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Home Maintenance

What Is Not Covered Under Standard Homeowners Insurance?

Homeowners Insurance Coverage
Until it happens, most homeowners think of disasters as something that won’t happen to them. Disasters can be as minor as a tree branch falling and breaking a few windows, or as concentrated as a pinhole roof leak slowly dripping water into a residence—causing mold or other ripple effects. Sadly, too many people who experience disaster on a large or small scale may find the trauma continues when it’s time to file an insurance claim.
You need to be knowledgeable about what your Homeowner’s Insurance does and does not cover. These common held assumptions about insurance are items that are NOT covered and may require additional insurance or riders.
Wear and Tear Is Covered-Myth
Fact: Coverage typically includes damage from fire, weather and theft, not damage due to general wear and tear or neglect. As a policyholder it’s up to you to maintain your home, including making routine repairs and protecting your home from pests. If you neglect to take care of your property ( a leaky roof) you may not be covered.
You’re Insured in Case of Flood Damage, Earthquakes, Tornadoes and Hurricanes-Myth
Fact: Although some weather-related damage is generally covered, such as from hail, other storm related damage from wind or water may not be.
Floods require specific flood insurance from the Federal Government. Earthquakes might be covered, but sometimes they require additional insurance. Hurricane and tornado damage requires a separate windstorm policy. Sinkholes, mudslides and other earth movement (except in CA) requires a separate endorsement.
All Personal Belongings Are Fully Covered-Myth
Fact: Homeowners insurance typically covers furniture, clothing and other personal items, but more valuable items like jewelry and artwork may require an add-on policy. Homeowners should routinely inventory belongings to determine if policy limits meet their coverage needs.
You Have Protection Against Any Injuries That Happen at Home
-Myth
Fact: Your policy’s liability coverage protects you if a guest is hurt in your home, but if a family member is injured at home, it’s normally covered by health insurance.
Home Businesses Are Part of the Package
-Myth
Fact: A home business requires business insurance to cover property damage and liability; homeowners should consult with their insurance carrier or agent to be sure they’re fully covered from disasters large or small
You Can Rebuild For The Amount Of The Insurance Coverage-Myth
Fact: Unless you insured for “replacement value” you may be under insured to rebuild your home. “Ordinance of Law” exclusions may not cover to the changes to building codes and the additional costs of bringing the property up to code if damaged.
Overflows of back-ups from your sump pump, sewer or drain are covered-Myth
Fact: A standard policy does not include coverage for these issues and require a separate endorsement.
It may not seem like particularly interesting reading material, but it’s better to take the time to thoroughly understand what your insurance policy covers than to be stuck in a situation where you’re not sure when you really need it.

Electrical Safety Tips During the Holidays

Xmas tree lights

Decorating your home is one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday season. Because electricity is involved with so many holiday decorations, it’s important you follow a few simple tips to keep your home and family safe.

Checking your decorations and electrical equipment for damage is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe this holiday season. Before plugging anything in, inspect electrical outlets to ensure they aren’t loose, damaged, or cracked. You should also look for damage to your decorations themselves, like cracked bulbs and frayed electrical cords, and refrain from using decorations with these problems.

Avoid overloading your electrical outlets. If you’re using incandescent light strings to decorate your home or your tree, never plug more than one of these strings into a single outlet. Also, don’t plug multiple high-wattage decorations into one outlet. Either of these decorating missteps can easily overload the outlet and increase your risk for a house fire.

Buy the right decorations. When you’re shopping for your indoor and outdoor decorations, look for items that have been certified by an independent testing laboratory. This means a decoration has been successfully safety-tested.

Lastly, make sure you unplug your electrical decorations whenever you leave your house and when you go to sleep at night. Many electrical fires occur when homeowners are asleep or out of the home, so taking this extra precaution is an important safety tip.

If you want to enjoy a safe holiday season, follow each of these electrical safety tips. Using electrical decorations responsibly can help protect your family from harm while you also transform your home for the holidays.

10 Questions to Ask Your Contractor

Hiring a Contractor

What questions to ask your contractor in advance of hiring them.  Most homeowners have some concerns when it comes to hiring home improvement professionals. Some are afraid of overpaying, some worry that they’re hiring an unqualified professional, and others wonder about the character of the individuals they’re inviting into their homes. Asking these ten questions can help alleviate all of these concerns.

