Buying a new home? Add your insurance agent and an inspector to your advisory team

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Thinking about buying a new home this spring? Do your homework now because home buying is likely to be the single biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ll probably work with a professional realtor and a mortgage lender. You should also add a private home inspector to your advisory team – we make the case with some rather alarming “what can go wrong” video clips below. And here’s another professional that you might not think to add to your team but that you should: your independent insurance agent.

The Hanover offers a great post on five ways your insurance agent can help in the home-buying process. Insurance agents are local experts who know the neighborhoods, school systems and community safety. As you narrow down choices, they can give you insurance cost estimates. Hanover notes that “the neighborhood, the size of the home, the presence of a pool or trampoline, and the distance from a fire hydrant and fire station are just a few of the things that can impact your home insurance premium.” We’d add checking to see if your home is in a flood zone.

Once you pick out the home you want, The Hanover says there is another important role your agent can play:

Insurance claims filed by previous owners can impact your home insurance premiums. Your independent insurance agent should be able to access this information using the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). If several claims have been made on the property, insurance carriers may be concerned that the house may have long-term problems, resulting in higher premiums. It is particularly important to pay attention to water damage claims that have been filed.

Whether you’re contemplating new home construction or buying an older home, hiring a private inspector can help you avoid winding up with a lemon. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed and credentialed.

An inspection usually occurs after you’ve made an offer on a home but prior to the close. An inspector will provide a report that will allow you to identify any problems and make remedial requests of the seller. You can also share the report with your agent to highlight any red flags.

Hiring an inspector isn’t a step you should skip. Sometimes, buyers who are looking at newly constructed homes have the misconception that because the home is new, they don’t need to hire an inspector before buying. That can be a big mistake learned the hard way.

The clips below make this case. They were compiled by Reuben Saltzman, who has a blog called The Home Inspector in the (Minnesota) Star Tribune. Saltzman has an annual tradition of compiling his top 20 funny/scary inspection photos, along with video compilations. We’ve included clips for this year and last, but you can find more of his annual top 20 inspection pics at this company website and also on his Facebook page. His pics and videos are amusing – but they are also an insurance agent’s nightmare, graphically illustrating problems that run the gamut: roofs, cellars, decks, plumbing, attic leaks, deck issues, water management and more. Chances are your own home walk through would spot many of these blatant problems – it’s what you don’t see but that a trained inspector would that could trip you up!

 

 

 

 

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Home & yard safety: Deterring coyotes

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Over the last day or two, headlines are filled with the story of a New Hampshire hero Dad who killed a coyote with his bare hands after it attacked his 2-year old son. There had been reports of coyote attacks in the area for a few days. Authorities caught and killed the animal and testing showed that it had rabies. This is a frightening story, but the Humane Society reports that thankfully, coyote attacks on humans are relatively rare.

Coyotes live in every US state except Hawaii. They are very adaptable to almost any environment – including cities and suburbs. They are scavengers that will eat just about anything. Right now, we are in peak breeding season, which generally runs from January to March.

One of the problems with living close to humans is that coyotes start to lose their fear of people. Instead of hiding, they can become bolder. Many pet owners have heartbreaking stories about having small pets grabbed from their yard by a coyote – or even snatched  right off a leash in front of a horrified pet owner. While coyotes tend to be nocturnal, they can also roam around during the day. They are often spotted at daylight and dusk.

The Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services offer steps you can take to reduce the chance of human-coyote conflicts:

  • Do not feed coyotes!
  • Eliminate sources of water, particularly in dry climates.
  • Bird feeders should be positioned so that coyotes cannot get feed.
  • Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it.
  • Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors.
  • Feed pets indoors whenever possible. Pick up any leftovers and store pet and livestock feed where it is inaccessible to wildlife.
  • Trim and clean, near ground level, any shrubbery that provides hiding cover for coyotes or prey
  • Fencing your yard could deter coyotes. The fence should be at least 6 feet high with the bottom extending at least 6 inches below ground level for best results.
  • Don’t leave small children unattended outside if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
  • Don’t allow pets to run free. Keep them safely confined and provide secure nighttime housing for them. Walk your dog on a leash and accompany your pet outside, especially at night.
  • Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area. If you start seeing coyotes around your home or property, chase them away by shouting, making loud noises, or throwing rocks.

This last tip is commonly referred to as “coyote hazing”. The Humane Society has great resources on this topic – see Coyote hazing: Guidelines for discouraging neighborhood coyotes that focus on steps to change coyote behavior. Hazing is method that makes use of deterrents to move an animal out of an area or discourage an undesirable behavior or activity. Hazing can help maintain a coyote’s fear of humans and deter them from backyards and play spaces. The article suggests dog-walking tools and ways to keep them out of your yard.

