Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Earthquakes - The Increasing Risk in California

Nature can be a cruel mistress. The wet winter we have experienced has been seen as a blessing – it has refilled the reservoirs and ended the drought that had affected over 75% of the state. But while the rain has been welcomed, it has also brought with it an increased risk of earthquakes. Californians are no strangers to quakes and accept the tremors in the ground as part of life. But the record amount of rain over the last few months may have created such a large amount of pressure in the groundwater system to be a trigger for major disasters.

Frightening Research

A recent study by Durham University says that “"earthquakes are triggered by a tiny additional increment of stress added to a fault already loaded almost to breaking point.” Itgoes on to say that hydrological changes do not need to be either large or sudden to cause changes in the water pressure at geological fault zones. It concludes that "It is thus unsurprising that extreme rainfall events might also encourage earthquakes. A number of instances of this have been flagged by scientists."

California’s History of Natural Disasters

Once again the Governor has had to ask for federal help to combat the flood conditions. That will help the state to cope with the damage. However, such help is always post facto. Help cannot be requested for a disaster that is in the future such as the increased probability of earthquakes due to the flooding. Federal and state relief programs are meant to tide over the immediate aftermath of disasters. They are not insurance against them and do not help in rebuilding lives that have been affected by them. However, as a homeowner you can get the flood and earthquake insurance you need to protect your family and your future.

Studies show that the majority of Californians are under-insured when it comes to protection from natural disasters. Your homeowner’s insurance policy may look good on paper and the coverage may seem to be adequate to protect your home, but does it cover flood and earthquakes? A major flooding incident or a massive earthquake could not just damage your home, it could destroy it along with all its contents. Recovering from that kind of loss requires a huge amount of resources. It is not just a matter of rebuilding the house and replacing everything in it. You will need a roof over your head during the months or more that it could take to move back home. Your living expenses will increase during this time. Are you sure your homeowner’s coverage will compensate you for all of this? You cannot hope that you are covered – you must be sure. The best way to do that is by contacting an insurance broker to help you review your existing coverage and supplement it with flood and earthquake insurance to give your family the protection it needs. Paying more for insurance may seem to be a needless expense but the odds of being affected by a natural disaster are not in your favor and they are getting worse. Balancing out your natural disaster protection may be less expensive than you think and an insurance professional will be able to help you find the optimum balance.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Flooding - California’s Real and Present Danger

It never rains, it pours. The rains that have hit California so hard over the last few months have caused major flooding and damage across northern parts of the state. The Governor’s office says that the cost of repairing flood damaged roads, dams and other infrastructure could be over $1 billion. Just the cost of repairing the Oroville Dam spillway could top $200 million. While all these numbers point to the magnitude of the problem, they do not include the damage and property loss that individuals and businesses have suffered.

What the State Government Says

The California Department of Water Resources says that “every year millions of Californians are at risk from flooding along thousands of miles of streams, rivers, lakes and coastline.” It goes on to say that no one can predict when flooding will occur – it could be a regular event or occurring after a gap of many years. What can be stated with certainty is that lives will be lost, homes flooded, damaged and destroyed, jobs and income lost and ecosystems damaged. Since 1950 flood disasters have been declared in every county in the state at least 10 times. Some counties have had up to 29 state and federal disaster declarations.

The Low Flood Risk Myth

Living in a low flood risk zone can instill a false sense of confidence about the why you do not need flood insurance. Low risk does not mean no risk. Those living outside high risk zones file over 20% of National Flood Insurance Program (NIFP) claims and receive one third of flooding disaster assistance. Bad drainage, heavy rain, snowmelt, and even something as basic as a broken water main, can cause flooding and severe damage. If you live on a hillside you may not be at risk of water damage, but a mudslide (covered by most flood insurance policies) could damage or destroy your home. The bottom line is that no one is completely safe from the risk of flooding. Being at low risk means only that the chances of being affected by flooding is lower. Are you willing to take a chance with your home and your family’s security?

Taking action to protect your home and family from the effects of a flood is not something to be ignored. You may think your homeowner’s insurance policy will help you to recover from a flooding event. But generally speaking, a standard home insurance policy will not cover flood damage and loss. And even if some protection is available, it may not be enough to help your family get back on their feet after the kind of major property and financial loss that a flood can cause. Flood insurance usually requires a separate policy and navigating through the often confusing world of insurance can lead to mistakes that you may only realize when the time comes to file a claim. That is why calling in on an insurance agent to check to see if you have the flood protection you need is the safest way to keep your home and family secure.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Flood Insurance - What You Need To Know

If you have been through a major flood, you know the kind of damage and property loss it can cause. If you haven’t experienced it, it is difficult to image what it is like.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created in 1968 as a means for property owners to protect themselves financially in the event of flood damage. Flood insurance is offered to homeowners, renters and businesses in communities that participate in the program. According to the NFIP flood is the number one natural disaster in the U.S. From 2011 to 2015, the average flood claim was over $46,000. From 2006 to 2015, flood damage insurance claims exceeded $1.9 billion per year. Major changes to the program will come into effect from 1st April this year as continuing with the program with the current subsidized rates is no longer viable, and it is important that homeowners know about them so they can plan for the future.

