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Protect Your Vacant Investment Properties

Property investors who own rental properties, or who buy, renovate and resell homes, may occasionally find they have vacant properties on their hands. If your property is vacant, it could be a magnet for trouble, attracting thieves, vandals, squatters, even neighborhood kids looking for a place to hang out. Here are seven steps to take to protect your vacant investment properties:

1. Secure the property

Make it hard to get in by ensuring doors and windows have sturdy locks, and keep them locked! If a tenant has recently moved out, have the locks changed or re-keyed. You may also consider reinforcing exterior doors with metal doorjamb or hinge shields in case someone tries to kick down the door.

2. Monitor and maintain the exterior

Check on your vacant property frequently to make sure it’s secure. Keep landscaping tidy by pruning shrubs and keeping lawns mowed. Make sure plants and trees don’t provide hiding spots or cover for thieves or vandals. Remove any mail or newspapers that arrive—nothing says no one is home more quickly than a stack of newspapers in a driveway or an overflowing mailbox.

To guard against fire, remove any flammable debris around the structure, including construction materials, dead vegetation, paper, cardboard, and so on.

3. Light the property at night

To deter thieves and vandals, make sure your property has working exterior lighting, either on a motion sensor or a timer. In addition, have a few lights on timers inside the property to help it make it look like someone is there. These simple measures can make a casual thief or vandal think the property is occupied.

4. Set up an alarm system

In some cases, you may want to set up security cameras or an alarm system to protect your investment property. Even if you don’t have an alarm system, simply placing a sign or sticker saying you do may help to deter thieves.

5. Make friends with the neighbors

If possible, become friendly with the neighbors near your property. They can act as an extra set of eyes and ears when you’re not around. Give them contact information, yours or your property manager’s, to call regarding any suspicious activity.

6. Advertise wisely

While you want potential buyers or renters to know your property is available, you should be careful about how you share information. Don’t share too much with people calling or inquiring online. Some professional thieves locate vacant properties to hit this way. You’ll probably want to leave a For Sale sign up, but you might consider whether leaving a For Rent sign at your vacant property may attract unwanted attention.

7. Carry insurance

Vacant properties and properties being renovated still need insurance coverage, to protect the structures themselves, and your liability as a property owner. You may need a builder’s risk policy that provides coverage for damage to the insured structure and liability coverage during renovation. Or perhaps you need a vacant dwelling policy, which covers properties that do not meet the requirements for a builder’s risk policy, properties that are between tenants, or those waiting for a buyer. If you have any questions about what type of insurance you need…

We can help!

The agents at L & M Insurance Group have years of experience working with property investors, and we’re familiar with the insurance requirements of properties purchased in the name of an entity such as a land trust, LLC, or corporation. We are proud to partner with companies that also understand your needs—like REInsurePro, an insurance program specifically designed with real estate investors in mind. (Click here to learn more about REInsurePro.)

Please allow us to help you with your insurance needs—you may reach us by phone (813-672-4100) or contact us online by clicking here. For more than 30 years, L & M Insurance Group has been serving the personal and commercial insurance needs of Riverview, Brandon, Tampa, Apollo Beach, Gibsonton and surrounding communities.

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Prepare Now for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

If you’re receiving healthcare benefits from Medicare, there are only a few chances each year to make changes to your coverage. One of those periods is quickly approaching: the Annual Enrollment Period, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, you can:

  • Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan (or vice versa)
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different one
  • Join a Medicare drug plan
  • Drop your Medicare drug coverage
  • Change from one Medicare drug plan to a different one

Four Steps To Prepare you for Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period

Step 1: Review your current plan

You should soon receive notices from Medicare detailing your current coverage and any changes that will be going into effect for the coming year. Look for an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC), and review your 2021 “Medicare & You” handbook.

Step 2: Consider your health insurance needs for the coming year

What health services do you expect to need? What medications do you take? Do you need dental, vision, or hearing coverage? Having an idea of what services you’ll need will help you decide which plan is best for you.

Step 3: Compare your current coverage with other available options

You should compare your current coverage with other available plans including deciding whether Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan will work better for you. If you’re happy with your current plan, you don’t need to do anything. But if you decide you’d like a change, now is the time to make that change. There are a few differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans, so you can read this medicare packet for more information.

