Author Archives: pandersen

Tool Shopping at Applied.net

by P. Andersen, 9/17/14

Applied

We talk a lot about insuring your home and business, and how Levitt-Fuirst is your advocate when you have a claim. We talk about the coverages you need, the risks you face, and how we are your advisors in the insurance marketplace. This is all essential for you to know and trust us with your insurance business.

Today, I am flying down to Orlando to attend a conference held by Applied Systems, the software vendor that Levitt Fuirst works with to manage the accounts of our clients like you. As I sit on my flight at 40 thousand feet, I realized that the tools we employ to manage your account might interest you too, because having the right tool is essential to a job well done.

The Software

Levitt Fuirst utilizes one of the largest agent specific software packages in the industry. Yours truly worked for Applied Systems a lifetime ago (15 years now?) as a trainer, and after 5 years, moved to the agency side to make a living. The program has evolved in my time in the industry – I joined Applied 20 years ago just as the windows version was developed to replace the dos system – to the point today that that we have a robust communication and information tracking tool whose sole purpose is to make sure you have the coverage you need. The program manages every aspect of your account, from inception and quoting, to carrier communication and industry forms creation, to billing, to claims handling. It is amazing all the software does, and amazing the training and expertise your account executives need to possess to handle your account as well as they do.

Insurance is complex, and managing your account requires a great deal of skill. These tools we employ make that process faster, more efficient, more secure, and more accurate every day. For you!

The Conference

So, about the conference… Each year, Applied Systems and the agency users group that works with them put on an educational conference. This year, it is in Orlando, FL. Having worked for Applied, it is a homecoming of sorts, with old friends I was trained by and trained with many years ago, still friends 20 years later. The classes offered include a wide array of selections, from hardware to software to integrated technologies that are all designed to make Levitt Fuirst run smoother, and to make your experience better.

The classes are great, taught by Applied employees, end users, and ancillary company employees that work with Applied. A second benefit is in the relationships you build. Just last week, a good friend from a New Jersey agency helped me with some word integration problems I was having, and another friend I met at conference 5-6 years ago is an Applied expert on the newest version of their software – she is invaluable as Levitt Fuirst charts its technology course over the next 5 years.

What To Learn This Week?

So what do I plan to learn this week? I have a short list that I feel will benefit my co-workers in Westchester, and all of our clients like you. First, Levitt Fuirst utilizes CSR24, a web based program that allows our clients to print their own certificates and auto id’s. CSR24 was bought by Applied Systems, and I am looking to see what new integrations are available in the latest release, which went live last week. Do you want to print your own certs and auto id’s? Call us, we will set you up!

Applied Systems also has a new cloud based software solution. Levitt Fuirst is considering the upgrade, for a myriad of good reasons, and I plan to begin the process of planning the many steps to upgrade. Both the classes explaining the process and the old and new friends that have or are currently going through the process, add up to a wealth of valuable information.

There are classes on carrier communications (software to software), and proposal design and mobile client management – each filling a need for Levitt Fuirst, so that we can be a better partner to you.

So that is my weeks plan. Learn, reminisce, learn some more. We at Levitt Fuirst feel that you have to have the right tool for the job, and this week, I am tool shopping. All for you.

A Coop and Condo Primer

by P. Andersen, 9/10/14

 

Here in the region surrounding New York City, we have an abundance of both Condos and Coops.  In New York City limits, Coops account for 85% of all available apartments. The buildings look the same on the outside, but the ownership structure is very different. What do you need to know before buying an apartment in our area? Let’s take a look at the Condo and Coop situation.

Condos and Coops, Coops and Condos…

We will start simply with the condo, and go from there. A Condo is like any piece of real property you may own, such as a house. You are buying a parcel of property, and that apartment is considered property in your name. A Coop, however, is a bit different. When you buy a Coop, you are actually not buying a piece of property. Rather, you are buying stock in the corporation that owns the apartment, and leasing the apartment from the Coop.

A Condo owner is responsible for their own real estate taxes and its share of the common charges associated with the maintenance of the property. A Coop owner, on the other hand, pays monthly maintenance to the building corporation for maintenance, building operation, property taxes, and underlying building mortgages.

Here are a few more things to think about…

  • Buying a Condo is a contract between a buyer and a seller, but buying a Coop requires the board approval, and the process can be more time consuming and demanding. Horror stories abound, so be prepared with every financial document they request to make the process go smoothly.
  • A condo generally has a higher value than a comparable coop, but closing costs may be higher with regard to title insurance and other taxes. Also, monthly fees are generally higher with a Coop, due to underlying mortgage payments which are included (based on shares).
  • Coops may require a larger down payment, then a comparable condominium, often 20%, causing a barrier to entry for some home buyers.
  • Sub-letting your apartment is far more difficult in a Coop, due to board approval and financial requirements.

