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Backyard fun may come at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid splurge purchases like trampolines and treehouses altogether. Ultimately, it’s a family decision, partly based on feedback from your pediatrician on risk vs. benefit, and partly based on whether your spirit for adventure outweighs your concern for a potential accident. It’s also a decision that could impact you financially, should your children or a guest get hurt on your property.

Trampolines

First, know that when you own a trampoline, it’s impossible for you to file a homeowner’s insurance claim for an injury if it’s an injury sustained by someone who lives in your household. This would become a medical insurance claim instead, and if medical insurance coverage is denied, you’ll be paying out of pocket. Anyone else who is injured on your property would be covered by your homeowner’s insurance–but only if your policy covers trampolines. It’s possible that your policy will only cover injuries if your trampoline has a safety net, is built over a sand pit or wood chips, isn’t being used while wet, isn’t being used by more than one child at a time, etc. You’ll need to know the details of your coverage before you and your children begin to bounce. In some cases, homeowners insurance explicitly denies coverage to any “loss, damage, cost, claim expense, bodily injury, property damage or medical payments” related to trampolines.  This is why it’s important to consult your insurance company before any purchase of a trampoline. If it’s considered enough of a risk, your insurance company could cancel your coverage or refuse to renew, and you’ll need to decide if a change in insurance altogether is worth the trouble. Changing insurance companies would mean a new inspection on your home, so if you’ve got some lingering repairs or potential red-flags that would show up on an inspection, it may be more costly than you expect. 

Treehouses

About 2,800 children per year are injured playing in a treehouse, and most of those injuries fractures, cuts, and bruises that happen when a child either falls or jumps willingly from the treehouse. Similar to trampolines, you’ll have to start with a health insurance claim if someone who lives in your home experiences a fall. If it’s a guest, you’re on the hook for liability. If you want to insure your treehouse in the same way you would insure a gazebo, for example, because it’s an added asset to your home, you’ll need to contact your insurance agent and ask for coverage as an “accessory structure” and be ready to report its full value (or replacement cost). Similarly to acquiring a trampoline, however, you need to speak to your insurance agent about your policy before adding a treehouse to your yard to find out whether the addition will raise your premiums and make sure your policy doesn’t prohibit it explicitly. If not prohibited, make sure your treehouse is named specifically on your policy in order for accidents to be covered. When preparing to communicate with your insurance agent, know that being able to communicate effectively that your treehouse will be built safely will help. For example, you should select a tree that doesn’t need to be pruned, that hasn’t dried out and become fragile. The lower to the ground your plan, the better. Anything over 10 feet in the air is likely to be considered too dangerous. You also may want to research how to use an artificial limb system under the treehouse for basic support. A fence around your yard to keep out uninvited children is also in your best interest. 

In insurance-speak, trampolines and treehouses are called an “attractive nuisance” because they are completely attractive to children and yet undesirable to many due to the risk of serious injury. Having either in your backyard is something that must never be hidden from an insurance company. In fact, it must be specifically disclosed, as omission of the information is just as problematic as an out-right lie. The reason is this: should you lose your home to a fire or sustain another type of damage that needs to be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, then your insurer realizes you were dishonest about an “attractive nuisance” in the backyard, the insurer has grounds for denying any claim. The insurer simply has to state that they would have denied you coverage completely had you disclosed your backyard purchase, which means any claim you are trying to file would have never been covered to begin with.

It’s a daunting moment when you look up to find a puddle in a light fixture or a growing water stain on a ceiling. Here’s what to do to minimize the damage and get help for a repair.

