Monthly Archives: August 2014

Buying Your First Home Part 2: Finding Your Home

By: P. Andersen, 8/27/14

Last week, we covered the steps you should take before house hunting.  That is the logical course, and one that will make your life easier.  It is not the only course, however, as circumstances are constantly changing.  Me?  I found a place that met needs I didn’t really know I had, and did the rest of that stuff after the fact – which is to say, there are no hard and fast rules.  Preparation is always preferable to reaction, though…

 

As for finding a house, there are so many ways and places to look, it would be crazy to mention all of them.  Local realtors are always a great option if you know where you want to buy.  For a broader view, I recommend Zillow, a site that aggregates all the listings in a region, and allows you to enter criteria to search.  This was what happened with me – a year after looking, an email from Zillow came in with a great little house in my budget, in the town I wanted to be in.  From there, I contacted a realtor I talked to the previous year, he suggested a mortgage broker he liked, they both suggested a lawyer that was reasonable, and we were off to the races.

With your new-found understanding of all the fees, taxes and down payments (having read Part 1), you will be in a great position to make this process go smoothly.  I made some mistakes, and though it didn’t derail things, it did make my life more stressful.  Learn from me, and get the facts up front…

Once you have the place you want, it is time for the negotiations.  For simple sales, you can use the same broker as the seller, but there is something comforting in having someone that only has your interest at heart.  When it comes to requests to the seller for changes you want made, it is nice knowing that you have someone in your corner making those requests.  Same with the negotiation on price – you can be completely honest with someone that is working for you, and let them do their job.  “Offer $XXX,XXX, but I would be willing to go to $XXX,YYY if it comes down to it” is something you can tell your realtor, but you don’t want to share with the seller…

The negotiations are a dance that can be stressful for you, and for the seller too.  Remember, the seller has needs too.  They have to have a place to move to, they need a certain sale amount to have it make sense, they have a mortgage to pay off and they have their own fees associated with the sale.  Add to those things the fact that there are other buyers that may be bidding on the house or apartment?  You could get lucky, as I did, or you can have house after house not work out for you, as many others do.  Me?  The house I saw is the house I bid on, is the house that I am buying (fingers crossed for a few more steps in the process).  It isn’t always that easy!

Once you DO have an offer accepted, there are more steps before a contract is signed.  Now is when you have the home inspected (PLEASE LET THE ROOF BE GOOD, PLEASE NO TERMITES, PLEASE NO WATER IN THE BASEMENT!!!).  Find a good inspector to go over the place top to bottom, from roof to basement.  The inspector will make notes on things that should be changed, and these will be listed as concessions from the seller – things they will do prior to closing.  These things will wind up in the contract, making those updates binding.

Quick question: is the basement finished, does it have a bathroom, or a laundry room?  Any additions?  Is there a new deck?  Any real upgrades to the property would require a permit from the city – if they were done without a permit, you may be buying a home with a potential fine and back taxes owed.  Your lawyer can assist in this, just be sure to make a note of any renovations that have taken place to ensure that those renovations were done by the book.

Whew, are you tired YET???  Well, at least we have made it to signing the contracts.  This contract will have all the stipulations in it that you requested and were agreed to, along with selling price and other key pieces of information.  This is THE step – the point of no return.  Once you sign this form, and the seller signs and returns it to your lawyer?  You are on the hook to buy the house.  To not do so is to forfeit the large deposit you sent with the contract for escrow.  Essentially, the contract states that if all goes well with the appraisal, the title search, the repairs, and the mortgage, you must buy the house or forfeit the money you put in escrow (perhaps ¾ of the total down payment).

 

So, you signed the contract in 22 places?  You had your lawyer send it, along with your large check, to the seller’s lawyer?  The seller signed the contract in 22 places, and returned it to your lawyer?  Boom, you are in contract.  Congratulations, part 2 is complete.  You have a framework for buying a house, and in part 3, next month, we will discuss getting from Contract to Closing.  Oh, the fun is just beginning!

 

Replacement Cost + Knowledge = Satisfaction

By: P. Andersen, 8/26/14

 

Sometimes managing a loss and resultant claim is all about the big thing, the big loss, and the true hardship.  Sometimes it is something simpler, the smaller things that make a difference.  During a repair of a damaged wall in an insureds residence, painting was required.

Most homeowners’ property coverage is written on a “Replacement Cost” basis, which relates to the concept of “making whole” as we discussed in a previous blog.  Replacement Cost means you are paid on a covered claim with the goal of replacing the lost or damaged property with like, kind and quality materials at current prices without the application of depreciation.  Replacement Cost became the norm because the old way, Actual Cash Value*, was creating a hardship with policy holders when a claim was paid.  That 5 year old couch might have an actual cash value of $90, but replacing it could cost 10 times as much!

