For many, the winter holidays are a time of joy, celebration and tradition. Decorating your home, yard or office is a fun, festive way to celebrate the season. A little planning can help you enjoy your display all season long. Following are some tips ask Calfee Insurance to help keep your family and friends safe around your decorative displays.
Planning your Holiday Display
During the Holidays
Packing and Storage
If the water supply lines on your washing machine fail, it can cause significant damage to your home. If that leak goes undetected because you are away from home, the accumulated water can cause potentially catastrophic damage.
From moldy walls, to damaged, unreplaceable personal belongings to warped floorboards, virtually every surface in your home is exposed to potential water damage. The smart technology in water-sensor systems can help quickly alert homeowners of potential leaks and prevent the need for costly and time-consuming repairs.
Water damage is a common and costly cause of loss in the home. Today, smart home technology is helping consumers manage their personal risks. In addition to potentially mitigating serious damage, water sensors can also help a homeowner avoid the loss of personal possessions and the hassle of coordinating disruptive repairs to their home.
How Do Water Sensors Work?
Water sensors detect the presence of water and, when placed in locations where water should not be present, a leak. When Wi-Fi is enabled, the sensor can send out a notification to the homeowner through a smartphone app. If the homeowner will be out of town, family members, friends or other caretakers can be designated to receive notification of a leak, so they can act quickly to help prevent further damage.
Some water-sensor systems can be programmed to shut off the water to the house to help prevent a small leak from becoming a large one. If your home is heated by an older steam-heating system, or if it’s protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system, check with a qualified professional before installing sensor-activated water shut-off devices.
Where Should Water Sensors Be Placed?
It’s a good idea to place water sensors in areas where water damage inside the home can occur, often without warning. Those areas include: washing machines, hot water heaters (they may fail), dishwashers (they may leak), supply lines to automatic ice makers (they may be damaged) and toilets (they may overflow). Performing regular maintenance and visually checking for rusty, corroded, worn or damaged water supply lines and valves and other potential problems before you have a leak is one of the best ways to help prevent water damage.
You might want to install water sensors in areas near:
Did you ever leave for work without turning down the heat on a blustery winter day? Or head out for a day trip in the middle of summer without dialing down the air conditioning for your dog?
A smart thermostat can help you heat and cool your home more efficiently, monitor your energy consumption and let you control your home’s heating and AC systems from your smartphone, wherever you may be. These devices can help protect your home from damage caused by frozen pipes by alerting you if your home is getting dangerously cold. But there are also some important safety considerations.
How Smart Thermostats Work
Unlike traditional and programmable thermostats, many smart thermostats learn and adapt based on temperature, humidity and your family’s behavior, including when you and your family are likely to be home, awake and asleep. Your smartphone acts as a remote control for your heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, allowing you to change the temperature from wherever you have a signal. Another benefit includes automated notifications if the temperature in your home rises or falls above or below a set threshold. For homeowners who travel frequently or who own a second home, these devices offer the ability to remotely monitor their property.
Key Considerations for Using Your Smart Thermostat
During cold temperatures, with a more traditional thermostat, you turn down the temperature when you leave your home and dial it back up when you return. With a smart thermostat app controlled by your phone, you are able, and might be more motivated, to turn down your system to a low temperature to conserve energy from wherever you may be. But be wary as turning the thermostat down too low could result in frozen pipes. Be sure to keep the temperature at 55°F or higher to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where water piping can be located, above freezing temperatures.
As part of the Internet of Things, smart thermostats are also subject to hacking and privacy concerns. You may think there is less of a safety concern than with smart locks or other security-related smart devices, as there is less incentive for hackers to target these devices. However, smart thermostats can provide details about your daily comings and goings, which a thief could find insightful.
A prudent step would be for homeowners to make sure their devices are hard-wired to the Internet, rather than relying on a Wi-Fi connection. Choose a strong password and evaluate any specific safety concerns before you decide to buy a smart thermostat. As with any smart device, make sure it is compatible with your other devices or hub because not all devices communicate well with each other. The packaging for these smart devices may not offer detailed installation instructions, so you may want to consult a professional to help install them properly.
