Tips for First-time Home Buyers

first-time home buyers

Thinking of buying your first home?  Buying a home is a big investment, so you want to make sure you understand the process and you’re ready to take the plunge before joining the mass of first-time home buyers.Doing your homework before starting to look for your dream home is one way to make sure you make a good decision rather than one entirely based on emotion.

Here are some tips to make your home-buying experience more enjoyable and less stressful:

Get pre-qualified for a loan before you begin house hunting—but carefully consider how much you actually want to spend for your mortgage each month. How do you know how much house you can afford? When figuring costs per month for your new home, remember you’ll be responsible for more than just a mortgage. Consider property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association dues, maintenance, and possibly higher utilities.

Also take a hard look at your finances and consider your personal goals and the lifestyle you want to maintain. Do you want to travel? Have children? Pursue hobbies? Make sure you’ll still have the discretionary income to do those things after you buy your home.

Hire a buyer’s agent to protect your interests. Ask family and friends for recommendations to find a reputable agent. He or she should take the time to answer your questions, and help you understand the process of buying a home, as well as represent you in negotiations for your new home. If you can find an agent that specializes in first-time home buyers

Don’t rush. Take time to research the real estate market in your desired area. Make a list of features you want and features that are deal-breakers. Be sure to communicate these to your agent so you don’t waste time looking at unsuitable properties.

Don’t spend all your savings on the down payment. There may be unexpected expenses once you close on your home, or you may want or need to make some changes or improvements to it. Also, now more than ever, you’ll need to keep funds on hand for emergencies.

Shop around for homeowners insurance. You can start with the company that carries your car insurance, but don’t stop there. They might not have the most competitive rate for you. Get several quotes, and be sure that each quote contains the same coverage types and limits. We recommend that you carry replacement cost coverage. (At Lakewood Financial, we represent multiple homeowners companies, and we’d love the chance to give you a free, no-obligation quote on homeowners insurance.)

Be realistic in your expectations. Your new home doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should be aware of what repairs or cosmetic changes you’ll want to make. Be sure to have a home inspection so you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

Buying that first home can be one of the most exciting milestones in your life. Once you’ve found your dream home, be sure to protect your investment with the appropriate homeowners insurance coverage. We are independent agents with multiple homeowners insurance companies to choose from, as well as the expertise to find you the most cost effective policy while still insuring your home and its contents for the proper value. Call us at 941-747-4600, or contact us for a homeowners insurance quote. 

Business Owner Policy (BOP) Basics

business owner policy

If you’re starting a small business, you have many decisions to make—including what sort of insurance coverage your new business needs to safeguard your assets and income. Don’t worry—at Lakewood Financial, we’re here to help!

 

Let us introduce you to the insurance package with the catchy name “BOP”—which stands for Business Owner Policy. A BOP combines property and liability insurance into one policy, and can protect your business from the most common risks, such as fire, theft, lawsuits, or even the loss of income associated with an interruption to your business. It’s a convenient—and cost effective—way to protect your business.

 

You can also add additional coverages (see below) to customize insurance coverage for your particular needs. BOPs are great for any small to medium-sized business (100 employees or fewer) with a storefront and any business personal property.

 

Typically, a BOP (Business Owner Policy) includes:

Property insurance—protects the physical location of your business, whether you own or rent. Also provides coverage for your inventory, customer data, equipment, furnishings, and records and documents.

Liability insurance—provides coverage if you’re sued for an injury or property damage, even if you did nothing wrong. Also protects you from lawsuits if you injure someone’s reputation or infringe on someone’s copyright.

Business interruption insurance—provides coverage to replace lost income if you’re unable to do business due to a covered loss. It may also contain coverage for the expense of having to operate out of a temporary location.

 

Depending on your business, you may also need additional coverages not contained in a BOP—such as Worker’s Compensation, Professional Liability (Errors and Omissions), Data Breach, or Commercial Auto. (We can help you with those, too—just give us a call.)

 

Every business is different and has different needs. Let your Lakewood Financial insurance specialist help you with your business insurance needs. We’ve been serving the Sarasota/Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch areas since 2003, and we’re here to help. Please call us at 941-747-4600, or contact us online. 

