Buying a Home? Don’t Skip the Home Inspection

home inspection

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

When you’re buying a home, there are many decisions and expenses to take into consideration. While it may be tempting to waive the home inspection contingency to make your offer more attractive to the seller or to save money, most of the time that’s not a good idea. A home inspection is a protection for you as the buyer. If you waive a home inspection, you’ve lost the right to ask for repairs or walk away from the sale if the home has major problems. An investment of a few hundred dollars now may equal a savings of thousands of dollars later.

In addition, if you’re buying a home for the first time, a home inspection can help you understand what it takes to maintain a home, and what types of home improvement projects you should plan for in the future.

What does a home inspection include?

A standard home inspection covers the major components and systems of a home, including “the condition of the home’s heating system; central air conditioning system (temperature permitting); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement and structural components,” according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). A home inspection is different from an appraisal, which determines the home’s market value.

Home inspectors must be licensed in Florida, and are generally required to be certified by state-run agencies. If possible, get a recommendation from someone you trust, or check with an organization like the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, or HomeAdvisor. Look for certification from one of the home inspection professional associations, such as ASHI. Your real estate agent may recommend someone, but be cautious—while many agents have your best interest in mind, some won’t recommend a home inspector if they think he or she is “too picky” and will cost them sales.

Attend the inspection if you can. You’ll be able to hear first hand about any issues the inspector finds, point out areas of concern, and ask questions about the home’s condition and how to maintain it.

After the inspection

Once the inspection is completed, the inspector will prepare a written report. Do remember that a home inspection will almost always find problems with a home. That doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If the problems are serious enough, perhaps you can negotiate with the seller for repairs, or to knock some off the price so that you can make the repairs yourself. It’s unlikely that the seller will pay to have everything fixed, but knowing ahead of time what to expect will also help you budget for repairs and renovations you’ll want to do in the future.

While a home inspection is not a guarantee that nothing major will ever go wrong with your new home, it can be a helpful negotiating tool, as well as a source of knowledge for the future.

Lakewood Financial is a locally-owned, independent insurance agency based in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. We would love to help you with your homeowners insurance—or any of your insurance needs. Please give us a call at 941-747-4600 for a free quote, or contact us online. For more information about homeowners insurance, please click here. 

 

 

Assignment of Benefits Abuse Continues to Expand

Image by L. A. Dano from Pixabay

Florida consumers pay some of the highest insurance premiums in the country for auto and homeowners insurance, and it’s not because we are worse drivers or live in a state where hurricanes are prevalent. A major contributor to our higher insurance rates is assignment of benefits abuse. When we first wrote about assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse in July 2016, we mainly discussed AOB abuse related to homeowners insurance and water claims. Unfortunately, AOB abuse is still growing, and is spreading across insurance lines and across the state.

AOB abuse started with Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims, moved into homeowners claims (often water or roof damage), and is now spreading to the auto glass repair industry. After 2012 PIP reform, PIP AOB abuse cases dropped, but they’re on the rise again—and will likely cause the cost of PIP to rise once more.

AOB agreements have long been used in the auto glass repair industry in order to settle claims efficiently. Unfortunately, there’s been a large increase in bulk lawsuits for glass claims—in the Tampa Bay/I-4 corridor area alone (where much of the abuse is centered) auto glass lawsuits jumped from 3,723 to 17,165 between 2013 and 2017.

AOB abuse equals higher premiums

AOB is a contract between a policyholder and a business in which the policyholder turns over (“assigns”) his or her rights and benefits under the policy. There are many occasions where this type of contract is standard practice and works well, such as in health insurance and auto physical damage claims.

It becomes abuse when a vendor submits inflated claims, provides unnecessary repairs, or doesn’t do the repairs at all but still bills the insurance company. If the insurer balks at paying the claim, the vendor’s attorneys sue the insurance company. Some consumers don’t even know litigation is taking place in their name.

