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  • A Hot Price for U.S. Businesses
  • Summer Grilling Fun
    Every year, what should be a fun outdoor occasion for family and friends instead turns into tragedy at nearly 9,000 homes, causing deaths, injuries and tens of millions in property damage. Your Trusted Choice® independent insurance agents can remind you that fire damage and potential liability for injury to friends will be covered by your […]
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    Welcome to the world of food trucks! When you picture building your catering business, is the image more truck than tent? The mobile food industry has a long and tasty history in the U.S.
  • Staffing Your Catering Business
    Like many entrepreneurs, you may have begun your catering business as the sole cook and bottle washer. But at some point, you will discover that going it alone not only impedes growth, but is a recipe for burnout and collapse. And you’ll face the question of every successful catering business: How do I find and […]

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I Want to Rent Out My Home. What Do I Need to Do?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Renting is on the rise, and many homeowners are deciding to rent out their old homes rather than sell them. If you fall into that camp, you’ll want to talk to us about changing your current homeowners insurance policy to a rental policy.

Your insurance

A rental policy will protect your home’s structure and a small amount of furnishings in your home. (If you are renting your home furnished, you can add additional coverage for extra furnishings.) So you’d have coverage for your home if lightening ruined its roof or if a visitor slipped and fell on an icy stoop.

Another important benefit is fair rental value. In the event that your home suffers a loss that is covered and your tenant can’t live in your unit until repairs are made, your policy can provide up to 12 months of fair rental value. This means you won’t lose out on the rental income you may rely on each month. And, if you need more than 12 months, there is an endorsement that gives you up to 24 months of this coverage.

A rental policy is important for landlords, and you’ll want to get on in place before your first tenant moves in.

Your tenant’s insurance

Once you get a tenant, it’s a good idea to talk to him or her about a renters insurance policy. A renters insurance policy will protect the possessions your renter brings with them—and it can offer you important protection if you’re listed as an additional insured.

When you ask your renter to list you as an additional insured, the liability protection is extended to you from their policy if something unfortunate happened. For example, imagine your tenant burns a candle, and it causes fire damage in your home. As an additional insured on their policy, you would know they have liability coverage to respond to repair the damage.

You would also have liability protection from their policy. Imagine your tenant’s dog bites someone. The victim could seek reimbursement from your tenant’s policy rather than yours.  Finally, being an additional insured also entitles you to be notified if the policy is cancelled or is modified. For these reasons, you may want to insert wording into the lease about a tenant having a specific amount of insurance.

You can let your tenant know that renters insurance also benefits them in many ways—and it’s very affordable. In fact, sometimes the discount a tenant receives from buying a renters policy from the same company from which they buy their auto policy is enough to cover the renters policy premium.

How Insurance Can Protect You Through the Years

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

They say that the only constant in life is change. And that’s true whether you’re 18, 80 or somewhere in between.

One thing to consider when life changes is your insurance coverage. Here are six common transitions that we can help you navigate.

You’re off to college.

With many policies, full-time students younger than 24 are automatically covered under their parents’ homeowners policy. Part-time students (or students who are 24 and older) may need to take out a renters insurance policy. If you choose to live in an apartment instead of a dorm, think about purchasing a separate renters insurance policy. (Learn more about renters insurance below.) When it comes to car insurance, you don’t need your own policy if you’re taking a family member’s car to school. If you’re a co-owner on the vehicle or if you own your own car, you probably need your own policy.

You’re renting your first place.

You found the perfect place, but since your landlord’s policy doesn’t typically cover your stuff, you’ll want to look into getting your own renters policy. In addition to protecting your belongings, a renters policy also provides worldwide liability protection for a situation like harming someone while riding your bike. If someone is hurt in your apartment, your policy most likely would pay his or her medical bills. A renters policy will often cover additional living expenses if your apartment is damaged and you can’t stay there because of something like a fire. There are many affordable options—plus, you can qualify for a discount if you purchase both a renters and an auto policy. In some cases, the discount can pay for pay for most (or all!) of the renters policy.

