How to choose the perfect appraiser for your property, art, antiques, jewelry, and other valuables

appraiserIf you have highly valuable, treasured property or possessions, you may need to get them appraised for insurance purposes. Many insurance carriers will insist on accurate valuation of property, art, antiques, jewelry, and other items so they can ensure the correct level of coverage and premium payment.

When you’re seeking out a good appraiser, here are some areas to consider:

Talk to your friends and colleagues

If you know other people who need to insure high-value items, talk to them about their experiences. Get recommendations on good appraisers and create a shortlist.

Look at professional qualifications

There are a variety of professional accreditations and qualifications depending on the fields an appraiser trains in. These include:

  • International Society of Appraiser’s credentials for fine art, antiques, and personal property.
  • A diploma in gemology for jewelry appraisal.
  • Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice exam for members of the American Society of Appraisers.
  • Principles of Valuation courses for members of the American Society of Appraisers.
  • Property appraisers should have one of the following designations from the Appraisal Institute — MAI Designation, SRPA Designation, SRA Designation, AI-GRS Designation, AI-RRS Designation.

There are various other exams and certifications available. Always check an appraiser’s qualifications to ensure they’re qualified to provide expert advice.

Check if they’re members of professional appraiser organizations

There are several industry bodies for appraisers. They include:

Many of these websites have membership directories for their appraisers.

Professional appraisers are required to uphold a strong code of ethics, including:

  • Providing truly independent valuation services, with no external influences.
  • Have no outside interest in the valued item, other than as providing a professional service.
  • Only carry out appraisal work in their area of expertise.
  • Consider all relevant factors when arriving at a valuation.
  • Treat and document property with the right level of care and respect.
  • Ensure personal remuneration and pay is independent of the value of property being appraised.

Interview your shortlist

When you have a shortlist of appraisers, call each one and ask questions about their area of expertise, qualifications, professional standards, and membership of industry bodies. Get a feel for what each appraiser is like and use that to decide which one would be right for your needs.

Remember that valuations change with time, many carriers will require updated valuations on a regular basis.

As always, if you have any questions about your scheduled property or how to get your property appraised, we are a phone call away!

Mary McGrath
Personal Lines Manager
mmcgrath@srfm.com

Appraiser

Home Buyer 101: Basics for First Time Buyers

Home Buyer 101: Basics for First Time BuyersBuying your first home is one of the most exciting times in life. Embarking on the path to being a homeowner is your dream, and in your heart you’re ready for it. It’s a big deal, and buying a home for the first time can be one of the scariest most nerve-wracking experiences of your life. But it doesn’t have to be.

You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t just a little stressed out by embarking on such a monumental endeavor. But you can take a lot of the fear and anxiety out of the equation by doing two things: Get prepared financially to take on a mortgage, and choose your home wisely. Let’s talk.

Get Financially Prepared

Getting your finances in order is first and foremost. You have to know where you stand going into the process and I suggest not shopping around and falling in love with any particular property until you know exactly what you can afford (this will help you avoid a potential heartbreak). When you have your number, you can set your shopping expectations from there.

Here’s what you need to do:

Check Your Credit Score: Check your FICO scores from the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) to get a clear picture of where you stand. If your scores differ drastically, expect that lenders will use the median score. If you have two scores that are the same, lenders will use that score.

Credit score websites will give you a generic idea of what your score is but lenders use a slightly different model to calculate the score they will consider. Generally speaking, if your credit score is above 740 you’re in good shape. Below that, you can work on raising your score. If you’re below 720 and into the 600’s you won’t be looking at the best interest rates on your mortgage.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three bureaus. You can find out how to get your free credit reports on the Federal Trade Commission website.

 Calculate your Debt to Income Ratio: Typically, a debt to income ratio of 43% or less is required to obtain a Qualified Mortgage. To calculate your debt to income ratio add up all of your monthly debt payments and divide that by your gross monthly income. If you’re over 43%, or hovering around that number, pay down some credit cards and loans if you’re able.