  1. Clear and protect the area beneath the stain. Move furniture and valuables, then lay down a tarp and a bucket that will catch any water as you triage the situation. This will hopefully protect your floors and belongings in case the leak worsens and pushes completely through the ceiling.
  2. Stop the water from traveling horizontally. This often means cutting a hole in your ceiling before professionals arrive. The problem with ceiling stains is that it’s difficult to tell where the water is actually coming from. A crack in the base of a fiberglass bathtub upstairs, for example, may not provide evidence in the ceiling immediately below the tub. Water will cling and travel along pipes and beams before absorbing into the ceiling below. You need to do everything in your power to stop the water stains from spreading, which will increase the damage and risk of mold. Poking a circular hole in the center of the water stain will hopefully expose the leak so it drips into a bucket rather than absorbing into sheetrock.
  3. Halt the flow of water. If water is moving fast, shut off your main valve and turn on a faucet in the lowest room in the house. This will get the excess water sitting in the pipes out before it has a chance to hit the leak.
  4. Call your insurance agent. In any event of damage to your home, you want your insurance agent involved immediately. He or she can recommend next-steps to protect your belongings and recommend professionals to call for help. Provided your problem wasn’t caused by a lack of maintenance (such as ignoring previous need for repairs), you should receive support from your homeowner’s insurance policy. Also, note that homeowner’s insurance will cover damage but not necessarily replace the item broke and caused the damage. So if your dishwasher goes bad and ruins the subfloor beneath the kitchen tile, you’d likely receive assistance with the flooring but not money for a new dishwasher.
  5. Dry out the damage. Moisture is the root cause of mildew and mold. Ask your insurance agent about his or her recommendations for whether it’s worth using a fan on the damp plaster or if perhaps you’d be safer long-term to cut out and replace the section of ceiling affected by the leak.

After initially getting the situation under control, if your main valve is still on and you aren’t sure whether the water is dripping from a pipe, the roof, or another water source, note that there is a simple trick for determining if plumbing is indeed the culprit. First, make a note of the number on your water meter. Next, turn off all faucets and appliances that use water. If you’ve got an issue with indoor plumbing, like a crack in a pipe or issues with caulking, within about three hours you will have found that number has increased.

Research suggests revenue from short-term vacation rentals will surpass the hotel industry in 2020. In fact, Airbnb reports that on any given night, there are 2 million people staying at one of its properties. If you’re looking to make extra income listing your space with a hosting platform, keep in mind the following tips for preparing well:

A: Adjust Your Security Measures

If you’re not up for transporting items off property every time you have a renter, select a small bedroom to use for storage. When you’re stepping out so guests can step in, utilize this room–with door hardware that includes a lock and key–to keep pricey and personal items out of sight and out of mind. This may be where you relocate your computer, your laundry, photographs of family (should they want to remain anonymous), and important personal and business paperwork while renters are in your home. Also, consider investing in a Wi-Fi enabled doorbell camera, which will make short recordings of the space immediately outside your door as guests come and go from your property. If you’re willing, you can give your tenants access to the doorbell monitoring via their own smartphones. The added security feature will make your guests feel more secure. 

B: Be Hospitable

Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they want to see it again and bring their friends.” Set a tone that will welcome repeat visitors by keeping a binder in the living room with access codes, phone numbers, and restaurant recommendations. You can also include a friendly greeting from you as the property owner, directions to the nearest emergency room, your Wi-Fi password, and perhaps instructions on what to do with the trash before they head back home. Also, be flexible about what you leave in the pantry and fridge. Guests may not realize your Cheese-Itz and Lemon La Croix were not for their consumption. Instead of worrying about whether your snacks get touched while you’re away, consider buying bottled waters and treats you encourage your guests to enjoy while they’re on site.

C: Consider Whether You Are Properly Insured

It is unlikely your homeowner’s insurance offers you the protection you need when renting out your space on a short-term basis. Here’s why. In a perfect world, your homeowner’s insurance would step in and pay for your legal defense and settlement costs should an accident happen while a renter is in your home. And you may even find that your homeowner’s insurance allows for a one-night-a-year rental for a special event, like should you want to capitalize on your city hosting a major sporting event. However, if you’re renting your property regularly, it may seem to your insurer that you are operating a small business, which excludes you from the coverage you think you have. Landlord insurance may prove equally unhelpful, as that typically applies to long-term rentals alone. Your best coverage options for regularly renting out your home to short-term guests are threefold: You can contact your insurer about your plans and see if your current policy is enough. You can ask about an endorsement to add coverage to your existing policy. Or, you can purchase a business policy such as a bed and breakfast policy.