New to Florida? Here’s What You Need to Know About Car Insurance

car insurance

If you’ve just relocated to the Sarasota/Bradenton area, welcome! We’re glad to have you here. While you’re unpacking and checking out the beaches, remember that you’ll need to purchase car insurance and tag your car in your new state—and Florida car insurance can be a little confusing. Here are some things to be mindful of:

 

Minimum requirements

Florida is currently a no-fault state, though lawmakers are attempting to change this. 

What this means for you: Your car insurance policy will need to include Personal Injury Protection (PIP). If you’re injured in an accident, no matter whose fault it was, the first $10,000 of medical coverage will come from your own car insurance policy.

In addition to PIP, to legally register your vehicle, you must also carry $10,000 Property Damage Liability (PD).

 

Do I need Bodily Injury Liability?

Even though you don’t have to carry Bodily Injury Liability (BI) to register your car, the Florida Financial Responsibility law “requires that any person at fault in a crash resulting in bodily injury and property damage to others must have in effect at the time of the crash full liability insurance coverage.” If you are at fault in an accident, BI will help to pay for the victims’ injuries, up to the policy limit. Florida’s minimum BI limit is $10,000 per person/$20,000 per accident.

What this means for you: If you are at fault in an accident and you injure someone, you must be carrying at least $10,000 per person BI, in addition to PIP and PD coverage, at the time of the accident. If you don’t have Bodily Injury coverage, you’ll be forced to buy it, and you may have to carry an SR-22 (a certificate of financial responsibility) for three years. 

Florida’s minimum limits are low, considering how much you could be liable for in an accident with serious injuries, or if more than one other vehicle is involved. When the liability limits are reached, you and your assets may be at risk if the injured party chooses to sue for the remainder of the damages. In general, the insurance industry recommends coverage of $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident for BI, and at least $50,000 for Property Damage Liability.

 

What about Uninsured Motorist coverage?

Uninsured Motorist (UM) covers your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering after your $10,000 PIP coverage is used up. Even then, it only pays after the other driver has been declared at fault in the accident and it has been determined they are uninsured or underinsured. UM doesn’t pay to have your car fixed. The catch: you can’t buy UM unless you buy BI coverage, and only up to the same policy limits.

What this means for you: You may want to consider UM coverage since unfortunately, many people in Florida are not adequately insured. (In fact, Florida has the highest percentage of uninsured motorists in the country—26.7 percent—according to the latest data available from the Insurance Research Council.)

 

Though some people look for the bare minimum of coverage they must carry to drive legally, that’s not usually a good idea. The purpose of car insurance is to protect you, your assets, and your liability. At Lakewood Financial, we represent more than 40 car insurance companies, and we’ll be happy to help you look at your personal situation and find the best coverage at the best rate. Give us a call at 941-747-4600 or contact us. We’d love to help you—and welcome to the neighborhood!

 

For more information:

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Insuring Your Pricey Presents

Insuring Your Pricey Presents

When all the wrapping paper has been thrown away, and you bask in the glow of another happy holiday, the last thing you want to think about is whether or not your new gifts are covered by your insurance. We get it. But if Santa’s been extra good to you this year, you may want to put down that eggnog and check to see that you’d be covered if your new goodies were lost, stolen, or destroyed.

Even if you didn’t find a new car with a bow on top in your driveway on Christmas morning, you still might need to think about insuring your pricey presents. For instance:

Jewelry

Jewelry is covered under the contents portion of your homeowners or renters insurance policy, but only up to a certain limit (often $1,500). Items such as engagement rings, high-end watches, and tennis bracelets may go over your policy’s limits, leaving them unprotected. If so, you’ll need to raise your limits, or buy a special “rider” or “floater” policy to cover your new bling. Talk to your Lakewood Financial agent about appropriate coverage, and what steps you’ll need to take to get it.

Stereo/flat-screen TV/computer

These items will likely be covered under the contents portion of your homeowners or renters policy, but you should review your policy to see if your limits are adequate for all your personal property, including your new gifts.

Artwork

If you receive a piece of fine art as a gift, you will likely need specialized fine art insurance. Most standard homeowners policies won’t provide enough coverage for high-value art.

Also remember to:

Make sure you keep receipts if you have them, and add your new property to your home inventory list.

Double check the type of coverage you carry, i.e., replacement cost or actual cash value.  “Replacement cost” covers the amount you would need to replace the item with a new, similar item, and actual cash value will cover the cost of replacing the item minus depreciation for that item. We almost always recommend replacement cost coverage.

