Dog Owner Liability

Did you know that dog bites account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims? And that half of all dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property?

When your dog bites a visitor to your home, many people’s first question is to ask whether it is covered under a home insurance policy. The answer is – it depends. Some homeowners’ policies include animal liability as standard, and others will allow you to add it by endorsement (usually for an extra premium of around $25 a year).

Another important factor is the breed of dog. If you have an animal that is deemed to be dangerous – from a fairly standard list including Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, and others – then you will usually find that your home insurance policy specifically excludes liability. Some carriers will decline to insure your home – period! – if a dangerous dog is present. Finally, even if your dog is a so-called “safe” breed, you may not be covered if it has a history of biting people.

That is why it is essential to disclose all information about animals in your home, when signing up for a new policy. And also, let your insurance agent know if you obtain a new pet, so they can assist you in understanding what coverage you need.

Tropical Storm Imelda

In the insurance world, there is a surefire way to tell when a major storm is coming – and you don’t even need to look at the weather forecast! What happens is that insurance carriers issue a moratorium on binding new business policies when a storm or hurricane is 24-48 hours away from making landfall.

Why do insurance companies do this? In the same way that health insurance carriers exclude pre-existing conditions, property insurance carriers decline to insure buildings (and sometimes cars too) if the risk of loss is suddenly increased. This is understandable – otherwise, some people would only buy insurance at the last minute, when property damage from a storm or hurricane seems inevitable.

At the time of writing, many insurance carriers are not binding coverage due to the threat from Tropical Storm Imelda, which is currently deluging coastal Texas with rainfall. Thankfully, at this point, it’s not looking like becoming a major wind event, so the chance of you having to make a homeowners insurance claim is small. Flood insurance is another matter, and we recommend that every homeowner in the greater Houston area invests in this sensible – and usually inexpensive – coverage.

Renters Insurance Myths

Renters insurance may cover more than you think! It is also one of the best value insurance policies out there …. just $150-$200 a year can buy you a LOT of liability coverage, and protection for your personal belongings as well.

Memorial Insurance Agency in Houston will be happy to provide you with a quote – call one of our agents today to discuss your requirements.

Ten Things to Look For in a Home Insurance Policy

There are many different coverage options available in a home insurance policy. Which ones do you really need, and which ones can you go without? Let Memorial Insurance guide you through the small print!

Really Need

  1. Enough Coverage: As a rule of thumb, it will cost at least $100 per square foot to rebuild your home. So, if your home is 2,000 square feet, you will need an absolute minimum of $200,000 in coverage. If your home is custom built, or uses higher-than-average-quality materials, the replacement cost will be higher.
  2. Replacement Cost: If the worst should happen, you want the insurance company to pay the full amount that it costs to rebuild your home and replace everything inside it. So the policy needs to state Replacement Cost, for the dwelling and the roof. This also applies to your Personal Property (coverage C) – otherwise you’ll get only Actual Cash Value for your belongings, which will be a lot less than the items will cost to replace.
  3. High Liability Coverage Limits: The difference in premium between $25,000 and $300,000 in liability coverage is just a handful of dollars per year, so you should go for the highest available amount to make sure you are well protected if you are found legally responsible for someone else’s medical bills or lawyer’s fees.
  4. Low Deductibles: The deductible is the amount of money you pay out of pocket before the insurance takes care of the rest. In a natural disaster-prone area such as Houston, insurance claims due to weather events are common, so it makes sense to have low deductibles. Standard in this area for good policies is a 2% deductible for wind, hail, and hurricane, and 1% for all other perils. 1%/1% is also available in many areas away from the coast.
  5. Water Coverages: These include water backup, slow seepage, and foundation coverage, and are included as standard on an HOB policy form but have to be added (“endorsed”) to other kinds of policies. They are generally inexpensive to add, but give you protection against very expensive potential losses.