1. How long have you been in the business or working in the industry?

Look for a credible track record and successful work experience.

2. Are you licensed, insured and bonded?

At the very least, make sure your pro is licensed and carries worker’s comp and liability insurance. Bonding is not a universal requirement. Think of bonding as homeowner insurance that protects you in case of an incomplete job.

3. Do you guarantee your work in writing?

While a verbal guarantee is nice, it offers no guarantees that the contractor will actually stand behind his work. Draft a written guarantee that states exactly what is and isn’t covered.

4. Can you provide references?

Ratings and reviews are a great resource, especially when coupled with references from previous customers. Ask your contractor to provide a list of references. Don’t hire pros who can’t offer references. I would also advise researching the Better Business Bureau to see any complaints that may have been filed against the company.

5. Do you pull all the required permits?

Failing to pull the requited permits can cost you in the long run. Have your contractor pull the necessary paperwork and permits to get your job started. Also require that they deliver copies of all closed permits once the job is completed. If your contractor is hesitant, find a new pro.

6. Who will be managing the project?

If your contractor isn’t in charge of your job, insist on meeting the project manager to ensure he measures up to your standards.

7. What is the project timeline and daily work schedule?

Construction scheduling is never perfect. Workers get sick, orders get delayed and weather causes interruptions. But an organized contractor will provide you with a work schedule that clearly outlines a start and end date.

8. Will you need water or bathroom facilities?

Most contractors are self-sufficient enough to bring their own water. But, unless your job is a major remodel that necessitates bringing in a port-a-john, there’s a good chance your workers will need to use your facilities. Dedicate a bathroom (or bathrooms) to your workers before you start your project.

9. Will you need my garage code or keys to my house? Who will have access?

Many homeowners feel uncomfortable handing over the keys to their home. Unless you plan on staying home during the construction, you’re going to need to give your contractor access to your house. Knowing who has the keys to your home will give you peace of mind.  You may feel confident with your ongoing security if you plan on having your locks rekeyed after the project is completed.

10. Will you sign a contract?

All worthwhile contractors will write out a clear contract that defines the work to be performed, as well as the material, costs and completion timeframes associated with the project. Thorough contracts also cover what happens if the project becomes problematic. This is known as a time and materials contract. The contract should also include a termination clause that spells out the circumstances in which both parties are allowed to terminate the contract.

DO NOT PAY IN FULL UNTIL THE ENTIRE PROJECT IS COMPLETED AND YOU ARE SATISFIED WITH THE WORK.

 

What do to if your pipes Freeze

 

 

How to Declutter for the New Year!

The idea of living a simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff sounds attractive to many. They have considered the benefits of owning fewer possessions: less to clean, less debt, less to organize, less stress, more money and energy for their greatest passions. They are ready to declutter but some get quickly tripped up by the very next question… where in the world do I begin?

Many begin to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and defeated around the idea of decluttering their homes. That’s too bad. The decluttering journey doesn’t need to be as painful as some make it out to be. In fact, there are a variety of people who have come up with some pretty fun, creative ways to get started.

Below are three decluttering philosophies to help you clear out and clean up your home and life.

Feng Shui — The driving principle behind this Eastern philosophy is to create harmony and balance between an individual and his or her environment. Good feng shui invites prosperity and brings an overall sense of well-being into your space. From the front door to the bathroom, small changes to color, decor and furniture arrangement are believed to promote health, wealth, happiness and good energy.

The KonMari Method — Famed Japanese organizer Marie Kondo promises that you can drastically improve your lie by tidying up.  In her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” she explains a two-step approach. First, you take all of your possessions and lay them out categorically (clothes first and sentimental pieces last). Then, you hold each item in your hand and decide whether or not it brings you joy. If it doesn’t, you let it go.

The 90/90 Rule (Minimalism) — This home organization concept also relies on a two-part process. When implementing the 90/90 rule, assess each belonging based on two simple questions: Have I used it within the last 90 days, and will I use it in the next 90 days? If not, it’s time to say goodbye.

While some of these techniques require a big commitment of time, energy and emotional “letting go”, it may require starting with small steps before you fully embrace the concept of minimalism, if at all.

Consider this list of 10 creative ways to declutter your home:

Give away one item each day.  By giving away one item at a time and donating it to someone less fortunate you can declutter and enrich your life.