As a homeowner, you have a lot to think about when it comes to taking care of your home. But one thing you may not have considered is how water-connected appliances and systems can lead to water damage. Learn how to proactively defend against potential water issues. Just a few simple tasks can help you come home happy.
9 Home Areas to Keep an Eye on for Water Issues:
1. Refrigerator Water Supply Line
Look for kinks, cracks, and other signs of wear and tear in the water supply line. If you move your refrigerator to inspect the supply line, be careful not to damage or kink the line when you put it back into place.
2. Water Heater
Corrosion on the external pipe on the tank could be a sign of internal problems. Look for crystal-like deposits that may be white, blue, or green. And remember, water heaters don’t last forever. Check the manufacturer’s warranty for guidance about the lifespan of your water heater.
3. Main Water Shut-off Valve
In the event of a sudden water leak, the main shut-off valve can stop the flow of water to your home and help mitigate resulting damage. Take a minute to locate your main water valve before there’s an issue, and flag it with tape or a tag to help people spot it.
4. Sink Fittings and Connections
If you notice a drip or signs of a leak or other potential plumbing problems, immediately call a professional. To be alerted early to signs of a leak, install a smart water sensor under your sink.
5. Caulking Around Your Tub/Shower
Caulking used to seal the perimeter of a tub or shower can fail over time. Look for cracks, missing caulking or other signs of wear and tear. Regularly check sealants to ensure they are properly sealing against unwanted water intrusion.
6. Inside Your Toilet Tank
Look for corrosion, degradation or discoloration. Some cleaning products that can be added to the tank can prematurely degrade the components. Regularly check the components in your toilet tank. If they show signs of wear and tear, replace them.
7. Washing Machine Supply Lines
Supply lines are made of rubber or braided stainless steel. A cracked line could not just lead to damage to the room where the leak occurred, but also to the floor below. Turn off water supply, whether your washer is on an upper floor or in the basement, when you’re not running the machine.
8. Sump Pump
To test your sump pump to see if it’s functioning properly, pour water into the sump (pit) to make sure the pump kicks on. The float inside the sump will begin to rise with the water and activate the pump, an indication that it’s working.
9. Central Air Conditioning Unit Drain Pan
Extreme temperatures in an attic can cause plastic drain pans to crack and leak. An overflow sensor switch in the pan will shut off the air conditioning system if the pan is full. A leaking pan or malfunctioning sensor can lead to a bigger issue. Check the drain pan and test the overflow sensor switch regularly.
While you’re taking steps to help protect your home from a non-weather water disaster, it’s also a good time to make sure you’ve got the appropriate insurance coverage. Contact your local agent to review and update your homeowners insurance coverage.
If you’re a homeowner, you may be surprised to learn that the bulk of water damage to a home isn’t due to natural disasters or flooding. It’s actually due to unchecked plumbing issues that lurk on the property — things like slow leaks, corroded pipes, and degraded valves and supply lines. Even your water make-up can be a culprit.
Fortunately, many of these issues are preventable with some basic, proactive home maintenance.
Do you want to reduce the chances of water damage in your house? Here are some home maintenance tips that risk control specialists recommend:
1. Locate your main water shutoff valve and learn how to turn it on and off
Knowing how to turn off your main water valve is critical in the event of a burst pipe or other water emergency. In many homes, the valve is located on an exterior wall of the home, in the garage, or in the basement. If you have a public water supply, the main water valve is typically on the street-side of your home. For homeowners who have wells, the main water valve will most likely be located on the same side of the house as your well. Typically, to turn off the main water valve, you simply turn the valve handle clockwise until it stops. Closing the valve should shut off all water supply into your home in the event of a leak, or if a repair is needed.
2. Have your plumbing systems professionally inspected
If you’re unfamiliar with your plumbing system or have concerns about it, have a licensed plumber inspect it for any issues (or signs of impending ones). One good tip is to ask the plumber to tag your main water valve — as well as any other important plumbing valves — for example, with a red flag or piece of tape. This can help you locate them more quickly in an emergency.
