House passes major Flood Insurance legislation: most coastal flood rates to increase, broader coverage options coming!

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On July 12, 2011 the House of Representatives passed a bill (HR 1309) that will fundamentally change the National Flood Insurance Program, the public’s main outlet for flood insurance.  The bill passed by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 402 to 22.  An amendment to close the whole program was roundly defeated.  Senate passage is expected, though when is uncertain.

The existing program was in trouble.  Congress missed four reauthorization deadlines last year, meaning the program lapsed four times for several days at a time, creating havoc in the real estate and insurance markets.  In addition, a lingering debt of $18 billion remains on the books from 2005 (mostly Hurricane Katrina); a hurricane in any metropolitan area in Florida or the Gulf could double that loss in a weekend.  The 112th Congress is less inclined to accept these kinds of unpredictable expenses, and the bill seems to reflect this change in attitude.

The National Flood insurance program has been around for decades and today is the primary vehicle for providing insurance for about 5.5 million property owners around the country.  Locally, many homes from Quincy to Plymouth and hundreds more on the Cape have been rebuilt with NFIP insurance.

Conceptually the National Flood Insurance Program makes sense: private insurers are reluctant to insure against losses that are geographically concentrated because of an insurance concept known as ‘spread of risk’.  A single company can’t accept such concentrated risk without putting its own balance sheet on the line.  The national government can spread risk better: they collect premiums for spring river overflows in the Midwest, winter nor’easters in New England, and fall hurricanes in the Gulf.  The problem is that the current rates are not developed with the same detail as private insurers need when trying to make a profit.  To wit, in 2006, the year after over $17 billion in losses, NFIP rates actually went down.  This pricing failure leads to a problem known as ‘adverse selection’: flood insurance is a great deal if you’re really near the water; it’s not a great deal if you’re only mildly exposed to flood waters.  Thus, the people at the greatest risk get the best (most subsidized) deal.  This is not a formula for long term survival, or even a break-even program.  Consider the findings of a 2006 Congressional Research Service study: the program operated at a loss for 19 of the previous 34 years.  This spring’s midwestern floods likely contributed to pressure for overhaul.  In its existing form, it is truly another disaster waiting to happen.

The program has also been criticized for promoting development in environmentally sensitive coastal areas.  While coastal development was seen as a positive thing 40-50 years ago, today many voters prefer to see remaining undeveloped coastal land and wetlands set aside for conservation.

In the bill passed by the House, rates will be transitioned gradually to risk based premiums.  Many properties with multiple claims will see lower subsidies, and in some cases, insurance may be refused altogether.  During the transition phase, annual premium increases, previously limited to 10% per year, will be capped at 20% per year.  Other features include minimum $2,000 deductibles on subsidized rate properties, and $1,000 deductibles on risk rated properties.  The bill also established a ‘Technical Mapping Advisory Council’ to develop new mapping standards.  In short, the NFIP is transitioning in a direction toward the way for-profit companies measure and charge for risk.

Because of the transition to risk based pricing, some new options will become available: annual increases indexed to inflation, and additional living expenses common with homeowners insurance.  Business income loss will be offered for business properties.  Importantly, the bill reauthorizes the program through 2016, which will provide a measure of certainty severely lacking in previous years.

The bill’s author, U.S. Representative Judy Biggert, R-Ill., said after the vote, this “eliminates barriers to the development of a private flood insurance market, and helps take taxpayers out of the risk business. The NFIP is too important to let lapse, and too in debt to continue without reform. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to speed this legislation to the President’s desk.”  Locally, Congressman Bill Keating of the 10th Congressional district and Stephen Lynch of the 9th, both voted for the bill.  More detailed summaries of the bill are available at thomas.gov site linked here.

For most homeowners along the coast, this will mean higher flood insurance costs beginning this fall.  There are still steps homeowners can take to reduce costs, and to control what kind of insurance you need to buy. Those steps include:

  • Know what zone you are in; if you buy insurance before your local flood map changes, you should be grandfathered to the existing zone. View FEMA’s map pages here
  • If you are in a n A, B, or X zone, getting an Elevation Certificate from a qualified engineer may help you especially if you are on or near the border of a lower rated zone (Your home might be in a better place than the map says).
  • For more about coastal insurance for your home, visit www.agordon.com/home.
    Consider mitigation practices such as those recommended by FEMA and other construction experts.

