Six Ways to Decrease Cost of Home Insurance

1. Carry Multiple Policies with the Same Company: Insurance companies want your business and are willing to reward you for bundling multiple policies. Buying your home insurance and auto insurance from the same company can save you 30% in some instances. Not only will you save money, but you’ll have more consistency in the way claims are handled and how you receive communications.

2. Boost Your Deductable: Depending on the level of risk you’re able to handle, you can save a bundle on your home insurance premiums simply by going with a high-deductible policy. The deductible is the amount you’d have to pay out of your own pocket, before the insurance kicks in.

Instead of going with a $500 or $1,000 deductible, homeowners who can afford a big out-of-pocket hit or are willing to gamble that nothing will happen to their home might choose a $10,000 deductible — and save as much as 35%.

3. Install An Alarm System: Many people know that fire alarms, carbon monoxide sensors and burglary systems help to cut home insurance premiums. The discounts can be even greater with more advanced monitoring systems that report to a central location and alert first responders.

Alarms connected to a central station can cut premiums by an average of 10%. Insurers offer the discount because the risks are minimized if your home is being monitored 24 hours a day.

4. Stay Loyal to Your Insurance Company: Insurance companies want you to remain a customer for as long as possible, which is why loyalty can pay off with cheap home insurance. With some insurers, loyalty alone won’t yield savings. You might also need to stay claims-free or maintain multiple policies with the company. For instance, Farm Bureau Financial Services offers a renewal price break, though only if you bundle home, car and other coverage.

5. Impress Your Insurer with Good Credit: A high credit score can get you more than a favorable interest rate on a car loan or mortgage. It also can result in lower home insurance premiums. Insurance companies check credit reports to gauge whether a customer is likely to cost them in the future.

But what constitutes a good credit score, for insurance purposes? It varies. Each company uses its own calculation to determine how much a credit score will impact premiums, which is another reason it pays to shop around and ask questions. For a married couple, the insurer will take the better of the two credit scores and use that to rate the policy.

6. Disaster Prep Your Home: If you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, a little preparedness may be worth a sizable discount on your home insurance. Savings can be as much as 30% in some states if the home is fortified in accordance with standards set by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, or IBHS.

Ways the requirements can be met include sealing the roof beneath the shingles and pruning trees away from the home. Make your dwelling storm-ready and enjoy cheap home insurance through discounts that go by different names including a “fortified home discount” and a “windstorm mitigation discount.”

What’s Going on in Buffalo This Weekend?

What’s happening in our great city this weekend?

July 26-28: Western New York Lebanese Festival at St. John Marion Church in Williamsville
July 27-28: Buffalo Garden Walk
July 27: East Aurora Street Festival & Sidewalk Sale
July 27-28: 7th Annual Evangola Pirate Fest at Evangola State Park
July 27-28: Williamsville Glen Park Art Festival at Glen Falls Park
July 27-28: Niagara Wine & Culinary Festival at Academy Park in Lewiston
July 28: Beatlemagic at Cheektowaga Town Park
July 30: Lil Wayne, T. I. & Future at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center

As always, check out our website for more information about great local events!

Affordable Housing Crisis Part 2

In Part 1, we reviewed local waiting list data for subsidized housing for seniors and it was apparent that obtaining a suitable apartment can take in excess of one year and this is a common place occurrence. A grim reality in our current culture is that the number of senior citizens in need of this type of subsidized housing intervention is increasing rapidly.

The Center for Housing Policy issued a comprehensive study with recommendations around this issue in the last year. The Center’s most well known sponsor is the American Association of Retired Persons and its funding sources include the Ford Foundation. They quantify the problem and also offer some solutions. The basic fact is that the number of people in the United States over the age of 65 will more than double in the next 40 years. A subset of that population, that is people over the age of 85, “will more than triple from 5.8 million in 2010 to over 19 million in 2050”. They also point out that on average people over the age of 65 spend 35% of their income on housing. The study goes on to point out that among the poorest households nearly half are spending 50% of their total income on housing.

