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  • Name: Beth Foster
  • Description: Beth Foster, 27, joins our team from the field of real estate and property development. Originally from the east coast and now living in Florida, she is familiar with the overlap in homeowners insurance and specialty policies that cover extreme weather events like hurricanes and flooding. "People don't find out the gaps are there until something big happens and then, at the worst possible moment, they find out they aren't protected," said Blair. "Most folks just renew their policies every year and don't evaluate the terms. You'd be surprised how many people insure things they don't even own any more!" Contact Beth at with your homeowners and specialty insurance related questions.
  • Member Since: September 10, 2011
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Social Networkers Beware, Your Premiums Could be Headed Up

If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, using services like Foursquare — checking in here, checking in there — beware. You may be elevating your homeowners insurance premiums because you are engaging in a risky behavior. Yup. Social networking is firmly on insurers’ radar screens and they are not smiling or clicking the “like” button.

A British firm, AA Home Insurance, did a survey and turned up some startling numbers:

– 43 percent of those who responded said they check into social networking sites with their location.

– 10 percent admit they disclose their travel plans online; 8 percent say someone else in the house yaks about future trips.

– 14 percent of woman and 7 percent of males divulge their travel plans.

Hello! Why don’t you just invite the burglars in and serve them tea? The trend in the industry is toward asking about social networking participation. Higher rates may well be in store for customers who use location-based services and especially for those who are robbed and admit in the aftermath that they told everyone on Facebook they were headed out of town for a week.

If you are on social networking services, don’t put your mobile phone and home address in your profile and never “check in” at home. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know and lock your security down to “friends only.” This is a security issue that homeowners are not going to be able to contest. If you tell people you’re not home, you are engaging in a high risk behavior, and insurers are in the business of assessing risk. Bottom line. Don’t do it and make sure your kids aren’t doing it.

HHS Re-Rates Popular Private Insurance Plans Available Through Medicare

Every day for the next decade and more at least one Baby Boomer will turn 65. That means their children and grandchildren will slowly learn about the challenging role of helping Mom and Dad in some level of caregiving. Managing medical expenses and sorting out what Medicare will cover and where private insurance is needed to fill the gap is one of the most challenging aspects of that role reversal.

Social Security has already denied millions of elderly Americans their cost of living increases for three years running, placing an added burden on this already financially strapped segment of the American population. These same people are the ones who saw their life savings evaporate during the recession and are now living a more limited retirement than they ever envisioned.

While GOP critics have said it is nothing but a political ploy to curry favor for the Democrats before the 2012 election, the Department of Health and Human Services has re-rated hundreds of popular private insurance plans offered through Medicare, which infuses $6.7 billion into the system to head off service cuts to older Americans under health care reform.

Political or not, the move is a huge help to the elderly. The enrollment period for Medicare-backed plans starts in December each year and consumers can also switch plans at that time. Make a note to review what rate you’re receiving at what level of coverage at the end of the year. You might be able to do better with one of these programs now rated for a quality bonus.

The move also shows that health care is still front and center in the American political debate. If a Republican is elected in 2012, the whole picture could change. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to know exactly what’s going on with your health insurance and to be prepared to make a cost-saving switch if necessary.

Wine with your insurance?

My suspicion is that most people reading this blog don’t have wine cellars, but an article from Reuters about insuring vino did catch my eye. I have friends who have been bitten by the grape bug and increasingly consider themselves collectors. I don’t really understand it all, but at some point a bottle is dubbed right to be consumed and a special meal or gathering is planned, the cork removed, and much incomprehensible talk about the quality of the stuff ensues. There’s generally something about over and undertones and some mention of “bouquet.”

My friends are not in the class of collector discussed in the article, but I was stunned to read that 12 bottles of 1982 Lafite auction for $45,000 and the price for the Bordeaux was $60,000. Of course, this probably jumped out at me because I was watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow while I was poking around on the net and the appraiser had just looked at a baseball and two letters from one of the guys who signed it and said the whole “collection” was worth north of $15,000.

Yes, a baseball and two letters is a “collection.” One of the saddest stories I can relate in this genre is that of an elderly woman who had three fine pieces of jewelry. The time came in her financial life when she needed to sell the pieces and they were nowhere to be found, apparently lifted by a less than scrupulous housekeeper. The items, which were set in platinum had never been appraised, photographed or . . . and here’s the kicker . . . put on the lady’s homeowners policy. Granted, she would likely have required a rider to the existing policy to get the coverage, but she would still have had something when the stuff turned up missing.

When was the last time you did an inventory of your possessions and made sure your homeowners policy accurately reflects what you own — or do not own. Are you still paying for coverage on something that’s no longer in the house? Did you just inherit Aunt Ethel’s prized necklace? Is it worth anything? Are you sure? Returning to the analogy of my wine drinking friends. For the time that expensive bottle of wine is in their possession it is, arguably, an asset. And, if they plan to wait a year or two to drink it, and in that year the house burns down, their investment in the bottle of wine goes with it.

All of these reasons point to the necessity of an annual audit of your homeowners policy. Your life and possessions change and your coverage should change with them.

Video Friday: Who Chooses The Company That Will Restore Your Home?

Who chooses the company that will handle fire and water restoration in your home? You or your insurance company? Here’s the answer for California. Do you know the law in your state? (This guy is not scintillating by any means and he’s hawking his own services, but he asks good questions. The kind of questions you want to ask when you find yourself in this position.)