Step 4: Contact us!

If you’ve decided that a Medicare Advantage Plan is the way to go, or you need to purchase Medicare Supplement coverage (“Medigap”) to complement your Original Medicare, L & M Insurance Group can help. We know sorting through Medicare information can be confusing, but our agents can help you make sense of it all.

Medicare Benefit Package Options

Healthcare can be a significant expense during retirement. Choosing the right Medicare benefits package for you can help ease that financial burden. We represent companies that offer Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, and Medicare Prescription Drug plans. For more information, give us a call at 813-672-4100 or contact us online. For additional information on Medicare benefits and plans, please see https://www.medicare.gov/.

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Don’t Forget This Tip for Keeping Car Insurance Premiums Down

Many factors determine what you’ll pay for car insurance—things like how expensive your vehicle is, how old you are, and how good your credit is. But don’t forget one of the most important rating factors if you want the cheapest car insurance: keeping your driving record clean!

Driving safely in Florida can keep your Car Insurance Premiums Down

While driving safely may seem like common sense, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of basic defensive driving principles. Driving safely helps you avoid costly tickets which raise your insurance rates—and it also helps you—and your passengers—stay safe from auto accidents.

Now that kids are back in school there may be more traffic, and thus more distractions, on the road. We’re also still in our summer weather pattern and may face driving through heavy rainstorms. Florida drivers, who pay some of the most expensive car insurance premiums in the U.S., need all the help they can get. Here are some tips from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles that could keep you from getting a ticket and/or being in a car accident and seeing your car insurance rates rise because of it.

Drive defensively. This means being constantly aware of what is happening around you.

  • Are there children playing next to the road, and could they run out into the street?
  • Is someone backing out of a driveway up ahead?
  • If it’s raining, do you have your wipers and lights on, and are you slowing down if necessary?
  • Are you following the vehicle ahead of you too closely?

Defensive drivers do everything they can to watch for danger and avoid a crash.

Avoid bad drivers. If you see someone tailgating, failing to signal, speeding, swerving, or changing lanes unexpectedly, back off! Their distraction could cause an accident—and even if it’s not your fault, you don’t want to be caught up in a situation like that.

Never drink and drive. It’s just not worth it. Aside from the danger to yourself and others, if you drive while impaired and are cited for DUI, expect your car insurance to skyrocket.

Focus on the road. Don’t talk or text on your cell phone, adjust the radio, eat or drink, or turn to look at others in the car while you’re driving. Pull over and stop if you must do any of these things.

Don’t drive aggressively. Aggressive drivers often cause accidents. If you find yourself yelling at other drivers, speeding up so that other drivers can’t merge in front of you, or tailgating, you might be an aggressive driver! And if another driver makes you angry, let it go. Report a dangerous driver to the police—don’t try to “teach them a lesson.”  

L & M Insurance Group—your source for car insurance

While it’s true that good drivers will pay less for their car insurance, L & M Insurance Group can still help you find an auto insurance policy if your driving record isn’t perfect. Because we are an independent insurance agency, we write with many different car insurance companies. Whether you have a clean driving record or violations, good credit or bad credit, PIP claims, or if you need an SR-22 or FR-44—we have a partner company who will write your business. Give us a call at 813-672-4100 or click here for a car insurance quote.

Need a commercial auto policy? L & M Insurance Group writes commercial auto policies for every type of business! Call us today at 813-672-4100.

For more information on safe driving:

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

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Homeowners Insurance and the Attractive Nuisance

As summer winds down, your family might be spending more time playing outdoors—and maybe you have a jungle gym, pool, or even a trampoline so they can have a blast. While these things are great fun for your family and invited guests, how do they affect your homeowners insurance? What if a child comes onto your property without your permission, say maybe when you’re on vacation, and gets hurt while playing in your yard? Are you responsible for that child’s injuries?

You certainly could be.