Consider Your Down Payment: Ask yourself – What do I have in the bank and what am I able to put down on a home? Experts suggest that a down payment of 20% is ideal. This not only lowers your monthly mortgage payment to begin with, it may help you to avoid paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which can lower your monthly payment even more.

Consider cost of ownership: After calculating mortgage rates and monthly payments think about it will cost to own the home you’re looking at. What kind of home are you getting into? What are your projected maintenance costs on that home? What will your property tax be? Is there a homeowners association with dues? These things will obviously add to your cost of ownership so think it through and be realistic.

Choose Your Home Wisely

Once you’re financially prepared, it’s time to start the home selection process (the place where your dreams and reality find a happy medium). Being smart about your purchase transcends income brackets and housing markets.  Here are a few things to be smart about:

Get an Inspection: Before you can seriously consider a property you have to know what you’re getting in to. Review the inspection report carefully if one exists. If not, have an inspection conducted by a licensed professional before entering into any serious negotiations with the buyer. This is where a lawyer would come in handy.

Get a Lawyer!: All New England states as well as several other states across the country have laws mandating a lawyer be present during the closing of real estate transactions. Even if your state doesn’t require it, having a lawyer oversee the transaction is never a bad idea especially when you’re making what will most likely be the largest purchase of your life.

Stay Open Minded While Shopping: Consider tolerating little imperfections in exchange for a lower purchase price. If the home has all of the features that are difficult to find (like location and size), maybe you can deal with the ugly tile in the bathroom for a bit. It will cost you less to make minor improvements to a home after the purchase, then what you spend on a higher purchase price for the house with the “perfect bathroom”. Think about it.

Get Insured: It’s your new castle and the biggest investment of your life, so when you close the deal on your new home (congratulations) make sure you have the right Homeowners Protection in place for it.

If you’re embarking on the home buying process for the first time, good luck. Be smart, take your time, and make good decisions. A mortgage is a big move and a long road, so make sure to set yourself up well for the journey ahead.

Sinclair Risk Management has experts standing by ready to help you protect your real estate investments. Get in touch with us for questions, support, or a no-obligation Homeowners Insurance quote anytime.

Rachel Winslow
Personal Lines Account Executive
rwinslow@srfm.com

Home Buyer 101: Basics for First Time Buyers

How High-Net-Worth Individuals Can Protect Their Assets from Lawsuits

Flood Insurance Rethinking Coastal LivingHigh-net-worth individuals face a greater risk of being sued, especially when unemployment is high and economic growth is tenuous.

According to a survey by ACE Private Risk Services, 80% of households with $5 million or more in assets believe their wealth makes them a target for lawsuits. These are real fears. Under the doctrine of joint and several liability, any defendant can be held accountable for a plaintiff’s injury, so smart lawyers will target the defendant with the highest net worth.

In spite of this, less than 40% have coverage of more than $5 million and 21% have no coverage at all.

Many wealthy families leave themselves open to liability and preventable lawsuits for two reasons:

  1. They underestimate the cost of damages they could be forced to pay.
  2. They assume the cost of effective protection is higher than it really is.

Typical homeowners’ and auto insurance policies will only cover $300,000 to $500,000 in damages, but lawsuits in the millions are common.

It’s important to purchase coverage that prepares for the extreme cases, not just the likely ones. Trusts and foreign accounts can shield some assets from litigation, but courts have tremendous reach. The best way to protect yourself is with excess liability or umbrella liability insurance.

Both policies are far cheaper than most people realize. They often cost just a few hundred dollars per policy for millions of dollars of coverage. This cost can be offset with slightly higher deductibles in other policies.

People often confuse umbrella liability insurance and excess liability insurance. While both protect people and businesses from dramatic loses by giving them access to additional coverage, they have a few differences.

What is excess liability insurance?

Excess liability insurance is an extension for another type of liability insurance. When a claim is reported to your insurance company, the underlying primary policy is the first to pay. If there are more damages, the excess liability insurance picks up the rest (up to your policy limit).

Excess liability insurance adds additional coverage to only that policy. It can’t be applied to another policy. If coverage isn’t provided by your underlying policy, it isn’t provided by the excess liability policy either. Excess liability insurance usually pays for the legal costs of defending the claim.