Time to Review Your Degree of Protection Against Fire

This year’s wildfire season is shaping up to be scary and very active. There have already been 97 fires in Colorado that have consumed 37,000 acres and the outbreaks in West Texas in the last week and a half scorched 103,000 acres threatening both Fort Davis and Midland while claiming 100 homes.

While it is true that fire protection is a standard clause in almost all homeowners policies, it’s a good idea to review the coverage annually and make sure it’s adequate for full replacement value. Wildfires leave nothing in their wake. It’s very much rebuilding from the ground up.

If you want additional fire coverage and live in a high risk area, be prepared to have to take some mitigation measures to qualify. This can mean anything from maintaining what’s called a “defensible space” around your home, or making improvements to the road leading into your property to ensure emergency vehicles can gain access.

At the same time that you’re reviewing the degree to which you’re covered against fire, take a look at the rest of the policy. Make sure you’re not paying to insure items you no longer own and that things you have recently acquired are included on your policy. The time to review your coverage is now, not when you see smoke on the horizon.

Read Your Homeowners Policy!

A news item out of South Carolina caught my eye this morning. Over this past weekend, a hailstorm in the area around Columbia caused about $45 million in property damage. By Monday morning, insurance companies already had some 18,000 claims in the works.

This is the first spring that I’ve actually been praying for hail because I am guilty of the most fundamental mistake any insurance customer can make. I didn’t read my policy.

I live in a townhouse community of six adjoined units. Everyone else had new roofs put on two years ago and I elected not to. Now, due to the manner in which the roofer handled the seam between the two houses, my roof, which is in need of replacement, caused a leak in the neighbor’s unit.

I cannot, however, file on my insurance until we have a significant hail or windstorm. Why? Because we have not had a major weather event within the past three months. There is, in essence, a statute of limitations on my ability to claim weather damage.

We’re in North Texas, so the hail and wind will come, I’m not concerned about that, and minor repairs have been affected in the short term, but this is a real lesson in practicing what I preach. I didn’t read the policy and when an issue came up with a neighbor — who, thankfully was understanding — this homeowners policy I’ve paid for all these years wasn’t going to help me in the slightest.

Bottom line. Your insurance is of no earthly good to you if you don’t take the time to read the terms of the policy.

Parents Delaying Their Teen Drivers Due to Insurance Costs

Having been raised by a child of the Depression, I feel safe in saying the full effects of this recession will take a long time to make themselves fully felt. One consequence, however, is that 66 percent of parents are delaying allowing their children to drive because it just costs too much. From insurance premiums to fuel, adding a driver to the family can have a huge economic impact.

According to a study by Nationwide, 40 percent of parents surveyed said if they let their teenager drive, entertainment expenses for the family would have to be cut. Thirty-eight percent said eating out would be . . .well . . . out. And 35 percent said they’d have to eliminate or cutback on vacations.

Larry Thursby, vice president of auto product and pricing at Nationwide, said, in a report for Bloomberg, “Our survey found that households with teen drivers shell out an average of nearly $3,100 each year to allow their teens to drive. After analyzing Nationwide’s four million auto policies, we found nearly a half percentage decrease in policies with teen drivers, from 5.8 in 2008 to 5.4 in 2011. While other factors are involved, the cost of having a teen driver is a major one.”

If you have a teen driver and it’s time to turn them loose, do your homework before you make the decision to say no. Innovative programs that allow parents to monitor their teen drivers can go a long way toward controlling insurance expenses as can other standard tricks like having multiple policies with one insurer. Get multiple quotes online and see if additional driver education for your teen could help reduce the premiums. You may have no choice but to say no, but there are options for cheaper auto insurance, even for teen drivers.

Oh, That Wacky World of Insurance

Just when it seems like there’s nothing new about insurance . . .

In an article by Andrew G. Simpson for Insurance Journal, “Special Report: Top 10 Innovative P/C Insurance Products,” the author looks at new product offerings in the area of property/casually coverage. Specifically, these policies involve coverage for new technologies, economic concerns, personal and family relationships, home-based businesses, and even unusual sporting events. Let’s look at some examples.

We’ve talked a lot in recent weeks about pay-as-you-drive, but how about pay-as-you-park. That’s right, Progresso has coverage based on how long a vehicle sits still. Motion is monitored by a box attached to the driver’s side front wheel. Premium discounts are calculated for every 15 minutes the vehicles is parked and surcharges added for every 15 it’s driven. (And get this, they have a pay-as-you-dock policy for boats.)

R.W. Barkley has a GreenMaker policy which offers product liability coverage for home (or garage) based businesses making cosmetics, jewelry, toys, clothing, computers, firearms, beer, musical instruments, scuba gear, motor vehicles, and motor homes — and here’s the kicker — primarily out of upcycled, recycled, organic, or natural materials.

And, in what may be a sign of the times, Hartford Stream is selling Relationship Breakdown Coverage. When lovers break up, the policy is triggered after they have been apart for three months, and pays half the cost of rings, jewelry, and other unreturned gifts as well as temporary housing costs, moving fees, damaged or lost good, and — my personal favorite — $50,000 for “reputational damage.”

Oh. Wait. You thought I was done? Dole Mutual has a Personal Equipment Breakdown Coverage for damage to the policy holder’s reputation due to erectile dysfunction. And, it includes prescription co-pay on Viagra or Cialis.

Yeah. I know. Most of us just want a better break on our homeowners insurance, but it’s still fun to read this stuff, now isn’t it?