Prior wildlife posts:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Do you fly in the U.S.? You might need REAL ID by October 1, 2020

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Do you fly on commercial airplanes for work or for pleasure in the U.S.? Do you regularly visit military bases or secure federal facilities? If so, this is the year you will need to have either a REAL ID-compliant license or a valid US passport to take commercial flights within the US or gain access to secure federal facilities. The law goes into effect on October 1, 2020 so there is still plenty of time to assess whether this is something you need or not and, if so, time to get the required documents.

Here’s the scoop. After 9/11, federal legislators and security officials established consistent, minimum security standards that would be enforced in all states and territories. Beginning on October 1 of this year, federal agencies, including DHS and TSA, will only accept compliant documentation at TSA airport security checkpoints and some federal facilities, such as military bases and nuclear power plants. The most common forms of documents are REAL ID-compliant licenses or US passports or passport cards. A handful of states (Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, New York and Washington) issue enhanced driver’s licenses, which are also acceptable.

You do NOT need a REAL ID if:

  • you have a valid U.S. passport or passport card
  • you don’t use commercial airplanes to travel domestically
  • you don’t visit military bases
  • you don’t visit secure federal facilities
  • you are under 18 years of age

You can use a passport if you have one, but you have to remember to bring it with you in instances where it wasn’t required previously.

What is a Real ID and how do you get one?

It’s possible that if you renewed your license in recent years, you have a Real ID-compliant license because states have been phasing them in. Homeland Security says that “REAL ID-compliant cards will have of one of the following markings on the upper top portion of the card. If the card does not have one of these markings, it is not REAL ID-compliant and won’t be accepted as proof of identity in order to board commercial aircraft.”

REAL ID symbols

And here is a sample of a Massachusetts REAL ID-compliant license vs a noncompliant one. The designation in the upper right-hand corner varies by state.

Massachusetts REAl-ID compliant license sample

Homeland Security has many resources to learn more, including

You can also check with your state’s registry of motor vehicles to see if your license is REAL ID compliant. Here are links to REAL ID info for state RMVs in the New England region

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Quick best practice tip for your 2020 financial and legal documents

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

It’s a new year – time to get in the habit of changing the year that you use when you write a quick check or date documents. But there’s another habit you should alter this year, according to police and other crime experts: write out the full year of 2020 in your handwritten dated documents, not just the abbreviated ’20. Failing to write the full year of 2020 might open you to costly fraud.

While it’s common to date documents in this format – 1/7/20 – the unique nature of this year’s date makes it too easy for a fraudster to change the year by simply adding more digits on the end. So your check or contract dated 1/7/20 could easily be altered to backdate it to 1/7/2019 or date it into the future as 1/7/2021.

Elizabeth Whitman of Whitman Legal Solutions talks about this in her article Will Abbreviating 2020 on Legal Documents Make You Vulnerable to Fraud?

She talks about why someone might do this, using an example of vintage violins with label changes that made the instruments older and consequently more valuable than they were. While labeling fraud on vintage musical instruments may not be something you have to worry about, she offers examples of why it might be worth your attention:

“Those who warn against abbreviating 2020 theorize that a scammer could backdate a document, such as a promissory note, to 2019. After that, the scammer could try to collect an extra year’s interest on the loan.

Commentators express similar concerns about postdating–that someone could change the date to try to cash a stale check. Or, they could try to force performance of an expired contract by make it appear that the contract was signed later than it was.”

Some say this fear might be overblown, that in prior years scammers might have altered dates on any two-digit year — but that just reinforces the importance of using a 4-digit year on written legal and financial documents – why take the risk? Whitman notes that while a consumer may be able to ultimately prove the fraud, that might entail an expenditure of time and money. Whitman says that although the risk of using an abbreviated date might be minimal, “it also doesn’t hurt to use the full year in a document signed in 2020–or in any other year.”

Her article also offers an handy list of document signature best practices, such as using a digital signature when possible, signing in blue ink, maintaining time-stamped paper copies and using dated cover letters – read more about these suggestions in her post.

Forged, altered or fake paperwork is a real thing – see our prior post on title washing scams that occur in used car purchases – a crime that costs $30 billion a year! Thieves and scammers are very creative in separating you from your money – a small step like using a 4-digit year in financial and legal documents that would make their job harder seems worth it.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Favorite blog posts for 2019 and all-time

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Here are the Top 10 Blog Posts that were reader favorites in 2019