What is umbrella liability insurance?

Umbrella liability insurance is similar to excess liability insurance, but it can be applied to multiple underlying policies. It can also cover claims that are not included in the underlying policies.

For an umbrella policy to cover a claim, clients need to pay self-insured retention. This is like a deductible, but it’s paid directly to the claimant.

It’s important to make sure your policies work together without gaps. For example, if your umbrella policy is set to pay damages in excess of $500,000, make sure your other policies cover you up to $500,000. If there’s a gap, you could be forced to pay.

For the best protection, combine your insurance policies with a single company. This reduces the overall cost of your insurance and provides a single, coordinated legal defense in the event of a lawsuit.

Rachel Winslow

Personal Lines Account Executive

rwinslow@srfm.com

How High-Net-Worth Individuals Can Protect Their Assets from Lawsuits

 

Managing Home Renovation Risks

Managing Home Renovation RisksHome renovations are on the rise; In fact, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University’s Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), annual home improvement spending growth is expected to increase from 2.4% in the last quarter of 2015 to 6.8% in the second quarter of 2016.  Bolstered by 2015’s favorable housing market condition, which included new construction, price gains and sales, homeowners are investing in improvements to their homes.

If you’re finally tackling that kitchen remodel or adding an in-law suite, don’t wait to think about the risks that come with home renovations.  Here are four tips to make sure you’re protected before your project even gets underway:

  • Vet Your Contractor & Subcontractors – Take your time choosing a general contractor, who orchestrates your entire project.  Beyond just word-of-mouth and online reviews, ask to speak with former clients who had similar renovation projects and check the contractor’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau.  As you’re choosing your general contractor, also be sure to get their license number and verify it.  Additionally, ask to see a copy of their insurance policy (and don’t be afraid to call their carrier) and make sure they have adequate coverage, including worker’s compensation to cover any workers who could be hurt on the job.  Beyond coverage, also make sure you’re aware of everyone who will be working in your home every day and, if needed, run background checks. 
  • Get It In Ink – Didn’t think through the removal and disposal of your old appliances?  Don’t rely on verbal agreements or side conversations for any aspect of your renovation.  Make sure you get an estimate and proposed contract from your general contractor before the project begins and that everything is covered, including the timeline, payment details and how you’ll address approvals and any unexpected projects and costs. 
  • Check Your Coverage - Contact your insurance agent to talk through your renovation and make sure you understand your coverage.  If there are any gaps in coverage for your contractor or subcontractors, make sure speak with your insurance agent about that as well, as you may need to extend the limits of liability in your homeowners policy. 
  • Protect Your (New) Investment –If you’re adding onto your home, don’t wait until it’s complete to increase the insurance coverage on the structure of your home, as you may not be covered if the addition is destroyed or damaged before your coverage has increased.  Similarly, if you purchase new items like that baby grand piano you’ve been wanting or new TVs or furniture to fill your new space, also make sure you let your insurance agent know in case you need to increase your coverage for personal possessions.

A home renovation can be financially and emotionally stressful.  However, at Sinclair Risk & Financial Management, we’re here to help ensure you’re protected and covered and starting your renovation on a solid foundation.

Stephen Davis

sdavis@srfm.com

Sinclair Risk& Financial Management

Managing Home Renovation Risks

Thinking about hiring domestic staff? Following these smart practices will help minimize risk

Steve DavisBusy professionals reaching ever higher levels of success often find that as their assets grow, free time shrinks. To recapture some of life’s most precious and ever dwindling commodity, many families hire domestic staff in the form of housekeepers, nannies, drivers, chefs, and other personal service providers.

Once your family’s needs go beyond just having a weekly cleaning service for some laundry and light dusting, you may be considering retaining full- or part-time employees to tackle a variety of tasks, including childcare and elder adult care.

Before doing so, it pays to have a comprehensive risk management strategy in place that will protect your financial assets and more importantly you and your family members against a new suite of potential perils that come with the territory.

