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Welcome to our Blog Archives page. Here you will find information previously posted at our Insurance Blog. For the latest updates, please visit that site at www.NYAutoandHomeInsurance.com.


The Homeowners Insurance Adventure Continues

These days, the insurance industry, especially in catastrophe hurricane exposed areas like Long Island, is changing very quickly. This is very different from not too long ago. Insurance companies and their employees tend to be very conservative, resisting changes sometimes for years before caving in. Agents tend to be the same, because our job is to protect against risk of loss, as opposed to many other business and personal models, where taking risks is part of the fun.

These days, change is fast and drastic. I have not posted here in about a month and a half, but in that time, several more carriers have stopped or severely cut back on writing home insurance on Long Island, especially within a half mile of the water. The latest one I heard about was State Farm, who stopped writing new policies within 2500 feet of the Bay. Adirondack Insurance recently severely limited their new policies in all of Suffolk County regardless of distance to water, and New York Central Mutual is not only limiting new policies, but they recently became part of the group that is actually canceling people.

Allstate continues to cancel thousands of policyholders, though they have made some efforts to bring other companies to the table so that their Long Island agents still have something to sell. There are almost no new players coming in to the New York market, except for some 'excess lines' carriers such as Lloyd's of London and Lexington Insurance Company. These carriers write policies at a much higher price, but at least they make coverage available.

If it turns out you are forced to seek insurance from one of these non-standard companies, be sure the agent you are dealing with has experience with them, especially with waterfront home insurance issues, and knows what to look for. We have seen policies that COMPLETELY EXCLUDE wind damage! What is the point of having insurance if you are not covered for a hurricane, which is just a big windstorm with a name? Some of these policies also carry exclusions for pets, underground oil tanks, and other unusual clauses. We have also seen policies that offer 'actual cash value' coverage on the structure itself, which takes depreciation based on age, as opposed to a 'regular' homeowners insurance policy which insured at replacement cost.

Of course, these policies still do not cover flood damage even though they may cost 2-3 times more than what was considered normal for Long Island home insurance only a couple of years ago. Flood insurance continues to be available through your local agent via the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program, and excess flood insurance is available from a number of companies, when the $250,000 maximum building coverage through the FEMA program is not enough.

Remember also that if your policy is through an excess and surplus insurance company, you are NOT protected by the New York State Guaranty Fund. That fund provides up to $1,000,000 in coverage if an insurance carrier defaults or becomes insolvent. Lloyd's prides itself on never having defaulted on a claim in over 100 of years of existence. And Lexington is part of AIG, the world's largest insurer. Still, the fact is they are not subject to regulation by the New York State insurance department, nor backed by the Guaranty Fund.

Another solution that is being used is the New York Fair Plan, otherwise known as NY Property or NYPIUA. That is a state-run operation that was designed to provide basic fire insurance for properties in blighted areas or which have other problems. But the policies provide NO liability insurance, no theft coverage, no coverage for burst pipes, and have many other restrictions. Again, in some cases, this may be your only practical option, but you need to be aware of just what you are buying. We have come across insurance offices here on Long Island telling their clients that they are getting a homeowners policy from NY Property, and nothing could be further from the truth.

As always, for more information, visit our sites at www.NYInsuranceWithService.com or www.FloodInsuranceNY.com.

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What is a Hurricane/Wind deductible and why is it on my Homeowners Insurance policy?

If you are a resident of the Long Island area and have not looked at your homeowners insurance policy lately, you probably should. One of the big changes that has come about over the last couple of years is the addition of a special, higher deductible for hurricane damage. Sometimes the higher deductible is for 'wind and hail', not just specifically hurricane. It depends on the insurance company.

So what does this mean? Quite simply, it means that if Long Island is hit by a hurricane, instead of your standard policy deductible of $500 or $1000 (the amount you have to pay in a property loss, after which the insurance company pays) may instead be tens of thousands of dollars! Usually, the deductible is a percentage of the amount of insurance on your house, ranging from 2% to as much as 10%. By law, the insurance companies must put both the percent and the dollar amount on the face of your policy.

