Kerry Ziegler
Phone:  215-679-6877Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  kzhomes@comcast.netFax:  267-354-6922
Kerry Ziegler
Kerry Ziegler

My Blog

A Hurricane Damaged My Home—Now What?

October 13, 2016 12:51 am


Anyone whose home’s been damaged by a hurricane knows the days following the storm can be hazy.

The first and most important step to take after the storm is contacting your insurance provider to begin the claim filing process. It’s important to do this as soon as you’re able, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), but to tread carefully when doing so.

“Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets, because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations,” said J. Robert Hunter, director of Insurance for CFA, in a statement on Hurricane Matthew, the most recent storm. “This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read.”

It’s important, according to CFA, to keep records of each event in the claims process, especially when making a claim due to a major catastrophe. Keep your claim number handy, and hold on to receipts for repair work or temporary housing. Record brief notes, including dates and times, of all communications with your insurer. Take stock of your belongings as best you can—having a list will help expedite the claims process.

In the meantime, take steps to prepare for the insurance adjustment, CFA recommends. Be sure to get estimates from a few local, reputable contractors for reference before the adjuster arrives to assess the damage—and, remember, you’re not obligated to use a contractor recommended by your insurer. Clarify whether the adjuster is an independent professional or an employee of the insurer—if the former, confirm they’re authorized by the insurer to make decisions related to your claim.

Remain vigilant through the process, as well. Though flooding is not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, some insurers employ an “anti-concurrent-causation” clause—this means that the insurer will not cover wind damage if flooding occurred concurrently, or at the same time, according to CFA. (Your claim may be denied because of this clause—if that’s the case, consult with an attorney, CFA advises.) Some insurers may also unfairly categorize losses as the result of flooding, rather than high winds.

“Because so many consumers experienced claims problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Matthew to be vigilant with their insurance companies to ensure that they receive a full and fair settlement,” Hunter said.

However, “not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” Hunter added.

Source: Consumer Federation of America (CFA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Do You Know How Often Smoke Alarms Should Be Replaced?

October 13, 2016 12:51 am


Most of us don’t.

You may already be aware you should test the smoke alarms in your house each month. Did you know you should also replace those alarms every 10 years?

Most homeowners, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), are unaware of this guideline—in fact, nine out of 10 in a recent survey by the organization did not know alarms expire. What’s more: one in five has an alarm in their home that is more than 10 years old, and an identical proportion does not know how old their alarms are at all.

“While the public generally knows that smoke alarms play an important role in home fire safety, some smoke alarm messages are not as well understood,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA, in a statement. “Not knowing how often smoke alarms need to be replaced—or that they even have an expiration date—are among them.”

Homeowners should inspect their smoke alarms for the “date of manufacture,” which is generally on the back or side of the device—this date indicates age, according to NFPA. The date of manufacture is not the same as the date of purchase or date of installation.

“Working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in a home fire in half,” Carli added. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure they’re working properly."

Aside from testing alarms on a monthly basis, Carli and NFPA recommend replacing the batteries as soon as the warning chirp sounds.

Source: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 10 Leaf-Peeping Locales This Fall

October 12, 2016 12:48 am


On the road in search of color-changing foliage this fall? Take in awe-inspiring autumn vistas at these leaf-peeping locales, recently ranked by Booking.com.

1. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee)
Come for: 100-plus species of native trees
Stay for: Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn & Spa, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

2. Aspen (Colorado)
Come for: Aspen trees
Stay for: Limelight Hotel, Aspen, Colo.

3. Lake Superior (Minnesota)
Come for: North Woods, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Stay for: Grand Superior Lodge, Two Harbors, Minn.

4. Geneva Lake (Wisconsin)
Come for: 19th century shoreline properties
Stay for: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.

5. The Berkshires (Massachusetts)
Come for: Antique shops, art galleries
Stay for: Orchards Hotel, Williamstown, Mass.

6. June Lake (California)
Come for: Outdoor recreation, Sierra Nevada
Stay for: Double Eagle Resort & Spa, June Lake, Calif.

7. The Green Mountains (Vermont)
Come for: Long Trail
Stay for: Edson Hill, Stowe, Vt.

8. The Poconos (Pennsylvania)
Come for: Outdoor recreation, seasonal events
Stay for: Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pa.

9. The Ozarks (Missouri)
Come for: Orange sassafras, purple sweetgum and red maple trees
Stay for: The Lodge at Old Kinderhook, Camdentown, Mo.

10. Hudson River Valley (New York)
Come for: Adirondack Mountains
Stay for: Blue Pearl Woodstock, Woodstock, N.Y.

Source: Booking.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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I'm Buying New Construction—How Much Space Can I Expect in the Kitchen?

October 12, 2016 12:48 am


New homes are built with kitchens averaging 161 square feet, or just below 13 feet by 13 feet, according to “Size of Kitchens in New U.S. Single-Family Homes,” a report by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). The size of a kitchen, the report shows, generally varies based on the size of the home, and on the number of stories the home has and its location.

