Market Value – How Much is My Home Actually Worth?

Homeowners always seem to have a ballpark estimate of their home’s worth, but when it comes down to the real value, they can be a little off target. People tend to view their home through rose-colored glasses as they calculate its value, remembering all of the tender moments that happened over the years. The open market, however, removes sentimental value from the formula and only assesses value based on features and characteristics.

In order to talk about how houses get rated, you must first understand what the term “market value” means. To real estate agents, it refers to the price a house can be bought and sold for within a practical time frame. This would be at a price that is considered fair by both the seller and buyer, and within a time frame ranging up to three months.

If you are interested in figuring out your home’s market value, you must concentrate on the types of things buyers look for when browsing around. Remember that the housing market can change in the blink of an eye and that the value of houses can vary drastically from one neighborhood to another. To establish a good starting point, take a look at the asking price of similar homes for sale in your area.

What to look for when doing a market value analysis of your home:

Location, Location, Location – What school district is the home located in? How desirable is the neighborhood? Is it near local parks, shopping centers, or public transportation?

Design and Overall Appeal – Is the layout of the home aesthetically pleasing? Does the home look nice or like a fixer-upper? Is there landscaping?

Quality of Construction – Does the house appear to be in good condition? Are there visible and obvious repairs?

Maintenance – Has the wiring and plumbing been maintained or updated? Does the home need new shingles or siding? Is there peeling or faded paint on the back porch?

Home Improvements – Is the back patio enclosed or has the bathroom recently been remodeled?

Distinguishing Features – Is there an in-ground pool for swimming or is the basement finished? Is there room in the backyard to plant a garden?

Another way real estate agents measure market value is by looking at the home’s price per square foot. This figure is calculated by taking the amount of livable square feet in the home and dividing it into the home’s most current appraised value, which can usually be found in your property tax paperwork. Look in the newspaper to see what similar houses in your neighborhood are selling for and determine their price per square foot. To prime your house to sell, you will want to price your house at a comparable rate.

Finally, you must take into consideration the current condition of the housing market. Thousands of dollars can be gained or lost depending on real estate trends. Changes in interest rates, the local economy, and even national issues have an effect each home’s market value. A booming economy improves interest rates and leads to higher home values, and on the other hand, in times of recession, home values sink below what owners think is fair. By completing a market value assessment on your home each year, you will have a better idea whether or not your home is properly insured. Be proactive, as an undersized policy will not offer much protection if something terrible would happen.

Identity Thieves: They Play, You Pay

It’s hard to tell exactly how they do it. Maybe you threw away some papers with your account number on them, somebody watched you put in your PIN number, or maybe you fell victim to an email phishing scam. Identity thieves don’t care where they get your information, they are just out take your money and ruin your credit in the process. Because there are so many different ways for identity theft to occur, it is important to know how to protect yourself and your assets.

Identity thieves are criminals who prey on other people’s personal information, for instance their social security number, credit card information, bank account information, and online account log-in information. Thieves even want to know your pet’s name or mother’s maiden name to help them steal passwords. Using this critical information, thieves are able to make unauthorized transactions and transfer funds behind your back. Before you ever find out, an identity thief could be enjoying a Caribbean vacation at your expense. While these damages can be repaired, it will cost you plenty of headaches and potentially thousands of dollars.

The threat of identity theft is ever present, but there are some things you can do to keep your credit protected. The first thing you should do is prevent yourself from revealing personal information over the phone and on the Internet. If you do not understand why a business would need your social security number or similar information, then do not give it out. Junk mail and credit card offers are also potential threats and should always go through a paper shredder before being thrown out.

Bank receipts and discarded deposit slips are a goldmine for thieves and should never get tossed in a public trash bin. When ordering new checks, request to have your first initial printed in the corner instead of your full name, to make it harder for forgeries to occur. Checks should never be printed with your social security number on them.

