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Remember last winter? It was a cold one. 

It was the year of the "deep freeze in Chicago, and the ice storm that nearly brought Atlanta to its knees.

In fact, according to Munich Re, the first quarter of 2014 ranked as the coldest winter in the Eastern U.S. in more than a decade. There were 11 winter storms and cold waves between January and March of this year, causing 84 fatalities and an estimated $2.4 billion in insured losses. The Polar Vortex event alone caused nearly $1.7 billion in insured losses, according to Property Claims Service for Verisk Insurance Solutions.

It was cold.

And, if the last couple of weeks are any indication (have you seen the photos from Buffalo yet?), we could be on track for more of the same. For insurers, that could get expensive, totalling as much as $2.5 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute's (I.I.I.) estimates.

“Severe winter weather is the third-largest cause of insured catastrophe losses, after hurricanes and tornadoes,” said Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the I.I.I. “Losses from snow, ice, freezing and related causes averaged $1.2 billion annually over the past twenty years. This year insured losses from severe winter events will be at least double that amount, likely exceeding $2.5 billion by year’s end, making 2014 the fourth costliest year on record for winter storm losses."

According to the I.I.I., winter storm claims accounted for 6.4% of all insured catastrophe losses between 1994 and 2013, just behind hurricanes and tropical storms (41%) and tornadoes (36%) among the costliest natural disasters. In 2013, winter losses totaled $1.8 billion.

Add in the spike in auto claims that typically accompanies the onset of winter, along with workers' compensation claims due to winter-related slip-and-fall incidents, and it's easy to see the potential costs add up for insurers.

Try to stay safe and avoid having claims of your own this winter!

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Posted 11:00 AM  View Comments


Here are three scenarios in which renters insurance can benefit both renters and landlords.

Given the high potential for disputes about rent and repairs, landlords and tenants often find themselves at odds during their relationships. Both sides should agree about one thing: renters insurance.

Renters insurance protects both the interests of the tenant (by protecting their belongings from covered perils) and the landlord (by keeping tenants safe, satisfied and paying rent for the full term of the lease).

However, only about 35 percent of renters purchase insurance protection; that compares poorly with the percentage of homeowners who purchase coverage — around 96 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

A big reason for the disparity: Virtually all lenders require mortgage holders to buy and maintain homeowners insurance. But that doesn’t explain why more renters don’t protect their valuables. Likely reasons include mistaken assumptions about tenant/landlord responsibilities.

  • Property owner: Your policies don’t cover everything (see what types of things that may not be covered). Landlord insurance protects only the structure of your rental property from named perils such as wind and fire. If your tenants lose possessions in a natural disaster and can’t afford to pay rent, you’re out income. Encouraging — or even requiring — your tenants to buy insurance can help make sure that doesn’t happen.
  • Renter: Your landlord is not responsible for your possessions; you are.

Here are three scenarios in which renters insurance can benefit both renters and landlords:

Scenario No. 1: Theft

Renter: If thieves break into your apartment and steal your valuables, your renters insurance policy will pay for the items’ replacement or repair. If you don’t purchase renters insurance, you’ll have to replace the items on your own dime.

Landlord: If burglars rob one of your rental properties, your tenants’ insurance policies can be helpful in a couple of ways. Renters who don’t have coverage might not be able to replace everything stolen — particularly gaming systems, computers and televisions — and still pay rent. They could break their leases, leaving you with vacant properties. If you didn’t deliver the security measures specified in the lease, they could even blame you for the break-in and cause disruption to your business and rental income.

Scenario No. 2: Storm and fire damage

Renter: If your apartment or rental home becomes damaged in a fire or other named peril, your renters policy can help to repair or replace your possessions. Standard policies also typically come with loss of use coverage, which can help pay your expenses if you have to relocate for repairs.

Landlord: Your landlord insurance policy will pay for lost income while your rental property undergoes repair. During the repairs, the tenants must make other arrangements. Those with insurance can be reimbursed for expenses, which means they’re much more likely to make temporary arrangements and move back in once the property is habitable again.

Scenario No. 3: Liability

Renter: The injured person decides to sue. If you have renters insurance, the personal liability portion of your policy can help you with legal expenses, including any damages awarded in the case. Without renters insurance, you could find yourself in the middle of a pricey legal battle.

