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Tips for a Safer Thanksgiving

As you prepare to gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, L & M Insurance Group wants to thank you for your business, and wish you a happy holiday. We also want to remind you of a few Thanksgiving safety precautions to take to ensure that you also have a safe holiday. Thanksgiving can be a surprisingly perilous day.

While your car and homeowners/renters insurance should protect you financially if you face one of these Thanksgiving mishaps, we hope you will never have to spend any of your holiday time making a claim. Here’s a look at the more common accidents that happen on Thanksgiving, and some tips for avoiding them.

Car accidents

Millions of motorists hit the roads during the four-day Thanksgiving break. Unfortunately, many of them will be distracted or driving while under the influence of alcohol. The National Safety Council estimates that 417 people will die in traffic accidents during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, and 47,500 injuries will occur. If you’re driving to a Thanksgiving celebration, take extra care. Buckle those seat belts, put away your phone. If alcohol figures into your Thanksgiving celebrations, make sure you designate a driver, or use a ride service. If you’re the host, don’t be shy about arranging a ride home for a guest who’s had too much to drink. 

Fires

On Thanksgiving Day, cooking fires are three times more common, do more property damage, and claim more lives than on any other day of the year. Unattended cooking is usually the culprit, so keep a close eye on the stove and oven when they’re in use. Have a fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to use it. Check the batteries in smoke detectors and make sure they’re functioning before the festivities start.

Candles left burning are another source of home fires. Be sure to blow them all out before leaving the house or going to sleep. And never leave children unattended in a room with a lit candle.

Falls

To prevent a slip or trip and fall, keep all high traffic areas clear. Watch out for kids playing, toys, purses, or bags where people will be walking. Check handrails for sturdiness, and warn guests of any slippery spots on your driveway or walkways.

Pet problems

Holiday parties can be stressful to pets, and cause even friendly ones to bite or scratch. If you have pets, for both their safety and that of your guests, provide a safe and quiet place for them to retreat while you have company. A dog bite or cat scratch can quickly spoil a party. (Click here for more information on dog bite liability.)

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at L & M Insurance Group. We thank you for allowing us to serve you. Please don’t hesitate to call (813-672-4100) or email us if you have questions about your insurance needs. We’re here to help.

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Extra Protection With American Integrity

During October, we’ve introduced you to one of our trusted partners, American Integrity. Not only does American Integrity offer programs for small boat owners and owners of high value homes, they also write coverage for more modest homes, condos, manufactured homes, renters insurance, and more, including:

Coverage for rental properties. If you own rental property, American Integrity writes DP-1 and DP-3 policies.

Umbrella policies.

Cyber attack coverage. In conjunction with a homeowners or renters policy.

Golf cart coverage.

Home Systems Protection. This policy covers repairs or replacement when certain home systems, such as your central air conditioning or conventionally installed water heater, break down and cause physical damage. Most standard homeowners policies don’t cover this kind of damage. Home Systems Protection is included in their Silver, Gold, and Diamond Reserve endorsements for your homeowners or condo insurance, or can be purchased as stand-alone coverage under certain programs.

Identity theft insurance. This coverage includes identity restoration case management as well as reimbursement for the expenses you face when restoring your identity. This coverage is also included in American Integrity’s Silver, Gold, and Diamond endorsement bundles, or as stand-alone coverage for a $25 fee in conjunction with a standard homeowners insurance policy.

Don’t forget the discounts!

American Integrity also offers many different types of discounts, including discounts for newly-built homes (within the past five years), alarm systems, secured communities, recent updates to your roof and/or other major systems like electrical or plumbing—even a discount if the policyholder is 55 or older. Be sure to consult with your L & M Insurance Group agent to see if you’re receiving all the discounts you’re entitled to.

If you have any questions about American Integrity, or any of our other carriers, please call L & M Insurance Group at 813-672-4100 (or click here to email us). As your local independent insurance agency, we want to help you find the insurance coverage that will give you financial peace of mind. 

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Watch Out for Scary Homeowners Insurance Surprises

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers many perils, such as damage or loss caused by theft, fire, or storms. It also protects you if you could be held legally responsible if someone is hurt or killed on your property.  But it doesn’t cover everything. Don’t be caught off-guard by these scary homeowners insurance surprises.