Insuring your Condo or Coop

Insuring your Condo OR Coop is very different than insuring your free standing home. The building itself will have a policy that covers the property’s common areas, and your insurance is generally meant to cover anything from the “walls in”. This unique situation is why a special form was developed, the HO-6. Freestanding homes utilize the HO-3 form, and renter utilize the HO-4 form – the HO-6 is designed for both Condos and Coops, and their unique requirements.

One last note regarding insurance. Take a good long look at the association documents, just to be sure you know what the association policy is covering. It is always better to go in knowing all the facts, than to be surprised when a claim happens.

So, if you are buying a Condo or a Coop, be it in New York City, Westchester, Connecticut, or anywhere else for that matter, do your due diligence beforehand with regard to your homeowners insurance policy. Give us a call, we would be happy to answer any questions.

What’s Happening in the Region

by P. Andersen

Looking for something to do this weekend?  From Greenwich to Greenwich Village, from Westport to Irvington, our area offers a Cornucopia of entertainment.  Here are a couple options if your flavor runs towards pets of all shapes or sizes.

 

This Sunday, September 7th, come see, and maybe buy yourself a reptile at the Westchester County Center in White Plains! Over 100 reptile breeders will be at the NY Metro Reptile Expo selling their little (and not so little) friends, along with all the accompaniments you might need to turn your home into a terrarium. This is the largest reptile event on the east coast, so if you love the little critters, this is the place to be.

NY Metro Reptile Expo, $10/adults, $5/Children – 845-526-4845

Sunday, September 7th from 10:00 to 4:00

Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, NY

http://events.greenwichtime.com/white_plains_ny/events/show/371420510-ny-metro-reptile-expo

Dog Cat

Looking for a more traditional pet? The Larchmont Pet Rescue in Harrison NY is sponsoring a Puppy/Dog Meet and Greet on Saturday, September 6th. Visit from 11:00 to 1:00, and find your family’s new best friend.

Larchmont Pet Rescue, 7 Harrison Ave, Harrison NY.

Saturday, September 6th from 11:00 to 1:00

http://events.greenwichtime.com/harrison_ny/events/show/371600425-puppy-dog-meet-greet

Your New College Student: Insurance Questions and Answers

by P. Andersen, 9/13/14

 

Here I sit, on the tarmac in Houston, Texas, almost to my Dallas destination. I am heading to the first game of the year for my college team, the reigning national champion Florida State Seminoles. Whenever I go see a college game, I think about those college years long long ago with a mix of yearning and wonder – such an amazing time. At this moment, I am also thinking about the insurance implications of sending that 18 year old me to college – the auto insurance and health insurance questions, primarily. I thought, as I dream of a repeat national title season, that maybe explaining what you need to know would be a good idea, since many of you are watching your kids exit for college too…

Auto Insurance:

 

Let’s start with your auto coverage. If you are sending your child to a school located over 100 miles away, and they are not bringing a car, those years of high rates with your youthful driver may well be at an end! With your son or daughter at college, your insurance will usually be based only on the drivers living full time in your household. This is not a hard and fast rule, and each carrier is different, so call us to discuss your auto policy specifically to see if this rate drop applies to your situation.

Sending your child to school with a car, or to a school within 100 miles of your home? Well, no real news here – the car and child stay on your policy, or they will have to get their own policy. This I where good grades and defensive driver classes will help save you money.

Health Insurance:

Now, about that health insurance… First and foremost, health insurance is so very important to your college bound child. When at school, they will have all the risks they face at home and then some. Being confident that he or she is covered is essential to your emotional wellbeing, and the new health insurance rules will help you with that. One of the big benefits of the new healthcare legislation is the ability to have your children covered on your health insurance policy until they are 26, and your employer may have purchased a rider that will extend that to the age of 29. This is not dependent on your child being in college, but is for any child that would otherwise be uncovered.

For your college bound child, there are often insurance plans offered to university students at a reasonable rate, and you may be able to receive financial aid to attain it. You can weigh the costs of the college plans vs. the cost of keeping your child on your policy, giving you the potential to save some money while still being secure in the safety of your son or daughter.

So, you see, there are benefits to your son or daughter heading off to school (besides turning that disaster area of a child’s bedroom into your office/gym/evil mastermind headquarters). There is potential auto insurance savings, and the peace of mind that even far from home, your son or daughter will have the benefits of health insurance coverage.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have a football game to prepare for, a tailgate to attend, and a first step to the next national title. Jerry Jones has been kind enough to offer his stadium for the noble cause.

Addendum:

Well, my team won a close game against the feisty Oklahoma State Cowboys, who apparently did not get the memo that FSU is exceptional. The trip was an amazing one, however, and Dallas proved to be a truly enjoyable city. On game day, the college students were uncountable, and my hope is that your kids can experience all the amazing things college has to offer, including the camaraderie and solidarity of a school team to root for. While doing so, may the never need the health insurance you are certain to get for them, and may this life changing time be the first step in their happy, healthy, prosperous lives.

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.