How to Read Your Declarations Page(s)

Have you ever read an insurance contract? Not many have.

However, this voluminous document has everything you need to know about your insurance coverage and is essential in the event of a claim.

There is a short cut: The Declarations Page.

This document outlines and summarizes your insurance coverage. And it’s easy to read and only a few pages. It’s also key to determining if you have adequate coverage at an affordable price.

Policy Number and Policy Period  This is the top of your policy.  If you need to speak to your Independent Insurance Agent about your policy, you should direct your attention to this section at the outset of your conversation.

The policy period also helps for you to mark your calendar so you can be reminded of your annual review.

Maybe your credit score is improved or maybe your kids are grown. These are just a couple examples of life events that can occur that warrant an annual insurance review.

In addition to lifestyle changes, there is the likely possibility that insurance carriers have revamped their policies. You may be eligible for new discounts or more competitive pricing.

Coverages and Premiums.  The different coverages of your policy are presented line-by-line with the attendant premium in the right column, or in some cases, the discount in a line item, such as a security device.

The coverages are accompanied by the coverage limit. For your homeowner’s policy for example, the dwelling limit will show what your house would cost to be replaced. Notice your liability limit. This coverage limit should never be lower than the value of your home.

Total Annual Premium.  Down at the bottom of the page is the TOTAL PREMIUM for your Insurance Policy.  Usually this will show as an annual number, although that may be different depending on your payment plan for the policy.  You can also see different payment options for your premium; some insurance plans give you discounts depending on the frequency of payments. 

These declaration pages will help when it’s time to review with your independent agent. Know your coverage, know your renewal date so you can discuss with your agent if your coverage is maximized and your premiums are competitive.

Please read our other blogs related to annual insurance review suggestions.

You can reach us by calling 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329 for a free, no-obligation annual review. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Annual Insurance Review: On the Beach?

Get crazy at the beach this Summer.  I mean really, really crazy. 
How crazy am I suggesting? Hang on to your beach hat.

You won’t believe it.

Think about how you’ll be killing two birds with one stone if you consider reviewing your insurance policies with your Independent Insurance Agent while you sift your toes through the warm sand with a cold beverage in hand.

No, I’m not kidding!

Your Agent has all your policies available to review with you. They are waiting to review with you. The majority of people do not take advantage of a FREE annual review with their agent.

You are ahead of the game especially if you consider blocking out 30 minutes to an hour while you lounge in your beach chair.  You will hear the calming sound of lapping waves while your Agent discusses money-saving, better quality insurance coverages for you.

I warned you that you may think I’m crazy for suggesting this, but we think it’s a sensible idea.  The key point to understand is this is an all around relaxing moment: your afternoon on the beach and your conversation with your Independent Agent. 

Reviewing your insurance policies to:
1. Maximize the quality of your coverage
2. Lower your overall premiums, and
3. Ensure adequate coverage for unexpected and planned changing life events shouldn’t be stressful at all. 

It is a calming, relaxing moment.  Let your Agent do all the heavy lifting while you bask in the glory of your sun-filled beach day.

Be sure to schedule your appointment with your Agent in advance of your afternoon on the beach so they’re prepared with all the information you’ll need to save money and improve coverage. If you like, take a moment before you leave for your vacation to glance over your policies to prepare any questions you may have for your Agent about specific lines of coverage and/or premium costs.

Then setup your lounge chair, apply your sunscreen, crack open that cold beverage and make the call.  You won’t feel crazy when you’re done and you know you’ve just spent a few relaxing minutes improving your insurance protections and saving money on your annual premiums. 

When was the last time you reviewed your insurance? Now is the time! Even if you’re leaving for vacation. Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329 for a free, no-obligation annual review. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Summer Preparedness Part 2: Your Household

Bags are packed; the car is loaded. And away we go!
What fun we’ll have on our vacation.

Pump the brakes!

We don’t want to be a party-pooper, but we want to remind you that while your home is unattended, if something goes wrong while you’re away, you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise upon your return.

Prepare your house while preparing for vacation.  Create a checklist and check off these important items before you leave the house.

Plumbing
It’s always useful when doing a plumbing inspection to run all the faucets in your home at the same time.  Flush all the toilets and work your way from the bottom (basement) of your house up to the top floor(s) checking pipes and surrounding areas. 

Close valves and turn off water supplies to the entire house or to your least-used pipes, such as to the washing machine and water heater.

Consider also turning your water heater to “low” or “vacation” mode. 
Why burn up fuel heating water you’re not using while you’re away from home? Check drains for clear drainage to prevent any backups from unexpected water surges, especially your storm drains.