  • No coverage for flood. If your home is damaged by floodwaters, you won’t be covered unless you have a separate flood policy. (If you need a quote for flood insurance, call us at 813-672-4100. We work with several quality private flood insurance carriers.)
  • No coverage for septic or sewer backup. A standard homeowners insurance policy protects against the overflow of water from plumbing, heating, or air conditioning if it originates on your property. But if the backup damage comes from outside your property, such as if heavy rains cause a sewer backup, you might not be covered.  This coverage may often be added by endorsement.

Also be aware that certain types of damage will not be covered at all. For example:

  • If your roof has had an ongoing issue of minor leaking, and you decide to make a claim after a rainstorm causes more serious water damage to your home, you may not have coverage. To be covered, an event has to be sudden and unexpected. Damage caused by lack of proper maintenance won’t be covered.
  • Business activity is not covered under a homeowners insurance policy. If you conduct business out of your home, you’ll need to carry business insurance.
  • A gator breaking into your house. Remember the news story in July about the alligator that crashed through a Clearwater woman’s kitchen windows and damaged her kitchen? Her insurance company denied her claim, noting that damages associated with wildlife were not covered under her policy—and that’s true for most homeowners insurance policies.

One more scary surprise—you may be paying too much for your coverage!

We encourage new and existing clients to review their homeowners insurance policy, as well as all other insurance coverage at least once a year. Make sure all information is up to date, and your coverage is still appropriate for your financial protection.  It’s also a good time to check to make sure you’re still getting the most cost effective deal.

Please let L & M Insurance Group take the fright out of homeowners insurance coverage. Our agents would love to help you with your financial peace of mind—just give us a call at 813-672-4100, or email us with your questions or to request a free quote. We are a locally owned, independent agency based in the Brandon/Riverview area, and our agents have been serving the community for more than 30 years.

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Your Dream Home Is Covered With American Integrity’s High Value Home Program

Your home is your pride and joy. Not only does it shelter your family and welcome your friends, it’s likely your most valuable financial asset. That’s why it’s so important to purchase the right homeowners insurance. And for those of you who own high value homes, you need a program designed especially for the unique needs of high value homeowners.

Do you need high value home coverage?

There are several reasons why you might need high value home coverage, including:

  • The value of your home is $750,000 or greater
  • Your home has unique features or design elements, such as a “green” roof or environmentally-friendly design
  • Your home was professionally decorated by an interior designer, or contains high-priced appliances, fixtures or décor not found at a standard retailer
  • You own priceless art, rugs, jewelry, wine, or another collection worth a great deal of money
  • Your home is considered a heritage home and has unusual construction features

American Integrity, one of L & M Insurance Group’s partner companies, offers a specialized high value home insurance program to give you peace of mind. Their program has Coverage A limits of $750,000 to 10 million dollars, and no minimum premium. Their Silver, Gold, or Diamond Bundle packages offer further upgrades to coverage and limits to more precisely meet your needs.

In addition, their flood endorsement covers up to $5 million in damages, $3 million more than most other companies and there is no waiting period before coverage goes into effect. And unlike many other homeowners insurance companies, American Integrity will write high value beachfront properties (using risk modeling), and will also write X-wind coverage.

Additional benefits

American Integrity also offers additional benefits to policyholders, such as specialized claims adjustors and access to a preferred contractor network.

Suffering damage or destruction of a home could be one of your most devastating financial setbacks. Let L & M Insurance Group help you make the right choice to protect your home with a high value homeowners insurance policy through American Integrity. And if American Integrity is not the best choice for you, we represent many more quality homeowners insurance companies—please call us at 813-672-4100 or email us if you have any questions, or you would like a homeowners insurance quote.

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Just Married? Time to Review Your Insurance Coverage

Now that you’ve opened the presents and returned from your honeymoon, it’s time to consider some of the changes getting married will bring to your financial life. For instance, if you haven’t done so already, you should review, compare and consolidate your insurance policies. Good news—you may get a discount just for being married, because many insurance companies consider married people a better risk than single people.

Review your existing coverage

Car insurance

Compare your car insurance policy limits and coverage. It may be less expensive to combine all your vehicles onto one policy because you will be eligible for a multi-car discount. Get a quote from each of your car insurance companies to see which is the better deal. If you change policies, make sure new coverage goes into effect before the old coverage is cancelled so you don’t have a lapse in coverage.

Homeowners or renters insurance

If you’ve been living separately, you may have both been carrying homeowners or renters insurance. You should be able to cancel one policy if you no longer own or rent that second home, but make sure the policy you’re left with is appropriate for your needs. 