1. Never plug a space heater into a power strip

2. New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020

3. Update your life insurance beneficiaries!

4. Keyless car owner alert: Carbon monoxide poisonings

5. Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing

6. Home burglars reveal the tricks of the trade

7. Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling

8. What’s most likely to kill you? Check out your odds for National Safety Month

9. Thinking of a side hustle? Check with your insurance agent

10. Get rid of that junk: where and how to recycle your stuff

Top 20 All-time Favorite Blog Posts

1. Does homeowners insurance cover a flooded basement?
2. Do I Need Condo Insurance?
3. What are the odds? Mortality calculators
4. Car thieves have new tricks: VIN cloning
5. What to do if you have a car breakdown while on the road
6. Does your new car have a spare tire? Don’t count on it!
7. Does my car insurance cover me when I rent a car?
8. New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020
9. Drunk Driving Simulator shows effects of impaired driving
10. Puffback: Avoid This Homeowners’ Nightmare
11. Totaled: Upside-down car loans and when Gap Insurance could be a good idea
12. Is Your Home’s Vinyl Siding Melting?
13. Behind the wheel: when being too polite is dangerous
14. Drowning doesn’t look like what we see in the movies
15. MA commercial truckers take note: New requirement to carry US DOT number in September
16. Preventing frozen pipes: tips from the experts
17. Ten dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance
18. Life events that should trigger a call to your insurance agent
19. Water in the basement: What does insurance cover?
20. Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Follow the incredible one-night journey of Santa Claus

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Do you ever wonder how Santa Claus manages to deliver all those gifts to all those kids in just one night?  This short video breaks down the annual global trip by the big guy in the red suit the way that an actuary might see things – using math, numbers and science.

We’re all for math and science, but there’s also the magic factor to help explain this amazing feat. We think the folks at NORAD see things our way. They’ve been tracking Santa’s Christmas eve flight and reporting on his whereabouts since 1958. They deploy the latest technologies to track Santa, including radar, satellites, SantaCams and jet fighters. They are aided by Rudolf’s bright red nose, detectable by their infrared sensors. You can track him online at the NORAD Santa tracker or you can download a mobile app to track his journey on your phone.

Here’s the countdown calendar – it’s getting close …

And once his journey starts, you can follow it below.

Homeowners & Santa Claus

Meanwhile, as a host, we hope that you are properly covered to entertain a V.I.P. like Santa in your home. What if your dog bites Santa or he gets stuck in your chimney – are you covered against these or any other mishaps while he’s on your property? If you have homeowners insurance or rental insurance, the personal liability and medical payments portions should cover you, but you may want to check your coverage limits and deductibles.

If you plan to leave any sweets out for the big guy, Mrs Claus issues this plaintive plea: Please skip the cookies – Santa has a weight problem. Consider leaving a healthier snack. If you decide to leave cookies out anyway, you may want to get Santa to sign Christmas Cookie Liability and Indemnification Agreement. And something that should go without saying – don’t leave any wine or brandy out – you don’t want to be liable if a tipsy Santa leaves your house and has a DUI accident!

Whatever holiday you celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or something else, we wish you the joys of the season. We’ll see you in 2020!

zmimztion of Santa riding a Christmas tree rocket

 

*Source of the Santa animation

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Doctors issue alerts about snowblower safety

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In the first New England snowstorm of the year a few weeks back, doctors raised the alarm about a spate of snowblower-related injuries they were seeing in local hospitals. It happens every year … the US Consumer Products Safety Commission says that more than 5,000 people visit emergency rooms each year with snow blower injuries. Most injuries involve the hands, ranging from cuts and lacerations to amputations. Experts say that with precautions, most snowblower injuries are preventable. And surprisingly, victims are not just first-time users – experience with the equipment doesn’t appear to be factor, injuries occur to highly experienced users, too. Dr. Shapiro of the Cleveland Clinic says:

Most times, injuries happen when people let their guard down. So even if a person has been using a snow blower for years, Dr. Shapiro says it’s important to follow the rules every single time to avoid a devastating injury.

“It’s very important to follow the rules — they’re there for a reason and they do make a difference,” he says. “It’s not typically the novice snow blower user who gets injured. It’s the person who’s been using it for five or 10 years, has considerable experience with it and may think that he or she can get away with something that they didn’t think they could get away with when they first got the machine.”

The frequency of injuries often is related to the depth and type of snow. Higher temperatures and wet snow were frequent factors. In an article in Boston.com – Doctors tell you how to avoid the emergency room this winter – Dr. Robert Partridge of Emerson Hospital says:

“When the snow is thick and has a heavy water content, it can jam the snow blower,” Partridge said. “Many people don’t realize that even after you turn the snow blower off, there’s some torque that remains in the impeller. If it’s off and you reach in and unblock it, it still has one last rotation to go.”

He adds:

“Manufacturers will tell you never to put your hand in a snow blower, even when it’s off,” Partridge said. “If there’s a blockage, people should shut the machine off and use a wooden stick to clear it. Some snow blowers even come with a stick for that purpose.”

He also offers the following advice:

“People shouldn’t wear scarves or other loose clothing when operating a snow blower,” he said. “Make sure young children are well out of the way. Make sure the walks and driveway are clear of newspapers and stones or anything else that can get caught in the snow blower. And never let a child operate a snow blower.”