So, back to our client with the wall that needs painting…  We let the insured know that as a part of Replacement Cost, the entire room was eligible to be painted, because making them “whole” meant the entire room needed to have a matching color.

You rely on your insurance agent to assist you when you have a claim, be sure you trust the claims department to be knowledgeable, interested, and thoughtful.  I know those are the words I would use for Levitt-Fuirst’s claims department…

*Note: Most of your auto policies are on an actual cash value basis, with claim payments being limited by the blue book value of the vehicle.  There is often a rider for leased vehicles that raise the claim payment on a total loss to cover the remaining lease payment, but in general, this is the industry standard.  Classic Cars, you ask?  Agreed Value, but you probably read that in this blog, posted a while back!

Coverage of the Week – Watercraft

By: Alan Mani, 8/25/14

Welcome to this week’s “Coverage of the Week” blog where we discuss a particular coverage to educate and clarify a particular topic. This week’s topic…Watercraft Insurance. Depending on the size and type of watercraft, you will be subject to different rates. I worked with one of our Personal Lines Account Executives to dig up information about this important coverage for you water-lovers – information is power, so let’s take a little time to learn a thing or two about that boat coverage you need…

What is watercraft insurance? What is it limited to? Well, as you guessed, watercraft insurance is insurance for all sorts of boats – Runabout, Mini Jet Boat, Sailboat, Pontoon, House Boat, Cabin Cruiser, Other Fishing Boat, Bass Boat, and Personal Watercraft (jet skis and wave runners). Depending on the size of the watercraft, it may be covered under your homeowner’s policy. The homeowner’s policy is very limited, however, and would have a minimal amount of coverage for really small boats with no engine or a very small engine. Coverage is dependent primarily on length and speed.  Once you pass a certain length and speed threshold, which varies by carrier, your homeowner’s policy won’t cover it. The upshot?  If you have a dingy with a tiny motor, your homeowners should suffice.  Anything else?  You are going to want to get a watercraft policy.  As with every situation, you should call your insurance account executive to make sure you have the coverage you need for the boat you have.

Under a watercraft insurance policy you’re covered for Bodily Injury & Property Damage Liability, Uninsured Boater, Medical Payments, Comprehensive & Collision Options, Personal Effects Replacement, On-Water Towing & Labor Coverage Service, Roadside Assistance, Fishing Equipment, Fuel Spill Liability, Wreckage Removal, Mexico Physical Damage, Water Sports, Navigational Area, and Pet Injury Coverage.  Some of the better policies will expand on these coverages, which is where your insurance account manager can guide you.

Pricing?  Watercraft policy cost is as wide ranging as the types of watercraft you are insuring.  At the low end for the smallest and slowest of boats, you could be looking at a couple hundred dollars (for the year), but there are so many variables that it is difficult to give you a clear idea of cost.  That is where – wait, have you heard this one before? – that is where your insurance professional comes into play…

Give us a call, we are happy to assist you with your summer boating fun.  Remember, insurance is preparation for those rare and difficult events.  Don’t skimp on this important coverage, and you will have the peace of mind to go out and enjoy the lakes and rivers, oceans and bays.

What’s Happening In Our Region

By: Alan Mani

The weekend is here, and we hope you can take the time to enjoy the region’s events.  Levitt-Fuirst insures clients from Greenwich to Chappaqua, from Manhattan to Westport.  We love the region as much as anyone and we hope you get out and enjoy the spoils our beautiful area offers.

Hanging out with the family in Greenwich? Don’t know what to do Saturday morning? Go to the Third Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl. Take your family to a working farm and see how everything works. No charge for the visit. You can also go on Sunday if that works better for you.

 

In New York and you want to catch a show? Come watch Christopher McBride perform with his saxophone. Be sure to get your tickets before they sell out!

Not exactly sure what you want to do this weekend? See what interests you with a visit to the Greenwich Time website for more music, food and entertainment options in southern Connecticut, Westchester, and New York City.

 

Buying Your First Home, Part 1: How Much House?

By P. Andersen, 8/20/14

I am in the process of buying my first house. It is an exciting time of looking forward to a new life filled with ideas, hope, and of course, terror. I am starting late in the game, having lived in Manhattan through my prime “Home Buying Years”, where $700,000 buys you a spacious (Almost 1000 sf!) one bedroom in a good building, and where even that one bedroom was outside my budget. So, time passes, circumstances change, and new opportunities arise. Here I am, several years later, faced with something I had only conceptually thought of before. I felt it might be useful to some of you out there if I took you along for the ride, because if you are looking for your first home, you might learn from my mistakes.