A quick inspection of all pipes and plumbing systems alerts you to any potential problems.  Do a quick check for leaks, the kind of small leaks you might be missing during your normal day-to-day living, but the kind of small leak that could become a big leak while you’re away.

Electrical
Unplug extension cords.  Unplug appliances. 

Storms can cause electrical surges that can damage your connected appliances, or worse, cause a fire.  Also, look for loose wall plates, loose plugs or any other potential hazard that could create an electrical event and maybe a fire.

Air quality 
How’s the air in your home?  Is there any chance that dampness in the air could create a mold condition while you’re away? Are all the windows closed? 

If you have a dehumidifier, set it up in strategic locations around the house in the weeks before your vacation.

Thermostat
Set the thermostat to a temperature, hot or cold depending on time of year, that doesn’t use unnecessary energy while you’re away.

Technology 
There are smart home devices including security units you can quickly and easily install to help protect your home from interior and exterior threats while you’re away.

Smart locks, home monitoring systems, and apps for your smartphones that allow you to monitor your home from the beach hundreds of miles away are all worthy investments for your holiday peace of mind.

Mail
With a quick visit to your local post office to fill out of a simple form, your mail is held by the Postal Carrier until after your return from vacation.  If you get newspaper delivery, notify your carrier of your pending holiday to hold deliveries while you’re away. Piles of mail and newspaper deliveries attracts vagrants and burglars.

When was the last time you reviewed your insurance? Don’t wait until it’s too late. Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329 for a free, no-obligation annual review. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Summer Preparedness: Part 1: Vacation

You’d think preparing to go on vacation would be as tranquil as the vacation.  Too often it’s not.  The hectic days leading up to vacation time include preparing for the departure from home and office and preparing for the vacation. 

Here’s some tips that might help you prepare more efficiently…and more calmly…for your vacation.

PACKING
The dreaded packing of the suitcase ritual can make anyone crazy!   Prepare for your packing process well in advance.  After all, many of the clothes you’ll take on vacation are not the clothes you wear everyday, are they?   Spend 20 minutes a week for the three weeks in advance of your vacation and pack small amounts at a time.  Setup your suitcase in one spot, where you won’t move it.  Then add to the suitcase in small increments. 

IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
Passports, credit cards, plane/train tickets, printed itineraries need to be collected well in advance and stored together.   Any office supply store has perfect sized, closeable plastic envelopes and containers that  are ideal for collecting your important travel documents into a single convenient location.  Try to use a bright color for the container so it’s easy to find in a hurry, or in the dark.   If all else fails, a resealable plastic storage bag, the kind you use in your kitchen, is a great solution too.

PHONE NUMBERS
In your address book on your Smartphone, create a new address category where you can save important phone numbers for easy access.  This way, in the event of an urgent phone call  you can pop open a single address category and access all the numbers you’ll need to call, text or email.  Remember, you’re on vacation!  If you have to make urgent contact with folks back home, you’ll want to do it quickly so you can get back to the real work of relaxing!

HOME SECURITY
Checklists are the best way to efficiently prepare your home for your absence.  Windows locked? CHECK.  Alarm company notified of vacation dates? CHECK.  Lamp timers installed and correctly set to match sunrise, sunset? CHECK.   Think like an airline pilot: create a checklist and review the checklist at least two weeks before you leave for your vacation, and then once more the night before or morning of your departure.

INSURANCE
Preparing your insurance for your vacation may be the easiest part of your holiday preparations.  One call to your Independent Insurance Agent to review your insurance policies can help you determine what you have, what you will need, what you’re covered for while you’re away on vacation.

Call us today to be prepared to vacation without a worry.

Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329.

Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

How Much is Your Property Worth?

Some possessions in your home are more valuable than others.  These items can be a curated collection, such as fine porcelain figurines, baseball cards or comic books.  Other valuable items can be heirloom jewelry or fine art pieces, including paintings, sketches, and sculptures.

The value of these special items is not defined only by a monetary figure.  There is also the intrinsic value, the emotional value to you.  There is a fond family memory surrounding a particular heirloom object. What about the satisfaction of assembling learning about a particular collection of items, such as sculpted glass paperweights or famous autographs. This can be appraised but cannot be monetized due to the emotional value they hold.

Your homeowners insurance likely only covers a minimal amount of these valuable items, not necessarily covering the true market value in the event of a calamity that damages or destroys these valuable possessions. 

These special items need to be appraised by a professional to create a monetary record of their worth.  The expense of such an appraisal is well worth the cost in the event of a claim against your Homeowners Insurance and your desire to obtain the proper recompense for the damage or loss to these valuables.