One’s first thought might be to build more subsidized senior housing units and of course some of these are certainly required but budget constraints will make this the least desirable option for most governmental entities as evidence by the small amount of new construction during the last few years. We will need to employ more creative ways to use existing resources so that rapid deployment of much needed interventions can happen now.

A buzz word in senior housing currently is “aging in place”. The essence of this approach is adapting the person’s current residence so that it can be used safely for a much longer period of time if the modifications were not otherwise made. In some cases this might be as simple as turning a half bath into a full bath on a first floor and/or locating laundry facilities in a readily accessible place. Our local housing stock frequently lacks these two items in many of the more modest homes and these two components can make it or break it in terms of someone being able to remain safely in their home. Public policy needs to be modified so that Community Block Grant money and deferred loans can be diverted into projects such as these so that lower income owners can retrofit their homes to live there in safety and comfort for a longer period of time.

Shared housing is an option that has gained significant traction nationally but has not been advanced by any organization yet in the Buffalo area. The Buffalo News Home Finder has been publishing articles on this topic since 2008 and certainly it is time for this to begin in WNY. A shared housing center prescreens and matches people within the community to share expenses and household duties. There are many success stories on their web site, www.nationalsharedhousing.org. It has been their experience that multigenerational home sharing works well time and time again. They have a complete “how-to” guide on their web site as well as ongoing technical assistance for anyone who wishes to start a program. There are 9 such programs in New York State.

Expansion of the “Beacon Village” concept throughout many of our urban areas would decrease isolation for many seniors and allow them to maximize their resources. A “village” is typically defined by one or two zip codes and a small nOT for profit organization administers a volunteer based program to provide transportation, companionship and prequalified referrals so that people can meet their needs in the most cost effective manner possible. It allows people to preserve their much needed assets and to live healthier and happier lives. The average annual fee for this involvement is typically in the $400-$600 per year range. These organizations are currently relying on foundations and corporate donations to survive. Public funding for these programs clearly needs to be established.

So here are just a couple solutions. The problem is complex and the need becomes greater on a daily basis. We’ll need to implement some changes or the long term costs and consequences will be even greater.

Reprinted with permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

Affordable Housing Crisis Part 1

The number of Americans over the age of 65 grows by 10,000 every day, and with that growth, the crisis in affordable housing for those seniors living just above or below the poverty line grows more extreme. Waiting lists exceeding 6 months are common place around the country for subsidized housing and often times 12-24 months waiting time is the case according to AARP. Subsidized housing eligibility is determined by income level and qualifying limits are $23,150 for a single person and $26,450 for a two person household.

I undertook a random survey of local subsidized senior housing and found that waiting lists mirror the national trend. Westchester on Delaware Ave. in Kenmore has about 300 people on the list and translates to roughly 12-18 months wait time. Carnation in West Seneca, Brewster Mews and Daffodil in Amherst all reported waiting lists of between 200-250 people translating into anywhere from 9-18 months wait time depending on turnover. The waiting lists in the City of Buffalo at Riverview in Black Rock, Roosevelt on the Far East Side and La Casa de Los Tainos on the West Side all approached one year with various numbers of people on the wait list.

I have some sobering data here that might stop you from reading further but the truth is while many government agencies acknowledge the problem, little is being done to solve the growing housing crisis for seniors who are just getting by at this income level. A study produced by the US Census Bureau by in 2011 indicated that 16% or nearly 1 out of 6 people over the age of 65 are living below the federally established “poverty line”. The stratification of data by sex and race reveals even more startling numbers such as 43% of Hispanic women are living alone and 34% of Black women living alone do so in poverty. In arriving at these determinations, the Census Bureau utilized a more comprehensive tool called the Supplemental Poverty Measure that takes into consideration out-of-pocket medical expenses and taxes in arriving at a definition of poverty. The Henry Kaiser Foundation issued a report in May 2013 applying this measure on a state-by-state basis and it tells us that 18% on NY seniors live at or below the poverty line. The need for affordable housing is further complicated by the accompanying need for accessibility that comes with advancing age and deteriorating physical abilities.