New homes under 1,500 square feet, for example, have kitchens averaging 103 square feet; new homes above 4,000 square feet have kitchens averaging 238 square feet—a 135-square-foot difference.

In single-story homes, the average size of the kitchen is 151 square feet, or 10 square feet less than the overall average, according to the report. Single-story homes in the Mountain region, which includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, average 158 square feet—the largest in the country. Single-story homes in New England, conversely (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), average 130 square feet—the smallest in the country.

Kitchens in multistory homes are larger than those in single-story homes, as well, at an average 174 square feet, or 13 square feet more than the overall average. The West South Central region, which is comprised of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, has multistory homes with the largest kitchens, averaging 184 square feet; the West North Central region, or Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, has multistory homes with the smallest, at 156 square feet.

The layout of the home can also be a determining factor, according to the report—kitchens in homes with a great room average 164 square feet, compared to those without at 159 square feet.

Source: National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Assistance Available in Wake of Hurricane Matthew

October 12, 2016 12:48 am


Homeowners with mortgage loans owned or guaranteed through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac who have been impacted by Hurricane Matthew may be granted a forbearance period for their mortgage payments, the two enterprises recently announced.

“We understand that many families and communities are hurting as they deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew,” said Malloy Evans, vice president of Servicing at Fannie Mae, in a statement. “Fannie Mae and our servicers stand with homeowners who have been impacted by these extremely challenging conditions. We are working with our servicers to ensure assistance is offered to borrowers and communities in need. Our thoughts are with all of those who have been impacted.”

“We strongly encourage the many American families whose homes or businesses are being impacted by Hurricane Matthew to call their mortgage servicer once the Federal Emergency Management Agency's [FEMA] declaration is announced,” said Yvette Gilmore, vice president of Single-Family Servicer Performance Management at Freddie Mac, in a statement. “Relief—including forbearance on mortgage payments for up to one year—may be available if their mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac."

Fannie Mae’s guidelines permit mortgage servicers to grant forbearance “to any borrower they believe has been affected by this natural disaster,” according to the statement, or “to delay foreclosures sales and other legal proceedings in these areas.” The forbearance period is up to 90 days initially (if the homeowner is out of reach due to the disaster), and up to six months after contact has been made.

Similarly, Freddie Mac’s guidelines allow “suspending foreclosures by providing forbearance for up to 12 months, waiving assessments of penalties or late fees against borrowers with disaster-damaged homes, and not reporting forbearance or delinquencies caused by the disaster to the nation’s credit bureaus.”

Homeowners should contact their mortgage servicer as soon as possible to assess options.

Sources: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 No-Fail Tips to Save Money

October 11, 2016 12:45 am


If you want to build the emergency fund you know you need to have—but find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck without saving a dime—it’s time to put a no-fail savings plan in place. Here are three tips to get started, courtesy of The Motley Fool:

1. Strictly Track Spending – You may think you know where your money goes each month, but chances are you have no real idea about how much is slipping through the cracks. For at least one month, list every penny you spend, from rent and utilities to your morning coffee, those hard-to-get concert tickets and the pair of shoes you found at half-price. Take a hard look at your spending and figure out exactly where you can cut out or cut back—and do it!

2. Pay Yourself First – You can’t spend what you don’t have, so sign up for an automatic savings plan so that a set portion of every paycheck goes automatically into savings before you can spend it. Once you’ve saved enough to cover three to six months of living expenses, focus on starting to contribute—or contributing more to—your employer’s 401(k) plan, if offered.

3. Help Resist Temptation – Impulse purchases can derail anyone’s saving efforts. Avoid sales unless there is something you really need, or stay focused only on what you came to shop for. Take only enough cash for what you need to buy—leave your credit card at home. It’s discipline that counts!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Study: Homeowners Save Most When Combining Insurance

October 11, 2016 12:45 am


Insurance providers often offer discounts to incentivize policyholders to bundle insurance. The savings depend on the type of insurance being combined, as well as the state the policyholder lives in, according to a recently released study by insuranceQuotes.

“Discounts for bundling auto and home, condo or renters insurance vary by state, and can help many consumers save more than $500 per year,” said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst for insuranceQuotes, in a statement on the study. “Combining policies with the same insurer is a simple and easy way to reduce premiums.”

Policyholders who bundle auto and homeowners insurance reap the most savings at an average $314 per year, according to the study. Homeowners policies are more expensive than those for condo owners or renters, so the savings are more substantial.

The states with the highest average savings are:

1. Louisiana ($584/year)
2. Oklahoma ($541)
3. Texas ($473)
4. Kansas ($444)
5. Mississippi ($430)
6. Arkansas ($421)
7. Minnesota ($418)
8. Alabama and Missouri ($414)
9. Nebraska ($395)
10. Illinois ($392)

In some cases, however, bundling does not maximize savings, Adams cautioned. It is important to shop around for policies, even if they are from different insurance providers.