In your free time, take a trip to the library or use your office copier to make paper copies of everything in your wallet. Keep these duplicates in a strongbox or other safe spot at home so you can reference your driver’s license and credit card numbers if you ever lose your wallet or have it stolen. Make sure to photocopy the backs of your credit cards too, which contain the customer service phone numbers to call to deactivate the cards. Having these numbers handy will get your cards suspended quickly and cut down the amount of time the thief can access your accounts.

If you discover or suspect that your identity has been compromised, call the local authorities after you have deactivated your cards. Filing a police report legitimizes your claim and opens an investigation to find and stop the thief. Also, make a report with the fraud department at the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration. To stop further attacks to your credit, alert the three credit reporting bureaus to block the use of your social security number and name on any new credit applications.

Insurance companies offer identity theft policies to individuals who want added protection. These policies cover the costs of unauthorized purchases and restoring your credit. Sometimes identity theft protection is included with homeowner’s insurance or it can be added as an endorsement to a renter’s or homeowner’s policy.

Nearly 100,000 people each year have their identity stolen, according to Federal Trade Commission statistics. Just one bank slip or piece of mail can lead to having your credit destroyed by an identity crook. By making only a few changes to your lifestyle, you can keep your identity from being targeted by crafty thieves.

Totaled Vehicles and Insurance Payouts – What You Need to Know

Car accidents take their toll physically, mentally, and financially on those involved. Take the time now to learn about how insurance companies determine the value of your vehicle and you will have one less thing to worry about if your vehicle is ever “totaled” in an accident.

According to the car insurance industry, the term “totaled” doesn’t have as much to do with damage as you may think. When a vehicle experiences damage from an auto accident, the insurance company is more interested in the cost to repair the vehicle, rather than the overall amount of damage to the car. If the repair costs exceed what the insurance company considers the vehicle to be worth, the insurance company deems the vehicle to be “totaled” and the policyholder is paid the value of the vehicle. While most car owners are familiar will value guides like Kelly Blue Book and the NADA Official Used Car Guide, insurance companies generally refer to their own private databases when determining a vehicle’s value.

After making an assessment of your vehicle’s damages, the insurance company will make an offer which they feel is fair. The offer is meant to provide you the means to purchase a vehicle of the same style and condition of the one that was “totaled.” Insurance companies call this “making whole.” For example if you were driving a 5-year old pickup truck with 65,000 miles on it before the accident, your offer should provide you the money to purchase a similar truck with similar miles on it. As an informed policyholder, it is on your shoulders to make certain that your offer indeed makes your situation whole, putting you back behind the wheel of a comparable vehicle.

At times, insurance companies and policyholders cannot agree on a fair payout and drivers must turn to outside sources to help their case. Car owners can hire an independent appraisal service or take their case before an arbitrator. If considering having your vehicle appraised, factor the cost of the appraisal service into the equation and see if it is still a cost effective option. If you seek arbitration, keep in mind that there are binding and non-binding cases when arbitrating, and non-binding arbitration decisions can be appealed in court if you still consider the offer to be unfair.

In most cases, though, offers are easily agreed upon and your vehicle heads off to its final resting place – the salvage yard. Your vehicle will be dissected and sold for parts and scrap, with the insurance company keeping the profits. If you don’t want your car to meet this demise, you may opt to keep your damaged vehicle and pay for its repairs out-of-pocket, but this is not always the most economically wise decision.

Car owners who decide to keep their vehicle after it has been “totaled” receive a smaller payout from their insurance company. The offer is reduced by the amount of your deductible and the estimated amount of profits that would have been made from the salvage process. Owners who choose to keep their damaged cars run the risk of not receiving an offer large enough to get the vehicle roadworthy again. Re-insuring the vehicle will also be difficult in the future, as most insurance companies will only extend liability coverage to previously “totaled” vehicles, regarding they pass an inspection by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Whether you choose to make the repairs yourself or have your vehicle salvaged, it is crucial that you understand how auto insurance companies operate before you are ever involved in an accident. By knowing this information, you will be prepared to get the most out of your vehicle, even if it is “totaled.”

The Data is in – Distracted Driving is Dangerous!