There are two avenues to obtain an appraisal of your valuable items.  The first, and possibly less-costly, is to obtain an appraisal through a recognized expert.  For example, a jeweler can complete an appraisal of your heirloom jewelry items.  Likewise, an expert in art, or objets d’ art can be consulted to provide an appraisal opinion for other items you may own.  

The second method is to engage a Certified and Licensed Appraiser.  Typically we think of appraisers as professionals in the real estate trade, to appraise homes.  But Appraisers are trained in specific valuation methodologies.  There is a regimen that Appraisers follow to assemble a high-grade valuation of your personal property.  This regimen is based on professionally-accepted standards necessary for an appraisal to be certified.

While the cost of the latter valuation method may be higher than that of an expert opinion, you may want to incur the higher cost to provide your insurance carrier with the best possible valuation.   If you are using an expert opinion, be sure the documentation they use is acceptable to your insurance carrier.  You don’t want to find out that your carrier will not accept valuation documents when filing a claim.

Call us today to discuss how to appraise the true value of your treasured possessions and how to understand your coverage. That’s what happens when you work with an Independent Insurance Agent! Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Agency vs. Online

“You get what you pay for.”  

Everyone loves to shop for a bargain, a discount, a reduced price, more features for less money.  One might also say, “You don’t get what you don’t pay for.”

When you’re buying insurance, the “don’t get” part and the “don’t pay for” part can lead to you paying a lot more money than you bargained for later on when you need the insurance the most. 

Your insurance is supposed to be there to anticipate risks to your life, your livelihood, your wealth and your health.  If you pay for less coverage because you need to get that bargain price, you’re putting all of the above at serious risk.

Time is money.  Spend your time with an independent insurance agent.  The independent agent is working for your best interest, both in today’s premium pricing and in tomorrows unforeseen costs. 

For me, it’s difficult to be objective on this topic. I’m an independent agent in business for several decades. I can’t be objective when it comes to protecting my clients and providing them with the best insurance their money can buy.  

If your sole objective is the lowest premium price, we can certainly help you with that goal. If your objective is the best premium price with comprehensive coverage that prepares you for worst case scenarios, we can help you with that as well.

If your objective is all of the above with the added value of a trusted, local, experienced insurance professional, the one who thinks of you as a real person and not an unknown internet shopper, then the Independent Insurance Agent is the only way to go.

So, what is your objective: solely price, or price combined with quality service, local experience and good old-fashioned “looking out for my reputation by looking out for the customer” business sense?

That’s not to say you can’t get lucky and find a direct connection online with an Insurance Carrier who can provide such experience, accessibility, superior service and price.  It’s easy enough to spend your time searching. 

In our experience as Independent Agents, we’ve heard the stories, lots and lots and lots of stories about consumer experiences when working with online quotes and purchasing from an unknown representative on the internet.  Pretty much every time, these horror stories result because the consumer focused solely on lowest price.

Too often the lowest price online quote comes with no explanation of what exactly it is the consumer is buying.  The coverage can be horribly mismatched with the customer’s needs. Many times, the online quote fails to consider local conditions that must definitely be taken into account to provide an accurate insurance policy for real risks unique to a locality.

Your local Independent Agent knows about those risks that may be unique to where you live.  And your Independent Agent wants to work for your best interest, not the interests of the quick “low-price” sale.

Compare next time you need to purchase or renew insurance.  Consider the time spent by your Independent Agent just on the initial interview questions.  Those questions, and your answers to them, affect the advice you’ll receive on the best coverage for your unique situation.  

Now match that to the experience of filling in some boxes on a webpage and receiving the instant gratification of the lowest premium price in seconds!  Price: great!  Coverage: unknown because it relies on the consumer knowing, in advance, the eventualities that come into play when assessing your needs of future risks.

We’d love to be on one side of your comparison shopping! 

Call us today to experience the true value of your money when you work with an Independent Insurance Agent! Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

3 Things Your Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Cover. Number 3 is a DOOZY!

We encourage people to conduct an annual review of their insurance policies.  Too often, when consumers purchase insurance, they approach the transaction with an eye towards prompt resolution and a focus on price.  This formula of speed+money is a formula for failure in the event of a future claim.

The reason is simple.  A carelessly prepared insurance policy, one prepared in the heat of the customer’s desire for a quick resolution and demand for lowest price could result in a “skeleton” policy that may not properly cover the consumer for a catastrophic eventuality. 

The quality insurance agent, interested in protecting the consumer with the best possible risk coverages, and in protecting their own professional reputation, will take the time to educate the consumer and provide a comprehensive insurance policy.