Fill one trash bag. Early in your journey towards simplicity, a favorite decluttering techniques is to grab a simple large trash bag and see how quickly you can fill it. This could also be used to fill a bag for a needy charity or just toss in the trash.

Try the Oprah Winfrey Hanger Experiment:  While this idea didn’t originate with Oprah, she was the one to help give it notoriety. To identify wardrobe pieces to clear out, hang all your clothes with the hangers in the reverse direction. After you wear an item, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct direction. After six months, you’ll have a clear picture of which clothes you can easily discard. This experiment could also be applied to a number of clutter areas in your home (cleaners, toys, linens, tools, hobbies and craft items).

Take the 12-12-12 Challenge. A simple task of locating 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to be returned to their proper home can be a really fun and exciting way to quickly organize 36 things in your house. This challenge actually became a quick competition … and your kids don’t have to be too old to participate as well.

9. Use your imagination. Psychology Today recommends using your imagination to help declutter objects that may seem difficult to remove. Try asking yourself unique questions like, “If I was just buying this now, how much would I pay?” These creative techniques may prove to be very helpful for some with difficulties removing unneeded clutter.

No matter what you choose to help you get started – whether it be one of these ten or one of countless others – the goal is to take your first step with excitement behind it. There is a beautiful world of freedom and fresh breath hiding behind that clutter. How you remove it is up to you.

Ultimately, there’s no shortage of ways to declutter and simplify your life. The important thing is to be willing to let go of the items that no longer serve you and make way for new experiences.

Buying a generator: Tips to know before you make a purchase

After Hurricane Irma, much of Florida lost power. And during Hurricane Maria, all of Puerto Rico is in the dark.
The one-two punch of storms reminded Floridians of the importance of owning a generator. If you’re shopping for a power source, here are factors to consider:

How much do you want to spend?

Stand-by generators can power your whole house and usually run on natural gas or propane. They typically cost $5,000 to $10,000, according to Consumer Reports. And you’ll need to start planning the installation months in advance. Most homeowners opt for portable generators, which usually won’t run central AC and cost $400 to $1,000. (However, Consumer Reports’ top-rated portable generator is a Honda that goes for $3,999.)

What do you want to power?

If you want to run a fridge, a fan and a few lights, a small portable generator will do the job. If you hope to keep living as if the hurricane never hit, you’ll need a stationary generator. And if you’re willing to rough it but would like to run a window AC unit, you’ll want to make sure before the storm that your generator has enough juice to run your AC. Another caveat: Cheap generators can produce power surges that will fry expensive electronics.

How much noise can you stand?

Or, put another way, how many decibels do you want to bombard your neighbors with? In general, the more expensive the generator, the quieter it is.

Technology is getting better.

For decades, Floridians have been buying portable generators that were the mechanical equivalent of muscle cars, says Paul Hope of Consumer Reports. Now, though, manufacturers are designing fuel-injected engines for generators. These models are quieter, more fuel-efficient and emit less carbon monoxide. They’re also more expensive.

The smart move, says Hope, is to shop for a generator between storms or after hurricane season. That gives you time to research what you need — and to hire an electrician to install a transfer switch or interlock device that lets the generator power your house.

Spring Cleaning Guide from Optima Properties

Spring checklist

Now that the clocks have SPRUNG AHEAD it is a good time to think about Spring Home Maintenance.  As current homeowners you need to keep your home systems and property in good condition so that the small maintenance issues do not become major and expensive repair items.

 

Do not read this list and become overwhelmed, it is an extensive list meant to cover basic home maintenance. Not all of these maintenance items will apply to all homes.  This is a comprehensive guideline designed for homes in the South as well as Northern climates.

Spring cleaning is a way to demonstrate pride in ownership (or rentership).  A home and its contents are investments; money spent on something you really love or really need (ideally both).  When you take the time to clean thoroughly and properly, you can maintain and prolong the life of the item or finish for years.  Further, it means you live in a cleaner and healthier home; less dust, dust mites, allergens, odors, and dirt.

Always start from the top and work your way down.  Think about it like this: dust falls down (like rain or snow) so if you start at the top, you’ll never have to re-clean a surface (which is a time waster).  It doesn’t make sense to clean the floors first and then dust the tabletops; you’ll just have to clean the floors again.  Use gravity to your benefit and always work from top to bottom.  It also helps you not miss anything!

General Spring Cleaning Tasks:

These are a list of some of the things that need to be done around the house, and spring is a great time to do them.  So often we don’t remember to do them, so let this be your wake-up call!