In addition to understanding your own insurance, look into what claims the hosting platform will cover. Some companies, like Homeaway and Airbnb, will provide you with $1 million coverage in liability insurance. But be sure to read the fine print. Some of these offerings are primary coverage, and some are not, meaning any other liability policy you already hold will also participate should a claim be filed against you. The policies may be intended for injuries a guest incurs while at your home or may also include compensation for damage a guest does to your personal property. Read your contract with the hosting platform carefully to make sure you understand what is included in the basic fee and what perhaps would come at an additional cost.

Homeowner’s insurance is directly linked to the value of your home, and the only way to be confident you have the coverage you need is to be transparent about improvements you’ve made to your property over time. Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a home renovation so you’re covered for during construction and the improvements are protected when you’re done. 

Be clear about which renovations will raise or lower your insurance rates.

Financial preparation includes not just acknowledging the cost of materials and labor but also acknowledging the fluctuation of your insurance policies to come. An addition, for example, will add square footage and value, which means your home will be more expensive to rebuild, so your premiums will rise. If you’re renovating your garage into a den and kicking your car to the curb, keep in mind the cost of your car insurance may jump a bit since it’s simply riskier to park on the street. In contrast, replacing an outdated HVAC system lowers the risk of an electrical problem, and lower risk typically means lower rates. The same goes for adding a fence around a swimming pool or backyard.

Before you finalize renovation plans, watch for ways to achieve discounts.

You may qualify for lower premiums if you add a sprinkler system, update your plumbing or electrical system, add storm shutters, or even simply install stronger doors than you had before. New safety features will lessen your odds of filing a claim in the future, and many insurance plans will acknowledge that with reduced rates.

Don’t DIY if you’re not qualified to do the work safely.

Besides the potential to be disappointed in your own craftsmanship, the real risk is potential injury. If friends and family will be on site to help with the project, consider increasing your home insurance’s no-fault medical protection. This will allow an injured assistant to send doctor’s bills straight to your insurance company, which ultimately lowers your chance of a lawsuit.

Plan for mid-project problems.

Insurance Journal reported in 2014 that approximately one out of every three house fires can be traced back to contracting professionals working on site. Heat guns used for paint stripping or electrical sockets overwhelmed by power tools can mean disaster. Construction risk can also expand to plumbing pipes cracking under the stress of vibrations being caused by construction. You will want to discuss these potential scenarios with your insurance agent before renovations begin–and then again mid-project as plans evolve–to make sure you understand which party would be liable for each scenario and whether you and your contractor are insured properly to avoid a major financial strain.

Ask your insurance agent about weather and theft.

Large renovations are sometimes stalled by acts of nature, sometimes stalled by disappearing acts. If your project is big enough that parts of your home will be covered by a tarp or exposed to the elements, consider a “course of construction policy,” also known as a builder’s risk policy. This will offer protection if you find your home seriously damaged during construction and extends as far as vandalism and theft of construction materials you purchased yourself (think carpet, hardwood, or tile).

Be careful about gaps in coverage if you’ll be temporarily moving out.

According to the International Risk Management Institute, homeowner’s policies are really written for homes being occupied by the homeowner. If your renovation is so extensive that you’ll be leaving the premises–or if your construction will cost 10 percent or more of your home’s total replacement value–read your insurance contract carefully. These benchmarks label your project as a “major renovation,” which may limit your coverage or require you to notify the insurance company before construction begins. If you don’t follow the policy’s requirements specifically, you may find that damage during renovations is only covered at replacement cost less depreciation, rather than replacement cost alone. Your best choices in a major renovation may be to add a renovation policy to your existing coverage or add a builder’s risk policy.

Celebrate the added value to your home.

Once you’ve planned well, relax and enjoy the process. Ultimately, you’re adding beauty, functionality, and value. As you take photos to share with family and friends, made copies for your insurance files, as it is likely that you will also need to update your catalog of valuable items inside your home as well, especially if you purchased furniture or art.

Our homes protect us from the most severe winter weather, but our homes are not always protected from the same elements. Snow, ice, and even simply freezing temperatures can have drastic effects on our homes and the parts that make them work. As the temperatures drop, risk rises. Here’s how to minimize those risks. 