In our high-tech world, there are more and more instances of driver distractions that contribute to car accidents, some of them fatal.   According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, there were an estimated 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries attributable to distracted driving. If anything, the actual number is likely higher because distractions can be hard to quantify and the true number of accidents caused by driver distractions is difficult to define.

Our changing driving habits and increased dependence on technology have steadily raised the number of potentially dangerous distractions. Consider the attention-diverters in your own car – radio and climate controls, cell phones and navigation systems. Matters are complicated further when there is more than one distraction, such as eating while trying to discipline a child in the backseat.

Furthermore, the National Safety Council released a white paper in early 2010, discussing the effects of cell phone usage while driving, and the news is not good.  The white paper pulled information from at least 30 different scientific studies, and the results showed that cell phones have quickly become one of the leading driver distractions, even when drivers opted for “hands-free” devices.  The NSC reveals that cell-phone usage causes the driver to multi-task and weakens the brain’s ability to capture driving cues.  The overwhelming result is impaired driving performance.  

Because of the grim data, many states have placed restrictions on drivers’ use of cell phones. The number of wireless phone users in the U.S. has grown from five million in 1990 to more than 200 million today, and surveys show that 85 percent of these people use cell phones when behind the wheel. In fact, calls from moving vehicles account for half of all cellular air time use.

So what can you do to avoid falling into this trap?  Below are some important anti-distraction tips:

* Keep your eyes on the road. Consider the possibility of turning your cell phone off while behind the wheel.

* NEVER text while driving.

* Keep your hands on the wheel by programming your favorite radio stations, and arranging tapes and CDs in an easily accessible spot. Don’t attempt to retrieve objects that have fallen on the floor while driving.

* Teach your children the importance of good behavior in the car.

* Avoid eating and drinking while driving. If you must, choose easy-to-handle foods and keep beverages in a nearby cup-holder.

* Designate the front-seat passenger to serve as navigator rather than fumbling with maps and navigation systems yourself.

* Take a break if you find yourself lost in thought.

* Avoid stressful or confrontational conversation while driving.

Check Your Homeowner’s Policy for Coverage on Your Special Vehicles

Millions of Americans own special vehicles for recreation, personal assistance, property maintenance, and for other purposes. Residents and visitors in snow belt regions use snowmobiles. Golf carts cruise around golf courses and around many residential communities. Individuals with limited mobility use motorized wheelchairs and scooters. All-terrain vehicles and dune buggies are always popular. These vehicles can be expensive to purchase and can become involved in accidents. Individuals who own and use them need insurance protection when something goes wrong. Fortunately, the standard homeowner’s insurance policy provides some of the coverage users need.

The homeowner’s policy does not cover legal liability resulting from the use of motor vehicles that are registered for use on public roads or property or that the law requires to be registered for use at the place where the accident took place. However, it does provide some coverage for vehicles designed to be used off public roads if either the user does not own them or if the accident occurs on an “insured location,” as the policy defines that term. The term includes the place where the person named on the policy (the named insured) resides, other residences he acquires during the policy term, premises he doesn’t own and where he temporarily resides, vacant land he owns or rents, land he owns or rents where he is building a residence, and other premises he occasionally rents for non-business use.

Therefore, the homeowner’s policy will cover him for liability resulting from the use of:

* A motorized wheelchair at his home and surrounding property

* A dune buggy at a beach house he’s renting for a week

* A snowmobile he owns on vacant land he owns

* An ATV he rents while he uses it on someone else’s property.

It will not cover him if he takes a vehicle he owns off an insured location.

The policy contains special provisions regarding golf carts. It covers the person’s liability for use of a golf cart he owns that is designed to carry at most four people and is not designed to go faster than 25 M.P.H. on level ground. Coverage applies only if the accident occurs at a golfing facility or at a private residential community where golf carts can legally travel on its public roads, subject to the authority of a property owner’s association, and where an insured person has a residence. Therefore, an individual has coverage if he strikes a person with his golf cart while driving from one hole to another or if he lives in a gated community and damages a neighbor’s deck with his golf cart. He does not have coverage if he takes out a mailbox while driving a golf cart down a public road.