Inflated claims and large attorneys fees drive up insurers’ costs above the national average, and they pass on those costs to Florida consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums. The average homeowners insurance premium rose 30 percent between 2007 and 2015, and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation blames AOB abuse for this large increase.

Insurer’s legal expenses in Florida are growing at more than twice the national average. If legal costs had followed the national trend, the cumulative savings to Florida insurers and their policyholders would have been nearly $1.6 billion, according to an Insurance Information Institute report

More than just higher premiums

There are other problems for consumers besides higher insurance premiums when AOB abuse runs rampant. If you as a homeowner were involved in an AOB lawsuit, whether or not you even knew about it, you may now have a large claim on your loss history. This can result in even higher premiums and make it harder to get homeowners insurance. In addition, an AOB agreement can also give contractors and suppliers the legal right to recover unpaid bills from the homeowner if the insurer delays or denies payment, even to the extent of placing a lien on your home.

Obviously, not every claim is inflated and not every lawsuit is unwarranted, but the situation is such that Florida consumers should be extra cautious if they’re approached by a business asking for an AOB agreement. If you’re in a claim situation, and a company or contractor wants you to sign an AOB contract, think twice. Before you sign anything, talk to your Lakewood Financial agent or to your own insurance company, especially if you’re being pressured to sign or being asked for a substantial up-front deposit before repairs can be started.

Lakewood Financial is an independent insurance agency serving Bradenton, Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch and surrounding areas since 2003. If you need help with any of your insurance needs, please give Lakewood Financial a call at 941-747-4600, or request an insurance quote by clicking hereWe represent you, and we’re here to help!

Distractions and Driving Don’t Mix

We’ve all done it. We hear the telltale ping or ring of our cell phone while driving. Surely it will be OK just to sneak a peek at the screen to see who is trying to reach us? Maybe even answer the phone?

 

Unfortunately, all too often it’s not OK. Instead of focusing our full attention on the road, we’re driving distracted.

 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,450 people were killed in 2016 in “distraction-affected” crashes—92 percent of all crash fatalities. In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in crashes involving distracted driving.

 

Using a cell phone while driving increases crash risk, but phones aren’t the only things distracting us on the road. Eating or drinking, interacting with passengers (or pets), adjusting the radio, consulting navigation, and personal grooming (applying makeup, combing hair) all keep our full attention from being on our driving. Distracted driving is driving while doing any activity that takes full attention away from driving, whether it takes our eyes off the road, our hands off the steering wheel, or our minds off our driving. Texting is the worst thing we can do, since it involves all three of those things. Sending or reading a text for even five seconds at 55 miles per hour is like driving the length of a football field with our eyes closed!

 

Many states already ban hand-held cell phone use and texting. The Florida Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit drivers from texting, reading data, or talking on hand-held devices. Texting while driving is now only enforced as a secondary offense when a driver has been stopped for another infraction. 

 

Whether or not the bill passes, for our safety and the safety of others on the road, we should decide to put aside all distractions and keep our full attention on our driving. We also need to share this information with our teens, some of the worst offenders when it comes to phone use while driving.

 

So the next time a call or text comes in while you’re driving, do the right thing and keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road until you get to your destination, or you can pull off the road safely to check your phone. We promise we will, too.

 

Lakewood Financial is an independent insurance agency. We’ve been serving Bradenton, Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch and surrounding areas since 2003. We represent more than 40 quality car insurance companies, and strive to provide our customers with the best coverage at the most competitive rates. If you need help with your car insurance, please give Lakewood Financial a call at 941-747-4600, or request an insurance quote by clicking here. 

Truckers: Protect Yourself From Gaps in Insurance Coverage

 

Commercial Truck Insurance

Image by MikesPhotos on Pixabay


The demand for commercial truck drivers is high right now, and many new truckers are hitting the roads. If you’re new to commercial trucking, you may not know what insurance coverage you should have (check out some basic information here). Today we’re going to take a closer look at two types of commercial truck insurance you may need to protect yourself from gaps in coverage.