Go Without

  1. “Actual Cash Value”: Some insurance carriers (including several very well known household names) depreciate your roof. In other words, you’ll receive less from the insurance company than the amount it will cost to replace your roof, and the potential payout shrinks every year as your roof ages. If your roof is 10 years old and you have an Actual Cash Value policy, you’ll receive next to nothing for your roof claim – or even nothing at all, after your deductible is taken into account. Also see above for what Actual Cash Value means for your personal property.
  2. Personal Injury Coverage: This sounds great until you realize that it does NOT mean physical injury to a person. “Personal Injury” is coverage for slander, libel, and other lawsuits that most homeowners will be very unlikely to face. In other words, with this one you’re paying extra for something you don’t need. Tricky agents love to add this to a policy because it sounds like it offers a lot of coverage.
  3. Extended Replacement Cost: If your home is insured for $200,000, and you have 25% extended replacement cost coverage, this does not mean you will receive $250,000 from the insurance if your home burns to the ground. Extended replacement cost only applies if an entire area is affected (for example by a major hurricane) and the ensuing demand drives up the cost of labor and building materials, so your home costs more to rebuild at that particular time than it normally would. Adding extended replacement cost is a devious way that agents “add coverage” without actually giving you the correct protection. If your home is going to cost $250,000 to replace, opt instead for that full amount of coverage under the “dwelling A” section of your policy.
  4. Identity Theft: This is one of a number of optional endorsements available on a home insurance policy. If you want this kind of coverage, it is best to buy a specific policy and not mix it in with the homeowners insurance. Otherwise, you might find you are having to make an identity theft claim under your home insurance which can potentially increase your premium on renewal.
  5. Wind/Hail/Hurricane Exclusion: If you live in a coastal area (Galveston, Brazoria, and some parts of Harris) and you receive a home insurance quote that looks too good to be true, then it probably is! Some companies won’t insure your home in these areas unless windstorm coverage is excluded, due to the high risk of hurricanes. So while you’ll be covered for fire, lightning, vandalism and malicious mischief, you’ll be getting zilch from your insurance if the next Category 4 takes your roof with it. Thankfully, Memorial Insurance has many options for coastal homes, including specialist companies that do include wind in high risk areas, as well as standalone windstorm policy options.

If you have any questions, give your agent at Memorial Insurance a call and we’d be happy to explain further!

Excess Flood Coverage: Do You Need It?

As the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey looms ever closer, the thoughts of many homeowners are turning to flood insurance. Floods are one of the most common and most expensive home hazards, and it pays to make sure you’re properly protected, especially in this era of ever more violent hurricanes and unpredictable rainfall patterns.

What Kind of Flood Insurance Do I Need?

While the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers suitable coverage for most homes, people with high-value properties ought to consider supplementing their NFIP policy with Excess Flood insurance. If there is potential for a flood to cause more than $250,000 of damage to the structure of your home, and $100,000 of damage to its contents (the maximum coverage limits available under the NFIP), then Excess Flood insurance is worth considering.

How Does Excess Flood Work?

In a nutshell, an Excess Flood policy kicks in once the limits of your coverage under the NFIP have been exhausted, so you typically won’t pay another deductible. You also get some attractive additional coverage options, including loss of use, which pays for you to live somewhere else if your home is rendered uninhabitable due to flood.

How Much Does It Cost?

Excess Flood is available from private insurers and is not subsidized by the NFIP, which means it costs more than an NFIP policy. Premiums vary depending on the location and construction of your home, the foundation type, and even the way your home faces! But on average, reckon on it being at least twice as expensive as the equivalent amount of NFIP coverage.

How Can I Find Out More?

Give your agent at Memorial Insurance a call on 713-461-8272, and we will be glad to answer any questions you may have, run an Excess Flood quote, or simply help you decide whether this coverage is necessary for your home.

5 Reasons to get Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured Motorist (UM) or Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage is an essential part of your auto insurance policy. Yes, it is optional and you can “reject” it in writing, but you’d be crazy to do this considering that an estimated one in five drivers in Texas may be driving around with no insurance at all, and millions more drivers have only the bare minimum of coverage.