These are being dictated by the reinsurance companies, the place where insurance carriers go to protect themselves againts catastrophic losses (those that affect large numbers of policy holders at the same time). These are your giant off-shore companies, many based in Bermuda or in the London market. They are not subject to the same state regulation as our 'domestic' carriers, and so they can decide what they want to charge and what coverages they will provide, and our Long Island homeowners insurance carriers pretty much have to live with it or assume more risk themselves, which they don't want to do.

As an example, if your house is covered for $400,000 and you have a 5% hurricane deductible, you would have to shell out $20,000 after a hurricane before your insurance company would be involved. And one of the biggest problems is that there is no standardization among the insurance carriers. Some have deductibles that activate with ANY hurricane that hits Long Island, some for category 2 storms, some just for any wind or hail whether or not it's associated with a hurricane.

There has been some talk in the state legislature about allowing a tax deductible savings plan that people can put money into each year to prepare for paying these large deductibles if a hurricane hits. The Small Business Administration (SBA) may also get involved in offering low interest loans but that is not guaranteed at this point in time. You can also buy an insurance policy to cover the deductible, from Lloyd's of London, for about 10% of your deductible. So in our example above, it would cost $2000 a year to cover your $20,000 deductible, not a very good bet.

This is an evolving area and as insurance agents here on Long Island, and in particular in Suffolk County, we need to be paying attention. But as consumers, readers of this article need to look at their own policies and make sure you understand what coverage you have so it doesn't come as a surprise when the inevitable storm hits.

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First 'Wind vs. Flood' Insurance Lawsuits from Katrina

Well, we knew it was coming, but the first lawsuit against insurance companies resulting from the denial of Katrina claims has started. Unfortunately, most people did not have flood insurance, either because they felt they were protected by the levee system (those people may have a legitimate beef with the Army Corps of Engineers or others, in thinking the levees should have worked) or they thought they were far enough from the water to be safe.

In the recent flooding in some upstate New York counties, it has been estimated that only one per cent of the people had flood insurance. If you live in a mountainous area, it's hard to imagine needing flood insurance, but FEMA estimates that 25% of all flood claims come from areas that are NOT considered 'special flood hazard areas.'

Here on Long Island, and especially in Suffolk County (the further east you go, the more Long Island is considered vulnerable to hurricanes and other such big storms) we have a slightly different situation for those right down by the water. Since most homes have been built or in some way refinanced over the past 35 years (since the National Flood Insurance Program started), most have been required by their banks to carry both wind (homeowners insurance) and flood insurance. Many people should probably review their limits to be sure they are enough, but there is a lot of flood insurance in force near the South Shore.

Move a few blocks north of the water, however, and the situation is quite different. That's where the flood zones change to something other than 'A', and the banks have, until now, not been mandated to require flood insurance. That is all about to change as congress works on the 2006 Flood Insurance Act which will change the whole system to require more participation based on what happened with Katrina.

A few weeks ago Newsday published a map that clearly shows what our Emergency Preparedness people have been telling us for a long time. Based on elevation (facts, not guesses), water from a hurricane the size of Katrina would bring flooding past Sunrise Highway in many places, and certainly much further from the shore than has been seen in the memories of most of us.

Still, flood insurance in those Long Island areas outside the hazard zones can be as little as $352 (even less for a house on a slab), so many people are buying it anyway, since it seems a small price for a lot of peace of mind.

As always, for more info on flood insurance, visit our site at http://www.floodinsuranceny.com/.

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Long Island Flood Insurance Facts and Myths

May 6, 2006

This week we will take a little break from our discussion of the Long Island homeowners insurance crisis, and talk a bit about the other type of coverage that is very important if a hurricane hits Long Island, flood insurance. Standard insurance companies long ago decided that they could not provide coverage for flood because it is catastrophic in nature, in other words, it can cause large amounts of damage to large numbers of property all at once.

The big insurance carriers are not afraid of a fire, which might affect two or three homes, or a large building. But a flood that wipes out the entire South Shore of Long Island could put all the insurance companies out of business, as losses could easily reach hundreds of billions of dollars.