For example, you may need to increase your personal property limits now that all your belongings are under one roof. You may also need special coverage for high value items like your wedding and engagement rings, high-end electronics, or expensive wedding gifts.

And remember to officially add your spouse to your policy!

Health insurance

Now that you’re married, you have a limited time to enroll in a new health plan or join a spouse’s plan—usually 60 days. If either or both of you have employer-based plans offering spousal benefits, you’ll want to compare these three scenarios: you each keep your current plan; you join your spouse’s plan; your spouse joins your plan. Ask questions about monthly premiums, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs. If you don’t have health insurance through work, you can buy or change your coverage through your state or federal exchange. See healthcare.gov for more details.

Life Insurance

Consider buying life insurance—even if neither of you have children. The death of one partner could lead to financial difficulties for the surviving spouse if you have bills or a mortgage one person can’t afford on their own.

One more thing: be sure to update your beneficiaries and emergency contacts.

Need help? We’ve got you covered!

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be! Your friendly L & M Insurance Group agent can help you make sense of it all. Whether you’re an existing client or a new one, we will be happy to help you sort through your options. As an independent agency, we represent many financially sound insurance companies and will help you make the best choices for your financial situation. Call us today at 813-672-4100, or email us for a car, home, renters, health, or life insurance quote.

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Got Great Credit? Let Us Save You Money on Your Auto and Home Insurance!

What does your credit score have to do with insurance rates? Plenty. Since the 1990s insurance companies have been using consumers’ credit scores to help set insurance premiums. Industry studies have indicated that using credit-based scores helps insurance companies better predict risk.

What does that mean for you? It means that if you have good credit, you’ll likely save money on your home and auto insurance.

“Just as insurance scores help insurance companies assess and price risks, so too can these scores help insurance customers—particularly if they are considered good risks,” according to the Insurance Information Institute (iii.org).

Insurance scores are different from credit scores, though they are both based on your credit report. And each insurance company makes those calculations a little differently. For an insurance score, “Emphasis is placed on those items associated with credit management patterns proven to correlate most closely with insurance risk, such as outstanding debt, length of credit history, late payments, collections and bankruptcies, and new applications for credit,” according to iii.org.

Therefore, the higher your insurance score, the lower your insurance rates.

What if your credit isn’t so good?

If your credit scores could be better, lower insurance rates are one more reason to improve them. If you want to improve your score, start by keeping a closer eye on it. Make sure there are no errors in your credit history. Make payments on time, avoid high “credit utilization” (the amount you owe divided by your credit limit), and don’t make too many applications for new credit. Remember, credit scores aren’t the only factor used in determining insurance rates. For car insurance, driving history and type of vehicle are also crucial. For homeowners insurance, your location, the size and age of your home, as well as your level of coverage will also affect your rates significantly. However, improving your credit score could make a significant difference in your insurance premiums. According to creditkarma.com, improving from one credit tier to the next can save you an average of 17 percent per year. And Consumer Reports noted that drivers who improved their credit score from the “good” level to the best paid an average of $214 less per year for their car insurance.

If you have good credit, let L & M Insurance Group help you reap the benefits with lower car and homeowners insurance rates. Call us today at 813-672-4100 for a free quote, or drop us an email. For more than 30 years, L & M Insurance Group has helped customers within Riverview, Brandon, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach and Tampa. We also work closely with many customers throughout Hillsborough County, Manatee County, Pinellas County, and Clearwater.

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Hurricane Proofing Your Yard

So far the Tampa Bay area has had a quiet hurricane season (knock on wood!). But that could change, and we may still experience one or more tropical storms or hurricanes. Before a storm hits, let’s take a look at one more way to reduce the chances of having significant damage to your home due to a hurricane: hurricane proofing your yard.

Inspect

First, walk through your yard. Look carefully at your trees, shrubs, mulch, and any other items found there. Here are some things to watch for:

In your trees, look for dead or dying limbs, or those weakly attached to the tree trunk. Also look for cracks in limbs or trunks, trees that lean and may be unstable and easily toppled by a storm, and branches that hang over your roof, screen enclosure, or are near power lines. You may need to do some pruning (see below).

What type of mulch to you have? Consider replacing rock or pea gravel with softer mulch, such as shredded bark. In high wind, rock and gravel can fly into the air, breaking windows or damaging your house’s exterior.

Does water pool near your house? Consider improving the grading and drainage around it.