How do UM and UIM coverages protect you? They step in to cover bodily injury and property damage if you get involved in an accident with a driver who either has no insurance, or whose insurance limits are less than the cost of the accident. Hit-and-run accidents – where the other driver flees the scene – would also be included in the UM/UIM part of your auto insurance policy.

So, why get UM/UIM? Here are 5 very good reasons:

  1. The number of uninsured motorists is increasing As insurance costs spiral ever higher, so too does the number of people willing to “chance it” and drive without insurance. This is especially true in large cities like Houston which have among the highest auto insurance premiums in the nation.
  2. The number of uninsured motorists may continue to rise Research has shown that the number of uninsured drivers is directly related to the strength of the economy. If we enter another recession, the numbers of people without insurance will increase, so you should be prepared for this well ahead of time.
  3. Minimum liability limits are too low Even if you already have UM/UIM coverage, if you have only the minimum 30/60/25 limits ($30,000 per person, $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage) you will likely have too little coverage under your policy to pay for a serious accident. Guess what happens if you run out of coverage? Yup, you are going to be paying the rest out of your own pocket, and those medical bills do not come cheap.
  4. Increasing your UM/UIM limits is not expensive It usually costs just a handful of dollars a month to upgrade from 30/60/25 to 100/300/100 or more – giving you a lot more coverage (and peace of mind) for very little additional cost.
  5. The chance of collecting money from an uninsured motorist is low Someone who is driving without insurance most likely has few assets, so pursuing a claim against them will likely to be an expensive waste of time, especially considering the legal fees involved.

The moral of the story? Speak to your agent at Memorial Insurance today to make sure the UM/UIM limits on your policy have you covered if the worst should happen!

Home Fire Safety Tips

Thank you to our friends at Lighthouse Insurance for the following essential safety advice.

“In a typical home fire, you may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. That’s why home escape planning is so critical in a fire situation. It ensures that everyone in the household knows how to use that small window of time wisely.

Smoke alarms are a key part of a home fire escape plan. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast. Smoke alarms give you an early warning, so you can get outside quickly.

SMOKE ALARM TIPS

•Install smoke alarms in every bedroom. They should also be outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Install alarms in the basement. Large homes may need extra smoke alarms.
•It is best to use interconnected smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds, they all sound.
•Test all smoke alarms at least once a month. Press the test button to be sure the alarm is working.
•A smoke alarm should be on the ceiling or high on a wall. Keep smoke alarms away from the kitchen to reduce false alarms. They should be at least 10 feet (3 meters) from the stove.
•People who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can use special alarms. These alarms have strobe lights and bed shakers.
•Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.

IF THE ALARM SOUNDS

•If the smoke alarm sounds, get out and stay out. Never go back inside for people or pets.
•If you have to escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to find your way out.
•Call the fire department from outside your home.

GENERAL SAFETY TIPS

•Make a home escape plan. Draw a map of your home showing all doors and windows. Discuss the plan with everyone in your home.
•Know at least two ways out of every room, if possible. Make sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily.
•Have an outside meeting place (like a tree, light pole or mailbox) a safe distance from the home where everyone should meet.
•Practice your home fire drill at night and during the day with everyone in your home, twice a year.
•Practice using different ways out.
•Teach children how to escape on their own in case you can’t help them.
•Close doors behind you as you leave.

U.S. fire departments respond to a home fire every 86 seconds. That’s over 1,000 fires a day. Home fires can occur for a variety of reasons, but many are preventable. Over 365,000 fires and 2,650 civilian deaths occur every year, resulting in $7 billion in property damage. Memorial Insurance Agency can help tailor your policy to provide the best coverage for your home and needs in case of a fire”.

The original article can be found here: Home Fire Safety Tips.

Umbrella vs. Excess Liability: do YOU know the difference?

Thanks to our friends at Safeco Insurance for their reminder about this crucial distinction!

The golden rule is: an Excess Liability policy provides additional coverage above your auto/home liability limits, BUT it only covers what is included in the underlying policy. In contrast, a true Umbrella is an OPEN PERILS policy – which means that if something is not specifically excluded, you’re covered.