The Insurance Piece

Clearly, I work for an insurance agency, and we generally discuss insurance in this blog. Let’s get that out of the way right here. Homeowners insurance? You need it. It is pretty reasonable in the big scheme of things, and you should have an expert place the policy with a good carrier that can be counted on in the case of a loss. You want to be sure to have a valuable articles policy for your unique items (art, wine, jewelry), but you knew that from our previous blogs. Next, you need to know what your flood zone is, because you have to budget flood insurance if you are in a higher risk area. Get the details on the town and the lot and its history before making an offer, and read our flood blog for additional information. Also, did you know that your auto insurance will be impacted too? I am moving from the Bronx, and my auto insurance will dip a few hundred dollars after moving to a quiet Westchester hamlet. It is a nice little bonus, and offsets some of the difference between renters and homeowners insurance. Call us, Levitt-Fuirst has a wonderful personal lines staff, and we want to be there for you when you are ready to buy that first (or second or vacation) home.

So, that was the insurance piece! To be honest, in the big scheme of things, the insurance part is easy if you have a trusted insurance advisor guiding you. It is all the other stuff that rattles your teeth and makes you question getting up in the morning. Today I am going to give a few tips on preparing you for your house search, because walking into this process with eyes wide open will help you keep your sanity!

 How Much House?

Before you buy a house, you have to know what you can afford. Seems silly, but this is where so many people (like me) miss essential bits of information that truly impact what they can afford. First, your credit is a key piece to this whole puzzle. If you have great credit, you are ready to move on to the next step. If you don’t, taking a year to improve your credit might be wise. The rate you pay for your mortgage, for the next 30 years, will be directly related to that 3 digit number! Taking steps to improve your credit for a year might just be the best financial decision you can make. Also, did you know a better credit score could improve your insurance rates as well?

Once you are set with your credit score, it is time to evaluate the actual dollars and cents. Your ongoing costs include the cost of the mortgage itself, the estimated cost of the taxes for the town you will be living in, and the cost of the PMI, or Mortgage Insurance, if you are putting down less than 20%. Up front, you have the down payment, from 5% to 20% for a standard “conforming” loan, and legal fees and closing costs, which can add up to 4% to 7% of the total cost of the property. That down payment and closing cost figure is all right up front, and constitutes a hefty investment for a prospective new home owner. The numbers can be an eye-opener in this region, where $500,000 is considered a reasonable home price…

With all of this information, you should have a better idea of what you can afford. Taking that conceptual number, it is time to get pre-approved for a loan. If you are serious about buying a house this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you will find out what sort of rate you can expect, which will clarify how much house you truly can afford. You can get these mortgage quotes from an institution you regularly use or have a relationship with, or you can shop for mortgages using the various tools available, such as Quicken Loans or Lending Tree. However you choose to get your indication, doing so before you start your house hunt is an excellent idea – when you find your perfect home, you want to be able to move quickly to secure it.

Are you tired yet? All of that, and we haven’t even looked for a house? No wonder this will take a blog or two to cover… Next week, Part 2 will discuss finding your home, and the tools that will help you do it. Finally, we will discuss the time between contract signing and closing, and which wine regions offer the best wines for keeping you sane during this process.

Links:

Credit Score Companies

Equifax

Experian

Transunion

Improving Your Credit Score in a year

Mortgage Calculator

Getting To Know the Towns of New York State

Westchester and NY Tax Rate Comparison

Grading Schools in NY

What’s Happening In Our Region

By: Alan Mani

The weekend is here, and we hope you can take the time to enjoy the region’s events.  Levitt-Fuirst insures clients from Greenwich to Chappaqua, from Manhattan to Westport.  We love the region as much as anyone and we hope you get out and enjoy the spoils our beautiful area offers.

Are you in Chappaqua with your special someone? Do you enjoy watching butterflies and humming birds? Go do the Saw Mill River Audubon: Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden Tour at Pruyn at 10 in the morning. Learn how to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard.

Visiting some family in Greenwich? Go to the Bruce Museum and explore the extraordinary deep sea by examining both the adapted survival strategies utilized by creatures of the deep and the technology that enables researchers to record ground-breaking observations.

Not exactly sure what you want to do this weekend? See what interests you with a visit to the Greenwich Time website for more music, food and entertainment options in southern Connecticut, Westchester, and New York City.