The article also discusses other common snow blower-relate injuries, including shoveling injuries and hypothermia.

Consumer Reports offers a good list of commonsense tips for safer snow blowing

  • Never wear loose pants, jackets, or scarves, which can get tangled in a snow blower’s moving parts and pull you in with them.
  • Wear earplugs or other hearing protection, especially with a gas-powered model, which typically runs above the 85 decibels at which hearing damage can occur.
  • Before the snow gets too deep, remove doormats, sleds, boards, wires, newspapers, and anything else from the area you’ll clear to avoid clogs and damage to the machine.
  • Don’t let children operate a snow blower. And keep people and pets far away from the vicinity of where you’re clearing.
  • Protect yourself from carbon-monoxide poisoning by starting and running a gas-powered snow blower outside, never in a garage, shed, or other enclosed area—-even if the door is open.
  • For an electric model, use an outdoor extension cord rated for your model, connected to an outlet with ground-fault-circuit-interrupting (GFCI) protection. Then be sure to keep the cord safely away from the spinning auger while working.
  • Turn off the engine of a gas snow blower or unplug the cord of an electric model before clearing a clog at the auger or discharge chute. And use a clearing tool or a broom handle to clear the clog—never your hands or feet, even if you’re wearing gloves: A stationary auger and impeller are often under enough belt tension to harm hands and feet, even with the engine or electric motor off.
  • Wait until a gas model’s engine is cool before refueling to avoid igniting the gasoline.

See more tips on snowblower safety and snowblower maintenance:
Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Snowbirds: Tips for winterizing your home while away

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Will you be making a seasonal move south to weather out the harsh winter months in a more favorable climate? Whether you’ll be gone for a few days or a few months, if you are traveling over the winter, there are some home maintenance tasks you should tend to so that you don’t come home to unpleasant surprises.

No one knows better than an insurance company what the common winter home hazards and problems can be – after all, they deal with the claims damage every year. This excellent infographic is courtesy of Travelers, one of our Renaissance Alliance insurance partners. It offers a good checklist to help you secure your home for an extended winter absence. While some of the tasks are suitable to prep for a long-term absence, others are handy for shorter travel periods, too, such as a week over the holidays or a midwinter vacation.

Click for a larger version.

infographic with tips about how to winterize your home for extended travel

Related posts:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Holiday fraud: How to avoid seasonal scammers

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

If it’s December, it’s prime holiday fraud season!

Because it’s the busiest season of the year, scammers work double time to try to maximize their take. And as many times as we’ve issued warnings, thieves are very creative about thinking up sneaky new ways to separate you from your money. The Better Business Bureau is on the case. Here are some of the top scams they see around the holidays.

Delivery scams and package thefts this holiday season – While just plain old theft of shipped packages from your doorstep or workplace is common, there are a few other things to watch out for. BBB says that phishing emails pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you with a number to call. Or they affix fake “missed delivery” tags on your door, asking you to call a phone number to reschedule your delivery – all are just ruses to get your personal information.

Social media ad scams – Last year, the BBB found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims, many involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Watch out for products claiming to support charity, free trial offers, counterfeit merchandise and apps of unknown origin. Social media is also a hub for illegal gift exchange pyramid schemes. BBB says these pop up every year with new twists. When an offer seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Is that Santa App safe? Better check it twice. BBB says that the Apple and Google app stores list tons of holiday-themed apps: children can video chat live with Santa himself, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, relay electronic Christmas wish-lists, or play Hanukkah games like dreidel. But many of these are invasive and may violate children’s privacy laws in the information they collect. For more, see our post on protecting your kids from ID theft.

Don’t get scammed out of a gift card this season – the BBB says “Before grabbing a gift card for a favorite store or restaurant, know that thieves are just as eager to use these gift cards before they’re presented to the intended recipient. Also, some retailers have terms and conditions as to how the gift card can be redeemed.” See our post about new consumer protections for prepaid debit cards.

Tips for avoiding job scams this holiday season – Many of us are looking for extra money over the holidays and a part-time seasonal job is a common way to earn that cash. But it’s also a time when scammers exploit that desire. BBB reminds you that legit employers will never ask for payment upfront for a job. They say to be wary of big money for small jobs and job offers that don’t require an interview.

8 Tips for dealing with holiday pop-up shops – BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about temporary retail locations, reporting everything from poor quality merchandise to difficulty obtaining refunds after temporary stores have closed their doors. Pop-up shops can be fun but follow BBB’s tips in mind if you choose to buy from one of them.

See more holiday safety tips from the BBB and use their Scam Tracker to identify common scams near you.

Here are prior posts about more common holiday fraud schemes:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.