You just got married.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll definitely want to look into life insurance. Life insurance can be the most affordable way to help ensure that you or your new spouse is able to carry on if the unthinkable were to happen. Also remember to ask about your auto insurance. You could qualify for discounts, including a multi-car discount if both cars are insured by the same carrier. Finally, you may need extra coverage on an engagement or wedding ring. With a homeowners or renters policy, your coverage for lost or stolen jewelry is capped at $3,000. So if your ring is worth more, you’ll want to consider separate coverage.

You welcomed a bundle of joy.

You may have binkies, diapers and formula on your mind, but another thing to consider is life insurance protection for your family.formula on your mind, but another thing to consider is life insurance protection for your family. Everyone needs financial protection—even a stay-at-home parent. With life insurance, you can provide for your loved ones even if…well, you’re not there.

You retired and are renting a place somewhere warm for the winter.

No penalty for sand between the toes! If you’re going south, an extra policy is not needed in the majority of cases. That said, a lot depends on the policy you already have, how long you’ll be gone and what kinds of things you’ll be taking to your temporary home. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to check in with Melendez Insurance before you head south.

You or a loved one is entering an assisted living facility.

When it’s time for help with care, it’s a good idea to consider a renters policy if you or a loved one is entering an assisted living facility. A renters policy covers belongings—and, more important, personal liability. For instance, renters insurance could cover your loved one if he or she was responsible for injuring someone.

Many people can’t afford to pay big medical bills out of pocket, so definitely contact us before making the move.

How Do I Know Which Deductible to Choose?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Two hands holding a white paper fortune tellerYou choose a deductible—which is the amount of money you pay before insurance kicks in—for both your auto and your home policies. Your deductible can be as little as $0 and as high as $10,000 (with lots of options in between).

If you choose a lower deductible, you can generally expect to pay more in premium. Some people prefer to keep a high deductible and pay less in premium, while others prefer lower deductibles and higher premiums.  It often comes down to your personal preferences and financial situation.

A better way to choose your deductible

Good news: you have an insurance agent who can help you select a deductible that best fits your needs. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you talk with us about deductibles.

  • Make sure you have enough money to cover your deductible. Whether your deductible is $50 or several thousand dollars, it’s important to have enough cash on hand to cover it. You’ll want to have enough money to cover the combined cost of your home and your auto deductibles. That’s because if something like a fire damaged or destroyed your home and your car, you may need enough cash to pay both deductibles.
  • Check with any lenders to see if you must meet a minimum deductible. If you have a car loan or a mortgage, your lender may say that your deductible can’t go above a set dollar amount.
  • Think about what you’d be willing to pay out of pocket. When you file a claim, it’s possible that it may cause your premium to increase. For this reason, some people opt to pay lower-dollar claims out of pocket. Think about if—and how much—you’d be willing to pay to avoid a possible rate increase, then use that information to help choose your deductible.
  • Consider different deductibles for different risks. More good news: some carriers give you the option of choosing different homeowners deductibles for wind or hail, fire or lightning, theft or vandalism, water, and named storm.  This option is known as by-peril deductibles, and it gives you more control over your deductible. For instance, if you feel the risk of water damage in your area is low, you may opt for a higher water deductible that will let you save on your premium. On the flip side, if you live in an area at risk for hurricanes, you may choose a lower deductible for named storm.
  • Check in with us every year. Your deductible is not set in stone, and you can raise or lower it as your life changes. Your insurance agent can give you solid advice and make the change for you.

The Ultimate Guide to Fire Extinguishers

Friday, July 8th, 2016

FireExtinguisherAfter a close call in my apartment–who knew olive oil is bad for high-heat cooking? – it dawned on me that I had never used a fire extinguisher. I’m no fire chief, but learning on the fly while your smoke detector is blaring seems like the wrong time to figure that out.

Fortunately, I removed my smoking pan from the heat before anything could ignite—but the experience left me reeling.

Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to wonder about fire extinguishers. Here’s what smart homeowners (and renters) need to know.

Do I need a fire extinguisher?

Short answer: Yes.