Best practices for hiring domestic help start with proper screening procedures and continue with having the right insurance in place. Indeed, there’s really no difference between hiring someone to help in your personal life versus hiring a new employee at your business.

Too many smart executives, who wouldn’t dream of hiring a key employee who didn’t thI7C1CJFQundergo a substantial vetting process, don’t follow that same practice when hiring someone at home — even though domestic employees may have unlimited access to their home, knowledge of financial affairs, credit/debit card privileges, driving duties, and most importantly, unsupervised responsibility for the safety of children or elderly parents on a daily basis.

Whether you’ve already employed domestic staff or are just thinking about it, here are several aspects to consider, courtesy of our partners at ACE Private Risk Services.

The laws are complex — The U.S. Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and Fair Labor Standards Act each have a strict set of guidelines for families employing domestic staff to follow. Each state also has its own labor department with guidelines. Violating these guidelines can result in fines and liability lawsuits that are not only costly but damaging to a family’s reputation. Is your new hire an employee or independent contractor? What are the tax implications of hiring a domestic employee? What are your obligations to pay overtime and how is it measured?

You’ll need a team — To answer these important questions and to help with other aspects of hiring domestic help, you should seek guidance from a range of experts, including household risk advisors, attorneys, accountants, employment agencies, background checking firms, identity theft consultants, and insurance agents.

It pays to be thorough — These advisors can help perform a comprehensive screening process that includes substantial background checks, interviews, reference checks, and document validation. In addition, they can write employee contracts and produce an employee manual that clearly spells out expectations for all parties.

You’ll need more than the typical insurance portfolio — Even the best household management practices cannot completely eliminate all risk. Insurance plays a critical role. At Sinclair Risk, we’ve helped many high-achieving families manage risk associated with hiring and employing domestic staff. We work with carriers that offer comprehensive insurance coverage that protects against perils such as reputation damage, kidnap and ransom, and other perils that the average household does not face. Talk to us today about how we can help you navigate the complex world of employing domestic staff.

Stephen Davis
Vice President
sdavis@srfm.com
 

Hiring a contractor? Don’t get caught without ‘Additional Insured’ protection

It’s that time in your home’s life that fortunately only comes around once every 20 to 25 years or so…roof replacement time! Or maybe it’s time to tackle a big task with a shorter life span, like painting the house.

Either way, for projects at this scale you wisely skip the DIY approach and instead find yourself in the market for a contractor.

Let’s take roof replacement as an example. The roofer contractor you’ve zeroed in on came with a great recommendation from a friend, supported by an attractive portfolio and sharp online presence. Is he insured? Of course! You sign a contract, pick out the shingles and are ready to go, right? Not so fast.

Even though your contractor has proof of insurance and you carry homeowner’s insurance, you could still face a coverage gap and corresponding risk, plus the potential of higher premiums should you have to file a claim on your policy because of a peril related to your roofing project.

To close the gap and eliminate all potential pitfalls, make sure your roofer at the very least adds you as an “additional insured” to his general liability policy before you sign the contract. It’s easy and cost efficient for him to do so and the right move for both of you.

When you’re added as an additional insured, it means the insurance carrier underwriting the policy extends its coverage to you for a certain term. There are many reasons for why this can come in quite handy. Consider these two examples:

Your contractor is in your attic checking the roof sheeting. It’s dark and he accidently falls through a hole in the floor and gets hurt. If you are named as an additional insured, you’re protected against a lawsuit because his policy coverage for accidents such as this now Constructionapplies to you as well. However, as part of the contract between you and the roofer, it’s important to include a “waiver of subrogation clause, which would prevent the contractor’s insurer from pursuing your insurance company (or you) for costs related to any worker’s compensation claim that may be filed. No claims filed against your policy means your premiums stay in check.

Another important clause to your additional insured policy is “completed operations” coverage, which essentially means the coverage survives the end of the job. Let’s suppose the roof is complete and the contractor has cleaned up and gone on to his next job. The following day, a UPS driver is walking up your driveway to deliver a package and steps on an overlooked roofing nail, causing an injury. The driver sues, but since this was the fault of the roofing company AND you had additional insured with completed operations coverage, the roofer’s insurance carrier is still yours in this case and will handle the litigation and any payout. You are liability free and again, your homeowner’s insurance stays untouched.