Take note of anything in your yard that could become airborne in high winds: potted plants, toys, garden ornaments, bird feeders, lawn furniture, etc. Decide what you’ll do with these things if a storm is approaching—perhaps you can tie them to a sturdy tree, bring them into the garage, or position them in a place where they’re less likely to blow around, such as a corner of a fence or wall. If there are items in your yard you no longer enjoy or use, get rid of them.

Prune

Remove dead or diseased branches, and prune the crowns of trees to make them more wind resistant. For larger trees, you may want to hire a certified arborist for this.

Also prune shrubs that are top heavy, damaged or diseased.

Plan(t)

If you’re considering making changes or adding to your landscaping, do some planning first. If you want to plant new trees, choose wind resistant varieties. These include live oak, southern magnolia, sabal palms, and sea grape, to list a few (click here for more information). Plant them well away from your home and other structures, as well as power lines. This will help reduce the risk of limbs or even a whole tree coming down on your home during a storm.

Hurricane season doesn’t end until November 1, so we should remain vigilant in our hurricane preparations. Take a few minutes to walk around your property to inspect it, prune and plant appropriately, and decide what you’ll do with anything in your yard that could become a projectile. A little attention to your yard before a storm blows through can save you a lot of headaches later.

L & M Insurance Group is a locally owned, independent insurance agency based in the Brandon/Riverview  area. We would love to help you with your homeowners insurance—or any of your insurance needs. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100 for a free quote, or contact us online. For more information about homeowners insurance, click here.

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“When thunder roars, go indoors!”—Lightning Safety for You and Your Family

Even though summer doesn’t officially start until June 21, we’re already experiencing increased thunderstorm activity in Riverview, Brandon, and nearby areas. Florida is the lightning capital of the United States, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries in the past 50 years. While the odds of being struck by lightning are only 1 in 500,000, you’re at increased risk if you often work or play outdoors—and with summer activities soon to be in full swing, that’s most of us!

Since June is Lightning Safety Month, here are a few lightning safety reminders from your neighbors at L & M Insurance Group.

Check the forecast

If you plan to spend a lot of time outside—going out on a boat, going dirt biking, hiking, or canoeing, for example, be sure to check the weather forecast. If thunderstorms are predicted, adjust your plans. And even if the forecast is favorable, be sure to keep an eye on the weather once you’re outside. Know where you can go for safety if a storm blows up. Your best options are an enclosed shelter not made of concrete (the metal wires and bars in concrete walls and flooring can conduct lightning), or a metal-topped vehicle.

“If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you,” according to the National Weather Service. Another rule of thumb: if you see lightning, count to 30. If you hear thunder before you get to 30, go inside. Don’t go back outside until 30 minutes after you hear the last thunderclap. Lightning can strike before or after rainfall, and as far away from rain as 10 miles.

If you’re outside

During storms with lightning, if you’re outside, you’re at risk. Doing the following may make you slightly safer:

Avoid open areas, isolated trees, towers, metal fences, or bodies of water—though these things don’t attract electricity, they do conduct it. If you can’t get inside a metal-topped vehicle or fully enclosed building, get as low to the ground as you can, with as little of your body as possible touching the ground.  Look for a low spot such as a ditch or depression.

What if you’re inside?

You should still be cautious even if you’re inside when lightning is present—one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur inside. During thunderstorms, avoid using water (no showers, baths, hand washing, or doing dishes), electronics, or a corded telephone. These things all conduct electricity and you could be injured if lightning strikes nearby while you’re touching them. It’s safe to use a portable or cell phone. Also stay off porches, balconies, lanais, and out of open garages.

Also remember your pets during storms—a doghouse or screened porch is not a safe place for your pet. Bring him or her indoors until the storm passes.

If someone is struck by lightning, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR if you have training. Strike victims often need immediate first aid and touching them will not give you a shock. Only 10 percent of lightning strike victims die, but many of the rest live with serious aftereffects such as severe pain, neurological disabilities, or depression.

If lightning hits your home, most standard homeowners insurance policies cover structural damage and damage to personal property caused by lightning. If your car is hit by lightning, if you carry comprehensive insurance, it should be covered, less your deductible. Be sure to report the lightning strike to your insurance company or to your L & M Insurance Group agent as soon as possible.

Please feel free to call us at 813-672-4100 or contact us online if you have any questions about your insurance needs and coverage. And stay safe this summer!

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Is Your Homeowners Insurance Hurricane Ready?