 

 

 

 

Tests and replacements:

Test smoke alarm

Test carbon monoxide alarm

Check flashlight batteries

Check fire extinguishers

Change air filters

Check all window screens for tears and repair or replace as required

 

 

 

Overall Spring Cleaning Chores:

Dust crown molding and baseboards and clean scuff marks

Dust ceiling corners

Dust/wash light fixtures and lamps

Dust ceiling fans

Wipe down doors and walls (Swiffer works great for removing all the dust)

Touch up paint

Vacuum or wash/dry clean window curtains and bedding

Wash or dust window blinds

Wash windows and screens inside and out

Dust books and bookcases

Polish wood furniture

Wipe down and vacuum furniture (clean the base and under cushions)

Condition leather furniture

Remove stains from upholstered furniture

Vacuum and wash lampshades

Deep clean hardwood, tile, linoleum, and carpet flooring

Shampoo carpet (DIY or schedule a professional)

Remove area rugs to shake out, then vacuum, then clean under them

Remove fingerprints and dirt from light switches and door handles

Clean air vents

Dust around and BEHIND mirrors, picture frames, and wall hangings

Schedule chimney sweep

Schedule termite or pest control maintenance

Spring Clean Outside:

Sweep, power wash, and/or stain deck

Power spray siding

Touch up paint trim, wood, doors, and shutters

Oil hurricane shutters

Power wash garage door and eaves of house

Clean outside door frames

Wipe away cobwebs

Shake out entry mat

Clean grill

Clean and repair gutters

Replace broken bricks, wood, or stone

Clean outdoor light fixtures

Clean outside patio furniture

Trim trees, bushes and shrubbery

Check and repair sprinklers

Inspect roof shingles

Clean outdoor and indoor trash cans

Clean out garage and sweep

 

Managing the post-storm insurance claims process

Florida, Georgia and North Carolina residents affected by Hurricane Matthew will begin surveying damages to their property and belongings.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier put together the following tips to help Floridians begin the process of filing insurance claims for damaged property and belongings and this may prove useful to residents in other states as well:

Tip 1: Locate all applicable insurance policies. This may include a homeowners’ policy, flood policy (flood coverage is not covered under a typical homeowners’ policy and is separate coverage), and an automobile policy (may cover damage to your car from flooding).

Tip 2: Document all damaged property and belongings. Take photos or shoot video footage before attempting any temporary repairs. When you file an insurance claim, you may be asked for visual documentation of damages.

A photographic home inventory is a handy resource for this situation. A free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners called “MyHome Scr.APP.book” can help you take and store a room-by-room log of photos.

Tip 3: Contact your insurance company or insurance agent as soon as possible to report damages.Insurance policies require prompt reporting of claims, so it is important to act as soon as possible.

Tip 4: Cover damaged areas exposed to the elements to prevent further damage. Your insurance company may reimburse the expense of these temporary repairs, so keep all receipts.

Do not dispose of any damaged personal property until your insurance company adjuster has had an opportunity to survey it.

Florida consumers who have questions about their insurance coverage are encouraged to call CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services’ Insurance Helpline. Helpline experts can be reached by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1- 877-693-5236), or online at: myfloridacfo.com/hurricanematthew.

Prepare for Hurricane Matthew’s Aftermath

As Hurricane Matthew churns through the Atlantic with a possible landfall in Florida, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) urged property owners to take some basic precautions to protect themselves and their belongings.

“With the potential for Hurricane Matthew to hit somewhere along the East Coast, the Governor has issued a state of emergency for all 67 counties in Florida,” says Logan McFaddin, PCI Florida regional manager. “This caliber of a system could bring major flooding and damages along Florida’s East Coast.”

In addition to making sure residents have emergency kits and plans ready, PCI urges residents and business owners to take precautionary measures to prevent damage to vulnerable property. Flooding from storm surge during hurricanes and tropical storms can be especially dangerous for residents along the coast and further inland. PCI recommends that homeowners who sustain damage report it as early as possible to their insurance company.

McFaddin says flood insurance is advisable, but “there is typically a 30-day waiting period between the date of purchase and when flood coverage will go into effect.”

PCI hurricane precautions

Review your property insurance policy, especially the “declarations” page, and check whether your policy pays replacement costs or actual cash value for a covered loss.

