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.

 

 

 

Coverage of the Week: Valuable Articles

8/4/14

By: Alan Mani

 

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…Valuable Articles Insurance. There are several insurance policies you can purchase to protect your valuables. I asked one of our Personal Lines Executives to help me gather as much information as I could. Hopefully the information below will benefit you.

First things first. Let’s address the myth that your jewelry, silvers, and collectibles are covered in your homeowner’s policy. There is a bit of truth to this myth because there are some basic protections for your valuable possessions, but the homeowners form has a cap.  Generally, you will be limited to $2,500 to $5,000 for covered losses, and claims are subject to your deductible. This is where Valuable Articles Insurance comes into play.

So what is Valuable Articles Insurance? Basically, it’s when you “schedule” certain items such as jewelry, art, furs, silverware, stamps & coins, musical instruments, guns, cameras and collectibles. There is no deductible for this insurance, and exclusions that apply to your general contents will not apply under the valuable articles coverage. For example, your valuables would be covered for flood, dampness, loss by animals, earthquake, and mysterious disappearance – all generally excluded by your homeowner’s policy.

You have two options when you want to insure your valuables. Individually itemizing the valuables (scheduling) or placing them under a blanket. When you itemize your valuables, you are placing a specific value on each item and insuring it for that amount. For items of high value such as fine arts, gold, and silverware you need to get them reappraised every 3 to 4 years so that they can be insured to the correct amount since these items increase in value. When you place items under a blanket, you take your smaller valuable items and insure them for their total replacement costs. There is a limit to how much an individual item is awarded; typically it’s $10,000 per item.

Finally, you have the option of insuring items kept in a bank vault. The rates are much lower for these items, but any vault-stored item can be taken out no more than 3 times a year.

It may be time to make a list of all of your valuables and sit down with your insurance professional to discuss the value of each item, how much coverage you have for those items under your present homeowner’s policy and if that is sufficient, and if a Valuable Articles policy is the best way to protect those items in case of loss.

What’s Happening In Our Region?

8/1/14

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.

This Week In The Region:

Waking up in Chappaqua, looking for something to do Saturday morning?  At 10:, come join Zumba Fitness with Peggy. It’s an exercise in disguise! Who said exercising had to be boring. Call Peggy and tell her you’re ready to dance the calories away.

If you are in NYC on Saturday, stop by The Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene. Come and see what all these vendors have made and what delicious food is available.

Not exactly sure what you want to do this weekend. See what interests you with a visit to TimeOut New York or if you’re in Connecticut, checkout the Greenwich Time for more to do in southern Connecticut and Westchester.

Storm Preparation 101!

by Peter Andersen

 

There was a time when the idea of a hurricane in the tri-state area was not taken seriously. “A hurricane? In New York? Nope, not going to happen”. Until a few years ago, we were all pretty sure that any hurricane that ran up the east coast would weaken, reduce to a fraction of its former self, and become a glorified late summer storm. Sandy set us straight, though, didn’t she? A perfect combination of weather events allowed for a devastating landfall, as high tides rolled across Manhattan, trees tore down power lines across the region, historic covered bridges were washed away across Vermont, and much of the region went dark.

What did we learn? Hopefully, we learned enough to be better prepared the next time. We learned not to assume. We learned that even unexpected things happen at unexpected times (A hurricane in OCTOBER???). Hopefully, we also learned that we have to be smart and proactive to minimize the impact a storm like this can have on our lives.

From an insurance perspective, there are quite a few things you can do in preparation. Be sure your home is properly insured, your auto has comprehensive coverage (a co-worker here at Levitt-Fuirst had her car flattened by a tree during Sandy), and that you have documented your valuable articles in case there is damage to your home and its contents. Flood insurance was a key coverage for many during Sandy, if you haven’t already, give yourself a flood primer in our piece from July 21st.

Outside of the house, there is much you should do as well. Another of our posts mentioned keeping your trees trimmed for the summer, but this is really a 4 season rule. In the summer, we have regular heavy storms and occasional named storms that come through, and ice storms, snow storms and blizzards wreak havoc from October through April – it isn’t easy being a tree! Keep them pruned and healthy to minimize the damage they can cause to power lines, roofs, and other structures on your property. Also, be sure to clear your lawn of anything that could be blown by the wind – these can be dangerous projectiles in a big wind event.

Inside the home, close your windows, turn up your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings in case of a power outage. For short term emergencies, you should have supplies on hand such as plenty of canned food, water, and cash. After 9-11, myself and many other New York City residents were prompted to create Emergency Kits – first aid, food, money, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets. These were important items for the horror of those days, but they also would come in handy during any storm or event that takes out your power for more than a day or two.

