…for Winter Visitors and residents too!
by Douglas Morrow CCIB, CIP, CRM, ROX Casa Grande Insurance
To all Winter Visitors (of which I am one) – Welcome, again, to the Valley, which I know you also think of as your second home! We so do love it here, and have made many lasting friendships! A special “Thank You” to all full-time Valley residents for, as always, making us feel so welcome. Time to put a little effort back into our community, so here goes…
To you, our hosts and local residents, stick with me until the end, OK? In the second half of this article, wewill talk about winter risks and issues from the perspective of those of us who deal with winter “back at home” from a – shall we say – cooler perspective! We know some things that I know you’ll find helpful. So do please read to the end.
For Canadians, insurance in the United States can be a bit of a mystery. It all takes a while to figure out. Hopefully, this summary will give Canadian visitors some answers and ideas. My own solution (having been an insurance broker in Canada for over 35 years) was to buy a local insurance brokerage (ROX Casa Grande Insurance) together with my good friend, Casa Grande’s own Rock Earle. If you want things done right…well you know the rest!
1. House and Mobile Home Insurance – Experience tells us that the best home policy providers provide significant discounts based on good claims experience and credit scores. If you are arranging local insurance for your winter home, make sure that your local insurance professional is provided with a claims free letter from your Canadian insurance company. While American insurance companies generally cannot credit score Canadian customers, you may be able to interest them by confirming the mortgage status of your Arizona home (for example if it is mortgage-free), and you can provide a credit letter from your Canadian bank.
Most United States insurance providers will work hard to get good pricing for you. But, good pricing should never take the place of good underwriting and good insurance coverage. In particular, watch for the following mistakes:
Your home should be rated as a Seasonal Residence. It is obviously less expensive for the home to be rated as a Principal Residence, but unless your Valley home is actually your home most of the time, an insurance company may take issue with a serious claim once they discover the truth. We have seen policies rated ‘Principal’ with permission from the insurance company to do this to get the lower rate and better coverage, however you should get and hold a copy of that written agreement with the insurance company to rate this way, and keep it for your file and peace of mind.
I believe strongly that good coverage should always take priority over the least expensive insurance premium cost. Make sure that your policy is ‘All-Risk’ for both dwelling and contents; make sure that your policy includes ‘Guaranteed Replacement Cost’; make sure that Water Damage and Sewer Backup are fully included without limitation; and buy at least a One Million ($1M) limit for liability. There are other options, and some policies may have specific limitations or warranties. Ask your insurance provider for suggestions or full information.
Make sure that you provide details of the services and security you have for your property to get maximum discounts. If you have an alarm system, provide a copy of the alarm certificate to the insurance provider. If you have an inspection service, detail the name of the service provider and the schedule of inspections. If you have pool service, gardening service, pest inspection service and similar, the same thing applies. Providing all of this information to the insurance company representative will ensure that you get the best rate possible.
If you rent out your winter home to others, make sure that your insurance company is aware of this and is accepting of the additional risk. Details as to who the renters are (well known to you – or not – for example) can go a long way to making a claim a more friendly affair. Need I remind that rental income generated in the USA must be reported to the IRS? We once heard a story of an insurance company citing the ‘illegal activity’ exclusion under a policy when a serious claim was caused by renters and the rental income had not ever been properly declared and taxes paid.
For Winter Visitors, Canadian
2. House and Mobile Home Insurance – A final note for all visitors from colder climes, both American and Canadian; remember that your residential insurance back home will likely have serious limitations for losses (particularly water damage) when you are away from the home during the heating season, generally for longer than 72 hours. To ensure that coverage ‘back at home’ remains in full force and effect, arrange to have your home inspected – inside and out – at least every 72 hours. Remember also to shut off the main water valve in your basement; opening all taps, and flushing all toilets to drain the tanks, starting with the top floor is also a good idea, even if you leave the furnace on. If you have an alarm system, consider adding temperature and water sensors for protection and peace of mind. Check your own policy for further details.
For Canadians Again:
3. Canadian Vehicle and RV Insurance – For out-of-state vehicles, RV units and Holiday Trailers, check with your insurance provider at home in Canada to ensure that your vehicle or RV may remain in the United States for an extended period – or permanently – and still remain fully insured. As with home insurance above, we recommend that you also get a copy of this agreement with your insurer in writing to ensure a ‘meeting of the minds’ in the event of a claim. Be prepared to share with your insurance company how many kilometers you drive in the USA each year, where the vehicle will be stored, and who other than the registered owner(s) will be allowed to operate or use it, in particular, in your absence.
You should also familiarize yourself with the local rules in Arizona for operation and insurance of out-of-state vehicles. There are rules requiring local insurance and registration after a certain period of time.