You may be surprised to discover that there are 3 items, indicated below, that may not be covered by your current Homeowners Insurance Policy.  Spoiler alert, #3 may surprise you!  We’re happy to assist you with a comprehensive, careful, review of all of your insurance needs.  And, education is a key element to how we’ll proceed with assisting you to fully understand risks you can protect for with the right insurance.

#1: Sewer Backup.  Whether your home is connected to a public sewer or you have a septic system, a backup due to a blockage, storm-surge, or other calamity, can damage electrical systems, furniture, floors, and precious possessions. Standard homeowners insurance policies may not cover you at all for such damage or may only provide very limited coverage.  You can upgrade to more comprehensive insurance to include special coverage for sewer backup.

#2: Precious Collectibles.  Basic insurance policies may not cover your stellar baseball card or antique cookie jar collections.  If the policy does cover your collection, the limit of coverage may be far below the actual value of your collection.  When you review your insurance, be sure to mention your collection and an assessment of its value.  To be sure, consider obtaining an independent appraisal of your collection to include that with your upgraded, comprehensive Homeowners Insurance policy. 

#3: Termite infestation and damage.  Not covered by a standard, basic policy. Period.  Depending on where you live, especially in the Northeast of the United States, termites and the damage they cause are a real and impending menace.  Homeowners often realize there’s an infestation long after the termite colony has ensconced itself within the wooden borders and interior of your home.  The cost of treating and removing the infestation, along with the costs of repairing the damage, can easily escalate.  Be sure to address these concerns in your annual review.  Consider also contracting with a local exterminating company to inspect your home annually for these nasty pests.

Insurance involves assessing a future, unknown risk.  That risk could affect your health and/or your wealth.  A carefully prepared insurance policy protects you for a comprehensive array of possible risks.  But in the rush to purchase the insurance, the consumer shops without the appropriate due diligence.  And, in the interest of making the sale, an insurance agent may simply provide the basics of a policy to appease the consumer’s request for speed and low price. 

Call us today for your free annual insurance review.  We’re thrilled to spend the time with you to find you the best policy that comprehensively protects your health and your wealth at an affordable price!

Call now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

What Happens In The Event of a Water Leak in Your Condo?

If you own a Condominium (Condo), you may have equipment both inside and outside your unit for which you are responsible. In a closet inside your unit would be your water tank. There is also an HVAC unit that may be just outside your unit, to heat and cool your home.  Most of the time, you ignore these two quiet workhorses that keep you in comfort all year round.

Shockingly, every once in a while, and sometimes suddenly, the equipment may fail and need repair.  Most often and most inconveniently, the HVAC will fail when the temperatures outside are the hottest or coldest, depending on the time of the year. Thus, only your comfort is compromised.

However, every once in a while, these machines break down and leak.  With water. Lots of water.

If your HVAC unit is outside your Condo, this may not be as terrible of an event, unless you own a Townhouse and the unit is in the basement and there’s a danger of the water seeping into your basement.

But it can be really bad if you’re on an upper floor and one or several of your Condo neighbors lives below you.  Water loves to follow the powerful attraction of gravity: downward. Downward towards your neighbors’ Condo unit!

Yes, your first step is to call the emergency number for your equipment repair tech. If you’re not sure, call the property manager so they can dispatch someone immediately to mitigate the damage. If the property manager is not available, call your local insurance agent who will have access to reputable Restoration Services companies. They all have emergency lines so you’re covered seven days a week.

In the event of a leak which could lead to a potential claim, mitigating the loss is critical and required under your insurance contract. You’ll want the restoration company onsite as quickly as possible to dry out all the water and repair the water damage.  Do not forget to take photos of the damage before the restoration company arrives. It’s key that you document the extent of the damage at the time of the event. This also mitigates any confusion or misunderstanding of the extent of the loss when the claim is settled. The key word here is “mitigate”.  

You don’t want to be caught by surprise when a leak happens all over your downstairs neighbors’ precious Star Wars toy collection.  Review your current insurance policy now to be 100% sure you have all the appropriate coverages before it’s too late. The review is free of charge. Call us now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Review Condominium Financials Before You Purchase

Condominium (Condo) Buyers should obtain and review the financial statement of the Condo as part of your purchase process.  Have the statement reviewed by a professional such as an Attorney or CPA.  The financial health of the Condo can affect you in the future as you settle into ownership of your Condo unit.  The financial statements can also give you a good indication of the competence of the Condo Board and Managing Agent.