Additional insured clauses are an easy way to protect yourself when contractors are working on your home. They are commonly used and take almost no time to secure, so make sure you insist on one for your next home improvement project.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

 

How shopping for a cell phone can lead to identity theft

_JBK5366We all know that acquiring the latest and greatest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S comes with a price, but in the case of 15 million consumers, it also came with the now real threat of serious identity theft.

The New York Times recently reported that hackers stole data of T-Mobile customers from the credit reporting bureau Experian, one of the “big three” data conglomerates that has files on nearly all of us.

The wide-ranging breach affects customers and those who provided information but never actually became customers, from Sept. 1, 2013, to last month. Hackers stole Social Security numbers, home addresses, birthdates, and other personal information.

Now, those who innocently shopped for a cell phone two or three years ago (or even just a few weeks ago!) have to worry about things like false tax returns and loan applicationsGLobal security concept filed in their name.

Scary, and becoming all too common. Remember Target’s 40 million customer data breach in 2013?

Fittingly, October is Cyber Liability Month, which is a good time to think about how protect yourself. You can’t control the security practices of every company you do business with, but you can take steps to minimize the damage if you are one of the unfortunate few caught up in a breach.

Watch for it — Don’t ignore odd mail from financial institutions you don’t recognize. It might be a sales pitch, but it might be correspondence about “your” new loan. On the flip side, if financial mail you are supposed to receive suddenly stops, it could be a sign of a fraudulent change of address.

Know your credit — You can get a free credit report once a year from the “big three” bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Trans Union) at www.annualcreditreport.com. Continually monitor by marking your calendar to pull a report from just ONE of them every four months (Jan. 1, May 1, Sept. 1). Certain credit cards will provide you with your actual credit score for free, which is valuable if you’re loan shopping. But to guard against identity theft, you need to be proactive and check the reports themselves for fraudulent accounts. Even if the thief is paying on time, you don’t want anybody piggybacking on your good credit.

If you’re a victim — First, don’t panic. Notify the “big three” and insist a “fraud alert” warning be added to your record. Document all fraudulent activity and share with the bureaus. Get in touch with us to discuss how your homeowner’s insurance will provide coverage that will help you.

Though homeowner’s policies do include identity theft coverage, everybody’s needs are different, so talk to us today to make sure you have the right coverage in place.

Steve Davis

sdavis@srfm.com

Don’t get caught without kidnap and ransom insurance

_JBK5366Once you’re above the preteen years, kidnap and ransom sounds like a rather exotic peril…something that only happens to drug kingpins on shadowy, private islands. But the threat for adults is real, especially for high net worth individuals who travel internationally.

How real? Well, author Ann Auerbach spent two years chronicling kidnap and ransom cases and estimated more than 30,000 take place every year. The FBI says there are more 60,000 missing American adults whose disappearance is unexplained and for whom there’s a reasonable concern about their safety.

For United States citizens, high net worth — or just the perception of it — equals high profile and the assumption by nefarious elements of ready access to liquid capital. It’s a tempting combination for brazen criminals thinking they can score a big payoff by taking a hostage and demanding cash for his or her release.6 1 Davis Kidnap and Ransom V2

The costs of a kidnapping incident go beyond any ransom demanded. Paying a ransom — if it’s even advisable! — is certainly not a simple task.  It could require a small army of consultants and advisors such as negotiators, investigators, attorneys, public relations professionals, forensic analysts, and a security force, to name a few. Reward money and extensive medical costs not covered by traditional insurance plans add to the grim picture. No matter how successful you may be, it adds up to a potentially significant financial drain.

You may even be blackmailed for payments without even being taken hostage! In some cases, perpetrators make increasingly detailed and scary threats to the safety of you, your family, and your employees, demanding payment to make it stop.