So about 40 years ago the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was charged with designing a program for flood insurance. That was the beginning of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The idea was that loss payments would be guaranteed by the Federal flood insurance program but would be sold and serviced by both the NFIP itself and other insurance carriers who would be paid a fee for each policy they administer. Coverage is sold through local agents who choose to participate.

Communities were invited to join the NFIP flood insurance program in the late 1960's/early 1970's. As part of the requirements for joining, they had to agree to various changes in their building codes so that homes built after the date they came in to the program would be elevated beyond the 100 year flood plain level, meaning they would be much less likely to be damaged in a flood unless it was a really bad one. In return, those homes in flood hazard areas which are properly elevated get a much lower rate for their flood insurance.

All land areas are divided into flood insurance zones based on the ground elevation where they are. Naturally, the general tendency is that as you move away from the water, the hazard drops. However, it has been estimated by a number of experts that if a category 3 or better hurricane, such as Katrina, were to make a direct hit on Long Island, the water would reach Sunrise Highway in most areas, because the ground doesn't really start to rise until a few miles in.

The good news is that most homes more than a few blocks from the water are in what's called non-flood hazard areas, and flood insurance is pretty cheap for them. But near the water, and even moreso over on the barrier islands (where houses are not really damaged by floods as much as they are completely swept away) flood coverage can be fairly expensive. Our office writes a fair number of flood insurance policies for people on Gilgo Beach, Oak Beach, and Fire Island, and each one is individually rated by the flood insurance carriers based on location, elevation, and more.

Many people were required to buy flood insurance for the first time only in the past few years. As the mortgage refinancing and home equity loan boom happened over the past 5-7 years, with many homes being sold and many more seeing their equity taken out in the form of home equity loans and lines of credit, people learned something interesting about flood insurance. Since it's a federal government program, and the federal government also guarantees mortgages through the Federal National Mortgage Agency (FNMA or Fannie Mae) and GNMA (Ginny Mae), they also REQUIRE the purchase of federal flood insurance for homes in flood hazard areas. This puts more money into the National Flood Insurance Program through increased participation.

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Long Island Homeowners and Flood Insurance Issues, Continued

September 23, 2006

It's been a few weeks since I had a chance to write a post. Mostly it's because we have been renovating my office. We have had two or three work crews at a time here daily. Now it's getting down to the trim and painting, so it's just a little slower. You can see pictures of how it's coming out at my other blog, www.aroundbabylon.com.

Anyway, my being busy has not stopped things from happening in the Long Island homeowners insurance and flood insurance market. Since I last wrote, several more companies, some of them fairly large players, have either announced that they will no longer be writing homeowners insurance either here on Long Island or, in some cases, in New York State.

Part of the problem is that here on Long Island is where the largest concentration of high valued homes exists. So many companies tried to write lots of business here to increase their cash flow, but are now in panic mode because after seeing what happened with hurricane Katrina, they now realize that they have a big exposure here that is not offset by customers in other areas that are not subject to 'coastal' issues.

For instance, it's not that people in upstate New York never have claims. And they DO have 'catastrophic' claims using the insurance meaning, which refers to something that affects a lot of people all at once, as opposed to a fire at someone's house, which might melt some siding on the house next to it, but generally does not affect a whole area.

In some upstate counties, for instance, they can have major ice storms that damage a lot of houses. But it's still not nearly the same as here on Long Island, because the houses tend to be much further apart (less concentrated) in most upstate areas, and the values are lower. As we all know, a house that sells for $450,000 here can still be had for $200,000 in most other parts of the country, maybe even less in some.

Interestingly, some of these areas that you would not expect have flood issues as well. Newsday a couple of weeks ago had an article about a number of people who live in Pennsylvania, along the Delaware river, just 'downstream' from the reservoir system that provides water to New York City. It seems that because of droughts that have occurred in the past few years, the water people now try to keep the reservoirs at 100% of capacity. But the flip side of that is when it rains a lot, BILLIONS of gallons of water overflow the reservoirs and have been creating flooding problems along the Delaware river!