It’s a good idea to have at least one, although many experts, like the National Fire Protection Association, recommend having a fire extinguisher on each floor. Place yours near an exit, in an easy-to-grab spot.

A fire extinguisher can make a big difference in an emergency, but it can’t replace your most important safety tools: working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.

What if I rent?

If you rent, your landlord is typically responsible for providing smoke detectors in each unit – but not necessarily fire extinguishers. That depends on your state and local fire codes, so ask your landlord to be sure. If you end up buying one, it generally won’t break the bank. Fire extinguishers typically run from $20 to $70, depending on the type.

Types of fire extinguishers

Not all fires are the same, and neither are fire extinguishers. The letters A, B and C on the label refer to the types of fire the extinguisher is capable of putting out.

  • Class A extinguishers are effective on fires in paper, wood, textiles and plastics. (Think “A” for “ash.”)
  • Class B extinguishers are effective on liquid fires, like those involving cooking oil, paint, gasoline or kerosene. (Think “B” for “barrel.”)
  • Class C extinguishers are effective on electrical fires and live wiring. (Think “C” for “current.”)

The best choice for your home is a multi-purpose extinguisher like ABC, which can be used on all types. You can opt for a single-use or a rechargeable model.  A rechargeable fire extinguisher is filled with either water or a powdered chemical—check your extinguisher’s label to see what to refill yours with.

Typically, fire extinguishers are sold in 2-pound, 5-pound or 10-pound canisters. Larger sizes pack more punch, but choose a size that you can lift easily. If it’s too heavy, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

How to use a fire extinguisher

First things first: If there’s a fire of any size in your home, call 911. Remember that fire spreads rapidly – even if you end up extinguishing the fire yourself, it’s a good idea to have the pros on the way to check your work.

If you do need to use your extinguisher, the National Fire Protection Association uses the handy acronym PASS:

  • Pull the pin. Grab the extinguisher, point the nozzle away from you and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

Use your extinguisher on a small fire that’s not growing – for example, a fire contained in a wastebasket. When fighting the fire, keep your back to a clear exit so you can make an escape if you need to. If the room fills with smoke or the fire grows, leave immediately.

If you’d prefer a hands-on learning experience, call your local fire department. Most offer training on how to use a fire extinguisher.

When to replace a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers don’t last forever. All models can lose pressure over time. Depending on the model, they last between 5 and 15 years – even if no expiration date is listed.

To make sure your fire extinguisher is in good working order, check the pressure gauge monthly. If it’s in the green, it’s functional. If it’s in the yellow or red, it will need refilled or serviced. Replace yours ASAP if you notice any of these things:

  • The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or jammed.
  • The locking pin is unsealed or missing.
  • The handle is missing or unsteady.
  • The inspection sticker or service record is missing.

Also talk to an insurance professional at Melendez Insurance. He or she  can help make sure your home has the right homeowners insurance in case a fire happens despite your best efforts to prevent one.

Why Is My Home Insured for More Than I Could Sell It For?

Monday, May 9th, 2016

ReplacementValueImageWhile the market value of your home is commonly based on tax assessment records, real estate appraisals or the recent selling prices of similar homes in your neighborhood, your homeowners insurance limit is based on what it would cost to replace your home if it was completely destroyed. This is frequently a different figure from what your home could fetch on the open market.

Erie Insurance uses a program called Home Cost Estimator to determine how much it would cost to rebuild a house from the ground up. “The estimator uses information about a dwelling’s characteristics to determine the estimated replacement cost,” says Terry McConnell,vice president, Personal Lines Underwriting, at Erie Insurance. “The information is pulled from several sources to come up with a very close approximation of what it would cost to reconstruct a house.”

Factors affecting a home’s reconstruction value

Many different factors affect how much it would cost to reconstruct a home. Some of the main ones include:

  • The home’s square footage
  • The materials used in the interior and exterior construction
  • The style of the house
  • Any special or custom-built features like fireplaces or exterior trim
  • Any improvements or additions made to the home
  • The local construction costs

It’s common for a house to have a significantly higher homeowners insurance limit when it’s an older home.