3. Visually inspect your pipes regularly
You don’t have to be a professional plumber to recognize potential problems with your pipes. It’s a good idea to regularly walk through your home to take a closer look at any exposed pipes, fittings, valves and supply lines you can see.
You’ll want to look for signs of damage. These can include things like:
4. Watch for evidence of slow or weeping leaks
Not all leaks are obvious. In fact, slow leaks can be some of the most insidious, as they’re often very difficult to spot before a larger problem occurs. Routinely check your appliances, such as your washing machine, dishwasher, or even fixtures, and the area around your appliances for signs of leaks.
Look in cabinets and areas that have pipes connecting to appliances or fixtures (under the kitchen sink, for example) for telltale signs. Is there discoloration or damage on the wood below a pipe or fitting? Is the paint peeling? These environmental signs could point to a slow leak.
5. Tag or label any items you replace or repair
If you do end up having a licensed plumber replace a part or make a repair, be sure to label the item with the date it was replaced or repaired and keep records of the work done. Plumbing fixtures have a set lifespan and knowing when you last replaced or repaired a part can help you plan ahead for a maintenance check of that fixture.
6. Have your water tested
The chemical make-up of your water can lead to corrosion. Mineral content, pH, and chlorides are examples of water characteristics that should be measured and controlled to prevent issues with your plumbing system. This is especially important if you own a well. Consider having your water tested and treated, if necessary, by a certified professional to help guard against an often-overlooked threat to your home’s plumbing.
7. Inspect and replace toilet supply lines and valves proactively
Just as you inspect your exposed pipes, you should also check your toilet supply lines and valves regularly. Make sure the supply hoses going to and from your toilets are in good condition and consider replacing them if they have signs of wear and tear or are more than a few years old. Read the installation instructions carefully and do not overtighten connections. Many of these products are installed hand-tight only, which means don’t use a wrench. You should also open your toilet tank and evaluate the flushing valve for signs of degradation, including crazing, cracking, or discoloration of plastic components.
More Ways to Protect Your Home
Technology has made water loss prevention easier than ever. There are now “smart” water leak detectors and sensors you can install near or around your appliances and connection points that can alert users of leaks in their earliest stages.
These water leak detectors come in both DIY and professionally installed options, so there’s likely something for every budget and capability.
Finally, having the right amount of homeowners insurance coverage is also an important step toward protecting yourself from the potentially devastating costs of water damage. If you are not sure if your home and belongings are covered in the event of non-weather water damage, reach out to your agent or representative today. Calfee Insurance is here to help.
A bomb cyclone is defined as an area of low-pressure where the pressure in the storm rapidly decreases; losing 24 millibars in a 24-hour period.
This is closely associated with a rapidly strengthening system. Meteorologists term this as “bombing out,” hints the name. The general rule of thumb is the lower the pressure goes, the stronger the storm is. If a hurricane in the Atlantic were to rapidly lose pressure, we would be very concerned that we could see a major hurricane develop.
Category four hurricanes generally have a pressure in the 930’s or low 940’s, very low considering the standard atmospheric pressure is around 1013 millibars. So to see a non-tropical area of low pressure deepen that quick and observe a pressure that low is definitely superlative.
Thankfully, this storm is beginning to weaken as it pushes north towards Alaska. However, a piece of its energy will break off and become its own storm system Monday night into Tuesday and progress towards Texas. This will drag a front through here which will be accompanied by a strong line of showers and thunderstorms with hail and gusty winds being the primary threat.
As a seasoned homeowner, you’ve been paying off your mortgage and are now considering buying a second home – a place you can retreat to on vacation, an investment property, or maybe even a combination of the two. You’ve been through the home-buying process before so you know what to expect, but there are certain factors unique to buying a second home that you'll want to consider. These factors will vary depending on how you intend to use the property, so it's a good idea to determine if the home will be for mostly personal use or if it will be occupied by tenants.
Here are six essential things you should consider before buying a second home:
1. Can I Afford It?
It may seem like an obvious question, but can you afford a second home? If you choose to take out a mortgage on a new property, take some time to carefully understand the requirements so you’ll be better prepared for the process when submitting your mortgage application.