Leave the heat on at least 65 degrees when you leave

This is less about the temperature in your rooms than it is about the temperature inside your walls. It gets colder inside your walls than it does on the thermostat, and this can be dangerous because your pipes are inside your walls. If it gets too cold in there, your pipes could freeze and burst. A burst pipe can cause anything from light water damage to damage that forces you to vacate your home. In most cases, water damage from burst pipes will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, if your insurance carrier finds that the damage was caused by negligence on your part (such as keeping your heat at too low a temperature or leaving it off entirely when the house is vacant), you may be denied coverage. In these cases, the damage could have been reasonably prevented. This is why it’s best to keep your heat on at least 65 degrees.

Monitor any alternative heat sources you use

Some homeowners like to utilize alternative or auxiliary sources of heat such as a space heater or fireplace. If you haven’t used your fireplace or space heater since last winter, make sure it’s still in good shape before turning it on. Read up on space heater safety before use, then keep a close eye on it during the first few uses. Keep combustible materials away from fireplaces and space heaters, and never cover a space heater in any way. Fires can start in an instant and cause extensive damage in just minutes.

Remain aware of common risk areas outdoors

Outside in the elements, there are several common risks that homeowners face. First, there are risks to those that visit your home. Icy driveways and sidewalks can easily cause a visitor to slip and fall. If you know it may snow, take the time to treat your outdoor surfaces to prevent the buildup of slippery snow and ice. Keep an eye on your trees to check for dead or damaged branches that may fall on people, vehicles, or structures. You should also have your gutters cleaned routinely, especially if you notice a buildup of icy leaves and debris.

It is not only cold in winter but also full of risk. You don’t have to live in fear of disaster, but there are steps you can take to help prevent having to make any insurance claims. Reach out to your agent if you want more advice on how to reduce risks at home.

With colleges starting back up, maybe you have a child returning to school or leaving for the first time. You’ve got the twin XL sheets, the posters and the textbooks. Did you know that you also might need insurance for your college student?

Auto Insurance

If you already have auto insurance for your child’s car (and you should!), don’t cancel it if they are not taking their vehicle to college with them. There is a chance your auto insurance premiums could actually drop significantly if your child moves more than 100 miles from home. Most importantly, your child will still be covered when they return home and drive their vehicle. If they do take their vehicle off to college, thankfully they should still be covered under your policy. However your premiums may change depending on where your child is living during college – especially if they go out of state. 

Renters Insurance 

The good news is that if your child will be living in on-campus dorms or other university sponsored housing, their possessions should remain covered under your homeowners insurance. It’s important to note that the coverage limits may be different, so be sure to thoroughly discuss everything with your insurance agent before your child leaves. 

If your child will be living off-campus, their possessions will no longer be covered under your homeowners policy, and you will need to purchase a separate renters insurance policy to cover their items. A renters policy can protect your child’s expensive electronics such as a laptop or TV as well as other high value items like musical equipment or instruments. Like your homeowners insurance, your child’s renters policy also covers their insured possessions whether they’re inside your child’s living quarters or not. 

Health Insurance 

Although your child is eligible to remain on your own health insurance plan until they turn 26, there are still some things to consider when they leave for college. If your child will be living out of state during the school season and is not willing or able to return home for doctors’ visits, they may struggle with finding in-network providers. With the exception of emergencies, many health policies offer limited or no coverage for out of network providers. Before you make any moves, check with your child’s school to see if there are any in-network providers close to campus. 

If there are not, you have two options. First, you can have your child knock out all necessary medical appointments before leaving for school and schedule future appointments to coincide with breaks. If you do want the peace of mind that good coverage offers, look into supplementing your child’s health coverage with a student health insurance policy. Coverage may also be available through their college or your child could purchase their own coverage in the health insurance market. 

Sending your child off to college is an exciting time, whether they are a freshman or a fifth-year senior. Make sure your student has all the protection they need by utilizing the right insurance tools. 