Inventory household items, and photograph or videotape them for further documentation. Keep this information and insurance policies in a safe place.

Keep the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurer and agent in a safe and easily accessible place.

Protect your property by covering all windows with plywood or shutters, moving vehicles into the garage when possible, and placing grills and patio furniture indoors.

Keep all receipts for any repairs so your insurance company can reimburse you.

Check with your insurance adjuster for referrals to professional restoration, cleaning and salvage companies if additional assistance is needed.

Make sure watercraft are stored in a secure area, like a garage or covered boat dock. A typical homeowners policy will cover property damage in limited instances for small watercraft, and separate boat policies will provide broader, more extensive property and liability protection for larger, faster boat, yachts, jet skis and wave runners.

 

There will certainly be an extended period with power outages.  After the storm, empty out your freezer and refrigerator of all perishable items and put in covered trash receptacles.  Unplug all appliances and electronics since there will certainly be surges when power is restored.

Be mindful of downed power lines when going outside after the storm.  Broken branches can also be dangerous and will continue to fall given the winds and rain that follow the storm.  Remove debris from your property to ensure continued safety.

You Are Under Contract…What’s Next?

You searched for homes over the course of months or even years. You endured a series of offers and counter offers, property disclosures, inspections and reports. Finally, after so much excitement, stress and anxiety, the house hunt has come to an end.
But the story isn’t over yet. Here are some next steps to consider before you actually move in.
Plan any work well in advance:
Rarely does a buyer get a place that is truly in “move-in” condition. By the time you’ve signed a contract, you have lots of ideas about how you’ll live in this home, how you’ll customize it to suit you and your family,  and what work needs to be done.
If the place needs work, don’t wait until you’ve closed to engage a painter, a floor re-finisher, or a general contractor. Either at your final walk-through or during a private appointment after you’ve removed your contingencies get the proper contractors in the house. Start getting bids for necessary work. If possible, have floor sanding, painting, demolition,  or small fix-it work done before you move in. Real estate agents work with all kinds of tradespeople, so they’re often a great resource recommendations.

Set up the utilities:
Some people assume the utilities will work once they walk in on day one. While many utility companies have grace periods (the days between when the seller cancels service and the new owner calls), you can’t always assume this will be the case. If you have an out-of-town seller, they may have cancelled services the day they knew all contingencies were removed. In this instance, the grace period likely lapsed, and you may be stuck dealing with the electric company, waiting for an appointment or just being without power when you really want to start painting, fixing or cleaning.

The best plan is to call the utility companies and get service set up well before closing. If they haven’t received cancellation notice from the seller, let the seller know to take care of that.

Got the keys? Great, now change the locks:
Assume that every one and his brother has a set of keys to your new home. The seller’s real estate agent likely gave copies to his or her assistant, a painter, stager or even another agent at some point during the marketing period. That’s why the first person you should call after getting the keys is a locksmith.Spend the money to get all the locks changed right away. You’ll sleep better at night.

Hire a cleaning crew:
The Seller has an obligation to leave the property “broom clean”, but this in no way assures that the carpets have been cleaned, the floors mopped and the insides of the cabinets and drawers have been wiped down/  There’s nothing worse than showing up with the movers, dozens of boxes and your personal belongings only to discover the seller hadn’t had the place cleaned thoroughly.
Assume the worst and get a professional cleaning crew in there the minute after the closing. Even if the seller did clean, they may have done a poor job. You want to start life in your new home with a clean slate. The movers might make a mess while moving in. But the bones of the place will be sparkling clean and you won’t be scrambling to get cleaners in while the home is in a state of disarray as you unpack.

Have a handyman, small contractor or designer on call:
Moving in can take days, if not weeks, and is made up of the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Things like aligning your framed artwork, centering the couch in the living room or getting the large rug set up in the master bedroom can drive you crazy. Nailed multiple holes in the wall in an attempt to get your family photos lined up on the staircase? Not all of us are cut out to do this kind of stuff.

While it may seem like a luxury, investing a few hundred dollars in hiring someone to take orders, help with setting up and take over some of these mindless tasks will save time and potentially relieve you of a giant headache.

Thinking ahead is the way to go:
The journey to home buying could have been anything from fun to stressful and emotional. When the closing date draws near, you’re probably exhausted. But taking a little extra time to plan ahead will save you time, money and a lot of hassle. And it will make the move into your new home so much more satisfying.