4. United States Vehicle Insurance – It is pretty easy to either purchase a local vehicle or formally import a Canadian vehicle into the United States, and then to buy local insurance and registration. Certainly, if your plans for local ownership are long-term, this is a solution that can make good sense. Check out the multi-year registration option too – there are good savings available.
You should know that while your local address will be required for policy and registration paperwork, you should make arrangements to have your policy documents and all notices also sent either to your Canadian mailing address or e mail address to ensure good communication. We have all heard the story of the Canadians that picked up their car from storage at the airport and had a conversation with Arizona’s finest while driving home; only to discover that (a) the insurance documents in the car were expired, and that (b) in their local mailbox was the overlooked renewal notice. An expensive mistake!
Another point is to note that the process in Arizona is different than in Canada with respect to vehicle registration. If you delete some or all insurance coverage on your local vehicle while you are away for the summer, your Arizona insurance company is required to advise the registration office, which will in turn suspend your registration and tags. Ask your local insurance provider for an outline of the rules and procedures, so that you understand them fully. And, again, make sure that both the registration office and your insurance professionals have your Canadian mailing addressor email.
For Everyone, Visitors and
Owning a winter home – Or, for all of you local residents, just owning your own home or condominium creates certain exposures to loss that may be overlooked without an annual risk management plan. Let’s take this opportunity now to refresh as we head into the Arizona winter and to detail some things to keep in mind:
1. Smoke Detectors – Fall, a time when we are back outside working on our yards and doing renovation projects, is also a good time to replace batteries in all smoke, fire and CO2 detectors. It should be noted that even permanently wired units often havebackup batteries to replace, so check for them, and if applicable look after these too. Also, don’t forget to push the test button on each unit as you go, to verify proper operation. Some new style detectors have actual detector expiry dates. Look for labels and replace these units as required.
2. Outside Hose Connections – Even here in the Valley, overnight winter temperatures are cold enough to cause freezing pipes. Your outside taps are designed to drain when turned off, but if there is a hose connected to the faucet, the drainage process may not happen properly. Freezing of water inside the hose connection valve may cause that valve to fail, creating a significant loss of water and possibly house or landscaping damage. Disconnect all hoses from outside water connections today, and drain the hose itself before coiling it up for winter!
3. Inside Water Shut Off Valves – Each source of water inside your home, including sink areas, toilets etc. has (or should have) a shut-off valve on the water supply line that can be turned off in the event of an emergency. Local water service in the Valley has a high mineral content, which can cause these valves to deteriorate or even seize. As with smoke detectors, check all of your shut-off valves once a year to ensure that they turn freely and that they actually shut off the water. Replace as necessary. This is an easy job for a plumber and not too expensive.
4. Washing Machines – The common rubber hoses that connect your washer to water service were never designed to hold residential water pressure 24/7/365. I recommend getting in the habit of turning these off whenever the washer is not in use. Failing that, at least change your hoses to steel braided lines that are much stronger than rubber, and always shut these lines off when you are away overnight or on holidays. You should consider also changing these hoses regularly (Hey, you’re changing your shut-offs and detector batteries anyway, right?)
5. Main Water Shut Off – Outside – it amazes me that so few homes in the Valley are constructed by the builders with separate water shut off valves between the service to the house itself and the line that supplies the garden and/or swimming pool. Most local homes just have a single shut off that either shuts off all water – or not! For those of us that are not here full time, or locals that take any type of time away on holidays, consider strongly separating your garden drip system and pool fill from the direct water connection into your home. A pipe break inside the home, even for those that have a weekly inspection service, can create a water damage claim that can literally render your home a complete write-off. Have this done – please. You are looking to be able to shut off your inside house water supply, while still being able to water your yard and fill your pool. This is also an easy job for a plumber and not too expensive.
6. Smoking and Fire Hazard – Most planter boxes, and almost all planters provided by nurseries or retail stores incorporate a significant amount of peat moss mixed in with the topsoil. Peat moss burns very nicely.( The Irish have used this material to heat their homes for centuries, and the peat bogs in Ireland have been burning for over 100 years! Google it. It’s interesting.) So, never ever use a planter box as an ashtray. Peat fires burn slowly, hotly with little smoke and can start house fires even several days after a cigarette was “extinguished.” Statistics show that this is now an alarming cause of fires in condominiums and apartments with outside decks.
On behalf of myself and ROX Casa Grande Insurance, I hope that the article above is of some small assistance to all of you readers. If you have suggestions or comments about this article, please feel free to send me a note anytime at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing from you!
Please also know that our Canadian company, Excel Insurance Group, would be happy to assist you with all of your Canadian insurance needs; and our company here in Casa Grande, ROX Casa Grande Insurance Group, 442 W. Kortsen Rd, Casa Grande, 520-836-7660 would be more than pleased to discuss all of your local insurance needs from the perspective of an expert, whether you are a winter visitor or local resident. Call Cindy or Irene for a chat today!