There are a lot of post-Katrina changes coming to the Federal Flood Insurance program through FEMA, and some of them won't be pleasant for those living in primary and secondary flood hazard areas. More to follow on that, but in the meantime if you have questions, you can contact us through our web site at www.FloodInsuranceNY.com

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Getting Cheap Insurance Quotes, continued

One of the things that has changed over the past five years or so when you shop around for auo and home insurance is that you are asked for your Social Security number. In these days of privacy concerns, that’s not an easy thing to give out, nor is it pleasant for us to ask. However, it’s a ‘fact of life’ now in the business, and in fact, any insurance quote you get without giving your Social Secuity number is, at best, a wild guess, and at worst, a lowball quote. The only exception is in a case where you are specifically told by the agent or company that they are using a company that does NOT do insurance or credit scoring, and that is becoming more and more rare.

These days, most companies have anywhere from 10 to 100 different rating tiers, and your placement depends more on your score than on any other single factor. Some of your rate is, of course, still based on traditional factors like violations and accidents for car insurance, or age of dwelling and nearness to water for home insurance.

But for most companies, your final rate is as much determined by your score as by anything else. Your insurance score is typically made up of about 150 elements, each assigned a weighting. The factors vary from company to company, though a lot are common to most. Those might include home ownership, length of time on your job, and things like that. But the biggest part of your insurance score, make no mistake, is your credit history. Research data companies such as ChoicePoint and Fair Isaac have come up with a whole bunch of characteristics of people that correlate with those who have fewer insurance claims.

In some ways, it’s fairly obvious. I have no trouble believing that the kind of person who pays all their bills on time all the time is also the person who does preventive maintenance on their house and cars which helps reduce both the frequency and severity of claims. But make no mistake, these data companies, and the insurance carriers that are using the data, are not concerned with why there is a difference. They make no claim that having a good credit history is the reason a person has lower claims. They just know that they can show a good historical relationship, and so can use it to give each client what they feel is an appropriate price.

Our office still has carriers for both auto insurance and home insurance that do not require an insurance score, but in both cases, chances are the rate will not be the lowest it could be, even if your credit is not sparkling clean. Still, some people want the option. But if you want the best insurance rates, you can help yourself a lot by working on your credit score.


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Friday, March 31, 2006

So You Want Cheap Car Insurance?

Car insurance, along with home insurance, has been getting more and more expensive. And that trend is expected to continue, even if sometimes there is a break for a year or two. Some of it is due to higher costs to rebuild houses and repair cars. Some is due to all the lawsuits from car accidents, dog bites, trampoline spills, and so on. Some is due to outright fraud. And I’m not talking about padding bills a little, I’m talking about completely staged accidents that were intentionally done so that an insurance claim could be filed. In addition, things like mold, hurricanes, and other large losses are making it hard for insurance companies to be confident in their pricing.

Especially in the downstate area including Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island, costs are high. In those areas fraud is worse, and repair costs are even higher. In addition a large part of the biggest claims in car insurance are for medical expenses, and we all know what has happened to those over the past decade.

Well, everybody wants cheap car insurance, but what can you do to get it? There are several ways to start. First is to shop around or have an agent (like us) who shops around for you. Maybe not every 6 months, because unless something drastic happens, but it pays to look at it every couple of years or so. You should also take the highest deductibles you can afford on your fire, theft, and collision coverages, especially if you have more than one car. The savings on one car, going from a $250 to a $500 deductible, is decent, but if you have several cars, the savings are multiplied, and the odds of you having a claim on more than one car in a given policy period are small.

Another thing you can do is take the National Safety Council Defensive Driver course which is offered all over and will save you 10% on most parts of your policy. Remember that you have to take this course every three years to continue getting the discount.

One thing you don’t want to cut back on is your liability coverages. For one thing, you need to be protected against the lawsuits that seem to happen every time cars meet by accident. But the second part of that is that insurance companies often do NOT give their best rates to people who carry ‘minimum coverage’. They have found over the years that people who want to protect themselves better make better insurance customers as well.

But these days, the real way to lower your rates for both home insurance and auto insurance is to have a good ‘insurance score’. And that will be the topic of my next post!