When you’re a first time home buyer, you might be expecting the process to be more glamorous and exciting than it is in reality. Now, buying your first home is certainly an exciting event, but glamorous? Last time we checked, there wasn’t much glamor about paperwork… If you’re like most people, you will work with a mortgage lender to purchase your new home. Therefore process of closing on your home will involve an almost overwhelming amount of paperwork and finances, but this is a good thing. It ensures that your investment is made with all the right t’s crossed and i’s dotted. However there is one important thing you must do before you can close on your home, and that’s purchasing homeowners insurance.

Why Homeowners Insurance?

Would it surprise you to learn that purchasing homeowners insurance coverage is a requirement for closing on a home, if you finance through a lender? That’s right. Lenders require you to have home insurance for at least a year in order to allow you to close on your home. The thinking behind this is that by lending you the funds to buy a house, your lender needs an assurance from you that they are not going to suffer a huge loss if something happens to your new home. You see, that new home is an investment for both you and your lender, and when left uninsured, your home is a huge liability for your lender. This is why they usually will not agree to giving you a loan until you have proved that you have homeowners insurance in place.

What Will You Need to Bring?

It is common practice for lenders to ask you to bring your homeowners insurance binder with you to the closing meeting. The binder acts as definitive proof from your insurer that your home and its contents are covered under a policy. Some lenders may accept a photocopy of your insurance documents or a letter from your insurer.

How Do You Know Which Insurer to Choose?

This is where the assistance of an independent insurance agent is invaluable. Just like shopping around for a mortgage lender is a smart idea, shopping around for the best homeowners insurance is also a smart practice. But with your busy life, you probably don’t have time to shop the insurance market. Work with a dedicated independent insurance agent, and they will shop the market for you to find the best policy and most competitive rates.

School’s out, the sun’s out, and pretty soon you might be out of town! As you’re packing for your summer vacation, insurance is probably the last thing on your mind. You’re probably thinking about what clothes to bring, whether you need both your phone and tablet, or trying to dig out the snowboard you haven’t used in months. However as with every big moment in life, there are always insurance considerations to keep in mind.

Property Damage

This can come in two forms – damage or loss of your own property or damage to others property. In the first instance, the same homeowners or renters insurance that covers your personal property against theft, vandalism, or some acts of nature when you’re at home also covers your possessions you take with you on vacation. This is especially important for more expensive items such as electronics, jewelry, or even sporting equipment you take on vacation. On the flip side, this coverage also ensures you are safeguarded against any loss that happens to the property you left behind when you’re away from home. The important thing to note for this kind of coverage is that your policy must have certain limits of coverage in order to protect everything you want protected.

The other way in which your insurance can protect you in the case of property damage while you’re on vacation applies to the property of others. This is especially important if you’re renting a house or condo and end up breaking or damaging the property itself or something inside it. This type of coverage is called your personal liability policy, and if you cause damage in the place you’re vacationing, you may be covered by it.

Medical Emergencies

This one depends on where you are vacationing. In the case of medical emergencies inside the U.S., you should not encounter many obstacles regarding your insurance coverage extending to other in-network hospitals. You should expect to pay rates similar to what you’d pay at home. However, depending on your policy you may not be covered if you visit an out-of-network hospital in another city or state. It is best to know up front before you embark on your journey – for this you will speak to your insurance agent. You should also put “insurance card” on your packing list, if you don’t already carry it with you at all times (which you should!). Your home doctor may also offer “tele” services – meaning he or she can diagnose you over phone or video chat, and you get to stay in network no matter where you are in the country.

If you’re traveling out of the country, you may be surprised to learn that your coverage is more than you expected. Again, this is an instance in which it is most appropriate to speak to your agent before your trip to find out exactly what the out-of-pocket expenses would be for medical care abroad. Keep in mind this only applies to medical emergencies, not elective procedures.

The most important thing is to notify your insurance agent that you’ll be traveling, and to ask them if there are any updates needed to your policies. With an independent insurance agent on your side, you’ll have a friend to help you properly prepare for this exciting upcoming trip.