“Original building materials common to older homes like plaster, hardwood floors, full-dimensional lumber and trim make the replacement cost of older homes higher than a modern home of the same size and style,” says McConnell.

A better way to insure your home

When insuring your home, the value should be equal to the amount it would cost to replace the home. You’ll also want to make sure your home is covered on a replacement cost basis rather than an actual cash value basis.

Actual cash value coverage makes a deduction from the settlement based on depreciation. Meanwhile, replacement cost coverage pays the actual cost of replacing your home with materials of like kind and quality without a deduction for depreciation.

To illustrate, imagine you paid $10,000 for a new roof. It depreciates $1,000 every year. If your roof was destroyed by a fire in Year Four, you would only get $6,000 to replace it under an actual cash value settlement. A replacement cost settlement would replace the damaged portion of the roof without a deduction for depreciation.

Many homeowners policies automatically insure homes on a replacement cost basis. Melendez Insurance can tell you more about replacement cost and how your homeowners insurance works.

How to Insure Fine Art

Monday, February 29th, 2016

InsuringArtMost of us will never own a Picasso or a Rembrandt. But we may own (or someday own) a pricey piece of art. And that brings up the issue of how to insure fine art.

When you think of separately insuring a pricey item, many people think of engagement rings and other kinds of jewelry. But extra coverage can also come in handy for anything from a valuable stamp collection to an expensive fur to—you guessed it—fine art.

Typically, your art coverage is included in your personal property limit on your homeowners policy or renters policy. That should be sufficient for the vast majority of people who own fine art.

Yet maybe you inherited or bought a piece by a real master. If that’s the case, you’ll want to consider a separate endorsement for your fine art.

Even if your fine art is covered under your homeowners or renters policy, you may still want to endorse it under your policy. Doing so can let you choose a different deductible for your fine art than the regular policy deductible, modify the coverage or change how a loss would be settled.

Getting your fine art appraised

When it comes to how to insure fine art, one thing you’ll definitely want to do is get it appraised. An appraisal can help ensure that you’d be properly compensated if your art was stolen or damaged.

An appraiser may authenticate your art to make sure it’s not forged. There are several ways to check a painting’s authenticity:

  • Examine the signature
  • Check the artistic style and ability
  • Look at the construction and back of the canvas (A forged painting often has irregular or uneven paint on the edge of the canvas and is stark white on the back—forgers typically don’t vary the heaviness of paint used.)
  • Assess the past history of sale (known as the provenance) and any certificate of authenticity

A similar process is used if you own an original, limited edition print. An extra step an appraiser will check is the fraction number at the bottom of the print that indicates how many prints were made.

It’s a good idea to get an appraisal every few years since fine art prices can fluctuate. Make sure to save any appraisal documents with the bill of sale, certificate of authenticity and past history of sale. It’s also a good idea to take some photos of your art and include them in your home inventory.

What is the City Responsible For?

Monday, October 5th, 2015

What_your_City_Will382x189When things go wrong inside your house, you know the burden’s on you (or your homeowners insurance) to get things fixed.

Things can get a little confusing when something is kind of yours and kind of your city’s responsibility. Who pays then?

While there’s usually no clear-cut answer, the following information can give you some clarity around the issue.

Trees

Trees cause more than $1 billion of property damage in the United States every year. Who pays for that damage can be tricky. And that’s true whether your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard or a tree straddles the line between your property and your city’s property.

If a tree is located between your street and your sidewalk, it is typically owned by the city. So it would probably be your city’s responsibility to remove it if it fell or became damaged. Many cities have an arborist on staff who can let you know for sure.

Trees that fall elsewhere on your property are likely your responsibility. Your homeowners insurance often covers the cost of tree removal, so make sure to check in with your insurance agent to see what your policy covers.

Sidewalks

In years past, cities would typically pick up the tab for any sidewalk repairs. Today, nearly every major American city places at least some—or all—of the responsibility on the homeowner. Your city may have a limited amount of funds to repair sidewalks or a shared cost program in place. No matter what your city offers, it’s a good idea to get a damaged sidewalk repaired ASAP—falls are a major source of homeowners liability claims.

