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Should You Switch Home Insurance Companies?

With any luck you’ll purchase homeowners insurance and never actually need it. But if you never think about or reassess your coverage, you may be throwing money away. Not only should you take the time to examine the coverage you have, but consider finding a new company if your current insurer no longer meets your needs. Why should you think about switching your insurance?

Your rates keep going up. If your insurance rate is going up, but you aren’t making any significant improvements to your home or your policy, it might be time to shop around. At least call your insurance company to determine the reason behind the rate hike.

Even if your rates aren’t going up, you may hear about lower rates with other agencies. Do your research and find out if another company might be a better fit for you.

You’ve had a life change. According to the Insurance Information Institute, when you’ve had a life change (birth, death, divorce) in your family, you should alter your will, life insurance, and yes, even your homeowners insurance. Call for estimates from other companies before negotiating with your own in order to guarantee that you’re still getting the best available rate.

Comparable residences are insuring for less. Insurance rates aren’t usually the topic of discussion at neighborhood barbecues. If it does come up, though, you may find that comparable residences on your street are being insured for substantially less than your own. It may be because of upgrades or items within their home, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.

Customer service is falling short. There’s more to quality insurance than the lowest available rate. If you are receiving sub-par customer service, can’t ever get an agent on the phone, or have to haggle over claims, you might need to consider switching your home insurance. Don’t forget that your insurance company needs you just as much as you need them — don’t settle for lackluster service.

You’re remodeling. If you’re making changes to your residence, you’ll need to contact your home insurance agent. Even adding a home security system can lower your rate. Don’t like the new numbers they throw at you? Shop around for a better rate!

You can get a deal for combining your coverage. You may be using three different companies for your auto, home, and life insurance coverage. However some companies will offer a discounted rate for combining your policies. If you find a reputable company that will insure all your items in one place, you may want to consider switching agencies.


Get Asking Price For Your Home!

How to Get Your Asking Price as the Housing Market Improves

Posting the first annual increase in five years, home values rose slightly over this time last year, reports Zillow, the online real estate site.  This is good news for homeowners who have been waiting to put their houses on the market. Before you do, a few simple spruce-ups can help get your asking price.

“The housing market’s recovery continues to show tremendous variation market by market. Sixty-nine of the 157 markets covered by the Zillow Home Value Forecast are expected to see increases in home values over the next year, with the largest increases expected in the Phoenix metro (9.9 percent) and the Miami metro (6.1 percent),” said Zillow on its website. “We believe that 96 out of the 157 markets have already hit a bottom in home values, including Boston, Miami and Phoenix.”

Improve the view. No matter where you live, it pays to keep your home well-maintained. Curb appeal is the first thing to consider. As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Look at your entryway. Is the paint peeling or faded? Are your shrubberies overtaking the sidewalk? Take the time to scrape away any old paint and apply a new coat. Sherwin-Williams Duration Gloss, our top-rated semi-gloss is the only one in our exterior paint tests that has a primer built-in. After the equivalent of nine years’ worth of exposure, the Sherwin-Williams was still looking very good and would be a good choice for painting a front door.

Whack the weeds. As for that overgrown walkway, a capable string trimmer can help you vanquish the vines and weeds in no time. In Consumer Reports’ string trimmer tests, the top-rated gas models were best at slicing through tall grass and weeds. But if you don’t like the hassle of a gas-powered unit, several light duty electric models, including the Homelite UT41110, at $30 a CR Best Buy, were very good or better at this job.

Neutralize garish rooms. Sprucing up the paint inside the house also makes your home more attractive, especially if you’ve painted some rooms bright colors that might not appeal to the average buyer. The best course of action is to choose white, off-white or another neutral color. “Safe colors like this will appeal to most people, increasing the odds that your home will sell,” advises the Paint Quality Institute. And it’ll cost you well under $100. Check our top-rated interior paints for the best choices.

Brighten the bathroom. Outdated kitchens and bathrooms are typically the chief complaint of prospective home buyers. But you don’t have to invest in an entire remodel to improve their appearance. Here again paint can do wonders but so can replacing the countertops, sink or floor. Bathrooms have replaced kitchens as the most remodeled room in the home because they tend to be smaller and you don’t have to buy all those appliances. As we reported in our Bathroom remodeling guide, small details can make a big difference. Stain-resistant grout, framed mirrors and a heated towel bar are just some ideas.