The policy covers certain vehicles if the insured person uses them solely to service his premises. For example, he would have coverage for a riding lawn mower that he uses on his own property, but he will not have coverage for it if he also uses it to cut a neighbor’s grass. The policy covers vehicles designed to assist the handicapped, but only while they are being used to assist a handicapped person or while they are parked on an insured location. A healthy 15 year-old who takes a handicapped person’s scooter for a joy ride does not have coverage.

Because coverage for these vehicles is so situation-dependent, people who own them should discuss the best way to insure them with a professional insurance agent. In some cases, policy changes may be available that will improve the coverage for an additional premium. All motorized vehicles carry a risk of accidents, so it is important to have the right insurance protection in place.

What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The changing of the seasons usually brings along a laundry list of chores to most homeowners, in addition to some chilly weather. One task that should be at the top of the list is making sure your home’s carbon monoxide (CO) detector is working properly.

The presence of carbon monoxide gas is almost impossible to detect without some sort of device. The gas is odorless, colorless, and invisible, and can weave its way throughout your home much easier in the winter months. CO gases are created when heating elements that use natural gas, propane, wood, or oil do not completely burn off their fuels. Breathing in these fumes poisons the body and can be deadly. The effects may appear mild at first, as the individual begins to feel dizzy and nauseous, but can quickly turn to exertion and loss of consciousness.

Fortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable by performing routine safety checks around the house, and by installing and maintaining carbon monoxide detectors within the home. Proper maintenance of the home’s cooking and heating sources is the best place to start, but also consider safeguarding the house from the exhaust fumes of generators and vehicles. Recent statistics from the U.S. National Safety Council show that the two leading causes of accidental death from gases or vapors come from carbon monoxide given off by running vehicles and cooking and heating equipment.

The Center for Disease Control and the National Fire Protection Agency agree that having carbon monoxide detectors in the home is a family’s best line of defense against poisoning. Follow these tips to help protect your home from this deadly gas:

• Only use CO detectors that have been approved by a qualified, independent testing laboratory.

• The sensors in CO devices do not last forever. Abide by the manufacturer’s suggested replacement interval.

• Battery-powered detectors should receive new batteries once a year, unless the directions give a different time frame.

• Choose a centralized location outside of the family’s sleeping area to install the detector, making sure that its alarm can clearly be heard in each bedroom.

• List the phone numbers of the local fire and rescue services with your other emergency contacts.

• Perform a monthly test on all carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are powered and working.

In the event that your detector’s alarm sounds, immediately evacuate your home, leaving doors open and turning off cooking and heating equipment, if possible. Alert the fire department and seek appropriate medical attention if anyone shows symptoms of CO poisoning. After the carbon monoxide levels return to normal, have your home’s equipment inspected for leaks and areas of weakness by a qualified technician.

Remember, carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and deadly, and its symptoms should never be taken lightly. By following the tips mentioned above, you can help protect yourself and your family from the “silent killer” during the wintertime and throughout the year.

Three Strategies for Lowering Auto Insurance for Your Teen

Teenagers are expensive. Parents pay for their cell phones, sports activities, video games, and when a teen starts driving, parents pay their car insurance. Car insurance is very expensive for teenagers due to their lack of experience on the road. Statistics show that teenagers are involved in a higher number of accidents with fatal or critical injuries than more experienced older drivers. Here are a few ways you may be able to decrease the cost of auto insurance for teen drivers.

  • Check for a good student discount. In the eyes of an insurance company, teenagers who do well in school appear more responsible. Keep in mind that a good student doesn’t mean an honor student. Each insurance company has its own definition of a good student. Your teen may still qualify even if he isn’t at the top of his class. You can also enroll your teen in a driver’s education course, even if it is not mandatory in your state. Find out from your insurance company if a driver’s education course will affect the insurance premiums.
  • Choose an older model car for your teenager. Teens are naturally attracted to shiny new sports cars, but the insurance costs on sports cars are astronomical. The insurance cost is tied to the horsepower rating of the car as well as the theft rate. Older cars also have a lower book value which in turn reduces the insurance premium.
  • Consider raising your deductible. A higher deductible means lower monthly premiums. You can always save the difference in a special account in case you need to draw on it to pay the deductible later in case of an accident or fender bender.

