In the earlier post How to Choose an Insurance Agent, I put together a list of questions I’d encourage insurance consumers to use when interviewing a perspective insurance agent. In this post, I’ll actually provide my own answers to each of these questions.
1. How long have you been in the insurance industry? I started in the insurance industry in 1999 and have been full-time in the Home & Auto side of the industry since early 2000. Over that time, I have gained a great deal of experience and knowledge in the lines I specialize in - Home, Auto and Health insurance.
2. What insurance education have your completed? I am one of a small handful of agents in the Bemidji area who hold the Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designation. I earned this through successfully completing five years of annual advanced insurance coursework. In order to remain a member of the Society of CIC, I also continue my education by annually completing a multi-day advanced insurance course.
3. Do you read policy contracts? The Society of CIC to which I belong stresses the importance of each member agent reading policy contracts to understand what insurance policies cover. While I certainly can’t function as your attorney or provide legal advice, I do take significant time to review common policy forms and endorsements, so that I have a good feel for the coverage that I am offering, enabling me to answer your questions accurately. Please note that the fact that I work to be familiar with the policy contracts I regularly use does not mean that I have not thoroughly reviewed every page of every policy contract that I ever sell. Also it is still your responsibility to ready your policy carefully.
4. Do you sell insurance solely based on price? While it’s always my goal to provide a competitive premium for my clients and prospects, I try very hard to make the insurance buying decision about more than just a price comparison. Rates may be the easiest thing to compare, but you’re not buying a price; you’re buying protection. That’s why I sit down with clients when writing new insurance to explain their coverage selections to them and make sure they make an educated insurance buying decision.
5. How long do you plan to remain in the insurance business? As I write this a couple months short of my fortieth birthday, I anticipate remaining in the business locally for several more decades. While no one knows what life holds in store, my new clients can feel confident in choosing an agent likely to be around for them for some time to come.
6. Are you a jack of all trades or do you have a specific expertise or focus? While many agents dip their toes in many waters by insuring a little bit of everything, I have chosen to narrow my focus so that I can be more of an expert at what I do. For that reason, I don’t offer commercial insurance for businesses. I don’t offer group health, and I refer out all but the simplest life insurance requests. My focus is on personal insurance – Home, Auto, toys, Umbrella and individual and family health coverage.
7. Will you explain my coverage and options when starting a new policy? As mentioned earlier, with each new policy I sell, I sit down with my client (usually in person and sometimes over the phone) to provide an overview of the coverage being offered and explain the selections and options that they have within the policy being purchased. I have had many new clients remark that this is the first time someone has ever explained their insurance to them. (It is still your responsibility to read your policy carefully.)
8. Are you an independent or exclusive agent? Unlike exclusive agents who can offer insurance from just one company, I am an independent agent contracted with a number of different insurance companies. This allows me to choose from multiple options in order to provide clients a good value.
9. If my rates go up later on, what will you be able to do to help? Because I’m independent and represent multiple carriers, I can often respond to a rate increase by offering my client continued coverage with another company. This allows us to continue our relationship; my client doesn’t have to go out and find a new insurance agent just because they need a different insurance company. Having said that, it’s also true that there are times when rate increases are unavoidable, such as if the whole industry is raising rates or perhaps after an accident. Also, there will always be some inflation in insurance, just as there is in other products and services that you buy.
10. What service will you provide if I have a claim? I believe that filing a claim is the moment of truth in my relationship with my clients, and so I work hard to be there for and follow up with clients during the claim process. I encourage clients to call me after a loss, so that we can discuss their situation and I can help them report the claim if appropriate. I try to explain the claim process up front and then follow up with clients later on to see how the claim is progressing.
11. What options will I have for communicating with you? Many of my clients communicate with me via email or texts, while others prefer phone. At the time of this writing, we are also testing a live chat feature on our website, as another method of instant communication during business hours. Of course, you can always visit our office, which is open 9-5 Monday through Friday in downtown Bemidji.
12. What is your standard for returning phone calls and emails? While things can certainly get busy at times in the office, I am able to return a majority of calls and emails within one or two business hours, and I reply to almost a hundred percent on the same business day.
13. Do you contact clients on a regular basis to check in or to offer an annual review? I understand that most of my client’s lives are quite busy and they probably don’t think about their insurance all that often. That’s why we proactively reach out via email or mail once a year, asking our client to complete a brief survey, which is intended to flesh out if there are any obvious needs or questions that should be addressed. This survey also asks if our client would like to schedule an annual review meeting face to face (occasionally over the phone). Over the last few months, I’ve also begun sending an email newsletter twice a month, which contains helpful living tips as well as links to recent blog posts on relevant insurance topics.
14. Are you active in your community? I’m currently a member of the Bemidji Rotary Club, the Bemidji Area Sertoma Club, Northern Exposure BNI and serve on the Bemidji Chamber Public Affairs committee. As of this post, I’m currently President-Elect of Bemidji Rotary and have previously served as president of Sertoma, BNI and the Bemidji Downtown Alliance.
15. What is your standard of ethics? I believe that trust is the most important aspect of the insurance transaction. Occasionally, I talk to a current or prospective client who would prefer that I lie or withhold information from the insurance company in order to get him or her a lower rate or more favorable coverage. However, I believe it would be better to walk away from that business than to default on the ethical responsibilities I have as an agent. Here’s the plain truth: If your agent is willing to lie for you, how can you trust them not to lie to you?