Don’t assume your pricey presents are covered. Review your policy, or give your Lakewood Financial agent a call at 941-747-4600 (or contact us) to be sure your holiday gifts are protected.

Five Simple Ways to Lower Your Car Insurance Bill

car insurance bill

Money is always tight, especially during the holiday season. The last thing you want is to spend any more than you have to on your car insurance. Aside from the obvious thing—maintaining a clean driving record—is there anything else you can do to lower your car insurance bill without skimping on coverage?

 

Yes, there is! Here are five things you can do to make sure your car insurance bill is the lowest it can be:

1. Keep your credit record spotless. Why does your insurance company care about your credit rating? Because according the Insurance Information Institute (III), research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims—something insurance companies love!

If your credit rating could use some improvement, make it better by paying all your bills on time, and reducing the overall amount you owe. (Click here for more tips on improving your credit score.) 

2. Choose your vehicle wisely. If you’re in the market for a new car—or even just one that’s new to you—check with your insurance agent before you sign on the dotted line. Some of our clients have been unpleasantly surprised at how much insurance for their new ride cost them. Car insurance premiums are calculated by using a number of factors, including how safe a vehicle is, how much it costs to repair it, and how likely it is to be stolen.

3. Ask about discounts. Be sure to ask your Lakewood Financial agent about all applicable discounts. In addition to discounts for safety features like anti-lock brakes and air bags, some companies offer discounts if you’ve taken a defensive driving course, if you drive a lower number of miles than average per year, or if your teen driver is a good student or has taken a driver’s education course. Every little bit helps.

4. Consider raising your deductibles. If you have a claim, your deductible is what you pay before your insurance policy does. Raising your deductibles can reduce the cost of your comprehensive and collision coverage, but you’ll want to be sure you have enough money saved to pay that higher deductible if you have a claim.

5. Shop around. This is where an independent agency like Lakewood Financial really shines. We represent more than 40 car insurance companies, we’ve served the Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, and Sarasota communities for 14 years, and we’re committed to finding the best deal for your situation. Give us a call at (941) 747-4600, or email us for a free, no obligation quote.

P.S. Click here for even more tips on lowering your car insurance bills. 

 

Avoid These Thanksgiving Dangers

thanksgiving dangers

What do you think of when you think of Thanksgiving? Happy times spent with family, a delicious meal, maybe a football game on TV? You probably don’t picture putting out a fire in your kitchen or a trip to the emergency room! Unfortunately, too many people experience those events on Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous holidays of the year!

 

Since we want all our clients to be happy and healthy through the entire holiday season. Lakewood Financial would like to offer some tips to help you avoid the most common Thanksgiving dangers:

Fire

Thanksgiving is the number one day for home cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). We know with family around it’s easy to get distracted, so remember to closely monitor food cooking on the stove, and never leave your house with the turkey in the oven. Move anything flammable, such as kitchen towels or oven mitts, away from the stove, make sure all your smoke alarms are working, and have a fire extinguisher handy. Keep small children out of the kitchen when active cooking is taking place.

 

And don’t even think about deep-frying a turkey! It’s such risky business that the NFPA strongly discourages the practice.

 

Lit candles are another fire hazard to be aware of during the holiday season. Make sure they are at least three feet from anything that could catch fire, and never leave children unattended in a room where candles are burning.

Illness

Improper preparation and storage of your Thanksgiving turkey can result in serious illness, such as Salmonella poisoning or Listeria. Make sure turkey is thawed completely before cooking, and cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a food thermometer. Remember to refrigerate leftovers promptly after the meal. Click here for more turkey food safety cooking tips from the Centers for Disease Control.

 

And it’s not just the turkey you should be careful with. Raw fruits and vegetables can also make you sick if they’re not washed thoroughly before you eat them.

Car Accident

With many thousands of people going “over the river and through the woods” to their Thanksgiving destinations, chances of car accident are much greater than normal. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), Thanksgiving is the third most dangerous holiday for driving, behind Independence Day and Memorial Day. In 2015, 386 people died in car accidents during the Wednesday-to-Sunday period of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the NSC estimated more than 50,000 additional drivers and passengers were injured. Sadly, many of these accidents are due to driving while under the influence of alcohol. Obviously you should never drink and drive, but we also encourage you to use extra caution to avoid other drivers who might not be so responsible. In addition, make sure everyone in the vehicle wears a seat belt, and put aside your phone or other devices so your attention is fully on your driving.