In summary, always be proactive when adding a new driver to your existing insurance policy. Ask questions and do your own research. Discounts are out there if you know where to look.

Paying Too Much for Auto Insurance?

To paraphrase President Barack Obama, if you are still feeling the effects of the economic recession, then the recession is not over for you. And chances are good that you may be among those who are still trying to pinch every penny and save money wherever and whenever they can. But have you thought about saving on your car insurance? Car insurance premiums represent a significant chunk of your income each year, so it only makes sense that you should make sure that you are not paying too much for necessary coverage. If you are not getting some of these car insurance discounts, then you are likely paying more than you should:

Safe driver who obeys traffic laws? Discount! The number one determining factor when your car insurance premiums are being calculated is your driving history and the driving history of other drivers on your policy. In fact, many insurers appreciate a good driver that they are willing to knock ten percent off the cost of your insurance for having a clean driving record. Now that’s significant!

Are you an older driver? Discount! Drivers over fifty are often eligible for many discounts on their car insurance. More and more companies are rewarding older drivers for their experience behind the wheel.

Have you taken a defensive driving course? Discount! Defensive driving courses can help you to become a better, safer driver, and your car insurance company knows this. If you can provide proof of taking a qualified defensive driving course, you can score additional savings.

Is your teen driver on the honor roll at her school? Discount! Students who make good grades may be eligible for a discount, as can those students who take a driver’s education course. It pays to be smart!

Is your car equipped with special features? Discount! Airbags, daytime running lights, anti-lock brakes and anti-theft devices are just some of the equipment that might qualify you for savings.

Compare Auto Insurance Rates and Save Even More

Other than qualifying for discounts on your car insurance, you can also reduce the cost of your car insurance by comparing rates with top companies. The quickest and most efficient way to compare rates is to contact a professional insurance agent. Many drivers find that they are able to save thirty percent or more off the cost of car insurance if it’s been a while since their last review.

Consider Cost of Car Insurance when Shopping for a New Ride

Most consumers will usually put forth a great deal of effort and time into searching out the best price for their new car. After all, the majority of America will have a budget for any large ticket purchase. One common mistake that consumers make when budgeting for a new car is only comparing what they can afford with the sticker price or loan payment for the car.

If cost is an issue, especially if choosing a car on the highest end of one’s budget, then it’s vital to factor in how much insurance will cost on the new car. It’s important to remember that car insurance prices will vary based on several car factors: sticker price, safety features, cost of repair, vehicle specific features, and high vs. low profile of vehicle.

Sticker Price

The greater the sticker price of a new or used car is, the more expensive it will be for an insurance company to replace it in the event of an accident. Therefore, the more expensive a car is, the more expensive the insurance will be for it. The added cost of insurance must be factored in to know if a car is truly affordable.

Safety Features

Safety features can have a big impact on car insurance. Features such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, automatic seatbelts, traction control, and airbags are statically proven to greatly reduce the number of accidents and /or injuries that occur while driving a car. The overall safety, class safety rating, and “crashworthiness” of a vehicle is also a factor. Certain states mandate that a discount be given for vehicles with certain safety features. So, be sure and check the safety rating for the car and applicable state law. Five stars indicate the highest safety rating and one star the lowest. 

Repair Cost

The cost to repair the car is another factor that will influence insurance cost. The more expensive a car is, the more expensive the parts will be in the event it ever needs a replaced or repaired part. Then, there are certain brands of cars that usually require a dealership or specialty mechanic for even the simplest repair. These cars usually require brand-specific tools and diagnostic equipment. All of this will result in higher insurance rates.