Landlord: Most insurance carriers and some landlords put restrictions on the kinds of dogs allowed on the premises, but even dogs of docile breeds can lash out. If they do, one tenant could become embroiled in a legal battle with another. You could even become involved in the dispute. Even if you aren’t, your professional reputation and profit could suffer.

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Posted 12:24 PM  View Comments


Continuing from last week's post, read more to see how you can be prepared for any scenario.

Tools and Materials for Emergency Repairs: You don't need to be ready for a full scale remodeling project but you do need some basics. What if a tree branch falls and breaks a window? In the middle of summer it's an annoyance, in the middle of a winter outage it's a giant icy hole to the outside world that will drop the temperature of your home below freezing in a matter of hours. Some heavy duty plastic sheeting and duct tape might not have the insulation value of a triple-pane window but it will keep hot air from drafting right out into your yard.

Communicating from the Winter Wonderland: Phone lines can be damaged by winds and ice, but it is very rare for a winter storm to wipe out the cellular network in an area. Keep your cellphone charged and make sure you have a car charger for it—if the power outage is extended you'll need to top it off at some point. If cellphone service is spotty, you may want to consider sending an SMS message to communicate with friends and family. Often times SMS messages go through just fine when trying to place an actual voice call is sketchy due to weak signal. If you live in the countryside you might consider investing in a couple GMRS/FRS hand-held radios with some neighbors. You can pick up a modest but functional walkie-talkie set for around $30.

Stay Well Stocked: If you live in an area where weather can keep you holed up, you need to get into the practice of shopping ahead. When you're buying your regular groceries, purchase a few extra non-perishable things to stock in the pantry. Don't wait to do your grocery shopping until it is critical that you get out that day to do so. The same principle applies to non-food items like batteries, salt and sand for your walk and driveway, and keeping your gas tank full in your car.

Scaling Preparation for Your Situation and Budget: Finally, as we mentioned above, you'll need to scale your level of preparation to your budget and needs. If you can afford it and live in an area with frequent power outages, although a bit pricey, a home generator is a great investment. An apartment dweller that experiences extremely infrequent and brief outages could simply stockpile some batteries under the bed.

The important part in preparing for inclement weather and power outages is to run through potential and reasonable scenarios and what you need to do in various situations that may arise. What if an ice-laden tree falls onto your house? What if the power is out for more than a day? How will I heat food with no electricity? Does the heating system of your home require electricity? Have I told my roommate, spouse, or child what the plan is in the event of an emergency? Asking and answering questions like these well before you're under the stress of the actual situation helps you plan properly and keep stress to a minimum when that Douglas Fir actually does come through the picture window or the guy on the emergency weather radio says power won't be restored until next Tuesday. A small amount of planning now yields a lot of comfort later.

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Posted 12:58 PM  View Comments


You likely have all sorts of things in your home right now that would serve you well in an emergency, with a few additions and some organization, you'll have a functional kit and contingency plan.

Creating a home emergency kit can be a simple to enormous undertaking depending on the level of energy and preparation you want to invest into it. Most people are on the "Stay warm and fed until the power comes back on" camp, not the "Prepared for zombie apocalypse" camp, and though it never hurts to prepare for the worst we'll be focusing more on the former than the latter.

Once you read over the following tips you can adopt them to fit your needs based on your locale and weather, size of your home, and how much storage space you have available.

Know The Lay of the Land: Before all else you want to know how to control your home in the event of an emergency. Do you know where the water shutoff valve is? The emergency shut off valve for the gas? Which circuit breakers go to which part of your home? Many home emergencies can be quickly neutralized by knowing how to shut down the infrastructure of the home. Make sure the rest of the people in the house know how to do things like kill the water or electricity. It may not seem critical now, but if a pine tree comes crashing through your kitchen and water is spraying everywhere, knowing how to stop the geyser of water becomes quite important.

Rotate Your Semi-Perishable Food: Canned goods and bottles of water keep well enough, but not forever. Arranging your pantry so that cans don't linger at the back ensures that when you're snowed in you'll be eating fresh canned fruits and vegetables instead of the dusty cans from three Thanksgivings ago. You can go all out and build a rotating shelf to keep your canned goods fresh, but for smaller scale storage a simple wire-frame can dispenser will fit on most pantry shelves.