Trailer interchange

Trailer interchange coverage provides physical damage coverage if a semi-trailer you do not own is damaged by accident, fire, theft, or vandalism while under your care, custody, or control. Say for example, you have a contract with XYZ shipping company to haul between Tampa and Orlando. You drive your tractor truck to Tampa, pick up a trailer and drive it to Orlando and drop it off. You then pick up another trailer and bring it back to Tampa.  Since you don’t own these trailers they will not be covered under the physical damage portion of your insurance policy.

The company that owns the trailers you haul may require you to have trailer interchange coverage, and will likely set the amount of coverage required. Trailer interchange coverage is not necessarily more or less expensive than the cost of insuring your own trailer.

Non-trucking liability

If you’re under contract with a motor carrier company, you should have primary liability coverage through them (your contract will indicate this). In order to purchase non-trucking liability, you must have primary liability coverage through the company you are contracted to. Non-trucking liability covers you when you’re not doing something that benefits the company you have a contract with. For instance, if you have an accident while driving your tractor truck home at the end of the day, non-trucking liability would pay for damages or injuries you cause to other people or their property.

Insuring a tractor truck you use for commercial purposes can be a complicated business, but Lakewood Financial can help. We are independent agents who represent several quality commercial trucking insurance carriers. Give us a call at 941-747-4600, or contact us online and we’ll be happy to answer your questions or give you a quote.

Commercial Insurance Spotlight: Long-Haul Trucking Insurance

Long-Haul Trucking Insurance

The trucking industry keeps goods moving all over the United States, and long-haul trucking jobs are expected to grow six percent from 2016 to 2026. That’s a lot of trucks on the road—and sadly, accidents happen. And when a semi-truck is involved, the consequences can include severe property damage and injuries. That’s where long-haul trucking insurance comes in. 

 

Long-haul trucking insurance is just what it sounds like: specialty commercial truck insurance for individual owner-operators and businesses who haul cargo long distances, usually between states and/or in a radius of 300 miles or more.

 

Long-haul trucking professionals need coverage to protect their cargo from damage or theft, as well as liability coverage in case a truck causes physical damage or injuries in an accident.  They may also need coverage for their own assets: the trucks or truck/tractor-trailers used in their business. (For more information on commercial truck insurance, click here.) 

 

 As an independent agency, Lakewood Financial represents a number of commercial insurance companies in addition to our personal lines carriers. Whether you’re an owner-operator or manage a fleet of trucks, we can provide competitive coverage and rates for your long-haul trucking insurance needs. Please call us at 941-747-4600 for more information, or to request a quote.

Show Your Home Some Love With These Maintenance Tasks

Maintaining your home

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching and love is in the air! Once you’ve taken care of your significant other, why not show your home some love? Maintaining your home can save you money, hassles—and maybe even a homeowners insurance claim!

You don’t have to do a major remodel to improve your home. Here are a few areas where a little loving attention will do the most good.

First, see your home with fresh eyes. Walk through your entire home, noting areas of wear, safety issues, and so on. Don’t forget your attic, deck, patio, porch, or lanai. Take pen and paper, and jot down any areas that need attention.

For instance, are there signs of leaks, such as discoloration on walls, floors, or ceilings? What about around toilets, tubs, and sinks? Is a faucet dripping or a toilet running? Even minor leaks can do major damaged, and unlike a sudden accident, such as a burst pipe, gradual damage caused by neglected maintenance is not covered under homeowners insurance policies.

Check and replace fire safety items. Change batteries in smoke detectors, and every 10 years, replace the smoke detectors themselves.

Fire extinguishers should be checked monthly. Click here for instructions on how to properly inspect your fire extinguisher. (And remember, only use a fire extinguisher on a small, contained fire. In many cases, it’s more important for everyone to get out of the house and let the fire department handle a fire.) 