The attractive nuisance

Items like pools, swing sets, zip lines, trampolines, hot tubs, skateboard ramps, and so on, are not just fun items for your family to enjoy. They’re also what is known as attractive nuisances. An attractive nuisance is something on your property that is “attractive,” especially to children, but is also potentially dangerous. Even things like heavy equipment (perhaps used for construction or remodeling), holes, and non-working cars can be considered attractive nuisances!

And because of what’s known legally as the attractive nuisance doctrine, homeowners can be held responsible if a child* is injured on their property due to an attractive nuisance. As a homeowner, you are required to safeguard children from an attractive nuisance if at all possible, even children who have not been invited onto your property.

How homeowners insurance is affected

Some attractive nuisances, like pools, may make your home insurance premiums more expensive. Many insurance companies charge higher premiums if you have a pool on your property, due to the higher risk of accident. They will also only cover liability for a pool if you meet state and county requirements regarding fencing or screening in your pool. Pools are not only the cause of drownings, but slippery pool decking can also cause falls. Other backyard equipment, such as trampolines, may even be excluded by some insurance companies, as are diving boards and pool slides. It’s important to disclose the presence of these things on your property to your homeowners insurance agent so he or she can place you with an insurance company that will insure you. Future claims could be denied if your insurance company is not aware of the presence of attractive nuisances such as the ones listed above. Be sure to talk to your insurance agent if you have any questions about what might or might not be covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

Do you have enough liability coverage?

Another consideration: If you have a pool or other backyard play equipment, make sure you have enough liability coverage on your homeowners insurance policy to cover the cost of injuries a visitor (invited or uninvited) could incur on your property. If the injury expenses are more than your policy’s limits, you will be responsible for the rest of the cost. Many standard homeowners policies come with a $100,000 limit, but it costs very little to raise that to $300,000. You might also consider buying an umbrella policy, which will kick in once you reach the limit of your homeowners insurance liability coverage.

Aside from buying adequate insurance coverage, if your property contains an attractive nuisance, you also should take precautions that include:

  • Creating physical barriers to the attractive nuisance: a fence with a locked gate around your yard, a fence and alarm for your pool, and so on.
  • Making sure guests, especially children, understand and follow safety guidelines.
  • Supervising children while they’re playing at your home.
  • Installing proper lighting.
  • Keeping walkways clear of items that might cause a trip and fall.

Insurance agents you can trust

At L & M Insurance Group, we understand the importance of finding the right homeowners insurance policy. We are an independent insurance agency partnered with many great homeowners insurance companies, and we’d love to help you find the most cost-effective coverage for your individual situation. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100, or request a quote online. 

*Usually, in Florida, an adult has no right to recover damages incurred while trespassing.

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Is Bundling Your Insurance Policies Right for You?

You’ve probably seen TV commercials that talk about bundling your insurance coverage, and you may be wondering if bundling—buying more than one type of insurance policy from the same insurance carrier—is right for you. Could you save a significant amount of money by buying your auto insurance and homeowners insurance from the same company, for example?

Maybe. But maybe not. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering whether or not to bundle your insurance coverage.

Will bundling save you money?

The most popular reason to bundle insurance is to save money on policy premiums. Bundling discounts vary by company, but usually range from 5-25%. In Florida, however, you might not get much of a discount—one study found that Florida consumers saved less than those in other states on bundled policies, only about 6.7%.

In certain situations, you also won’t save much, if anything, by bundling your insurance—if you have a less-than-pristine driving record, for example. We’ve found that companies that offer a good rate for your auto insurance may not be competitive for your home insurance, or vice versa.

Some consumers like the convenience of dealing with one insurance company for multiple policies. But this convenience can sometimes be a disadvantage if you want the most cost effective insurance. Once you place your policies with one company, you may be less likely to shop around for a better quote at renewal. While it may be tempting to “set and forget” your insurance coverage, if you do so, you may wind up paying more than you need to. Premiums tend to inch up at renewal each year. It’s good practice to review your coverage and your premiums yearly, or if you have a major life change such as marriage, divorce, or a move.

Other ways to save on insurance

Insurance premiums are based on a number of factors, including the value of what you’re insuring, your credit record, and where you live. Bundling may save you money, but not always. Your best bet is to contact an independent agency, like L & M Insurance Group. Our agents will shop for the best rates and coverage for your situation, whether it’s with one insurance carrier or more than one.