As a homeowner, you're probably well aware of the strict credit requirements for taking out a mortgage, and things get even more serious when it comes to buying a second home. Your debt-to-income ratio will, of course, be a significant factor, and when it comes to holding two mortgages, you may find it a bit more challenging to balance this ratio. Also, be prepared to shell out a hefty amount for a down payment, since you'll be required to put at least 10 percent down on a vacation home and perhaps an even higher amount if it will be used as an investment property. And don’t forget that a second home will need to be protected, so you’ll want to talk to your homeowners insurance agent about getting a quote, once you’ve got your sights set on a second property to call your own.
2. How Will It Affect My Taxes?
Understanding the tax implications of your new property will be another challenge. If you intend to rent your place to tenants, that means you'll earn rental income throughout the year, and that income will be taxable. As the owner of the home, you also may be able to take deductions in the form of mortgage interest, property taxes, repairs, depreciation, and operating expenses. One of the most important things to do as the landlord is to maintain accurate records of your income and expenses throughout the year in order to properly report the information on your tax return.
3. What Home Expenses Should I Expect?
Just like your primary residence, your second home will also require you to shell out cash for expenses – both expected and unplanned. It’s helpful to have a budget set up for home needs, and with two homes, this may be an even more critical step, since your expenses will be elevated. In addition to the maintenance costs, remember you'll have property taxes, insurance, potential homeowners' association dues and more. If the property is at the beach or in a flood zone, you'll also need to consider things like flood insurance in addition to your regular homeowners policy. And finally, if you plan to rent the property, you'll also need to look into insurance that specifically protects you as a landlord.
Travelers wants to help you protect the things that matter to you. We offer a wide breadth of products so you can be covered at home and on the road.
4. How Will I Use the Property?
If the property will solely be used for personal vacations, this question isn't as critical. However, if you intend to rent the home occasionally or full time, you'll want to consider your strategy ahead of time. Keep in mind that for mortgage purposes, your lender doesn't consider the income generated from renting the home. Whether you can afford the second property is determined solely based on your credit and debt-to-income ratio. If you plan to rent the home, it's important to build your rental strategy as early in the process as possible to ensure you'll have rental income that can help offset the home's monthly expenses from the start. That will translate to less cash out of your pocket, as long as the tenants are diligent in paying the rent on time.
5. Who Will Maintain the Property?
You’ll want to plan for who will maintain the property to protect your investment. If the investment property is located near your primary home, it may be easy for you to provide the regular maintenance and upkeep of the home, if you’re handy and have the time – and the will – to do those tasks. However, if the property is far from your primary home, you'll need to think about how it will be cared for when you're not staying there. This is especially important if the property is located in an area that’s susceptible to strong storms and hurricanes. Severe weather events can pop up at a moment's notice, and your second home will need to be properly prepared to withstand such weather. If the home will be for your personal use, perhaps you can find a neighbor to keep an eye on the house when you're not there. If you plan to rent the home, consider hiring a rental management company to take care of the general upkeep so you won't have to worry about every little detail from afar.
6. Is the Property in an Ideal Location?
Whether buying a second home for your personal enjoyment or as an investment property, make sure you choose the right location for your needs. You may not get as much use as you’d like from a vacation home that requires extensive travel to get there. And, a rental home in an unpopular locale may lead to months of being unoccupied – which means you’re paying the second mortgage yourself rather than with income from renting it out. In either scenario, ensuring the home is in an ideal area can help provide you with a positive return on investment. If you do intend to rent the property, take some time to research the rental climate in the area before moving forward. The best places to own investment property are often popular vacation destinations and cities with an abundance of career options.
Buying a second home doesn't have to be daunting. In fact, with careful research and planning, it can be a smart investment for your future.
Do you know where most home fires start?
If you guessed the kitchen, you’re right. One of the most popular rooms in the house also has the potential for danger.
But a few simple habits can help prevent damaging fires from ever starting in the first place.
To find a little more peace of mind this season, here are four ways to make your home safer.