 

We at Lakewood Financial wish you a happy, healthy and SAFE Thanksgiving! As always, thank you for your business. Please feel free to call us at 941-747-4600, or contact us, if you have any questions about your insurance needs.

Starting a Side Hustle? You Might Need Commercial Auto Insurance

commercial auto insurance

Photo by Dan Chung on Unsplash

More and more people are starting side hustles, whether to make a little extra money to cover their bills, or to start their dream business. If you’re one of those people, you should consider buying a commercial auto insurance policy. It’s not just big businesses with multiple vehicles that need this coverage—it’s anyone who uses his or her vehicle for business reasons on a regular basis.

Personal auto policies almost always exclude business use, and if you’re in an accident, your claim could be denied. Be honest with your agent about the nature and extent of your business use of your vehicle so he or she can help you find the best deal on coverage you need.

Here are a few situations that call for a discussion with your agent about a commercial auto policy:

  • Do you use your vehicle to pick up or deliver goods such as newspapers, pizza, or other goods, or do you provide messenger services?
  • Is your vehicle registered or titled in the name of a corporation or partnership?
  • Do you have employees who drive your vehicle for business purposes on an occasional or regular basis?
  • Does your vehicle have special equipment permanently installed, such as ladder racks or permanent toolboxes that are used in your business?
  • Do you regularly drive to job sites or to meet clients, or sometimes transport clients from one location to another?

Bottom line: If you’re using your vehicle for business purposes, you need commercial auto insurance. 

Commercial auto policies are designed to protect you and your business from financial harm if you’re in an accident. Though there are many factors that must be considered when rating a commercial auto policy, since the major coverages are basically the same, commercial auto insurance doesn’t always cost more than a personal auto policy.

Lakewood Financial is a local Sarasota/Bradenton independent agency with the expertise to help you make sure your insurance coverage will protect your business and you personally from claims, even unwarranted ones. We represent a choice of financially strong companies, and will be able to help you buy the appropriate coverage at the best rates. Give us a call at 941-747-4600 and let us help you with your commercial auto insurance needs, or contact us by clicking here.

Insuring Your Toys – Peace of Mind When It’s Time to Play

Insuring Your Toys

One of the best things about the Bradenton/Sarasota area is the climate—when other people are getting ready for winter, we’re still able to play outside! And many of us have the “toys” to do just that—toys like boats, RVs, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and personal watercraft. But remember, accidents do happen, and while they’re fun, these grown-up toys can also be dangerous and expose you to the risk of a lawsuit. Insuring your toys is not just a great idea but a necessity! 

 

That’s where Lakewood Financial can help. Before you hit the water or the trail, make sure you have enough insurance coverage for your toys if something goes wrong. Most of these vehicles aren’t covered by a basic auto or homeowners policy, so you’ll need to buy specialized insurance for insuring your toys. This insurance doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s certainly cheaper than a lawsuit!

 

When insuring your toys, you’ll want to be sure you’re covered adequately for:

  • Bodily injury—pays for injuries you cause to others if you’re responsible for an accident.
  • Property damage—pays for property you damage if you’re responsible for an accident.
  • Collision—pays for damage to your toy if you hit something.
  • Comprehensive—pays if your toy is stolen or if it’s damaged by something other than a collision, such as fire, extreme weather, or vandalism.

We also recommend you carry an umbrella policy (excess liability coverage over and above your other insurance) to further protect your assets in case you are sued. Please ask your Lakewood Financial agent if you have any questions about your umbrella coverage, or if you need a quote for an umbrella policy.

 

Remember, if you can drive it, register, and tag it, you probably need insurance coverage for it!

 

Insurance coverage is meant to protect you from financial hardship due to accident and/or lawsuits. Talk to your Lakewood Financial agent about what coverage you need to protect your assets and safeguard your lifestyle. Please call us at 941-747-4600 if you have any questions, or you’d like a free, no-obligation quote for insurance on a boat, RV, personal watercraft, or ATV. You can also contact us online by clicking here.