Bundling is also not the only way to save on your insurance coverage. Talk to your agent about ways to lower your insurance costs. Ask about discounts (for example, some auto insurance companies offer a discount if you have a homeowner’s insurance policy, even if it’s not with them) and consider raising your deductibles. Also, if your credit improves or a moving violation comes off you driving record, your insurance premiums may go down.

And if you’re still interested in bundling your insurance, remember to compare the price you’d pay for bundled policies with the two lowest cost individual policies. And always be sure you’re comparing similar coverage when you compare insurance quotes.

We know shopping for insurance is no one’s favorite activity. That’s why an independent insurance agency like L & M Insurance Group is an excellent choice to represent you. We can do the comparisons for you—we partner with many great auto and homeowners insurance companies, as well companies that write insurance for boats, RVs, jet skis, and so on. We also write life, health, and business policies. We’ll work with you to create an insurance package that will work with your budget and provide the insurance coverage you need. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100 (or contact us online) for a free quote today!

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Five Reasons to Work With an Independent Insurance Agent

When you need insurance coverage, you have many decisions to make. One of the first ones may be whether to go with a captive insurance agent, or an independent insurance agent.

What’s the difference? The main one is this: a captive agent works for one insurance company and sells only the insurance products that company offers, while an independent agent represents many different companies.

Both types of agents are licensed professionals and can help with your insurance needs. However, working with an independent agent from an agency like L & M Insurance Group offers many benefits. Here are five of the most important ones:

More choices

Independent agents have more options than captive agents when deciding which insurance company will best protect your assets. For example, L & M Insurance Group represents more than 80 high-quality insurance companies. After taking your information, our agents will do the comparison shopping for you. Not only will we check premiums, we’ll also take into account coverage options and service. After all, if you have a loss, you want to know that your insurance company will be able to pay your claim in a timely fashion.

More flexibility

What if your circumstances change during the policy term—maybe you buy a more expensive home or add a teenage driver to your policy? It’s possible that change may make you ineligible for your current insurance policy, or make your premium skyrocket. An independent agent can offer you a quote with a different company he or she represents, if necessary. This is much more convenient than having to start the entire insurance shopping process all over again.

Competitive rates

We know insurance coverage in Florida can be costly. As independent agents, we’re not limited to the insurance offerings of just one company. Instead, we’ll compare the rates of multiple companies to find the most cost effective option for you.

Personal relationships

L & M Insurance Group agents will be happy to explain your insurance coverage in understandable terms and answer any questions you may have. And don’t forget, the agents at L & M Insurance Group live in the same community you do. We understand the risks and challenges of living in the Tampa Bay area, as well as Florida’s insurance requirements. And while much of our work with clients takes place over the phone or via email, we are always available to consult in person if you need us.

One-stop shopping

L & M Insurance Group, like most independent agencies, offers multiple types of insurance—everything from home and auto, to renters, umbrella, or business policies. Even life and health.  We can help you purchase every type of insurance you need.

As an independent agency, L & M Insurance Group will work hard to get and keep your business—for life! Think of it this way—we don’t work for any one insurance company, we work for you. Please give us the chance to earn your trust and your business.

Give us a call at 813-672-4100, or contact us online, if you’d like to know more about what L & M Insurance Group can do for you.

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Real Estate Investors: Are Your Properties Ready for Florida’s Extreme Summer Weather?

If you own investment properties, it’s time to be sure they’re prepared for the summer storm season. Central Florida summer weather patterns include winds, rain, and possible flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes!  Fortunately, preparing your real estate investments for extreme weather doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips:

Double check building and landscape maintenance

Even though you keep your properties maintained year round, there are few areas you should check and repair as necessary before the heart of the summer storm season. These include roofs, doors, windows, and foundations. Look for damaged or missing shingles, cracks, gaps, or other areas where water could get in, since keeping water out is one of the most crucial aspects of preparation.

Check grading around foundations to be sure water flows away from your property.