Why An Independent Agent?

by Peter Andersen, 8/13/14

 

Levitt-Fuirst is an independent insurance agent. Got it? Got it! Wait… What is an independent insurance agent again? Better yet, why would you want an independent insurance agent??? What about that insurance company you see on TV? You know them, with the cute commercials with the memorable characters and the catchy tag lines – why not one of those companies instead of Levitt-Fuirst, or some other independent agent? Good question!

First, let’s clarify the different ways to get insurance.

Direct Writer:

These are the companies you see on TV. They are big, and they sell the insurance that they want to sell at a specific price. They are called “direct writers” because the insurance companies sell their insurance policies directly to the consumer. Some direct writers work primarily through the web or over the phone, while others have “brick and mortar” locations, or agents that are only allowed to write those insurance companies.

Independent Insurance Agents and their Carriers:

On the other end of the spectrum is the independent insurance agent. The concept of an independent insurance agent has been around for a long time, and this agency/carrier model handled a vast majority of the insurance sales in the US for a long long time. The concept is that a licensed insurance professional would contract with various carriers to sell those carrier’s insurance products. The agents, or agencies, are able to offer a wide array of products to their clients, because they are not limited to the “appetite” of one particular carrier. That is, an individual insurance company may say they want to write small shop keepers, but maybe not those shops in the Bronx. Or maybe they want to write construction risks, but maybe not those that involve asbestos or heights. Real Estate? Some love it, but not if it is in the wrong part of town, or near any water… Each insurance carrier must make such “appetite” decisions, but an independent agent can work with a broad group of insurance carriers, so that they can offer a wider range of products. If one carrier won’t write in the Bronx, another will!

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s discuss the role of the insurance agency…

Middle Man vs. Advocate

If you talk to those direct writers, you may hear that they are saving you money by “cutting out the middle man”. There is a grain of truth to this, but it misses the most important point. Let me ask you a question:

Who works for you?

When you buy an insurance policy from a direct writer, you are the consumer, they are the seller. This is a common way of doing business – it is the same as the grocery store, for example. They sell, you buy. Why not for insurance? The answer to the question in this scenario is twofold.

First, insurance is not a carrot – it is complex, it is riddled with insurance specific wording, and it involves a lot of risk if you are not covered for a claim. If a carrot is bad, you can see it. If an insurance policy has terrible exclusions that render it useless for you under some common circumstances, would you know? Complexity requires expertise…

Part two is the advocacy. With those direct writers, nobody is looking out for your interest. They are selling, you are buying. The Independent Agent, however, is different. It is true, we sign contracts with the carrier, but independent agents are officially working FOR the consumer. I don’t know how clear that is out in the world at large, but if you remember one thing, remember this – we work for you! We are licensed by the state in which we sell insurance, and our clients are you, the purchasers of the policy. The carriers are our business partner, but you are our client, and if it comes to a claim or an increase – we fight for you!

My 3 E’s: Experience, Education, Effort

If I had to sum up why you want an independent agent, I would tell you about the 3 E’s…

Experience: Independent agents have been there and done that. We understand what you need, because we have other clients that have needed that before. We know what carriers like the risks you pose, be it personal (home, auto, watercraft, valuable articles, etc…), or business (retail, wholesale, commercial real estate, construction, etc…). When you are looking for a policy, don’t you want to work with someone that has your best interest at heart, and loads of experience with people just like you?

Education: Independent Agents are required to take licensing courses every few years, amounting to tens of hours of training. To become an agent in the first place, we spend literally months in a classroom, after work, on weekends, before work, studying and preparing for the very difficult, comprehensive insurance exams required by the state. If you are going to buy insurance, don’t you want to buy it from the guy that has that education, AND is working for YOU?

Effort: You are our client. We want to keep you as our client, even if you have a claim, even if your circumstances change. Maybe you move to a big place on the water, or your son just got another ticket. It is our job to find an insurance carrier that offers you excellent coverage at a competitive price, even if one carrier non-renews you, or rejects you. What happens if that direct writer gets tired of your shenanigans? No soup for you!

 

The idea of the middleman gets a bad rap sometimes. When the world is complex, having an expert on your side is nothing to sneeze at. If you are buying a used car, you should have a mechanic you trust check it out. If you are buying a house, you would want an expert do an inspection. When you are buying an engagement ring, getting the diamond appraised is a great idea. And when buying insurance for your most prized possessions or for your most essential business interest? Come to us. We are here for you, and always happy to see you – even if your son DID just get another speeding ticket…

 

The Worst of Times

By: P. Andersen 

 

Insurance is an interesting product to sell, because the goal of every client is to never need the insurance coverage they are paying for.  When you need it, you have a problem.  When you need it, you find out what kind of an agent and insurance company you are partnered with as well.