Car damage after hitting a pothole

Many—but not all—cities let you file a pothole claim if your car sustains damage from a pothole on a city roadway. The process varies by city, so check with your city’s roads department to see if they accept claims. Keep in mind there’s no guarantee your claim will be accepted and that payments for damages can have a cap.

Snowplow damage

Snowplows (and other city vehicles) perform essential services for communities.

Unfortunately, city workers who operate these vehicles can cause damage as they perform their duties. Some of the most common incidents include running into a fence or mailbox while snow plowing. If this happens to you, the city’s insurance company will most likely cover the damage. Just make sure to promptly report the incident—some cities only let you report a claim a specified number of days after an incident took place.

These kinds of situations highlight the importance of having the right homeowners insurance and auto insurance. Talk to an insurance professional at Melendez Insurance to learn more about the right coverage and to get a free quote.

What Happens If My Neighbor’s Tree Falls in My Yard?

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Trees can be tricky, but for the most part homeowners, building owners and landlords are responsible for what falls into their own yard. So if your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard, your homeowners insurance would typically help cover the cost of removing the tree and remedying the damage it caused, after your deductible.

The same is true in reverse: If a tree on your property falls in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor should file a claim with his or her insurance company.

In most cases, neighbors are able to work things out without too much trouble. If there’s ever an issue, you can rely on your claims adjuster to help straighten everything out.

The claims process

If a tree falls on your house, make sure to take some photos. Then call your claims adjuster, who will evaluate the damage and explain how your homeowners coverage comes into play. It’s recommended that you call your claims adjuster before you contract to have the tree removed.

Sometimes trees fall on cars. If it’s not safe or possible to remove the tree from the car yourself, you should call a professional to remove it. (Again, talk to a claims adjuster first and take a few photos of the fallen tree on your car.) Depending on the damage, both your homeowners and the optional comprehensive coverage you may have under your auto policy could provide coverage for the loss.

Preventing tree damage

Preventive measures matter when it comes to trees. Start by looking for signs of distress such as dead limbs, cracks in the trunk or major limbs, leaning to one side and branches that are close to a house or power line. Mushroom growth on the roots or bark can also signal trouble.

“A homeowner should be concerned about the health of their trees,” says Gary Sullivan, vice president of Property and Subrogation Claims at ERIE. “The best thing to do is to regularly have large trees trimmed.” (The Tree Care Industry Association lists accredited tree care professionals.)

To learn more and to ensure you have the right coverage for your home, contact Melendez Insurance.

How to Insure a Home Under Construction

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

HowtoEstimateLaborforRemodelingConstruction9600260460Most homebuyers opt to buy a home that already exists. But maybe you’re thinking of buying a home that’s being constructed—either by you or by a contractor of your choice.

If you plan on moving into a home that doesn’t yet exist, there’s more to it than finding the right contractor. You’ll also want to insure the home while it’s being constructed. That’s because a home being constructed is also vulnerable to risks like severe weather damage and theft.

“There are several ways to insure a home being constructed,” says Terry McConnell, vice president, Personal Lines Underwriting, at Erie Insurance. “It mostly depends on who is building the house: a contractor working on behalf of a developer, a contractor hired by an individual or an individual looking to build his or her own home.”

If it’s a contractor working on behalf of a developer

McConnell explains that a contractor working as a developer typically has a builder’s risk commercial policy while the home is under construction. So you shouldn’t have to worry about how to insure a home being constructed if this is your situation.

If you’re hiring a contractor

While some contractors take care of the insurance as part of a turnkey construction project, it is more common to insure the home yourself. If the home is being built by a contractor with a completion date within six months you can be eligible for a homeowner’s policy for the completed value of the home. “Unless the home has very high value, it is typically completed in this amount of time,” says McConnell, who adds that longer times are available for those who need it.

If you’re building your own home

Things are different if you decide to build your own home. “Unless you’re a contractor by trade, you’re more likely take longer to construct your home,” says McConnell. “It’s also more common for the construction to go on for years rather than for months. For that reason, the coverage we offer is more limited than the kind we would offer if you hired a professional contractor.”