Car Specific Features

There are certain car features that will impact insurance cost. Hard top vs. soft top, number of doors, and size of engine would be feature examples. As a general rule, domestic cars and minivans are some of the less expensive types of vehicles to insure.

Profile

Some cars are easier to steal and more valuable to car thieves than others. These “high profile” cars are considered magnets for auto theft, and therefore more expensive to insure. Crime databases and local insurance agents can apprise buyers of what cars are considered high profile for their area.

All of the above influences on car insurance can dramatically increase the bottom line cost of acquiring a new car, as they can alter car insurance from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It’s vital to seek an insurance estimate before deciding if a car is a good deal.

Check Your Home’s Fire Extinguishers

According to a fire loss study done by the National Fire Protection Association, house fires accounted for 75% of all structural fires in the United States. There’s about 400,000 residential property fires in the U.S. each year, and these residential fires account for over 3,700 human fatalities each year. Even when all other natural disasters are combined, fires still typically claim more American lives per year.

Considering the cost, frequency, and loss of life related to residential fires, it’s important for homeowners to have loss control measures in place. A fire extinguisher may seem like a simple item, but when properly selected, placed, and maintained, a fire extinguisher can be a powerful tool to prevent widespread fire loss. The best thing is that a fire extinguisher is a relatively cheap investment, as prices start at around $20.00.

It’s important to become familiar with the different classes of fire extinguishers. There are five classes, with each class based on what type of fire the extinguisher is capable of extinguishing. The five extinguisher classes are marked with a class specific color, geometric symbol, and/or picture.

Class A Fire Extinguisher

Color – green

Geometric symbol – triangle

Picture – burning garbage can and woodpile

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on ordinary solid combustibles. These types of fires might involve cloth, wood, rubber, paper, or certain types of plastic.

Class B Fire Extinguisher

Color – red

Geometric symbol – square

Picture – container of fuel and burning puddle

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on flammable liquids and gasses. These types of fires might involve lacquers, gasoline, alcohol, diesel oil, oil-based paints, or flammable gas.

Class C Fire Extinguishers

Color – blue

Geometric symbol – circle

Picture – burning outlet and electric cord plug

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on energized electrical equipment. It would be used for fires that involve an appliance, electrical wiring, circuit breaker, or electrical outlet.

Class D Fire Extinguisher

Color – yellow

Geometric symbol – star or decagon

Picture – burning bearing and gear

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible metals. These fires might involve magnesium, potassium, sodium, or titanium. It’s important to note that some Class D fire extinguishers will work on multiple metal types, but others are metal specific.

Class K Fire Extinguisher

Color – black

Geometric symbol – hexagon

Picture – burning pan

This class of fire extinguisher is intended to be used on combustible cooking fires. It can be used to put out fires from cooking oils and fats.

Fire Extinguisher Tips

*Fire extinguishers are important fire protection tools. However, it’s vital to know the fire type and extinguisher class before attempting usage. Using the wrong extinguisher on the wrong fire can make the fire worse and cause life threatening injury.

*It’s extremely important for all members of the household, babysitters, housekeepers, and any other potential user to know how to safely and correctly use the fire extinguisher. Since most will not be using an extinguisher on a regular basis, it’s also important to periodically review the instructions.

*Because fires may often involve a combination of elements, most fire protection experts recommend a fire extinguisher with an ABC rating.

*Fire protection experts recommend that a medium-sized fire extinguisher be placed in the kitchen and garage. A fire extinguisher should also be placed on each additional floor of the home.

*All fire extinguishers should be annually inspected and maintained by a professional fire equipment supplier. If not properly maintained, a fire extinguisher might not discharge when needed. There’s also the risk of it rupturing when pressurized, which can result in serious injury.

* Having fire extinguishers in the home may reduce the cost of home insurance. Contact the insurance broker for the home to find out if a discount for fire loss prevention measures is offered.

 

Keep in mind that fire extinguishers are vital protection against fire loss, but they must be properly selected, placed, and maintained.