So, here’s the problem – many elders living alone in poverty with no way out accept for housing programs that have very long wait times – so what needs to be done to improve this situation? I will attempt to answer this complicated question to some degree in Part 2 of this series that will be published in the near future.

Reprinted with permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder.

Check in with our blog on Wednesday to read part two of this article!

Nine Mistakes Sellers Make When Hiring a Listing Agent

From Trulia.com:

Hearken back, if you will, to the place and time when you bought your first home. If you were like most buyers, your best case scenario was to find an agent who was part money manager, part negotiator extraordinaire and part therapist to help you through the process.

But your priorities might be – scratch that – should be a little bit different when you’re looking for an agent to help you price, list, market and sell your home.

There are loads of lists to be found online and in books about the questions you should ask when you interview listing agents. But it’s a lot harder to figure out what mistakes the sellers who have gone before you would avoid, if they could. Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for.

I’ve heard from thousands and thousands of sellers over the years, online and off, about the things they neglected to do when they were selecting their listing agent – the omissions they regretted later. Here are the top nine – and in the comments, I’d love to have you all share more!

1. They don’t totally understand the nature of the challenge. You’re not looking for a new BFF or even for an agent who has the temperament and patience to deal with your cranky husband. Selling a home quickly and at top dollar requires a concentration of marketing and negotiations skill and less interpersonal skill, compared with buying. So your challenge as a Seller looking to hire an agent is to feel comfortable that the listing agent you hire has:

1. a strong, documented track record of accomplishing the results you seek for their recent, nearby listings (which might include some marketing through their local agent relationships, but might not) and
2. a strong, proactive, well-thought-out plan for helping you achieve the same success.

I’ve seen a number of sellers who list with friends or relatives that don’t have such a track record often fail to get the results they seek, even if their agent is a lovely human being with strong skills getting homes sold 3 states over in a totally different marketplace with totally different market dynamics.

2. They fail to understand roles and responsibilities. When sellers have a bad home-selling experience, 9 times out of 10 that means that their home lagged on the market, sold for way below listing or was in and out of escrow a bunch of times. Sometimes, the fault for these things does fall on the listing agent, especially if there was some sort of huge marketing fail, like the place was listed online with no photos or it was somehow otherwise not fully exposed to the market. But many, many times the fatal flaws I see in listings are things that are (a) decisions the Seller themselves ultimately made, and (b) the Seller made in direct opposition to their agent’s advice.

Overpricing a property for the market dynamics, failing to handle some major condition or aesthetic issues and/or making it unavailable for showings are 3 things that listing agents spend much of their working lives advising sellers to do differently – which is advice most unhappy Sellers ignore or refuse to follow.

As you interview listing agents, talk with them about which pieces of the process of getting your home sold are things they are responsible for – and which pieces you are ultimately accountable for. And as you walk with them through their plans for preparing, pricing and marketing your home, if you find yourself feeling like pushing back against every thing they say, consider whether that dynamic will truly serve you well throughout your transaction. Hiring the best agent ever means very, very little if you refuse to follow their advice, whether your reasons for refusing are right or wrong.

3. They omit to ask for the right data – or for any data at all. Sometimes, the power of an agent’s personality or the lore of a longtime locally legendary agent’s prowess precedes them and takes over the conversation. And this isn’t all bad: an agent with a super strong local reputation probably got it by dint of the very skills they’ll need to wield in selling your home, and highly social agents often have fantastic buyer broker relationships they use in getting the right target buyers into their listings (read: your home).

That said, if you are at the dining table with an agent, don’t let the conversation get so derailed that you fail to ask for and review the important data points.