NFIP Changes

Flood insurance premiums will increase. On an average, this will be about 6.3%. This increase does not include the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIAA) surcharge or the Federal Policy Fee (FPF). If the HFIAA surcharge and FPF are taken into account, the total impact on the policy holder will be around 5.4%. There will be no changes to the:


  • Deductible Factors
  • Federal Policy Fee
  • Reserve Fund Assessment
  • HFIAA Surcharge
  • Probation Surcharge
  • Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) Premiums
  • Tentative & Provisional Rates
  • Mortgage Portfolio Protection Program (MPPP)

The annual premium rate increase is normally limited to 15% but in some cases it may go up to 18%. Additionally, the premiums for following Pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map (Pre-FIRM) subsidized policies will be increased by 25% per year until the rate is at full risk levels:

  • Non-primary residential properties
  • Business properties
  • Severe Repetitive Loss (SRL) properties, which includes cumulatively damage
  • properties
  • Substantially improved properties

In the case of Pre-FIRM Subsidized Policies the following increases will be effective:

  • Primary residences – premiums will increase on average by 5%
  • Non-primary residences – premiums will increase on average by 24%
  • Policies subject to 25% annual increases – premiums will increase on average by 23%
  • All other Pre-FIRM subsidized risks not covered in the first three bullets (primarily

Condominium and multi-family policies) – premiums will increase on average by 8%

How Are You Affected?

The changes that will come into effect are complex and technical. Most home and business owners will have difficulty in understanding the effect these will have on them. Now is the time to contact your insurance broker to know how the changes will affect you and how much you will pay for flood insurance. If you do not have flood coverage, an insurance professional will be able to help you find the policy you need at the cost that is right for you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Earthquake Insurance is Cheaper than You Think

In 2015 the United States Geological Survey released its Uniform Earthquake Rupture Forecast which says that there is a 93% chance that California will be hit by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the next 30 years. That is almost double the size of the Northridge quake. Quakes are a clear and present danger for everyone living in the state. Northridge caused about $40 billion is property damage and about half of that was for homes. Because of the huge payouts, not only did premiums rise, many insurance companies reduced the number of polices they wrote. In response to this, the state Legislature created a basic no-frills policy that insurers could offer, but the coverage left a lot to be desired. Earthquake insurance coverage stagnated.

Earthquake Insurance Coverage Is Low

Despite the danger we all face, only about 10% of California homes have earthquake insurance. There are 2 main reasons for this. The first is that the rates for this coverage were high and many homeowners thought that they couldn’t afford it, in spite of knowing the risks they ran. The other reason is that many presumed that if a quake hit them, federal and state aid would help them recover. That is a major misconception. The aid is meant only to help families survive in the aftermath of a quake, not to repair the damage and rebuild their homes. As for the cost of the coverage, it is less expensive than you think.

New Coverage Options

The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is a publicly managed organization that provides earthquake insurance through a number of leading insurance companies. Today, the CEA provides around 75% of all earthquake policies sold in California. The Authority’s CEO says that a new research has allowed the risk to be recalibrated and that rates have come down by almost 50%. The large amount of options available enables homeowners to tailor their earthquake insurance options to match their needs and their budgets. For example, the deductible can now be set at anywhere from 5% to 25%, instead of the old range of 10% to 15%.  Coverage for property inside the home can now range from zero to $200,000 instead of the old limit of $5,000. And when a home is uninhabitable after a quake, the loss of use coverage can be between 0 to $100,000.

Today, a home with slab foundation and frame construction can get a basic CEA coverage for just $804 per year.

Get the Coverage that is Right for You

If you do not have earthquake insurance, now is the time to get the coverage you need. And if you do have a policy, this is when you can relook to see if it offers you the protection you need and if not, get additional coverage without emptying your bank account. Earthquake insurance is a complex subject and balancing coverage, deductibles and premiums requires expert knowledge. Contact an insurance broker to know where you stand and what additional coverage is available to you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Different Types of Homeowner’s Insurance

There is no one-size-fits-all homeowner’s insurance. Each insurance company has its own coverage types and limitations. When purchasing a homeowners insurance policy, spend time looking at all the options available and also discuss the matter with your insurance broker. He will be able to help you find the right coverage at the right cost. Taking out coverage you don’t need is a waste of money, but not having the protection you require could be disastrous. The following outlines are intended to help you understand the basic homeowner’s insurance types that are available.