Remove dead trees and branches, as well as any limbs that might fall and damage structures or injure someone. Keep trees and other landscape plants trimmed so they are wind-resistant.

Make sure gutters and downspouts are securely attached and clear of debris.

Consider installing impact windows or hurricane shutters.

(Click here for a Summer Maintenance Checklist, courtesy of REInsurePro.)

Touch base with your tenants

Your tenants will have their own plans to protect themselves and their belongings, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them that you’ll need to work together to minimize a weather event’s damage and disruption. Make sure you both know who to call and have up-to-date contact information in case of emergency.

Update your insurance coverage

Review your insurance coverage at least once a year to make sure it still meets your needs. Remember, you must buy flood insurance separately from your other dwelling policies.

Note: If you need flood coverage, L & M Insurance Group represents several private insurers that do not have a 30-day waiting period like the National Flood Insurance Program does. Give us a call at 813-672-4100 for a flood insurance quote.

After the storm

Take photos or videos of damage. Prevent further damage to property after a loss by boarding up broken windows—this also keeps out vandals and thieves. Cover a damaged roof with a tarp, and be sure to report claims in a timely fashion. If you need to make temporary repairs, save the receipts.

Watch out for scams. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people will try to take advantage of those who have just suffered a loss. If what they’re saying sounds too good to be true, or they’re using high-pressure tactics to convince you to do something, be suspicious. Call your L & M Insurance Group agent or your property insurance company directly if you need help.

Property insurance questions?

The insurance experts at L & M Insurance Group would love to answer your property insurance questions and provide you with the insurance coverage you need! Just give us a call at 813-672-4100, or contact us online. We’ve been serving our neighbors in the Tampa Bay area for more than 30 years.

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2021 Hurricane Season Dos and Don’ts

The 2021 hurricane season is upon us. We were lucky last year, and Florida didn’t have to cope with a direct hit from a hurricane. But that’s not our norm, and we shouldn’t get lazy about preparing. According to the Tampa Bay Times, since 1851, Florida has been hit by 121 hurricanes and 37 major hurricanes—by far the most of any state. To help you stay prepared for a storm hitting our area, here are some dos and don’ts for the 2021 hurricane season.

DO be sure you have the right insurance coverage

If your home is severely damaged or destroyed by a hurricane, your homeowners insurance could be all that stands between you and financial devastation. Now is the time to review your homeowners policy to make sure it covers the current true value of your home. You should also familiarize yourself with your coverage terms, including your hurricane deductible, and consider purchasing flood insurance if you don’t already have it. Most standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover water or flood damage, including water damage caused by a hurricane or tropical storm. You may want to review your coverage with your insurance agent if you have questions or need advice.

DO gather important documents

If you need to evacuate, you’ll want to be able to quickly locate documents, photos or videos of your belongings, and even certain irreplaceable mementos. Make a checklist of the items you need, and keep them in a waterproof container that you can grab as you leave.

DO prepare your home and yard

Make necessary home repairs, especially any to doors, windows or your roof. Look for branches that hang over your house or screened enclosure as well as dead or dying trees. Most tree work should be done by a professional for safety’s sake.  Also check your yard for anything that could become a flying missile during a storm and get rid of it if you can. Have a plan for what to do with things you want to keep, like flower pots and patio furniture.

DON’T wait until a storm is on its way to prepare

In addition to getting your home and yard ship shape, you should also review lists of what hurricane supplies you should have on hand (see Resources below for some helpful links). Check what you already have and start updating or adding to your hurricane supplies as quickly as you can. Include food, water, medications, and pet supplies in your stash. Check use by dates for food and batteries—and don’t forget the toilet paper!

If you’re in an evacuation zone, have a plan for where you will go and how you’ll get there. Prepare a “go bag” for your family, and keep your vehicles gassed up and properly maintained.

DON’T be complacent

Just because Florida didn’t have a direct hit last year doesn’t mean it won’t this year. Take an hour or two to plan now and save yourself the fear and hassle of being unprepared if a storm heads our way.

