One is how much personal property you have, and how much it’s all worth. Another is your deductible. If you choose a lower deductible, your premium may be higher – and vice versa. To save on condo insurance, you may want to consider a higher deductible, as well as insuring your car, motorcycle and other assets with the same carrier. Discuss available insurance discounts with your independent agent today.
Generally speaking, gaps are a bad thing. If there’s a gap in the sidewalk, you may trip and break your arm. If there’s a gap in your data, you may draw the wrong conclusion. And, if there’s a gap in your insurance coverage? You may find yourself unexpectedly paying out-of-pocket to repair your home or vehicle.
Insurance gaps are a rotten surprise, and unfortunately they don’t go away just because you ignore them. In fact, the more you know the better. So, let’s take a closer look at insurance gaps and how they may occur.
What Is an Insurance Gap?A coverage gap is an area or type of risk that an insurance policy does not cover.
How Do Insurance Gaps Occur?An insurance gap may occur when your policy does not offer any coverage for a particular type of risk (i.e. it’s an “excluded risk”). Alternately, coverage may be available but you did not purchase any or enough of it.
How Can I Avoid Insurance Gaps?Here’s the tricky part: You’ll always have coverage gaps. There’s simply no insurance policy or combination of policies to fully protect you from every single risk there is. However, you can work with your independent insurance agent to help identify and address many of the most common gaps.
Here’s another tricky thing about insurance gaps: They can be hard to identify if you don’t know your policy well or if you simply assume you are covered when you actually aren’t. For example, here are four wintertime scenarios when unknown or ignored coverage gaps may cost you severely:
Here’s the perfect present for the apartment dweller on your gift list, whether it’s your child, your neighbor (particularly the one who forgets to return things) or maybe even yourself: Apartment repair tools, or perhaps an entire toolkit.
We’re talking about the basics. Tools that will make quick work of hanging pictures, assembling furniture and handling minor repairs. You can buy them new, either individually or in a preassembled kit. Or, take a look at secondhand stores or even through your own overflowing supply. Before gifting, clean off any rust with a penetrating lubricant and a scrubber. Just don’t “economize” by giving cheap, fragile or broken-down tools. They won’t last.
Here are 10 tools that are perfect for a starter toolkit:
A home-cooked holiday meal is a time-honored tradition that millions of people enjoy each year. Unfortunately, though, the act of cooking those meals can lead to something much less joyous: a holiday kitchen fire.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking fires are the top cause of both home fires and injuries in the home. And, the most likely time of year for them to happen? You guessed it: the holidays.
In 2013 (the most recent year in the organization’s statistics), Thanksgiving Day was the worst day for cooking fires. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve were second and third on the list, respectively.
How to Help Keep Your Kitchen Safe Here are four safety tips from the NFPA and the American Red Cross to keep in mind when you’re preparing that holiday feast — or any meal, for that matter — along with some advice on how to respond if (despite your best efforts) a kitchen fire breaks out.
With a little common sense and a lot of caution, you can help make sure your holidays are warm and cozy — and that the only fire in your home is the one blazing in your fireplace. Here’s to a happy and safe season!
Home Insurance and Fires Cooking equipment, fireplaces, lightning – the causes of home fires are numerous, and so are the outcomes. While some result in minor surface and smoke damage, others burn a home completely to the ground. It’s important to know how your home insurance would help in such situations. In particular, you want enough coverage to be able to completely rebuild your home to what it was in case it’s destroyed. Talk to us at Carolina Insurance Alliance about whether you have the coverage you want – and enough of it.
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