We thought giving you some stories about what other clients have gone through might help you think about your own risks, and give you the information you need to approach a future loss with all of your ducks in a row.

The Worst Of Times:

A Levitt-Fuirst client sadly lost his wife a while back.  While going through their valuables, our client noticed several of the items were missing.  Normally, a police report would be necessary to complete a claim of this sort, but the insured, in mourning, did not want to go that route.

Kim, our personal lines manager, worked with Chubb to make every accommodation for this insured, due to the circumstances surrounding the claim.  In the end, the claim was paid under Mysterious Disappearance, with the police report requirement waived.

Insurance is one of those things that you don’t need – until you need it.  If that day comes for you, you want to be sure you have a business partner that will fight for you, work with you, guide and inform you.  In this case, both Levitt-Fuirst and Chubb deviated from protocol because it was a unique situation that required a certain amount of thoughtfulness.  In the end, the client was pleased with the result, and his entire family is insured through our office.  Hopefully you won’t ever need such claim service, but if you do, we look forward to assisting you should the unthinkable happen.

What’s Happening In Our Region?

By: Alan Mani

The weekend is here, and we hope you can take the time to enjoy the region’s events.  Levitt-Fuirst insures clients from Greenwich to Chappaqua, from Manhattan to Westport.  We love the region as much as anyone and we hope you get out and enjoy the spoils our beautiful area offers.

Spending the day in Danbury and you’re feeling a bit bored? Go check out the Summer Concert Series at Ives Concert Park-Westside Reggae Festival featuring Beres Hammond, Morgan Heritage, Barrington Levy, Anthem Band, Lupa, Nachy Bless and more. Tickets are still available.

If you’re in Manhattan in the evening, go down to Central Park (or Grand Central or Soho) and join the “Ghost Doctors” and hunt ghosts. Learn how to use the equipment and learn the protocols and some of the cities most interesting historical sites.

Not exactly sure what you want to do this weekend? See what interests you with a visit to the Greenwich Time website for more music, food and entertainment options in southern Connecticut, Westchester, and New York City.

Video Today, Simplified Claim Tomorrow

by Peter Andersen

August 6, 2014

The goal of any insurance policy in the event of a claim is to “make whole” the insured. The concept is that your insurance should put you back to the way you were before you had the loss – not better off, and not worse off – the same. The devil is in the details, however – how do you recreate the way you were at the time of the loss? How do you tell your insurance carrier exactly what was lost, and in what condition it was? How do you show them the valuables that were stolen, or the quality of the workmanship after a fire or flood or theft?

Q. How do you show your insurance carrier what needs replacement after the loss rendered the item unrecognizable, lost or stolen?

A. You have video and Inventory of your possessions BEFORE the loss!

If you want to protect yourself from a future claim, prepare today for the unthinkable. There are two key things you can do ahead of time to make your life easier after a loss: take videos and pictures, and make an inventory.

Your phone likely has an amazing camera and video camera. Take a walking tour video of your house, describing each item as you video it. Break the video up into rooms, and save each individually, making it easier to find a particular item. Take pictures and videos of valuables, those items that will be harder or more expensive to replace. One of a kind items? These are the most important items to document, and they should be listed on your Valuable Articles policy (as discussed in our blog from Monday). Still, collect details on these items as well – the appraisal, where and when you purchased it, price, and pictures or images of the object.

These videos and pictures will often auto backup to the web, but you should always manually store the images to the web so you can get them in an emergency, even if your computer or cell phone is destroyed, lost or stolen. There are several options for this – you can email yourself the pictures and videos if you use a web mail program (Google, Yahoo, etc). Even better, store them in the cloud using one of the free storage options (Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive are all good examples of free cloud storage options). Should a claim arise, you now have video evidence of what you have in your house, making it easier for you AND the carrier to “make you whole”.

Once you have your video documentation, make up a home inventory to go along with it. Write down everything you have in your house that you would want replaced, should there be a claim. For more expensive items, get serial numbers and model numbers (to go along with the video evidence you just created). Where and when did you get it? How much did you pay? Information is so important – the more you have, the easier it will be when it comes time to discuss the claim with your insurance carrier. The website http://www.knowyourstuff.org/ is an excellent resource for creating your inventory, and this portion of their site gives you amazing insight into the process if how and what to inventory. Read about what you should do here, from Know Your Stuff, or watch the video on Youtube.  You can also simply create a spreadsheed using Excel, again saving the file to the cloud for access in the event of a claim.

Remember – after a loss is too late. Take the time to inventory, in list and image, before the need arises. As with all insurance, the best case scenario is you never need to use these images, videos and lists. It is the best possible outcome.