16. Are you a farmer or a hunter? While a “hunter agent” is primarily concerned with placing as much new business on the books as quickly as possible, I prefer farming. Farming is all about cultivating long term relationships based on trust. I have not grown my business as fast as some, but I’ve tried to grow it right.
17. Will you make me any type of written pledge or promise of how you will perform as my agent? As a Trusted Choice agent, I have adopted and strive to live up to this pledge of performance.
18. Why should I entrust my insurance protection to you? This question is where the rubber meets the road. Enabled by my choice of multiple insurance companies and my years of education and experience in the industry, I work to earn your business by offering a good insurance value, explaining and assisting you in customizing your coverage - with the goal of building a long-term relationship based on trust.
Part 1: Shopping for your home
This post is part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 2 covers the closing process.
So, you are shopping for a home! This is a very exciting point in your life, and there is much to consider in making your choice. While I know that there will be many other important factors that influence your decision on what home to buy, I thought it might be helpful to provide some tips on what you can look for from an insurance perspective. Insurance costs can be quite different from one home to the next, and some homes may be difficult to fully cover – or even to insure at all. There are a number of things you can look for when you are touring houses.
One of the most important things to look at from an insurance perspective is the exterior condition of the home you are considering. Insurance companies are most concerned about the exterior, because it defends the home against the elements of nature. First and foremost, step away from the home and look at the roof on all sides. Do the shingles look fresh and new, or do they look old and worn out or (worse yet) are they covered with moss or lichen, curling, lifting or even broken off or missing? Also look at the siding, fascia and trim. For wood products, is the paint in good condition, or is it peeling, flaking or even rotting? Don’t forget to also look at the condition of any outbuildings, as these also affect the insurability of the home. How condition issues can affect insurance.
Many home buyers prefer a home with an updated kitchen, windows, etc. However, there are other updates you might not otherwise consider that are equally or even more important – both from an insurance standpoint and also because of what future expenses may be right down the road. As mentioned above, ask about the age of the roof. Most roofs installed over 20 years ago need to be replaced, and they are also harder to insure. Another important question is the age of the furnace – newer being better. Lastly, if the home was built before the 1970s, is the plumbing and electrical fully modern? For a further discussion of updates, see this separate post.
There are certain types homes that may be more expensive to insure. For example, many insurance companies won’t insure log homes. Having said that, log homes are beautiful, so you may well be willing to pay a little extra (if necessary) to insure with a carrier who will cover log construction. Also, manufactured homes (singlewides and doublewides), while less expensive to buy, will generally cost more to insure – even if they were installed on a permanent foundation. Also, flat roofs are harder to insure, as there are many insurance companies don't like them.
First, the good news is that you don't need to worry too much about a built-in fireplace, as these typically aren’t a problem for most carriers. However, a woodstove may limit your options and cost more to insure, and you will likely face a challenge if the stove isn't installed properly or isn't UL approved. An even bigger problem is wood heat in a detached garage - quite common in the Northwoods but unfortunately unacceptable with most insurance companies. So if you are thinking about buying a home with a woodstove in an outbuilding, keep in mind that your options will be to remove it, possibly not cover the building at all or to take what you can get from one of the small selection of companies willing to insure it. Outdoor wood boilers are not always as large of an issue, but read my post about insuring these.
Insurance companies worry about safety hazards, because your Homeowners policy will cover your liability if someone gets hurt on your premises. One common hazard is missing railings on exterior steps, decks or porches. Generally, insurance companies want to see railings if the height of the deck or porch is more than 30-36 inches off the ground or if there are more than two or three steps. The good news is that this can often be a fairly easy fix, especially for smaller decks or a short flight of steps. Also, if the home you’re viewing is one of the few in the area that come with either a swimming pool, be advised that most insurance companies want to see a six-foot fence with a self-locking gate – a rarity in the Bemidji area.
Whether your goal is to be as far back in the woods as possible or as near to schools or work as you can get, or even in a particular neighborhood or on a specific lake, I’m sure location will be an important factor in your decision. Keep in mind that distance from the fire department will be a factor in your insurance cost. Within five miles is best, and over ten miles away is least preferred. While remote homes are certainly insurable, you will likely pay 20-80 percent more to insure a home more than five miles away from fire service. This may well be a price you are willing to pay for the location you desire, but it is something to keep in mind.
In summary, whether you are a first time home buyer or a seasoned pro, you have a big decision ahead of you. I hope that this insurance information is helpful to at least carry in the back of your mind as you choose your next home. If I can answer any questions, please contact me. Good luck!
In Part 2 of this series, I guide you through the insurance aspects of the closing process, from the point that you sign the purchase agreement through the day you close.
As one of many local businesses sponsoring the Beltrami County Relay for life happening tomorrow, we are pleased to display purple in our storefront this week. The annual Relay for Life will be held tomorrow, Saturday, July 8, at the Sanford Center, from 11am to 11pm. The event is loaded with fun and wonderful family friendly activities, food and inspirational ceremonies. You don’t have to be on a team in order to attend and participate; everyone is welcome!
The Beltrami County Relay for Life is an important local fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, whose mission is to free the world from cancer. Until this ultimate goal is realized, they fund and conduct research, share expert information, support patients and spread the word about prevention.
All of us know someone who has been through the terrible ordeal of cancer. Together we can make a difference! Join us in supporting this worthy cause.
Ken Cobb is owner of Pine Country Insurance and has been active in the insurance industry for over 15 years. Meet Ken.
Coverage descriptions found in this blog are summaries provided for general educational purposes and cannot fully detail the terms, conditions, limitations or exclusions of a specific insurance policy. Please read your policy carefully.