Condo Complexes on the smaller size may be exempt from having their financials audited. The ByLaws will identify if an audit is required.  Audited financials means the CPA firm has verified the numbers presented in the statement rather than compiling from information provided by the Condominium Board Members and/or Managing Agent.

The financial statement should cover the previous two years (three is preferable) and often a Year-to-Date statement.  A Financial Statement includes:

  • Income and Expenses for the entire Condominium.  This is also known as “Operating Statement.”
  • Balance Sheet demonstrating Assets and Liabilities.
  • Cash Flow Statement.

Some key areas you want to focus on include:

  • Reserve Fund (for major capital repairs and improvements),
  • Cash Flow to determine if the building is taking in as much money as it is paying out monthly, Maintenance Fees owed (an indicator of the financial responsibility of your soon-to-be-neighbors),
  • Footnotes.

The financial well-being of your future home is as important to the transaction as every other aspect of your purchase.  Request the Financial Statement as early as possible in the negotiating process, even before you’ve presented your Offer, if possible.

Review your current insurance policy now to be 100% sure you have all the appropriate coverages before it’s too late. The review is free of charge. Call us now at 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Set Yourself Up for Success in the New Year

The start of a new year is a great time to evaluate your life. Looking at where you are and determining where you want to be in the future (both personally and professionally) is the first step in setting and achieving your goals!

Choosing a Goal

Do you have something in mind that you want to achieve this year? There are several common personal goals that people set, including eating healthier, exercising more, spending less (or saving more) money, learning a new skill, etc. In addition, some people like to set professional goals, like focusing more on networking, reading more business books, getting a certification, or getting a raise or promotion.

Which of these resonate with you? Don’t overstretch yourself by choosing too many goals, pick the one or two that you want to focus on this year, and save the rest for another time. If you need help choosing a goal for the year, talk to a close friend or mentor about what they think you can do to be a better person (only if you have thick enough skin to handle some criticism, though!)

Defining Success

Choosing a goal for the year is a great first step, but you need to make sure that your resolution is well-defined so that you have a clear finish line to work toward. Take a few minutes and make your resolutions into a SMART goal. Remember, the acronym “SMART” says that your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. So, instead of “lose weight” try “lose __ pounds by December 31 by exercising twice a week and eating less calories.”

Making a Timeline

Once you have a well-defined goal, you should make a timeline of the steps needed to reach your goal. You have a whole year, so spread out the tasks and give yourself plenty of wiggle room. Monthly mini goals would be a good place to start so that you can measure your progress and make sure that you stay on track.

Holding Yourself Accountable

Accountability is an important trait to have if you’re going to achieve the goals that you set. It is so easy to make excuses, but you’re not going to! Instead, use some of these tricks from the Inc.com list of 8 Habits of Highly Accountable People:

  • Take responsibility for your tasks.
  • Don’t make excuses or blame others if things aren’t going according to plan.
  • Be on time with your mini-goals.
  • Control your own fate with proper planning.
  • Own your feelings and don’t let a bad day (or week or month) derail you.
  • Manage expectations and adjust goals and timelines as needed.
  • Collaborate with others and make the most of all your available resources.
  • Don’t expect praise – satisfaction should come with a job well done.

Which of these habits will you employ to help you with your 2019 New Year’s resolution? We especially like the tip to collaborate with others. Here at Vargas and Vargas Insurance Agency, we have lots of community referral partners that help us achieve our goals.

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In addition, having a friend or loved one that knows about your goal and that has been asked to periodically follow up on your process is a proven accountability technique that helps many people achieve their goals year-round. There are even accountability and goal tracking apps for iPhones and Android phones that will help to keep you honest about whether you are on track and can even add in a financial component to motivate you – automatically transferring money to a person or charity when you don’t meet your goals.

Celebrating Wins

The saying may state that “A job well done is its own reward,” but sometimes you need a little extra motivation to complete your goals or achieve your resolutions. Everyone has their own unique set of rewards that will motivate them, the trick is to decide ahead of time what you will do for yourself and at what point. If you know that you are close to hitting one of your small milestones, you may push yourself in order to earn your reward.

Ask yourself: What would motivate me to work harder toward achieving my goals? Maybe it’s buying something for yourself, some ‘me-time’ or time with the family, or a food treat. Find what motivates you and use it to your advantage.

So, are you ready to make 2019 your best year yet?

Can Vargas and Vargas Insurance Agency help you reach your goals in 2019? Whether you need a referral to a local professional or you want help making sure that you are financially sound in the year to come, all you need to do is call our agency at 617-298-0655 for assistance with your insurance policies. We are always excited to be able to help our neighbors!