Policy Types

  • HO-1: Limited coverage Policy – This is a very basic policy that provides coverage against only a few specific types of disaster. It is no longer available in many states.
  • HO-2: Basic Policy – This is an expanded version of HO-1 that offers protection against a slightly larger range of disasters. There is a version of this available that has been created specifically for mobile homes.
  • HO-3: General Coverage Policy – This is the most common and popular type of policy. It offers protection against all types of risks, excepting those that have been specifically excluded in the policy document.
  • HO-8: Old Home Policy – This policy, designed for older homes provides for compensation for damage on an actual cash basis. This equates to replacement cost less depreciation. In some cases, if the home is very old, full replacement cost coverage may not be available.
  • HO-4: Renter’s Policy – As the names says, this policy is for those who stay in rented homes. It offers protection for all the renter’s possession and any fixtures or fittings, such as new kitchen cabinets, that the renter may have installed at his own cost.
  • HO-6: Condo / Co-Op Policy– This policy provides condo and co-op owners coverage for their belongings in the condo or co-op and also for any parts of the structure that they may own.

Options

The following options are normally available for all types of homeowner’s insurance.

  • Actual Cash Value: This covers the replacement of a home and/or possession with  deduction for depreciation
  • Replacement Cost: This covers the actual cost of replacing a home and/or possession. There is no deduction for depreciation.
  • Guaranteed / Extended Replacement Cost: This is the most comprehensive type of coverage with the greatest protection. Under this option, the policy will cover the full cost of replacing a home to what it was before the loss, irrespective of the actual cost. This means the homeowner is covered even if the replacement cost is greater than the policy limit. This option will normally not cover the cost of upgrading the home to comply with current building codes. However, it is often possible to get an endorsement that will also cover these costs. In some cases, an insurance company may offer an extended replacement coverage instead of a guaranteed one. This will cover replacement cost to a fixed percentage over the policy limit.

If you are planning on purchasing a homeowner’s insurance or want to check if your existing coverage is right for you, consult an insurance professional. He will be able to guide you through the different policy types and options to find the coverage that is right for you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Scam Artists Collect Where Disaster Strikes

A disaster can destroy homes and damage lives and futures. That is bad enough, but what could be even worse are the swarms of scam artists, who arrive on the scene of the disaster, eager to rip off those they can get their hooks into. It is the hurt and vulnerable who are the best victims. Fly-by-night contractors and door-to-door scammers descend like flies when they find innocent people whose misfortunes they can benefit from.

No matter how well prepared you are, a disaster can leave you confused and you could probably be confronted by problems, you never thought of. That is when you are most vulnerable. Staying organized and following procedures will help to keep you safe.

What You Should Do

  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Since there may be many people in the same situation as you, getting through may be difficult. Keep trying.  When you do make contact, state your situation clearly. Have all your policy information at hand. Ask questions to get clarity on any points you do not understand. Maintain a log of all the people you talk to,along with dates, times, and a summary of what was discussed.
  • Make sure all your emails to and from the insurance company are properly sorted and filed safely.
  • Follow the instructions you receive from the insurance company. The procedures can often appear to be a waste of time and frustrating, but insurers have mandatory procedures they must follow and that requirement devolves on their policy holders. By doing exactly what is asked of you, you can avoid a lot of delays and hassles.
  • Document everything. Take pictures of the damage that has occurred. File receipts and records of all the payments you have made after the disaster struck.
  • Once the insurance company accepts your claim, do not relax. It is when you have your guard down that scam artists will strike. Do not be in a rush to get repairs done. Returning to normality fast is tempting, but you need to be sure who you are entrusting the repairs to. In the conditions after a disaster, going online to check out contractors and verify references may be difficult. Do what you can. One thing that is essential, is to contact the Contractors State License Board in your area. You can phone the board at 800-321-2752 or go to the website at www.cslb.ca.gov to check a contractor’s license.
  • Try to avoid dealing with middlemen. Going to an attorney or hiring a public adjuster should be a last resort. Your insurance company will provide you with an adjuster at no charge to you. Work directly with your insurance company – that prevents miscommunications and needless aggravation. Ask you insurance brokers for assistance if you need it.
  • Do not start any repairs until the adjuster has given a go ahead.

Being Prepared Is Best

Planning for the worst is not being negative – it is a positive act that will help you to overcome the challenges that arise after a disaster. Remember that your insurance broker is there to provide you with the help you need on insurance related issues. Contact him to get a detailed checklist of what you should do if disaster strikes. And if it does happen, he is there to help you.