You purchase homeowners insurance to protect your greatest investment against damages that are out of your control. Most often, this means emergencies or acts of nature – forces you cannot control. What can you control? How you maintain your own home. This is why homeowners insurance is unlikely to cover claims you make that turn out to be due to wear and tear.

What Constitutes Wear and Tear?

Wear and tear is generally considered to be gradual damage that happens to a home over time, as the years and the elements take their toll. In some situations, wear and tear is unavoidable as a home ages. However to most insurers, there are certain failures and property damage that can be avoided if a homeowner performs the proper routine maintenance to their home. Common instances of wear and tear include roof leaks, slow leaking pipes, and mechanical breakdowns of appliances, among others.

Why Isn’t Wear and Tear Covered?

When homeowners adopt an insurance policy on their home, it is understood that there is an agreement between the homeowner and the insurer. This agreement asks that the homeowner keep up with regular, expected maintenance and repairs on their home, and the insurance will be there if an unexpected loss occurs. The insurer expects the homeowner to prevent any negligence that could cause property damage. The wear and tear exclusions arise from an understanding of the basic responsibilities of all homeowners. The exclusions keep insurers from being liable in situations where the damage is actually due to the insured’s failure to repair, replace, or maintain the aspects of their property that need work.

How to Avoid Claims That Get Denied

As far as wear and tear goes, it is pretty simple: maintain your home and do not delay if you notice an issue. If you notice a leak, do not wait a few months to report it to your insurance agent. This is the first thing you should do, and in the event that it’s not covered, get right to fixing the issue. Do not wait to tackle anything that needs repairing or replacing. Small fixes can seem like a large financial burden in the moment, but in the event of a large scale failure, you could be left responsible for a large bill of repairs if your insurance claim is denied due to evidence of wear and tear. In the case of mechanical breakdowns of appliances, you would be better off seeking coverage through a home warranty rather than home insurance, which will often exclude these appliances from coverage.

Utilize Your Resources

Your agent is available to answer any of your questions or concerns regarding coverage on your home and property. Give the Carnal Roberts Agency a call as soon as possible if you notice a concern in your home!

Spring break is known as a time for fun and relaxation. It’s a chance to get away from school (and work!) for a little while and spend time with the family. However the risks involved in taking a spring break trip cannot be ignored. This doesn’t mean you should spend the entire break keeping the family holed up at home, but it does mean you should pay attention to the following safety tips while on your trip.

Be Careful On the Road

Traffic sees a large increase during the spring break season. Be sure to drive the speed limit, make sure everyone is properly buckled in, and avoid distracted driving. Have the person in the passenger seat play the role of navigator so the driver is not constantly glancing at a phone or GPS. Local law enforcement will probably be increasing their rounds during this time, so it is especially important to obey traffic laws to stay safe and avoid violations – especially since this can raise your car insurance rates! For long trips in the car, you might want to consider adding roadside assistance coverage in case you experience any issues far from home.

Protect Your Valuables

While it’s true that renters and homeowners insurance policies can cover your valuables even if you bring them out of town with you, you still want to do everything you can to avoid filing a claim. Never leave them in plain sight in your car or hotel room. In fact, it’s a good idea to make use of the hotel safe, if available. Additionally, try not to bring high value items like jewelry, watches, and laptops or tablets. If you have to bring your valuables with you, be sure to check your limits of liability with your insurance agent before the trip to ensure you have all the coverage you need for the items you plan to take.

Refrain from Posting About the Trip on Social Media Until It’s Over

Many of our online “friends” might actually be more like casual acquaintances. You never know who could see your social media posts about being gone for spring break; anyone with bad intentions and your personal information could choose to take advantage of the situation. There have been numerous reports of homes being broken into after someone saw on social media that a family was away on vacation. Of course you want to share the amazing photos you’re taking and post updates on the fun times you’re enjoying, but it is safest to leave the posting for after you arrive back home.

Spring break is a wonderful time to get away from the everyday stresses of life. By following just a few simple safety precautions, you can keep your vacation from turning into a nightmare. Contact your agent at Carnal Roberts Agency to review the coverage that can protect you from the risks of traveling over spring break.