Do you need examples of where an Umbrella could provide coverage, but an Excess Liability policy would not? How about these:

1) While on vacation, you rent a boat. Out on the water, you crash into another boat, severely injuring a water-skier being towed behind. Neither your home nor your auto policy would cover that …. but an umbrella would.

2) You write a blog post about a bad experience in a restaurant. The restaurant owner sues you for libel. Even if the lawsuit is thrown out of court, you still have to respond …. and that can be expensive. An umbrella would cover your costs.

3) You rent a car while overseas, but get involved in an accident which injures another driver. Your auto insurance all the way back home in Texas won’t cover his hospital bills …. but your umbrella will.

For more information about umbrella policies, or to find out whether your current policy is a true umbrella or merely an excess liability policy, give your friendly agent at Memorial Insurance a call!

Source: Safeco Umbrella vs Excess Liability

Essential Coverage on your Auto Policy

Ever wondered what the jargon on your Auto Insurance policy means? Worried that you’re not adequately insured? Let Memorial Insurance help!

Part A: Liability Coverage: The state minimum limits in Texas are $30,000 per person, $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage (30/60/25). It is a really, really bad idea to limit yourself to minimum coverages. For one thing, these amounts do not go far at all in the case of a serious or multi-vehicle accident. For another, it is relatively inexpensive to upgrade to better coverage, usually just a few dollars per year. Aim for a minimum of 100/300/100. A little-known fact? Sometimes, high limits such as 500CSL may actually be cheaper! This is because you are rated differently as a responsible driver who sees the value in being properly protected.

Part B: Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This part of the policy provides funds for medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. If you are retired you might opt for Medical Payments coverage instead, which includes most of the benefits of PIP without the lost wages provision.

Part C: Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists: This is an optional protection that you do NOT want to leave off. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 drivers in Texas may be driving completely without insurance – and the ones who do have it often don’t have adequate coverage limits to pay for an expensive accident. Getting hit by one of these drivers has the potential to turn into your worst nightmare if you do not have UM/UIM coverage.

Part D: Coverage for Damage to your Auto: To save premium, you can leave off this coverage for older vehicles, as long as you are prepared to pay for the full costs of any damage yourself. For newer vehicles, and all loan/lease vehicles, this coverage is essential. There are two parts to it, which are often referred to as Comprehensive and Collision. Comprehensive covers fire, flood, theft and similar perils, whereas Collision protection will pay for damage to your vehicle caused by an accident. There is usually a deductible, ranging from $100-$2,000, which is the part of the claim you must pay out of pocket before the insurance kicks in to take care of the rest.

Additional Protections: Roadside Assistance is very inexpensive, usually less than $10 per year. Also consider rental car coverage, which is cheap and provides for up to a month of car rental fees while your vehicle is in the garage being repaired.

Finally, for ultimate peace of mind, add an umbrella for extra liability coverage – and don’t forget to add Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist protection to it!

Stay safe out there!

5 Reasons to Choose an Independent Insurance Agent

Still unsure whether an independent insurance agent is the best way to go for your home, auto, umbrella, flood, renters, or rental property insurance? Read below!

  1. You save money: The difference between your current policy and the best option available in the marketplace can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year. Put your independent agent to work finding the best policy for you!
  2. You have more choice: Let’s say you are shopping for homeowners’ insurance. An independent agent has many companies to choose from (Memorial Insurance has more than 22!), whereas a captive agent – such as State Farm – has just one. Who is more likely to be able to offer the most suitable policy at the lowest price?
  3. You get better discounts: New roof? Got married? Improved credit score? If you stick with the same policy for years, you run the risk of missing out on savings if no one is checking. Your independent agent will review your policies annually to make sure you’re receiving all possible discounts.
  4. You stay under one roof: Life is easier when you have your home, flood, auto, boat, umbrella, and rental home policies all in one place with someone you know.
  5. You make informed choices: Unsure about whether to file a claim? Don’t know what is covered under your policy? Your independent agent will make sure you’re not missing any essential coverage, as well as providing guidance and advice. There are no 1-800 numbers here …. you just call and speak directly to someone who knows you.