Thankfully, there are insurance products that can help mitigate this potential financial jeopardy and provide expert support from firms who specialize in handling this type of crisis. They can help negotiate a ransom, safely make the transfer, and evacuate the kidnapped out of a foreign country. These are priceless  skills that you can acquire just by carrying the right insurance.

At Sinclair Risk, we have the expertise needed to tailor a kidnap and ransom policy that makes sense for you and your business. Our clients are our partners, and we pride ourselves on getting to know all aspects of your business AND your risk management needs. Concerned about this growing threat? Talk to us today about kidnap and ransom insurance.

Stephen Davis

VP Personal & Commercial Lines, Sinclair Risk & Financial Management

sdavis@srfm.com

How to Protect Your Home During a Winter Storm

What to Do Before, During, and After a Winter StormHow to Protect Your Home During a Winter Storm

According to The National Weather Service, winter storms are known as “Deceptive Killers” due to the fact that most fatalities occur because of other factors unrelated to the storm itself, such as auto accidents or the result of hypothermia and frostbite. As the east coast gets slammed with harsh winter weather conditions, it’s important that as a homeowner you know how to protect your family and property. It’s important to be prepared for these weather conditions by having a Family Communications Plan in place and preparing a home emergency kit, but you should also know what to do during the storm. Here are some tips on how to protect your home during a winter storm.

  • Stay indoors as much as possible and only drive if it’s absolutely necessary. If you do go outdoors, walk carefully on snowy and icy walkways.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow, as this can cause harm to your body.
  • Keep dry and watch for any signs of frostbite or hypothermia.
  • If you do have to drive, let someone know your destination, route, and when you expect to arrive.
  • Maintain ventilation in your home when using kerosene heaters, and conserve fuel if necessary by keeping your residence cooler than normal.
  • If pipes freeze, remove any insulation and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold.

After a harsh winter storm, go to a designated public shelter if your home has lost power or heat. You can text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area. For more information on this and what else to do when a winter storm hits, visit Ready.gov.

At Sinclair Risk & Financial Management, we understand how important it is for you to protect not only your family, but your property as well. Connecticut Personal Insurance has been at the core of our operations for over 40 years. Please contact us today at (877) 602-2305 to learn more about our Homeowners Insurance policies and more.

Connecticut Private Client: Maintaining Your High-Value Home

Connecticut Private Client: Maintaining your high value home Connecticut Private Client: Maintaining Your High-Value Home

When you are a high-value homeowner, you want to do everything in your power to uphold the look of your home, as well as its functionality. Your home is likely your biggest investment, so here are some ways to make sure it’s properly maintained.

Curb Appeal: You might not plan on selling your home anytime soon, but if you ever plan to, the exterior of your home needs to make a great impression. Create an attractive entrance to your home; improve or update the landscaping and ensure there is a clear walkway leading up to the house.

Repainting: How often you will need to update your paint is dependent on factors such as the environment, and whether or not you have children or pets. A home’s exterior typically can be repainted less than the interior, about every 10 years.

Update: Over the years, you will eventually need to replace appliances. With most people focusing on energy efficient models, it may be beneficial to look for that yourself, as this will increase the appeal of your home to future buyers.

Clean Regularly: Whether you hire housekeepers or do cleaning yourself, be sure to dust, vacuum and steam clean your carpets, clean the bathrooms and kitchen, etc. on a regular basis.

Protect Your Home From Pests: Termites, carpet beetles, and other pests can cause significant damage to your high-value home over time. Be aware of what bugs are common in your area and invest in pest control.

Check Plumbing: Even high-end appliances and high quality plumbing work can cause leaks after a certain number of years. Reduce the likelihood of this happening by checking faucets, toilets, showers, and pipes on a regular basis.

Roof Replacement: Your roofs lifespan will depend on the material that was used and environmental factors. Typically, an asphalt shingle roof will last about 15 years while on the more durable end, metal or tile roofs can last well over 50 years.

At Sinclair Risk & Financial Management, we work with many individuals and families throughout Connecticut and beyond to protect their high-value homes. Let us show you how we can do the same for you. Give one of our professionals a call at (877) 602-2305.