Extra insurance for extra risks

Your homeowners insurance policy for a home in the course of construction only covers items that are permanently installed in your home. So building materials on the construction site but not yet installed are not automatically covered against theft and damage. You can still insure items not yet installed by adding a theft of building materials endorsement to your policy. The endorsement lets you choose the level of coverage, which is in effect until the home is completed.

Is That Covered by Home Insurance? Five Surprising Facts

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

5-Surprising-facts-about-home-insuranceHome insurance policies are designed to protect your personal property and provide reimbursement in the event of damage or loss. Yet, when a claim is filed, many people are surprised to find certain items are excluded from coverage. Likewise, some individuals miss the opportunity to file a claim, not realizing they have experienced a covered loss. Below are five areas that tend to cause confusion in the world of home insurance. Do you know which ones are covered by your current policy? (Hint: Ask your insurance agent if you aren’t sure.)

Business Activities

Typically, home insurance covers only minor losses such as damage or theft of home office equipment. According to Paul Martin, CPCU, another example of a covered loss would be damage caused by your child’s after-school job mowing a neighbor’s grass. Most home insurance policies provide a $2,500 loss limitation for business property such as inventory kept in the home, computer equipment, or a fax machine. Yet, those who store inventory such as Pampered Chef items, for example, know how quickly $2,500 adds up.

Also, don’t count on your home insurance to cover business liability losses. If you’re named in a lawsuit connected to a business that is run out of your residence, home insurance won’t cover any related claims. Regarding business activity conducted in your home, purchasing separate business insurance is the best way to guarantee proper coverage.

Motorized Equipment

Motorized items are typically not covered under home insurance for liability purposes. Recreational equipment such as an ATV used in your own backyard may be covered, but if you take that same ATV off of your property and sustain a loss, it will not fall under your home insurance policy. Until recently, even the small motorized Barbie Jeeps driven by young children were excluded from home insurance, but now they are sometimes explicitly named in newer policies.

Motorcycles and golf carts, along with large motorized watercraft, are additional examples of items that are not automatically covered, although some smaller motorboats and sail boats may be included in coverage. Other watercraft such as canoes and kayaks fall under a loss limitation of $1,500.

Pets

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one third of homeowners insurance liability claims in 2013, amounting to $483 million in payouts. Most accidents or injuries caused by pets are covered by home insurance unless your policy specifically names a certain breed or size of animal that is excluded. Also, keep in mind that if your dog does bite a human or another dog, it may be excluded from future insurance coverage.

Natural Disasters

Flood insurance is the prime example of a loss not covered by home insurance. Flood insurance is a federally subsidized program which must be purchased separately, and premiums are set by the National Flood Insurance Program. Earthquake insurance is another example of a required separate policy. Although many people in earthquake-prone areas do consider buying this policy, the risk of loss is still present for those living in parts of the country who may suffer from unexpected earthquakes such as the August 2011 event shaking the East Coast. Volcano damage is also generally excluded from coverage, even in limited geographic areas with an elevated risk of this danger.

Which acts of nature are covered? Hail, wind storms, tornadoes and wildfires are generally included in home insurance policies. Hurricane damage is covered under home insurance as well, except for flood-related damage stemming from these large storms.

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments, like many other high-value items, fall under a theft loss limitation for home insurance purposes and require a separate rider or policy to guarantee full replacement cost. Otherwise, the $2,000 piccolo that your musically gifted child plays may not return your full investment if he or she drops and breaks it. The same rules apply for firearms, jewelry, silverware and other high value collectible items.

Borrowed Items

One final instance of insurance protection which causes confusion involves borrowed items. If you borrow an expensive item from your neighbor, such as a high-powered snow blower, and it breaks under your care, you may be liable. Even though the incident occurred on your property, home insurance will not cover any related claims, so you may need to personally bear the cost of replacing your neighbor’s equipment.

If you have questions about personal property items which may or may not be covered by insurance, Melendez Insurance can help. Since we are an independent agency, we work for consumers, not a large parent company, and we are happy to assist you by writing a policy tailored to meet your individual insurance needs.