Do you have a plan for those occasions when the power goes out for an extended period of time? Sandy saw homes without power for weeks! In those longer term power-loss events, perhaps a generator would be a worthy investment? Make sure to locate friends or family that would welcome you should you need to relocate, and make an evacuation plan. Be sure to gas up your cars! I think we all learned that the hard way – with major storms come major gas supply problems. If a storm is on the move, gas up your cars and use them as little as possible – when you need to get out of town, that foresight might be the difference between securely arriving at your destination, and using your last fumes searching for an open and operational gas station.

For so many years, we were lulled into a false sense of security that our region was secure from large scale events, be it hurricanes, terrorism, or huge regional blackouts due to a domino effect of power station problems from Ohio to New York. The idea is not to know exactly what will come next, but rather to be as prepared as possible for ANYTHING that could come next. Simple steps and precautions can help you as you endure events that are beyond your control, protecting yourself and your family, and speeding your financial recovery in the face of damage to your home or property.

 Hurricane Preparation Links:

Coverage of the week: Antique Auto Insurance

by A. Mani and K. Vargas

 

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…Antique Cars Insurance. Your 1958 Corvette Convertible can’t be insured in the same way as your 2010 Corolla. They are different, and therefore there are different coverages and rates. Allow us to tell you all you need to know about Antique Auto Insurance.

Generally for a car to be considered a collector car the vehicle will need to be 25 + years old. Some carriers do make exceptions to their guidelines based upon a cars rarity, uniqueness, collectability and/or historical significance. The details of the vehicle will normally need to be reviewed by the insurance company’s collector car specialist to determine its eligibility.

Collector cars are relatively inexpensive to insure compared to regular auto insurance policies. One reason for this is a collector car is maintained primarily for use in car club activities, exhibitions, parades, functions of public interest, or for private collection and is used infrequently for other purposes such as a joy ride. Generally, these cars are rarely driven and minimal mileage is tacked on annually. If a client has a collector car that is driven on a daily basis to and from work etc., the collector car eligibility would be declined. Some carriers also exclude damage to a collector car caused by a driver under the age of 25 years old.

These vehicles are normally insured on an agreed value basis. Agreed value is agreed upon by the insured and the insurance company before policy issuance.  In the event of a covered total loss the insurance company guarantees to pay the value agreed upon.   Normally the comprehensive and collision deductibles are “Zero” if this coverage is selected, and full glass coverage is included (varies by company/state). Photos of the car may need to be provided, and a vehicle appraisal could also be required if a client wants a higher agreed value than what the company helps determine.

The collector car policies usually include limited coverage for spare parts, for a direct or accidental physical loss or damage to spare parts you own that are kept as replacement for components normally part of your collector vehicle. Also, newly acquired vehicle coverage is included for up to 30 days normally. So if you purchase a new collector car and forget to tell your agent, you are covered for the first 30 days and some carriers will provide up to $50,000 in coverage for this newly acquired vehicle – but talk to your agent to be sure.

Policyholders are required to have an acceptable driving record as well as at least one regular private passenger vehicle.  It’s also important to know that most of the basic auto exclusions such as wear and tear, vehicles used to carry people or property for a fee, racing or track usage, or mechanical breakdown are excluded from this type of policy.

Check out a vintage auto race in Limerock, CT and these auto’s in Greenwich, CT.

What’s Happening In Our Region?

By: Peter Andersen

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.

This Week In The Region:

 

Tonight at 7 in Pleasantville, there is a rose wine tasting event happening at Best Wine Purveyors.  Rose, the oft maligned wine style, due to the over-sweet blush wines of the 80s, is actually a perfect accompaniment to summer.  Learn more about this underappreciated wine tonight – seats are filling up fast so register now!

On Saturday, July 26th, Peekskill has its 8th Annual Music Festival from 12:00 to 10:00, with a wide range of musical styles focusing on rock and blues.  Get out and dance in the beautiful weather we have in store.

Spending time in Westport with your poorly behaved pooch?  Perhaps a hands on dog training event in Westport is for you and Fido?  On Saturday, learn real world solutions to your canine’s problem behaviors with nationally known trainers.

See what else is going on at GreenwichTime.com!  We live in an amazing area, so get out and experience some of the wonderful things available to you.