Hurricane season starts again June 1. Are you ready? Is your homeowners insurance? In addition to basic preparations such as creating a disaster kit and reviewing evacuation plans, you should also review your homeowners insurance coverage so you won’t have any surprises if a hurricane damages or destroys your home. Here are a few things to familiarize yourself with before hurricane season begins.

Hurricane deductibles

Hurricanes have their own separate deductibles, different from the deductible you’d pay out of pocket for another named peril. Instead of a flat dollar amount, such as $500 or $1,000, a hurricane deductible is a percentage of your Dwelling A coverage (the part of your homeowners policy that covers you if your home has to be rebuilt or repaired). Most of the policies we see have a 2% deductible, but it can rise as high as 5 or 10% in Florida. That means that if you have a 2% deductible and your home is insured for $350,000, your hurricane deductible will be $7,000. (We do have a few companies that offer a flat hurricane deductible of $1,000-$2,000, which may be a better choice for some clients.)

Once the storm passes, and the hurricane warning or watch has been lifted, you’ll still be on the hook for your hurricane deductible for 72 hours. That means if a tree falls on your roof a day after the storm passes through, your hurricane deductible will still apply.

What if you have damage from more than one hurricane in the same year? According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, “In Florida, you only have to pay one hurricane deductible within the calendar year, provided you are insured with the same insurance company or group of companies for the second or subsequent hurricanes during the same calendar year.”

Other questions to ask

  • If your home is destroyed, do you have enough coverage to rebuild? 
  • Do you have flood insurance? Flood damage is costly, and even if the flood is caused by a hurricane, it won’t be covered by your homeowners policy. To have flood coverage, you need a flood policy. A “flood” can be anything from storm surge, to pooling water after prolonged rainfall, to rising water from a river, creek, or lake.
  • What about sewer backup? Damage from sewer backup is not covered by either homeowners insurance or a flood policy. You’ll need separate sewer backup coverage.

Before hurricane season begins, review your homeowners insurance declarations page, decide if you need any additional coverage, and make sure you’ll have access to funds to cover your hurricane deductible. Please call your L & M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4100 for a no-obligation homeowners insurance quote, or if you have any questions about your insurance coverage. You may also click here to contact us online.

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Buying a Home? Don’t Skip the Home Inspection

When you’re buying a home, there are many decisions and expenses to take into consideration. While it may be tempting to waive the home inspection contingency to make your offer more attractive to the seller or to save money, most of the time that’s not a good idea. A home inspection is a protection for you as the buyer. If you waive a home inspection, you’ve lost the right to ask for repairs or walk away from the sale if the home has major problems. An investment of a few hundred dollars now may equal a savings of thousands of dollars later.

In addition, if you’re buying a home for the first time, a home inspection can help you understand what it takes to maintain a home, and what types of home improvement projects you should plan for in the future.

What does a home inspection include?

A standard home inspection covers the major components and systems of a home, including “the condition of the home’s heating system; central air conditioning system (temperature permitting); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement and structural components,” according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). A home inspection is different from an appraisal, which determines the home’s market value.

Home inspectors must be licensed in Florida, and are generally required to be certified by state-run agencies. If possible, get a recommendation from someone you trust, or check with an organization like the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, or HomeAdvisor. Look for certification from one of the home inspection professional associations, such as ASHI. Your real estate agent may recommend someone, but be cautious—while many agents have your best interest in mind, some won’t recommend a home inspector if they think he or she is “too picky” and will cost them sales.

Attend the inspection if you can. You’ll be able to hear first hand about any issues the inspector finds, point out areas of concern, and ask questions about the home’s condition and how to maintain it.

After the inspection

Once the inspection is completed, the inspector will prepare a written report. Do remember that a home inspection will almost always find problems with a home. That doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If the problems are serious enough, perhaps you can negotiate with the seller for repairs, or to knock some off the price so that you can make the repairs yourself. It’s unlikely that the seller will pay to have everything fixed, but knowing ahead of time what to expect will also help you budget for repairs and renovations you’ll want to do in the future.

While a home inspection is not a guarantee that nothing major will ever go wrong with your new home, it can be a helpful negotiating tool, as well as a source of knowledge for the future.

L & M Insurance Group is a locally-owned, independent insurance agency based in the Brandon/Riverview  area. We would love to help you with your homeowners insurance—or any of your insurance needs. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100 for a free quote, or contact us online. For more information about homeowners insurance.