 

 

Why Young Families Need Term Life Insurance

term life insurance

Photo by Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash

If you have a young family, you probably find yourself financially stressed. Your expenses are rising at the same time that you might be dropping from two incomes to one, even if it’s just for a short time. Money’s tight—but while you’re budgeting for the next few years, don’t forget to include an important financial safeguard for the ones you love: term life insurance. While it’s never pleasant to contemplate your own mortality, think of it this way: If you were to die, would your family be able to survive financially?

 

According to Met Life, half of all Millennials (those born between 1977-1992) say they have never been approached by anyone to buy life insurance, and more than 4 in 10 think they wouldn’t qualify anyway. This was two times greater than any other age group.

 

Life insurance doesn’t have to be expensive and complicated. For young families, we usually recommend term life insurance, which is relatively inexpensive and easy to get.

What is term life insurance?

Term life insurance provides coverage for a specified length of time, or “term.” The term length can be anything from one year up to 30 years. Currently, the most popular term is 20 years, which is perfect for a young family, most likely protecting you through the years when your children depend upon you the most.

Can I afford it?

Term life is actually quite affordable. Usually life insurance premiums are based on age and health, so if you take out a term policy while you’re young and healthy, your rate will be based on those factors for the length of the term. Some policies cost less than $50 a month, a small price to pay for your family’s financial security.

How much should I buy?

In addition to covering burial expenses, consider your family’s future needs, including mortgage or rent, and other expenses necessary to maintain their basic standard of living. You may also want to factor in college costs and retirement for the surviving spouse. Use an online calculator like this one to get a basic idea of how much coverage you should buy, and of course, you should discuss your needs with your Lakewood Financial agent.

Remember, it’s not just the breadwinner who needs to be covered. If one parent is a full-time caregiver, consider buying a term life policy for that person, too. The costs of replacing his or her contributions (think child or elder care, housekeeping, and food preparation, for example) would quickly add up.

Term insurance is like auto insurance or home insurance in that if you haven’t had a claim during the policy term, you won’t get any of your premiums returned. If you want life insurance to be an investment vehicle, consider purchasing whole life—the downside of this is that it’s more expensive.

Term life insurance is cheap, easy to get, and great for young families. Please call your Lakewood Financial agent at 941-747-4600 to discuss your life insurance needs. You can also contact us online if you have any questions or you’d like a life insurance quote.

Loss of Use Benefits Explained

loss of use

 If a disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, or fire strikes your home, you may find it temporarily uninhabitable, or even destroyed. Imagine if you have to live someplace else while your home is being repaired—how will you pay for the extra living expenses? Many homeowners insurance policies contain coverage to help you pay for those additional expenses. It’s called “Loss of Use,” “Part D,” or “Additional Living Expenses” coverage. Not all policies include it, but many do.

Here are the three types of coverage that make up Loss of Use:

Additional living expense—reasonable expenses you incur to maintain your family’s standard of living if you must live elsewhere while your home is being repaired. These expenses include things like rent or hotel bills, restaurant or grocery bills above and beyond what you’d normally spend, laundry bills, parking fees, or the cost of storing your belongings while your home is being repaired.

Fair rental value—if you own a tenant-occupied home or rental property and the covered loss makes the rental premises uninhabitable, the insurer will cover the lost rental income. Expenses which will not continue, such as what a tenant pays for utilities, will be subtracted from that reimbursement.

Prohibited use—if you must stay elsewhere when a civil authority, such as a government agency or the state police, prohibits you from accessing your home in a damaged neighborhood, even if your own home is unharmed.

Things to remember:

  • Loss of Use is only payable if the damage was caused by an insured peril. This does NOT include flood, which is normally excluded on a standard homeowners insurance policy. Federal flood insurance also excludes additional living expense coverage, but some private flood markets are starting to provide some Loss of Use coverage in their policies.
  • Most policies cap the amount of Loss of Use coverage, often at a percentage of the limit of insurance carried on the dwelling.
  • No deductible applies to Loss of Use coverage.
  • Loss of Use extends beyond the policy term limits if the covered loss occurs before the policy’s expiration date.

Loss of Use can be an important coverage to have if you’re ever faced with a serious homeowners claim. Since coverage terms vary, you may want to discuss with your Lakewood Financial agent whether or not your homeowners insurance coverage is appropriate for your situation. Please call us at 941-747-4600, or contact us if you have any questions.