Keep drains and pipes clear. If water drains slowly from sinks or tubs, try using vinegar and baking soda, or commercial drain cleaner, to get things moving again. Don’t put things down the kitchen sink unless it’s equipped with a garbage disposal. In the bathroom, use traps in drains to keep hair from clogging the plumbing, and don’t use flushable wipes as these also cause plumbing backups. 

Maintain your HVAC system. Replace air filters on an appropriate schedule, and have the unit cleaned and serviced according to manufacturer’s directions. These tasks improve air quality and help your unit operate more efficiently, as well as lessen the chance of a breakdown when it’s 90 degrees outside!

Inspect and clean large appliances. This includes cleaning the dishwasher, which can become clogged with food particles or soap residue, resulting in dirtier dishes or even a breakdown. If your dishwasher has a filter, take it out and clean it. Run some white vinegar through a wash cycle, or use a commercial dishwasher cleaner.

Check dishwasher and washing machine hoses and replace if they’re cracked or worn.

Clean refrigerator coils.

Empty the dryer lint trap after every load, and periodically clean dryer exhaust vents in order to prevent fire.

Review and update your insurance coverage if necessary. Are you receiving all available discounts? Have you made home improvements that have added value to your home? Did you replace your roof? Notify your Lakewood Financial agent of any changes to your personal situation, such as marriage or divorce.

Please call us at 941-747-4600 if you have a question about how a home improvement project might affect your homeowners insurance, or contact us if you need a quote. Happy Valentine’s Day to you—and your home!

We Can Insure That! Let Lakewood Financial Help With Specialty Insurance Coverage

specialty insurance coverage

You already know Lakewood Financial can get you great deals on your homeowners, car, and business insurance (and if you don’t, contact us today for a free quote!). But what if you buy a recreational vehicle, boat, or personal watercraft? Where should you go for insurance? Wonder no longer—we can insure that!

We want to be your one-stop insurance agents. Not only can we insure your home, car, and business, we can also provide specialty insurance coverage.

What is specialty insurance coverage?

Simply put, specialty insurance coverage is insurance for special or unique items or situations not typically covered under a standard home or auto insurance policy. This might include insurance coverage for classic cars, boats, ATVs, motorcycles, RVs, or personal watercraft.

In addition, important coverages such as flood insurance and umbrella policies can also be considered specialty insurance.

Protection from financial loss

The purpose of any insurance is to provide protection from financial losses—both physical losses and liability losses. Once you have the basics covered—insurance on your home and vehicles appropriate for your situation—you should consider what losses you might incur that would not be covered by those policies. What assets do you want to cover—like boats, RVs, and other “toys,” for example? You may need flood insurance, since flood damage is not covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, or an umbrella policy to protect your financial assets in case of a lawsuit.

This might sound confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. As an independent agency, Lakewood Financial has been serving Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota/Bradenton and nearby communities for 25 years. We represent dozens of financially stable, A-rated insurance companies, and we will be happy to advise you in choosing the right specialty insurance coverage for your needs. Please call 941-747-4600, contact us, or visit www.lwfinancial.com for more information.

Stock Your Car With a Roadside Emergency Kit

Roadside Emergency Kit

Even though you take good care of your car, you never know when an emergency will arise. Stocking your car with a roadside emergency kit will may help you get back on the road more quickly if you have a breakdown. At the very least, you’ll be safer and more comfortable while you wait for help.