“Combining policies usually saves money; however, there are scenarios when using separate providers could be a better option,” said Adams. “Always compare quotes both bundled and unbundled.”

Source: insuranceQuotes
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Rents to Keep Rising in 2017

October 11, 2016 12:45 am


Rents are expected to increase 1.7 percent in 2017, according to the latest Zillow® Rent Forecast, with the highest increases anticipated in markets in the West—Seattle, Portland and Denver. The projected increase, though slowing, could give reason for renters to make the transition to homeownership.

“We have more renters today than in the past, and most newly formed households are renter households,” says Dr. Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. “This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents."

Zillow’s forecast predicts rents will rise most rapidly in:

1. Seattle, Wash. – 7.2 percent
Median Rent: $2,067

2. Portland, Ore. – 6.0 percent
Median Rent: $1,777

3. Denver, Colo. – 5.9 percent
Median Rent: $2,013

4. Cincinnati, Ohio – 5.2 percent
Median Rent: $1, 239

5. San Francisco, Calif. – 4.9 percent
Median Rent: $3,406

6. Los Angeles, Calif. – 4.8 percent
Median Rent: $2,593

7. Sacramento and San Diego, Calif. – 4.7 percent
Median Rent (Sacramento): $1,681
Median Rent (San Diego): $2,427

8. Phoenix, Ariz. – 4.6 percent
Median Rent: $1,297

9. San Jose, Calif. – 4.5 percent
Median Rent: $3,517

10. Boston, Mass. – 3.9 percent
Median Rent: $2,310

“There is good news for renters on the horizon, though,” Gudell adds. “Current renters in these markets can expect rents to slow down a bit over the next year. Instead of the 10 percent rental appreciation we’ve been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4 to 7 percent. This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief.”

Source: Zillow®
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Retirement Playbook: Lessons from Investors of Every Age

October 10, 2016 12:42 am


A startling proportion of Generation X workers are worried about investing for retirement, according to a recently released survey—but most of their anxiety can be curtailed by examining lessons learned by others.

One such lesson, based on responses to the survey, conducted by Capital Group, is gleaned from both baby boomer and millennial investors: limit losses during downswings.

“Every generation is interested in achieving better investment outcomes over time and limiting losses in market downturns, combined with low fees,” says Heather Lord, senior vice president and head of Strategy and Innovation at Capital Group.

Lesson two? Don’t settle for average gains. The baby boomer and millennial investors surveyed understood that a diversified portfolio can reap above-average results; however, not all grasped how to develop one.

“Each generation has blind spots around index funds, which experience the full downside of market drops,” Lord says. “Baby boomers, especially, are unaware of those risks—and they're the ones with less time to rebuild their nest eggs from a market downturn.”

Only half of the investors surveyed were aware that passive index funds expose them to the full impact of market volatility, and even fewer recognized the heightened risk of index funds as an older investor. Two out of three of the investors surveyed were unaware that low fees are a factor in determining the viability of a fund, as well as “high manager ownership,” or the amount fund managers invest in the funds they manage.

Lesson three: take saving seriously. According to the results of the survey, more than half of millennials began saving for retirement before age 25. (Markedly, one-quarter of them also believed children born today should start saving for retirement before their eighteenth birthday.)

The takeaway overall? A long-term investment strategy—a “buy-and-hold mindset”—is best.

“After experiencing the dot-com bust, the global financial crisis and the housing collapse, as well as stagnant wage growth during their formative adult years, Gen Xers—or ‘Generation AnXious’—are wary about their financial future,” says Lord. “Perhaps because of these concerns, Gen Xers long to do better than the average market, and say actively managed funds can help them reach these goals.”

Source: Capital Group Companies
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How Fit Is Your City?

October 10, 2016 12:42 am


There are many factors to take into consideration when sizing up the overall fitness level in your area, such as gyms, healthy dining establishments and parks. A recent study from Fitbit, makers of the wildly popular fitness tracker, has determined an area’s level of fitness based on stats from its more than 10 million users.

According to a recent blog by the company, researchers analyzed user data to determine which cities ranked the highest overall based on average number of steps, active minutes, resting heart rate and sleep duration—all tracked by the device. The top 10 fittest cities in America, according to the results:

1. Madison, Wis.
2. Minneapolis, Minn.
3. Spokane, Wash.
4. Boston, Mass.
5. Portland, Ore.
6. Grand Rapids, Mich.
7. Lincoln, Neb.
8. San Francisco, Calif.
9. Seattle, Wash.
10. Washington D.C.

Honorable mentions include: New York, N.Y., the city with the most steps and highest number of active minutes; Boston, Mass., the city with the lowest resting heart rate; and Spokane, Wash., the city that gets the most sleep.

Source: Fitbit
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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