Kick the kitchen up a notch. For the kitchen, you don’t need a bottomless budget to get a top-notch kitchen. In the luxury look for less, we suggest top-rated affordable alternatives to pricey appliances, countertops, flooring and more. But be forewarned, poor planning and shoddy workmanship are two of the costliest mistakes homeowners make when undertaking a remodeling project. If you’re about to embark on one, best to invest a few months going to showrooms and talking to professionals.

Let’s Automate the Transaction Now

At Real Estate Connect San Francisco last week, a session was held dubbed “How Millennials Shop for Homes.” The panel included three 30-something homebuyers: Greg Pasquali, Brittany Ashlock and Martin Ringlein. This articulate threesome was determined to be homeowners, though they were each a tad cynical about the risk and the woes of home buying.

One thread throughout the discussion was their desire for digital documents and an easier transaction.

For 15 years, Inman News has been preaching the importance of automating the transaction with digital documents and an easier transaction process. While there are signs that the process is improving, this panel was a reminder of how arcane the transaction still is.

Many of the woes can be blamed on government requirements and unruly documentation that bureaucratic rules require. As Ringlein said, “I didn’t even read the documents.” That seems like a practical response to the ridiculous requirements put on homebuyers and sellers in the process.

But it is also an unfortunate outcome.  Pasquali thought it absurd that he had to submit a letter confirming that the driver’s license he submitted was really his and the forms he just signed were really his signature. The absurdity of this requirement is anyone who would commit fraud by signing someone else’s name would be willing to do it again with this inane requirement.

Most of the documentation foisted on homebuyers and sellers is the result of an overreaction to bad behavior by lenders, builders, Realtors and scam artists during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s and the subprime loan fiasco in the last decade.

But another problem is the number of Realtors who do not use digital documents.  The industry needs to use its clout to remove some absurd regulatory requirements and to automate the transaction with easy-to-use digital documents.

This year’s Inman Innovator Award went to DotLoop CEO Austin Allison.

This is our small of way of saying: Come on, gang, let’s automate the transaction now and get rid of unnecessary documents. It is hurting consumers, housing markets and the industry.


Monopoly Properties: Then & Now





Cities Where Paychecks Stretch the Furthest

When we think of places with high salaries, big metro areas like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco are usually the first to spring to mind. But wages are just one part of the equation: High prices in those East and West Coast cities mean the fat paychecks aren’t necessarily getting the locals ahead. When cost of living is factored in, most of the places that boast the highest effective pay turn out to be in the less celebrated and less expensive middle part of the country.

No. 1: Houston

In first place is Houston, where the average annual wage in 2011 was $59,838, eighth highest in the nation. What puts Houston at the top of the list is the region’s relatively low cost of living, which includes such things as consumer prices and services, utilities and transportation costs and, most important, housing prices: The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9, remarkably low for such a dynamic urban region; in San Francisco a house goes for 6.7 times the median local household income. Adjusted for cost of living, the average Houston wage of $59,838 is worth $66,933, tops in the nation.

No. 2: Silicon Valley

Only two expensive metro areas made the top 10 list. One is Silicon Valley (San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara), where the average annual wage last year of $92,556, the highest in the nation, makes up for its high costs, which includes the worst housing affordability among the 51 metro areas we considered: housing prices are nearly 7 times the local median income. Adjusted for cost of living, that $92,556 paycheck is worth $61,581, placing the Valley second on our list.

No. 3: Detroit area

One major surprise is the metro area in third place: Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. This can be explained by the relatively high wages paid in the resurgent auto industry and, as reported earlier, a huge surge in well-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math-related) jobs. Combine this with some of the most affordable housing in the nation and sizable reductions in unemployment — down 5% in Michigan over the past two years, the largest such drop in the nation.

The rest

Most of the rest of the top 10 are relatively buoyant economies with relatively low costs of living. These include Memphis (fourth), Dallas-Fort Worth (fifth), Charlotte, N.C. (sixth), Cincinnati (seventh), Austin, Texas (eighth), and Columbus, Ohio (10th). These areas all also have housing affordability rates below 3.0 except for Austin, which clocks in at 3.5. Similar situations down the list include such mid-sized cities as Nashville (11th), St. Louis (12th), Pittsburgh (13th), Denver (15th) and New Orleans (16th).

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