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.

What Makes Home Insurance Expensive?

Insurance carriers take hundreds of factors into consideration when calculating premiums. Here are the six things that make the biggest difference to your home insurance rate:

  1. The location of your home: Texas is prone to hurricanes, and past events have shown insurers that homes close to the coast or to large bodies of water are more likely to incur losses. Consequently, these homes are more expensive to insure against weather-related perils. Some inland areas – particularly around Dallas/Fort Worth – regularly get devastating hailstorms, which have intensified in recent years, and have subsequently caused big premium increases in those areas. There are also less obvious factors at play, meaning that some zip codes are consistently more expensive for insurance than others, which is related to past losses in an area and the complicated algorithms that insurance companies use to determine risk.
  2. The age of your home: The days of sturdy, stone-and-brick homesteads built to last hundreds of years are long gone. These days, the chance of something going wrong with your home starts to rise rapidly after about 10 years of age. Roofs become less weather-resistant and need replacing, plumbing and other internal systems are more likely to malfunction, and nearby trees grow larger and become more likely to topple onto your house. The equation is simple: older home = higher chance of a claim = more expensive insurance!
  3. The age of your roof: Today’s shingle roofs are designed to last about 15-20 years. Insurance companies know this, and will therefore charge a higher premium for older roofs, offer an Actual Cash Value policy only, or even refuse to insure your home at all. Tile or metal roofs have longer lives, but the flip side for insurance companies is that they cost more to replace if destroyed by a hurricane.
  4. Type of plumbing: Homes built before 1985 that have not been completely updated may still retain all or some of their original galvanized pipes. Statistically, these kinds of pipes are far more likely to corrode and develop leaks than modern PVC piping. If your home still has galvanized plumbing, you will have a smaller choice of insurance carriers, and premiums will be more expensive.
  5. Your “insurance score”: Whenever you get a quote, insurance carriers run an “insurance score” on one or both applicants. This is a bit like a credit check and takes lots of factors into account, but it does not affect your credit score in the same way that a loan application does. If your insurance score is low, you could be paying more for the exact same policy than someone who has a high insurance score.
  6. Prior claims: While there is some leniency towards weather claims (after all, a hurricane is not your fault!), insurance companies are wary of homeowners who have multiple claims on their record for things like water damage, theft, and – especially – liability. Any zero-paid-out claims (where the amount of the claim costs less than your deductible) can also hike your premium at renewal. So it’s best to make absolutely sure BEFORE you file a claim that it’s going to be worthwhile to do so – your agent will be able to advise you.

The golden rule is – as always – to give your agent a call! Memorial Insurance Agency’s licensed agents will be happy to provide you with a quote, help you to decide whether to file a claim, and answer any questions that you may have about insurance.

Less Premium, More Coverage …. GO LEAN with your insurance today!

With insurance, you get what you pay for. This is fine up to a point …. but what if the things you’re paying for include hefty marketing budgets, national TV advertising, huge numbers of offices and thousands of staff? State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate and other major national carriers spend millions of dollars each year to make you think of them when you’re in the market for insurance.

If you hate the idea of your premium being spent on annoying TV jingles, you’ll be delighted to know that there are alternatives. In Houston, there are plenty of insurance carriers who offer low premiums, high coverages, and excellent customer and claims service …. but you have never heard of them. They don’t run expensive office networks, and they certainly don’t advertise on TV. In fact, they won’t even pop up on your Facebook feed, and in some cases you would even struggle to find them on Google unless you know exactly where to look.

But don’t be put off. All insurance companies are rated for their financial stability, and the amount of cash they have in reserve to pay claims. The highest available rating for insurance carriers is with A M Best. State Farm, Nationwide, and Allstate are all examples of A M Best rated companies …. but so are City National, Occidental, and Universal. The latter three companies are lean insurers that are long-established, financially stable, and use their money to pay claims, not advertising. They sell their products only through independent agents and don’t have an office network to support. By the way, did I mention that Memorial Insurance writes business with all three of these companies? (and many more besides!).

Another point to consider is that the big names often don’t have the best coverages. You’ll want to see the magic words “replacement cost” on your policy. You also need comprehensive water coverages (for water backup, slow seepage/leakage, and foundation coverage).

So, why not send us your current declarations page from State Farm, Nationwide, or Allstate? We’ll be happy to give you an honest, no-obligation assessment of what you’ve got covered, and if you like, give you an “apples to apples” quote with our carriers for comparison. Why pay more to get less? GO LEAN with your insurance today!

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.

2018 Hurricane Prep Toolkit

Thank you to our friends at Lighthouse Insurance for the following advice. Make sure you’re well prepared for hurricane season!

Weather Alert Apps: A variety of free smartphone apps help you stay ahead of the weather. The sooner you know, the more time you have to prepare. Check out more details here.

Emergency Preparedness Kit: Get these things in advance so you’re ready for when a hurricane hits.

Hurricane Prep Resources: Follow these tips for having emergency communication and action plans – essential when a major hurricane strikes.

Stay Safe this Summer!

10 Tips for Staying Safe this July 4th!

Ensure your Independence Day weekend is filled with celebration and not regret with these 10 fire safety tips, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  1. Be sure fireworks are legal in your area before using or buying them.
  2. Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities and never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks. Sparklers alone account for one quarter of emergency room fireworks injuries.
  3. If you set off fireworks, keep a bucket of water handy in case of malfunction or fire.
  4. If fireworks malfunction, don’t relight them! Douse and soak them with water then throw them away.
  5. Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially one that is glass or metal.
  6. Use your grill well away from your home and deck railings, and out from under branches or overhangs.
  7. Open your gas grill before lighting.
  8. Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below your gas or propane grill so it cannot be ignited.
  9. Declare a three-foot “kid and pet-free zone” around the grill to keep them safe.
  10. Avoid loose clothing that can catch fire when cooking on the grill.

The Red Cross also has plenty of useful information and tips about firework, water, and picnic safety, at http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Have-a-Safe-Fourth-of-July.

Happy Independence Day everyone!

How to Buy a House

Buying a new home can be daunting.

In partnership with Remax Signature Realty, Memorial Insurance co-sponsors a series of seminars to handhold first-time buyers through the process, including securing financing, making an offer, home inspections, and – of course – home insurance. There are great giveaways for attendees as well as essential expert advice.

The video below, taken at our latest event in Houston, provides a feel for what it’s all about. Contact us for details of our next event!

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.