You can buy pre-made roadside emergency kits, but when you make your own, you know exactly what’s in it, and you can tailor it to the needs of your local climate. (In Florida, we don’t need kitty litter for icy roads, for example!) In addition to the supplies needed to change a tire, here are some basics your kit should contain:

 

  • First Aid supplies: antiseptic, Band Aids, hand sanitizer, antibiotic ointment, insect repellent, tweezers, Ace bandage, instant cold compress, etc.
  • Road flares or reflective triangles
  • Jumper cables
  • Fire extinguisher intended for automotive use. Use to fight a small fire, but if your car is on fire, don’t try to put it out yourself. Move to safety and wait for emergency help.
  • Rain poncho
  • Flashlight with spare batteries
  • Duct tape
  • Baby wipes
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Blanket
  • Can of tire inflator, such as Fix-a-Flat
  • Gloves

You may also want to add a car cell phone charger, and pen and paper to your kit. If you drive an older vehicle, include oil, anti-freeze, and brake fluid.

 

Store your kit in a plastic container with a lid, a cardboard box, or other storage item and keep it in your trunk. Arrange everything neatly, preferably in a single layer so you can see what you have and get to it quickly. Also, do an inventory every few months, making sure to replace anything you use up or that expires.

 

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money to create a roadside emergency kit. Stock your vehicle with one, and you’ll be prepared if you’re ever stuck by the side of the road.

 

Remember, if you need car insurance, Lakewood Financial is here to help.  Please give us a call at 941-747-4600 or contact us online for a free quote.  

Start the Year Right With Insurance Savings

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Shopping for insurance is no one’s idea of a good time, but here at Lakewood Financial, we try to make it as simple, painless and cost-effective as possible. We are an all-lines, local independent agency, based in Bradenton, and we: …
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Four Ways You Can Drive More Safely on Florida’s Roads

Drive More SafelyWhile Floridians don’t have to cope with driving in extreme winter weather the way other parts of the country do, just like everywhere else, we do have challenges to safe driving. Challenges like distractions, traffic, construction, and yes, weather (think driving home from work in the pouring rain!). Since one of the best ways to lower your car insurance premiums is to keep your driving record clean, here are four ways you can drive more safely on Florida’s roads.

 

Watch out for weather conditions

We may not get snow, but we do get rain, fog, and even sometimes smoke. Whenever visibility is reduced, slow down and make sure your low beams are on (high beams can reflect back and further impair your ability to see). Unless it’s unsafe, try to drive with the flow of traffic and avoid changing lanes. (Click here for tips on safe driving in the rain.) Don’t drive with your hazard lights on.

 

Don’t stop on the road. If you must stop, after signaling, pull safely as far off the road as possible. Then you may put on your hazard lights.

 

Ditch the distractions

While you’re behind the wheel, put your phone away, turn off the radio if it’s distracting you, and avoid having animated and engrossing conversations—save those for when you’re safely at your destination. Try not to let anything distract you from your driving. It only takes a moment of inattention to cause an accident.

 

Maintain your vehicle

Proper maintenance will help you avoid breakdowns or equipment failures, both of which might cause an accident. Click here for car maintenance tips.

 

Drive defensively

We know you’re a good driver, but what about everyone else on the road? We share the road with other drivers, bicyclists, motorcycles, and even pedestrians, some of whom are distracted or drive recklessly. Drivers who speed, change lanes abruptly, or drive much slower than the flow of traffic create a dangerous environment. Slow down and change lanes to allow reckless drivers to pass, or stay a safe distance away from them. Watch for pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles. Also, be sure to move over a lane when passing emergency vehicles or an accident at the side of the road. 

 

Two areas of special concern are construction zones and areas where there are children. In construction zones, follow posted speed limits, and watch for debris in the road—change lanes if possible to avoid running over it. Also be mindful of workers in the area who may be near traffic or need to cross the road.

 

Where children are present, such as in school  zones or near parks, use extra caution. Children are unpredictable and can be hard to see. Slow down and be prepared to stop. (And click here for back-to-school safe driving tips.)

 

And we don’t need to remind you to use your turn signal when preparing to turn, do we?

 

Follow these tips to drive safely, keep your driving record clean, and reduce your car insurance premium. If you have any questions about car insurance, or you need a quote, please call Lakewood Financial at 941-747-4600, or contact us online.