The bill had broad support from insurance companies and agency groups for improving the predictability and sustainability of the program’s future.   For more about what you can do to contain the cost of insuring property along the coast, visit www.agordon.com/home for more.

Geoff Gordon

The top 10 cheapest and most expensive 2011 cars to insure

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A new year means many things for car buyers; new safety ratings, new models, and new costs. Another aspect of a car search to consider is the cost of Auto insurance; preferably before Royce rolls his brand new auto from the lot.

Fortunately, Insure.com has done the world a great service by ranking the most expensive and least expensive cars to insure. Most of the cars on these lists will come as no surprise to you, but nonetheless good information to have before you adventurously strike out to haggle with the peddlers of the automobile world.

Least Expensive (2011)(Cheapest first)

  1. Chrysler Town and Country LX
  2. Toyota Sienna
  3. Toyota Sienna LE
  4. Honda Odyssey LX
  5. Nissan Murano
  6. Jeep Wrangler
  7. Honda Odyssey EX
  8. Toyota Sienna
  9. Ford Escape
  10. Toyota Highlander
Most Expensive (2011)(Most expensive first)

  1. Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
  2. BMW 750i
  3. BMW 750Li
  4. Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
  5. Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
  6. Aston Martin DB9
  7. Mercedes-Benz CL600
  8. Porsche 911 Carrera S
  9. Aston Martin DB9 Volante
  10. Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG

It’s important to note that the car you drive is NOT the only factor that affects your auto insurance rates. Several other factors, including age, gender, area of residence, and annual mileage also play a part in determining the number at the bottom of your car insurance bill. We’ve also written about how each of these affects your insurance, if you’re interested.

As for the car itself, there are reasons that some cost more to insure than others. This is due to safety ratings, top speed, anti-theft devices, and cost. It makes sense that a fast, poorly protected car will be the apple of a thief’s eye and therefore cost more to insure.

Performance: what can this baby do on the highway?

If your car’s engine could power a third world village, your insurance is going to be higher. Insurance companies have to assume that high performance cars are bought for just that reason: to drive fast and practice risky driving behaviors. If you want to keep your insurance low, stay away from performance vehicles.

Foreign Cars:

If your dream car has parts from obscure companies and/or locations, beware. Should you get into an accident (even a minor fender bender), the replacement parts will be much more costly than high supply auto parts. That factors into your insurance cost; in fact, it may factor in even more in the future if gas (and thus shipping) prices continue to rise.

Bigger is not always better:

First and foremost: YOU ARE NOT NECESSARILY SAFER IN A BIGGER CAR. There are many large trucks and SUVs that have inherent safety flaws.  Consult crash test reviews and data before you commit to a larger car. However, even if safer, SUVs are not necessarily the best way to obtain low car insurance. Big cars tend to have a higher liability coverage rate because they do more damage to other cars in accidents.

Consider a ‘family car’:

Remember the ‘high performance, high insurance’ paragraph? Well the converse is also true. Cars associated with ‘routine, safe’ driving behavior are going to cost you less. These are the cars that many think of as ‘family vehicles’: minivans, station wagons, and family sedans. This is due to the fact that ‘family vehicles’ are statistically involved in fewer crashes than other types of cars; therefore, they will cost you less to insure.

 Remember:  insurance companies play a game of numbers; if your car is going to cost more to replace, then you’re going to pay more for it.  With that in mind, go forth and buy the right car for you and your insurer.

And, of course, if you find yourself in an auto insurance pinch, look to Gordon Insurance: we provide both a wealth of information on our website and would be happy to place you with the right insurance agency for you.

Memories

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Remember when:

  • It took 2 minutes for the TV to warm up
  • Your dad made all the decisions
  • Your windshield was cleaned, radiator & oil checked and gas served, without asking, all for free, each & every time
  •  Car keys were always ‘stored’ in the ignition
  • Hula hoops, Jacks & Pick up sticks
  • Penny candy that cost a penny
  • Home milk delivery in glass bottles
  • 33’s & 45’s played on Hi Fi record players
  • Adding machines, mimeograph machines &  typewriters
  • Water balloon fights
  • A neighbor’s new car was the talk of the neighborhood
  • Chinese food was an occasional treat
  • Suits, ties, hats, dresses & gloves were worn to church and on airplanes
  • Bundle boys carried your groceries to your car
  • Sen Sen
  • Brill Cream-  “ A little dab will do ya”
  • Scooter pies
  • Kerosene smudge pots used as highway flares
  • Car tires had inner tubes
  • Wallpaper was hung with wheat paste and every room was wallpapered.
  • All barbeque grills used briquettes
  • Stores and malls were closed on Sundays
  • You had to manually defrost your freezer
  • Polaroid instant cameras
  • The Ivory Soap twins
  • “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should”
  • Pepsi Cola hits the spot, 10 full ounces, that’s a lot!Remember the slogan, “Your Independent Insurance Agent serves you first”? At A. Gordon Insurance, times haven’t changed. Our friendly staff at A. Gordon Insurance continues to put you first!


Risk in Perspective: Insight and Humor in the Age of Risk Management

Appealing a Surcharge

 

Before you start the process of appealing a surcharge, it is important to first understand how the Merit Rating Board and Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) work.

 The Merit Rating Board:

All Massachusetts auto insurance companies are required to report at-fault accidents and out-of-state driving records to the Merit Rating Board (MRB). The MRB is the state agency that maintains driving records.
The MRB driving record consists of surchargeable incidents. A surchargeable incident is any event in which you are:

  1. Convicted of, or pay a fine for, a motor vehicle violation
  2. Assigned to an alcohol education program or controlled substance treatment or rehabilitation program
  3. Found to be more than 50 percent at fault for an accident, and your insurance company makes a claim payment above a certain threshold

If you decide not to pursue an appeal, the surcharge can increase your premium and SDIP step.
In addition, each surchargeable incident counts toward possible license suspension.

You are considered to be more than 50 percent at fault in an accident if your insurance company:

  1. Finds you at fault according to one of the 19 At-Fault Standards  and
  2. Has paid a claim of more than $500 for Collision, Limited Collision, Damage to Someone Else’s Property, or Bodily Injury to Others.

Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP)
The Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) is mandated by state law to establish classifications of risks to fairly reflect the driving records of insureds and adjust premiums based in part on at-fault accidents. The Plan encourages safe driving by rewarding drivers who do not cause accidents or incur traffic law violations with a credit to their automobile insurance premiums, and discourages unsafe driving by requiring high-risk drivers to pay a greater share of insurance costs. Massachusetts, unlike many comparable jurisdictions that afford no or limited due process rights, provides the right to a hearing before an impartial hearing officer of the Board.

If you believe that you are not more than 50% at-fault for an accident in which you received a surcharge, you may appeal the motor vehicle accident surcharge to the Division of Insurance Board of Appeal.

Your insurance company will mail you a Notice of Surcharge.

  1. If any of the information listed on the Surcharge Notice is incorrect (name, driver’s license number or date of accident), contact the issuing insurance company to make the corrections before appealing.
  2. If you do not receive a Surcharge Notice or misplace it:
  3. Contact your insurance agent for a copy of the Surcharge Notice     OR
  4. Request a late appeal from the Merit Rating Board.
  5. Complete the Surcharge Appeal Form located on the reverse side of the Notice of Surcharge.
  • The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the surcharge date.
  • If you did not submit your appeal within 30 days because you never received a Surcharge Notice, you must obtain a Late Appeal from the Merit Rating Board. The Board of Appeal must receive the Late Appeal within 30 days of your policy renewal.
  1. Submit a $50.00 check or money order payable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts/Board of Appeal.
  • The fee is non-refundable.
  1. Mail your appeal to the post office box designated on the application. Late appeals must be sent directly to the Division of Insurance, Board of Appeal.
  2. Upon receipt of your surcharge application, the Board will mail you a postcard to acknowledge your appeal. Your cancelled check will serve as an additional receipt of your filing.
  3. The Board will mail you a Notice of Hearing approximately 3 weeks prior to your hearing date.
  4. Appeal hearings are scheduled in Boston, Brockton, Cambridge, Peabody, Plymouth, Somerville, Springfield, Waltham, or Worcester. Carefully note the location of your hearing listed on the Notice. Directions are included at the bottom of the Hearing Notice.
  5. Upon receipt of the Hearing Notice, you have three options for which to pursue the appeal:
    1. Appear in Person.
      Bring your Hearing Notice to the scheduled location.
      Bring copies of all relevant information, any documents/photographs etc. that you want the Hearing Officer to consider when making the decision.
    2. Submit a Written Statement in lieu of your appearance.
      The Board must receive your written or typed statement via mail or facsimile at least 5 days priorto your hearing. The statement must include:
      • copies of all relevant information, any documents/photographs etc. that you want the Hearing Officer to consider in making the decision
      • your signature on the Hearing Notice that identifies you are waiving a personal appearance in favor of your written statement & affirms that your statement is truthful.
    3. Select a representative to appear on your behalf.
      If you elect to submit a written statement via a representative, instead of appearing in person, it must include:

      • Copies of all relevant information, any documents/photographs etc. that you want the Hearing Officer to consider in making the decision
      • your signature on the Hearing Notice that identifies you are waiving a personal appearance in favor of your written statement & affirms that your written statement is truthful.

The hearing is informal and public, lasting approximately 20 – 30 minutes. The Hearing Officer will make an audio tape recording of the hearing. You and your insurance company representative will be given an opportunity to present all pertinent information. You may also bring a witness or a witness statement to the hearing. The Hearing Officer may ask you or the representative questions to clarify the information presented or the circumstances of the accident.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer will take your appeal under advisement. The facts and circumstances presented will be reviewed in accordance with the governing laws and regulations.

The Memorandum of Finding and Order, the Board’s decision, will be mailed to you within 2-4 weeks. The Board will also contact the Commonwealth’s Merit Rating Board and your insurance company so that your driving history record will be properly updated.

  • If the decision is marked VACATE, the Board has found that you were not more than 50% at-fault for the accident. Any points that you received on your driving record as a result of the accident will be removed.
  • If the decision is marked UPHELD, the Board has found that you were more than 50% at-fault for the accident. The surcharge points will remain on your driving record.

If you disagree with the determination of the Board, you may appeal the decision to your county’s Superior Court or in Boston Suffolk County Court. You must file this appeal within 30 days of your receipt of the decision.
A surcharge incurred due to a traffic violation or a non-moving violation are not appealable to the Board…

Bill Cordaro
Commercial Accounts
Andrew G. Gordon, Inc.

Car Crashes: a word to the wise from the not-so-wise

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Let it be stated for the record that I, Corbin Foucart, am henceforth a TERRIBLE driver. This shall be reflected in both my crushed ego and in my insurance premium. However, until 6:57 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, April 1st 2011, I considered myself a good driver. Why the transformation? Because that morning I took my cherished 1994 Honda CR-V and slammed it into a tree.

Now some explanation. I don’t have the right to make excuses; I was ENTIRELY at fault, BUT…

  1. The roads were slippery. It was snowing on April 1st!!
  2. The roads on which I drove were untouched by plows.
  3. Another student totaled her car on the same road that morning. Misery loves company.
  4. I was going around a curve
  5. I was going very slowly (Less than 20 mph). The airbags didn’t go off, and there was barely an impact.

…but I know that I should have been traveling even slower.

As I rounded the curve, the Honda began to slip off the road. Threshold braking did not help at all. Under different circumstances, I would have described the “crunch” sound as very satisfying. At the moment, it sounded like the lid of my own coffin closing. I tried shifting into reverse and backing out, but the Honda had grown attached to the tree and was holding it in a twisted metal embrace. So I called home. Uh oh.

My mom actually thought it was an April fool’s joke. I had to repeat myself several times before she understood that I wasn’t pulling her leg.

 I totaled the car; even though it wasn’t that bad of a crash, the undercarriage was bent.

What I find weird is that it wasn’t a stereotypical ‘bad morning’. I’d been accepted by Stanford, my dream school, the day before and that morning I was still running on a feeling of elation.  I was in no rush, and was looking forward to the day. Needless to say, the collision brought me crashing –no pun intended- back down to Earth. In the grand scheme of things, a totaled car is a small price to pay for my sister’s life and my own, but still frustrating nevertheless. The very sobering reality is that now I have no personal freedom to travel where I please. Doing things I took for granted with a car now has to be coordinated in advance.  