Keep Batteries and Flashlights on Hand: You'll always want batteries on hand. When it comes to keeping the lights on when the power is out, flashlights are king. Candles are a tragedy waiting to happen. Hundreds of house fires are started every year during power outages as people light up candles en masse to brighten their dark homes. It's 2009, you can buy ultra-efficient LED flashlights for less than the cost of a DVD. Even with the power out there's no excuse for lighting your home with fire.

Have Alternative Heat: If you're preparing for a winter storm you most likely live somewhere with icy winter conditions and deep snow fall. When keeping warm during a winter storm there are two levels of warmth: safe and comfortable. If you're wearing layered clothing and have lots of blankets, 40-50F in your house is safe but not particularly comfortable. Nobody will get frost bite and pipes won't freeze. Comfortable is a personal thing—I'm comfy at 55F, most people prefer at least in the upper 60s—and you'll need to plan accordingly for it. Fireplaces, kerosene space heaters, and other combustion-based sources of heat are less than ideal compared to the efficiency and safety of a central furnace but when operated properly can help keep you warm until power and order are restored.

You absolutely need to make sure that whatever alternative source of heat you plan on using during an outage is clean, operational, and that everyone who will be using it understands how to use it safely. Clean out the chimney before you need it and give that kerosene heater a trial run when you're not under pressure. Unfortunately, unlike swapping candles for LED flashlights, there isn't an ultra modern replacement for ditching combustion-based heat for something fancy. Safety first!

Come back next week to finish reading about tips to prepare you for any situation that may arise.

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Posted 12:58 PM  View Comments


Soon, ghouls, goblins and The Little Mermaid will be at your front door. Are you prepared?

We aren’t talking candy-bought, decorations-up prepared. We mean, what happens if Glenda the Good Witch breaks her arm or your house is egged? Are you covered for that? Or will a night of tricks and treats become an expensive horror?

[insert Hitchcock-approved music here]

Note: Not all insurance policies are created equal! The following guidelines are standard, but there are exceptions. It’s important to get to know your insurance policy before you have to file a claim.

Here are three possible Halloween problems, and the skinny on what is and isn't covered by a typical policy.

Trick-or-Treater Slips and Falls

Trick-or-treating can be really exciting! So exciting that little kids run and trip. And fall. Fortunately, most homeowner policies provide liability coverage if someone is injured on your property. The standard amount per occurrence is  $100,000, but you may be able to increase this amount depending on your policy. Tip: To prevent this from happening, it’s important to prepare your house for Halloween! Plenty of lights and a clear walkway will decrease the likelihood of an accident. 

Note: If you’re sued because of the accident, your policy may also pay to defend you in court. But keep in mind that you’re typically only covered for negligence. You aren’t covered for intentional injuries – meaning if little Glenda the Good Witch hurts little Kevin the cowboy, you won’t be covered!

Jack-o-Lantern Catches Fire

Do you light your jack-o-lantern with a candle? If so, you’re not alone. Over the last three years, an average of 15,500 fires per year were caused by an open-flamed jack-o-lantern, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover fire from a lit candle or a string of decorative electrical lights. If the fire displaces your family, insurance will typically cover the cost of additional living expenses.

Note: Coverage may be limited due to “negligence” depending on the origin of the fire – for example, if you had a bonfire in your living room, that’s negligence. If you're planning an ambitious flame display this year, check with your insurance company to determine how they define “negligence.”

“Tricks” Dent Your Siding 

For the most part, “trick-or-treat” is heavy on the treat part. But, not always. Sometimes, tricks happen, too. And next thing you know, your house is egged (or worse), and there’s damage to your siding!

If this happens to you, it’s considered vandalism under most standard insurance policies, which means you will be protected. If the repair cost exceeds your deductible for vandalism, the insurance company will cover the repairs. If you’re concerned about any mischief on Halloween, double-check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure vandalism is covered.

Note: Many policies don’t cover vandalism if a property has been vacant for 30 days or more. If you’re planning an extended trip or have a second home, speak with an agent about the vandalism portion of your policy.

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Posted 12:12 PM  View Comments


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