 

If I Had a Hammer……

By: Louise Rush

Pretty much everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity, if only in a “oh, those are the guys that build houses” sort of way. For a few years, starting back in 2010, we at Levitt-Fuirst would have a “team building” event in the summertime. We would close the office, and spend the day learning how to work better together through a series of lectures and games designed to challenge us to work effectively AND together to achieve a goal, plus have a pretty yummy lunch in the middle of it.. For example, everyone would line up together and have to pass a small bucket of water backwards over their head to the person behind them in order to fill up a larger bucket at the end. I learned several things from this exercise….among them that I absolutely cannot pass a small bucket of water backwards over my head without dropping 90% of it on my head, that I become progressively more useless in direct proportion to the amount of water on my head, and that some people are so competitive that they scream at you for dropping water on your head and MAYBE THEY SHOULD REALIZE THAT THIS IS A TEAM BUILDING EVENT AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING TO WORK TOGETHER AND GET OFF MY BACK!!!! Anyway…back to Habitat for Humanity. Last year, Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano, our stalwart leaders and come-uppers of ideas, decided to give back to the community where we house our offices and donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity, in lieu of our summer team building event. Some of the office was excited, some raised eyebrows, some said “No way”. I was among the excited – I was going to house the world and learn to build things and go off into the woods and construct my very own mansion made of trees that I had felled and furnish it with handcrafted pieces….well, you get the idea. I was on board!! Big time!!

So, Jim, the leader of Habitat for us, came to our office. Jim is a whirlwind….passionate about what he does, talks so fast and so frenetically that sometimes you can only stand there with your mouth open and watch him pace and talk and love what he does. Jim is a believer. And we set up the dates that we would be working on the houses, learned who we would be building for (2 families of Iraq war veterans), and learned a bit about the behind the scenes process of having a house built for you. A common misconception is that these houses are given to people. Not so – there is a fairly arduous application process, you must have a job, you must be able to pay for the house, you must be responsible with it. You have to put in a ton of hours on your own house, plus contribute hours to other Habitat builds. I highly suggest going to their website and wandering through it. You will be inspired. They are all about giving a leg up to people. Part of their mission statement reads as follows:

· Advocate for affordable housing. In response to the prophet Micah’s call to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, we promote decent, affordable housing for all, and we support the global community’s commitment to housing as a basic human right. We will advocate for just and fair housing policy to eliminate the constraints that contribute to poverty housing. And, in all of our work, we will seek to put shelter on hearts and minds in such powerful ways that poverty housing becomes socially, politically and religiously unacceptable.
· Promote dignity and hope. We believe that no one lives in dignity until everyone can live in dignity. We believe that every person has something to contribute and something to gain from creating communities in which all people have decent, affordable places to live. We believe that dignity and hope are best achieved through equitable, accountable partnerships.
· Support sustainable and transformational development. We view our work as successful when it transforms lives and promotes positive and lasting social, economic and spiritual change within a community; when it is based on mutual trust and fully shared accomplishment; and when it demonstrates responsible stewardship of all resources entrusted to us.

Although they are, at heart, a Christian organization, there is no discrimination based on religious beliefs. They want to build houses, for people that need them. That simple.

So, we arrive at the worksite on High Street in Yonkers on Day One, excited and a little uncertain what we would be doing. And we worked….oh my goodness….we worked. I tore down walls, and hauled wood and poured cement and got  dusty and dirty and it was exhausting. This is not “fun” work, this is not “let’s give the people that work in an office a small taste of building”. This is down and dirty building a house….well, in our case, on that first day it was down and dirty demolishing a house so that we could get to the building part. We are insurance people…..give us a high end home in Chappaqua, Irvington or Bedford and we can insure the heck out of it. We even know how to insure it as you are building it. We have a whole dept. dedicated to insuring businesses that construct things, and a whole dept. dedicated to insuring what is built (2 actually, commercial and personal).What we didn’t know was HOW to build it. But we learned. There are several pros on-site that work for Habitat, and anything that you want to learn how to do, they show you. Anything that you are comfortable with, you can do. Not comfortable with building? You can garden. Any and everything that you contribute to making this house habitable and a home is welcomed and appreciated and so, so satisfying. I went home that first day more exhausted and filthy than I have ever been, but with this amazing sense of accomplishment. I went back to the site and worked every chance I got. I hammered, hauled junk, climbed ladders…everything I wanted to do I was taught to do. This year, Ken and Jason again decided to make the contribution of time and money to Habitat, and those of us that went back got to put the finishing touches on the house that we had started last year. We got the meet the family that would be moving in.

It is hard to convey the rewarding sense of accomplishment that you get working on a Habitat house. It is a “giving back” like no other, because you are doing it with your hands and your sweat and blood (a bit – I tried to keep it to a minimum but it IS a construction site and I AM a klutz). I am proud to be part of a company that felt that sense of community enough to contribute in a real way – but again, from my previous blog – I still think that Ken is a dork and won’t tell him that anything he does is cool.