1. Don’t walk away from an active stove.
Unattended cooking is a leading cause of kitchen fires. If you need to leave while frying, grilling or broiling, make sure to turn your stove off first. It’s easy to lose track of time when you step away to answer the door or check on the kids, and it doesn’t take long for trouble to start.
2. Keep clutter under control.
It’s not uncommon for kitchen counters to get loaded up with stuff. Make it a priority to clear your kitchen countertops of anything flammable, such as wooden utensils, papers and dish towels, especially around the stove.
3. Use space heaters, fireplaces and woodburning stoves safely.
If you use a space heater during colder months, consider replacing older models with one designed to turn off if it tips over. Position space heaters with a 3-foot distance from everything else and always turn them off before you leave the house or go to sleep.
If your home has a fireplace or wood-burning stove, have it inspected annually by a professional. Use a mesh screen to keep sparks inside the fireplace.
4. Practice candle safety.
As with a stove, a lit candle is an active fire that you shouldn’t leave unattended. Blow out candles before leaving a room and keep burning candles on level surfaces and away from flammable objects, young children and pets.
Have questions about your insurance coverage? Reach out and we’ll be happy to help.
As you plan your next home renovation project, choosing the right contractor for the job is a critical first step in your planning process. You want to make sure you vet the quality of their work in advance, spell out in writing what work you want performed and agree upon the scope of the project, and inquire whether the contractor is properly licensed and insured in case something goes wrong.
This checklist compiles the top 10 tips to consider when selecting a contractor:
1. Get Multiple Estimates
Talk to several contractors and get written estimates from at least three. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you get multiple estimates. Look at building materials, work methods, timelines and other factors that may vary by contractor. Be cautious of estimates that are too high or too low.
2. Hire Local, Licensed Contractors Whenever Possible
Local contractors are easier to contact if problems develop with the work in the future, and they are more likely to be familiar with building codes in your area. Ask the contractor for their local, physical address. Be suspicious of anyone who goes door-to-door or refuses to leave a contract overnight.
3. Check Their Past Work
How has their worked turned out in the past? Do they specialize in the kind of work you want done? Check references about the quality of their products, their workmanship and their customer service. Inquire about their professional reputation and years in business with the Better Business Bureau. A contractor with more than five years of experience is preferable.
4. Take Your Time Making a Sound Decision
Get multiple bids before making a decision. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision, particularly with regard to signing a contract. Be cautious when asked to pay a large deposit up front. Make sure to read the fine print on all estimates and contracts. If you’re having emergency repairs done and don’t have time to thoroughly research a contractor, ask neighbors, family or friends to see if they have had a good experience with an emergency services contractor.
5. Check Their Insurance and Bonding
Make sure the contractor is properly insured and bonded. Ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance (COI), which should provide the name of the insurance company, policy number and policy limits the contractor carries. You can contact the insurance company directly to verify the coverage and make sure the policy is still in effect. Do not do business with a contractor who does not carry the appropriate insurance coverage. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
Calfee Insurance allows you to customize your coverage to fit your unique needs. We focus on understanding you, so you'll feel right at home working with us.
6. Get Everything in Writing
Secure a comprehensive contract before work begins. Get everything in writing, and make sure the contract is clear and well written. Consider having a lawyer review the proposed contract for your protection before you sign it if the project involves substantial costs. The contract should include:
Changes to the contract should be acknowledged by all parties in writing. Ask the contractor for confirmation that he or she has obtained all applicable building permits. If you decide to cancel a signed contract, you should follow the contract’s cancellation clause. Written notification of the cancellation should be sent by registered mail to ensure you have proof of the cancellation.
7. Understand Your Right to Cancel
Federal law may require a “cooling off” period, in which you can cancel the contract without penalty. Check with the Federal Trade Commission and the laws of your state to understand your rights. Be sure to follow applicable rules during the cooling off period. If you do cancel, consider sending the notice of cancellation by registered mail to ensure you have proof of the cancellation.
8. Don’t Pay Up-Front
Don’t pay for the entire project before it is completed. Make sure you make checks payable to a company, not an individual, and do not pay in cash. For larger projects, it is standard practice to pay one-third of the estimated costs as an initial payment. That way, you can retain your cashed check as a receipt.