An interesting article by Insurance journal (which is worth having your teen read, by the way) states the a new study showed that the vast majority of teen crashes are caused by failing to scan for possible hazards, speeding, or becoming distracted. While I would argue that my personal case falls under the category of “poor weather or road conditions”, which they cite as rare, I know from the vast majority of accidents and fender-benders my peers are involved in that these three causes are legitimate. Another student I know totalled his car earlier in the year going to fast and driving into a rock wall. Another student did the exact same thing last month. Another student I know hit a tree while texting in the car. I’m sure as a reader you can think of countless similar anecdotal evidence to support the article’s conclusions.

The moral of the story to me is that accidents can happen WHENEVER you let your guard down.  Be safe, be vigilant, and as I’ve learned, BE SLOW!

The tree could not be reached for comment.

Handling Replacement Costs

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Last week I attended a class on Commercial Property from the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. I found that as much as you think you know, there’s always something new to learn. If one new piece of information comes to light, then it’s worth the 3 day class! The new piece of information that I learned is how replacement cost coverage is handled on “Stock”.

On a Commercial Property policy, coverage for Buildings and Business Personal Property may be written on a Replacement Cost vs. an Actual Cash Value basis. Actual Cash Value, or its acronym, ACV, is a depreciated settlement based upon a negotiated portion of total cost of replacement or repair of the insured’s property. Replacement cost is an insurance settlement based upon the actual cost to replace or repair the insured’s property at the time of loss.

Business Personal Property (BPP) is defined as: office furniture & fixtures, machinery & equipment and stock. Opting for replacement cost coverage on BPP does not give replacement cost coverage to stock (even though it’s part of BPP). You must additionally opt for replacement cost coverage on stock. Replacement Cost Coverage is indicated separately on the insurance policy for Building, BPP and Stock.

A classic example is the plumbing contractor. The plumber has opted for replacement cost coverage for his Building, BPP and Stock. Examples of his Business Personal Property would be: office furniture, photocopier, fax machine, telephone system, plumbing torches, compressor and generator. Stock would be: pipes, tubing and fittings.

Call us to review any coverage questions or concerns that you may have.  At A.G.G., we strive to build you a better mouse trap!

Bill C.
A.G. G
ordon, Inc.

For more insurance information, visit the A. G. Gordon Website.

Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite!

Bedbug

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You can’t scroll the internet or listen to the news without hearing about  the harsh reality of bedbug infestations in hotels, planes, theatres, campuses, hospitals and office buildings.  This public health issue is quickly becoming a global crisis with sightings of these creepy critters from most U.S. cities  to the far reaches of Mumbai, India.

However, there are several measures you can take to minimize the risk of bedbug bites and infestation. Some include: checking your hotel mattress and keeping luggage away from soft bedding or upholstered furniture so you don’t transport the unwanted guests back home. Yard sale aficionados  need to think twice about snagging upholstered sofas  or chairs left at the curb.  These tips may help to minimize your exposure to bed bug bites and property infestation.

What happens if you do have an infestation? Will insurance pay the costly expense to eradicate the pesky pests? Unfortunately, insurance usually isn’t the answer here.   Most policies exclude insect infestation of any kind and do not include any coverage. “…The cost of getting rid of bedbugs, like other vermin, is considered part of the maintenance associated with owning a home and generally is not covered by standard homeowners’ and renter insurance policies,”  wrote Claire Wilkinson, Vice President for Global Issues at the Insurance Information Institute; “Most standard commercial-property insurance policies also have vermin exclusions for infestation”.

Most seasoned insurance agents will agree that insurance property coverage forms clearly exclude coverage for bedbug treatment; however, liability coverage may be a different  bug story. Ever think what would happen if a guest  is bitten by a bedbug at your home? Or perhaps your child has a sleepover and a young guest is bitten, resulting in infection and ongoing medical treatment. Before you know it,  you are being sued by the parents for negligence as a result of harboring the bloodthirsty buggers.  The good news is most homeowners liability policy forms do not exclude insects so there is probably liability coverage for this kind of lawsuit.. The same is true for commercial policies if the policy form does not specifically exclude insects. In addition, many businesses have coverage under business interruption forms if the need to close their business to properly exterminate the creepy crawlers arises.

Insurers may end up feeling the bite from bedbugs in other ways. New York state legislators became the first state to introduce a bill that would require bed bug coverage as an option for policyholders.  If NY passes this law, look for other states to follow suit.

It will be an interesting few months in the insect and insurance world as the globe grapples to safely avoid a 21st century plague. 

And for more relevant and topical insurance information, visit the A. G. Gordon, Inc. Website.

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