Preparing for a Hurricane

As the weather gears up for another long hot summer, it is easy to forget that a major hurricane could be just weeks away. That’s right, folks – June 1st was the official start to “Hurricane Season”!

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a “near-normal” Atlantic hurricane season this year. But don’t be reassured by the word “normal” – it means that we can expect 9-15 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes with wind speeds up to 110mph, and 2-4 major hurricanes in category 3 and above with wind speeds over 111mph. There is no way of telling if or where these storms will make landfall. Before they arrive – in other words, right now! – it is a very good idea to not only check that your home insurance is in order, but also to follow some basic steps to prepare. Thanks to our friends and partners at http://velocityrisk.com/¬†for the following excellent tips!:

  1. Create an emergency communication plan: Pre-arrange an evacuation route and destination with other members of your household, and be sure to know how to share warnings and alerts with your family members.
  2. Stock up on emergency supplies: What you’ll need: lots of water, non-perishable foods, can opener, flashlight and spare batteries, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, whistle, plastic sheeting and duct tape, can opener, cell phone with chargers and a backup battery.
  3. Check your home insurance: Make sure your home insurance policy covers damage caused by wind, hail, and named storms/hurricanes. Verify that you have low deductibles so your out-of-pocket costs in the event of a claim are low. Check that you have a Replacement Cost (not Actual Cash Value) policy. If in doubt …. speak to your friendly insurance agency in Houston, Memorial Insurance!
  4. Consider buying flood insurance: Don’t wait until the next Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on you before you get flood insurance, because even if you buy it today, there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage takes effect. So plan ahead and get yourself covered BEFORE the next hurricane is on the horizon. And remember – flood insurance is NOT included in your home insurance policy!

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.

Depreciation Heartache! ACV vs Replacement Cost

When it comes to insurance, there are many common pitfalls for the unwary. Let’s examine one of these today: Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost.

Actual Cash Value: In this case, if you have a claim, your insurance company will pay you the amount of your claim minus depreciation. Imagine that you have a 25-year composition roof on your home which you installed 10 years ago at a cost of $10,000. If your roof is destroyed and needs replacing, how much will you get from your insurance company? The short answer is: not enough! Your roof’s expected lifespan is 25 years, meaning it depreciates in value 4% each year, to end with a theoretical value of zero after 25 years. In this example, your 10 year old roof has therefore lost 40% of its value by the time the hurricane hits, meaning the maximum available payout under an ACV policy is $6,000. But your financial pain doesn’t end there – you also have to take into account your deductible. So if your home is insured for $200,000 and you have a 2% wind/hail deductible, you will be paying $4,000 out of pocket before your insurance company pays even one cent. Keeping up? Therefore the total payout you’ll get from the insurance company will be the $6,000 Actual Cash Value of your roof, minus your $4,000 deductible, making a grand total of $2,000 ……. just a fraction of what you will have to pay to replace your roof.

Replacement Cost: This is a much better option. Your insurance company will pay whatever it takes to REPLACE your roof to the same standard as the one that was destroyed. There is no depreciation – all you pay out of pocket is your deductible. So in this case, you would receive a lot more money from the insurance company.

Moral of the story? Now you can see why Memorial Insurance always offers Replacement Cost policies, and low deductibles! Whichever insurance agent you use, always make sure the magic words Replacement Cost are on your homeowners insurance policy! Replacement Cost is not limited to the structure of the house itself – it can apply to personal property too, usually as an optional endorsement for a small extra cost. Reputable agents should always offer Replacement Cost – for both the dwelling and the contents – as standard, but beware unscrupulous agents who may try and sell you an ACV policy to save a little premium. It’s just not worth it!

Should You File a Homeowners Insurance Claim?

Homeowners’ insurance is designed to protect you from financial ruin when the worst happens to your largest asset. If a plane crashes into your house, it is obvious that your insurance company will need to become involved. However, for less serious losses, should you file a claim? Here, we answer some commonly asked questions on this topic:

Does my policy provide coverage for the damage that occurred?

Perils such as fire, smoke, and explosion are usually covered. Coverage for foundation, water damage or slow seepage will depend on the kind of policy you have. Flooding due to rising waters is never covered in a home insurance policy. If you attempt to file a claim for something that is not covered, you will not only be wasting your time, but you will also end up with a claim against your record. The golden rule is to ask your agent what your policy covers, before making that call to the claims department!

What is a deductible, and how much is mine?

The deductible is the portion of the loss that you pay out of pocket before the insurance steps in to take care of the rest. On your homeowners policy, your deductibles will usually be listed as percentages, or sometimes dollar amounts. Typical deductibles for homeowners insurance in Houston are 2% for wind and hail (including hurricane), and 1% for all other perils. In other words, on a $300,000 home policy, you would pay the first $6,000 of a weather-related claim, and the first $3,000 of all other claims. If you can’t find the numbers on your policy, or if you are unsure, give your agent a call and they will be happy to explain.

It looks like the damage will probably be more than my deductible. What next?

You should get an estimate from a licensed contractor for the total cost of the repairs. In fact, you’ll want to do this anyway, regardless of whether you plan on filing a claim.

So …. the repairs will cost $7,000, and my deductible is $6,000. I’m good to file a claim, right?

Not so fast. All claims, even those where little or no money was actually paid out, will show on your record. Claims often lead to premium increases – particularly if more than one claim is filed over a three or five-year period. If you have a lot of claims, you may even be “non-renewed” by your insurance company, and will have to seek inferior coverage elsewhere. In other words, it may be cheaper in the long run to pay for the damage yourself, even if the repair bill exceeds your deductible. So the best advice is speak to your agent, do the math, and don’t rush to file a claim when something happens.

My house burned to the ground, so should I file a claim?

Of course. Major disasters are what your home insurance is there for. This is the moment you’ll be glad you opted for the Replacement Cost policy, instead of an Actual Cash Value one which depreciates your roof and personal property every year.

My neighbor fell down in my driveway and broke her leg. Should I file a claim?

Yes. You never know when a liability claim can become a full-blown financial and legal disaster, so it is wise to file these kinds of claims as soon as possible.

My old fence finally fell down in last week’s storm. It was due for replacement anyway. Will my homeowners’ insurance cover it?

No. Your side of the bargain with the insurance company is to maintain your home to a reasonable standard, and your homeowners policy is not designed to cover routine maintenance or wear-and-tear issues. This means that any related claims will be denied.