9. Anticipate Delays
Delays happen, and may not be the fault of your contractor. In spite of the timeline outlined in your contract, circumstances such as weather may prevent the work from remaining on schedule. Be realistic and prepare to adjust your plans accordingly.
10. Keep a Job File
Keep your contract and all the supporting documents in one folder. Your file should also contain any change orders, plans and specifications, bills and invoices, canceled checks, and certificates of insurance and any letters, notes, or correspondence with the contractor.
If you're looking to sell your home — and get top-dollar for it — staging the property can help you do it.
Put simply, staging means preparing the home for a potential buyer — or "setting the stage," if you will. It involves redecorating, rearranging furniture, cleaning and other aesthetic strategies to present the home in the best possible light. The goal is to make the home as appealing as possible to the most potential buyers.
Benefits of Home Staging Home staging comes with many benefits.
For one, it can make it easier for potential buyers to envision themselves in the home. It provides a clean palette of sorts — one without clutter, personal photographs and other items that might turn off a buyer or make it hard to imagine themselves living on the property. According to a study from the National Association of REALTORS© (NAR), 77 percent of buyers say it's easier to visualize a staged property as a future home.
Staging also makes a home look more "move-in ready" — meaning that it doesn't seem to need a lot of work or repair before a new buyer could move in. Seventy-one percent of buyers are looking for a move-in ready home. Staging could help give that impression, which could be a nice advantage for you in successfully selling your home.
Finally, staging a home makes it easier to market. It looks better in listing photos (which can play a big role in today's home-shopping process), and it is also more eye-catching when shared on social media, printed on flyers and displayed in other visual marketing mediums. As a result, staged homes typically sell faster. According to NAR, 62 percent of agents say staging has an impact on a home's time on the market.
Options for Home Staging You have a few options when looking to stage your home. You can choose to do the process yourself (DIY); you can look to your real estate agent for help; or you can bring in a professional staging company to do the work on your behalf. In some cases, you could also do a combination of these options.
Though these pros do come at a fee, they typically do the work for you. They will evaluate your home's current condition, make recommendations on how to improve its overall appeal to potential buyers and marketability, and then put those suggestions into action by rearranging the furniture, bringing in new décor or helping you declutter.
Often, stagers have a large inventory of furniture, décor, artwork and other items they can pull from to help your home look its best. Just be aware that using a stager's inventory may come with an extra fee, so be sure to ask about that.
How Much Does It Cost to Stage a House?
According to the National Association of Realtors, the median cost of home staging is $675.4 These costs vary, though, and depend on several factors, including the size, location and price of the home, the exact type of staging services you're looking for, and whether you need additional furniture, décor or other items in your staging efforts. Some agents recommend spending between 1 to 3 percent of your home's listing price on staging.
If you're staging your home yourself, you'll want to consider the costs of things like:
Consider shopping at thrift stores or second-hand shops for any new décor or furnishings you might need. You might also want to focus your staging efforts on only a few rooms — higher impact areas like the living area, the kitchen and the master bedroom.
Is Home Staging Worth it?
From a financial standpoint, staging can add measurable selling appeal to a home. According to NAR, nearly a third of real estate agents say staging increases the dollar value offered by buyers, in comparison to similar homes, by 1 to 5 percent. Another 21 percent of agents say it increased the dollar value of the home between 6 and 10 percent.
To determine if staging a house is worth it, you'll want to consider a few things, including:
Home staging may increase the likelihood that you'll sell your property and do so quickly, and for top-dollar. If you're on a tight timeline or looking to boost your profits on the sale, home staging can certainly help. It also can be beneficial if your market is particularly competitive for sellers by ensuring your home is memorable, beautiful and stands out from the rest.
If you're ever unsure of whether staging is in your best interest, consider speaking to a local real estate agent. They can help assess your property as well as make recommendations based on the market and preferences of local buyers.
Selling your home is an important life moment. Why not also take it as an opportunity to review your homeowners coverage?