DO remember L & M Insurance Group is here for you as you prepare for the 2021 hurricane season

If you need a quote for homeowners insurance, flood insurance, or if you have questions about your existing policies, please give us a call at 813-672-4100. (Click here to request a homeowners insurance quote or here to request a flood insurance quote online.) We are a local, independent insurance agency serving Tampa, Brandon, Valrico, Riverview, and surrounding communities.

Resources

Floridadisaster.org

Insurer Southern Oak has several free resources to help homeowners prepare:

Disaster Preparedness e-book

Home inventory checklist

Family emergency plan

Tower Hill Insurance Advice and Tips

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Homeowners Insurance Skyrocketing? Policy Canceling? L & M Can Help!

The Florida homeowners insurance market is in turmoil, and Florida homeowners are paying the price—literally. Premiums are rising fast, and just recently two more homeowners companies received permission from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) to cancel more than 33,000 Florida homeowners insurance policies. A third company plans to non-renew an additional 19,000+ policies over the next 14 months. As hurricane season looms, more than 50,000 Florida policyholders will need a new homeowners insurance policy.

Are you one of them?

If you’re one of the Florida homeowners who will be affected by this situation, please give L & M Insurance Group a call. We represent multiple financially sound homeowners insurance companies—those that are nationally known but also solid, lesser-known companies. Our agents will carefully compare our markets to find the best deal for you, one that combines the policy features you need, at the best price available. (Call us at 813-672-4100, or click here for a homeowners insurance quote.)

Why is this happening?

Even though in 2020 Florida saw no direct hits from hurricanes, Florida insurers reported combined losses of nearly $1.6 billion. In fact, this is the fifth year in a row Florida insurers have suffered losses. The reasons? According to industry experts, these losses are due to excessive lawsuits, dishonest contracting schemes, catastrophes, and the high cost of reinsurance.

Lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to ease the situation, but that won’t take effect immediately. Insurance companies are writing fewer policies in areas that have high litigation rates and reinsurance costs, they’re tightening underwriting requirements, and they’re raising premiums. All this means that homeowners insurance is harder to get and more expensive.

How L & M can help

As a local, independent agency, we do our best to work only with financially sound insurance companies. We live and work where you do, and we’re personally familiar with markets in Tampa, Brandon, Valrico, Riverview, and surrounding communities. Please give us a chance to serve you by calling us at 813-672-4100, or by clicking here for a homeowners insurance quote.

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Protect Your Business With a BOP

As every small business owner knows, you can do everything right and still wind up facing a catastrophic loss. A fire could damage your office, keeping it closed down until repairs are made. A customer could slip and fall and sue you. Or your inventory could be stolen or destroyed. No matter what type of business you own, one way to ease that stress is to make sure your business has the right insurance coverage. And one of the best ways to protect your business is to buy a Business Owner’s Policy, or BOP.

Who needs a BOP?

Generally speaking, you need a BOP if you have assets that can be stolen, damaged or destroyed; if there is any chance that you could be sued; and if your business has a physical location, whether you own or rent the space.

BOPs combine coverage for your property and your liability in one customizable—and cost effective—policy. They can be written for any size business, but are especially helpful for small businesses.

Customize your policy with Main Street America

One of our insurance partners, Main Street America Group, offers one of the best business owners policy programs available. Whether you’re a contractor, a real estate agent, a hair salon owner, or you own a restaurant or a retail store, you’ll be able to customize your policy to best meet your needs with the Main Line Business Owner’s Policy (Main Line BOP). This program offers traditional BOP coverage:

  • Property insurance for property, both buildings and contents, owned by your business
  • Liability protection should your company be liable for property damage or bodily harm, either by something that you or your employees did (or failed to do) in your business activities
  • Business interruption coverage, which covers the loss of income resulting from a peril—like a fire—that disrupts your normal business operations

In addition, the Main Line BOP offers broader eligibility and more coverage options, all at very competitive rates! And if you need a commercial auto policy, Main Street America offers those as well.

If you want to know more about the Main Line BOP, or any of our other insurance products or partners, please call us at 813-672-4100. We’ve been serving businesses like yours in the Tampa Bay area for more than 30 years.

And remember, L & M Insurance Group is a full service independent insurance agency—we can take care of all your commercial and personal insurance needs! Give us a call, or click here to contact us online.