You need to know a few key numbers, including:

1. The average number of days their most recent listings have stayed on the market before selling (and how that compares to the area average)
2. The average list price to sale price ratio they achieve for their listings (and how that compares to the area average)
3. How many listings your home would be competing with if you listed it today (and how they justify which homes they threw into that mix)
4. How many offers most home sellers in your area are fielding
5. How many other listings they currently have, and how many team members are available to service them.

Ask for this data and discuss with the agent candidate how it applies to the decisions you need to make: starting with your agent choice, but also including your pricing and timing decisions.

4. They fail to understand the data. A lot of people who are super smart, Type A folks are so used to being highly competent that even when a listing agent candidate proactively presents data like that described above, they fail to ask questions about things they don’t understand. Let me tell you – if you don’t do real estate all day everyday, there’s no reason to expect that you’ll have mastery over this information at first glance.

If you don’t understand the data, the marketing plan or anything else the agent presents to you: ask. And keep asking until you do fully understand the information and it’s implications for you – even if you think you’re asking a silly question, you think it should be obvious. It’s a great way to make sure the relationship starts off on the right foot, and that you’re picking an agent who is happy and easy about breaking complex information down until you’re comfortable with it.

5. They don’t check references. As with all of the often-omitted items on this list, listing agent candidates often provide references to potential Seller clients as a matter of course. But very few folks actually call and check them. Do. You can come up with a list of questions or just tell the reference contact a little about your situation and ask them to share something of their experience with the agent. Let’s be real – no agent is likely to give you references who are going to talk badly of them. But approaching your reference checks with the intent to have an open conversation about the past clients’ experience creates the opportunity for you to get all sorts of nuanced insights, rather than just a “good agent” or “bad agent” rating.

6. They don’t ask for a detailed marketing plan. It’s essential to know precisely what steps your agent plans to take to market your home, before you hire them. What sites will your listing show up on? How many pictures will the listing include? What about Open Houses or marketing directly to buyer’s brokers? How do they propose to ensure that every qualified buyer who is on the hunt for a home like yours will see it?

Having a written marketing plan in hand (or in some digital format) empowers you to do things. If your home lags on the market, it’s a troubleshooting checklist that might surface what hasn’t happened or where an error might be glitching up your home’s marketing. And if you do the checklist and the home does appear to have been well and fully marketed, the plan can provide a strong proof point in favor of a price reduction.

7. They don’t discuss property preparation. Different agents might have very different approaches to what needs to happen to your home before it goes onto the market. They might also have different approaches to how that work will get done. Some agents manage property preparation from soup to nuts, while others will give you some thoughts on what needs to happen and leave you to do it. Some will refer you to stagers and vendors, while others will bring people in on their own dime to actually execute their vision, and still others might even have access to home improvement contractors who will do some work now for payment after closing (this often depends on your price point and on what practices are standard in your market). Talk to every agent you interview, in detail, about what they envision will need to happen to your property before they list it, and how intensely involved they can and will be in helping you get the work done.

8. They don’t ask about Plans B, C and D. The real estate market wouldn’t be the real estate market if it didn’t throw you curve balls. Some agents are strong at executing a cookie-cutter marketing plan so long as everything goes smoothly, but are not-so-great at problem solving when things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, it’s tough to know that your agent lacks a backup plan until you actually need it! Ask your prospective agent candidates what complications, challenges and surprises they have encountered recently in their listing transactions and how they resolved a couple of them.

9. They don’t read the contract. One of the most major freak-out moments I see happen with disgruntled Sellers (i.e., members of the club you’re trying not to join) arises when they are very upset with their listing agent and decide to cancel the relationship only to realize they’ve signed a contract locking them into it for 17 years. (I exaggerate, but you get the gist.) Similarly, some listing agreements have terms that mandate the Seller pay the agent’s commission if the Seller receives (but doesn’t accept) an offer meeting certain criteria or if the Seller finds the Buyer themselves.

The moral of the story? Read your listing agreement before signing it. Walk through it with your almost-agent, and don’t sign it until you understand your commitment.