Insurance

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Allstate LogoYesterday afternoon I received my auto insurance renewal from Allstate in the mail.

With the accident back in May, that resulted in a repair bill that indicated that they probably should have totalled the car, I wasn’t expecting good news.

But it was good news.

It doesn’t appear that my rates have gone up — and having been with Allstate for years, I was never ushered in to the “Accident Forgiveness” plan that they advertise so heavily — so I really expected them to jump (or have them drop me entirely like they did with my homeowners insurance.)

Total bill is still an outrageous $1071 for six months.

Is it just me, or is that really high for a 30 year old married male with no tickets and just this one accident on his record?

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This logo supposedly adds $10k to the price of any car that wears it.  My car has this logo stamped in 9 different places.  Overkill?Friday afternoon I received a call from the auto body shop letting me know that the car was ready. I had to pay the deductible over the phone, as I wasn’t going to be able to get there before they closed for the weekend.

For a while there, I thought I might get away without paying anything, since I hadn’t receive anything from Allstate since the week of the accident. But they got me. Oh well… It hurts this month’s budget quite a bit, but I still had it in the back of my mind, so I can’t really call it an unexpected expense.

The car looks… darker. I’m not sure if it was just the light or what, but it looks to be a couple of shades darker than it was. It’s also not as smooth a coat as it was. You know, when you look at it at different angles, there are a few uneven areas, but from a distance, it looks just fine.

The new roof, with a new back window, is great. The back window hasn’t been that clear since the day I bought it.

The new wheels, that supposedly don’t match because BMW no longer makes the 5 spoke wheels I had, look like perfect matches to me.

The damaged areas also look great.

There looked to be a fresh scratch, rather deep too, in the passenger side door (the side that wasn’t involved in the accident at all), but that was the only noticeable blemish. Considering the improvement everywhere else, we decided to ignore it. (I say that now, but my focus will zero in on that scratch for years to come, I’m sure.)

Another downside was that the radio is locked again. A few years ago, I changed the battery myself and it initiated the antitheft “lock” on the radio. Now the radio asks you to enter a password. I don’t have that password.

The last time this happened, we brought it to a BMW dealership and they reset it — but never gave me the code. Sigh… Looks like I’ll be taking it in again. Argh.

In the end, the whole experience wasn’t that bad. I can’t really bash Allstate, and considering the final bill was double their estimate, I almost have to praise them. That is, unless they double my rates when I’m up for renewal later next month.

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As mentioned earlier in the year, I found out the hard way that insuring a newly purchased older home is near impossible.

Now that we’re in the final stretch for the exterior renovations, it’s time to start thinking about acquiring some conventional homeowners insurance.

Currently, my carrier is a state run plan, called a FAIR plan. Most states have them, and I’ll be the first to tell you, they’re anything but FAIR. The premium is generally double what you’d pay to an insurance company you’ve heard of, and you coverage is half what a real insurance company would carry.

Illinois’ FAIR Plan website looks to be one of the best in the country, so I’ll use their definition:

The FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan Association offers property insurance to qualified applicants who are unable to buy insurance through the standard insurance market for reasons beyond their control.

The FAIR Plan may be an answer for responsible property owners or homeowners who are having a problem obtaining property insurance in the standard market.

Many insureds use the FAIR Plan as a temporary market for a year or two until they qualify for coverage in the standard market.

It’s been nearly 5 years since Allstate cancelled my policy. Surfing the web, I’ve yet to find a “successful” journey from the depths of the FAIR plan. Seems once you’re categorized as high-risk, it’s damn near impossible to get normal coverage. I’m hoping I can blaze a new trail.

One thing I have read is that when an insurer cancels your policy, they must send you a letter explaining why they’ve cancelled you. Over the weekend, I peeked into the old filing cabinet in search of the old Allstate folder.

I was skeptical that I’d still have the letter. At the time, it was like a punch in the stomach. I’d just paid my first ever mortgage bill, I had no money left to my name, and now suddenly, I was about to let my insurance lapse before the second mortgage payment. I thought I’d likely thrown it out in anger.

To my surprise, there it was…an interesting read. It almost made me more angry seeing how trivial all of the ‘problems’ were. I kept thinking that they were nailing me on the electrical system, but in fact, there is no mention of that.

Here is what the letter listed:

  • The roof of the dwelling is damaged and lifting/buckled.
  • The soffits/fascia/eaves are damaged and needs paint.
  • The renovations are not completed.
  • The detached structure has dry rot, glass broken, trees overhanging and needs paint.
  • Your chimney is crumbling, separating, in need of tuckpointing.
  • The foundation of your dwelling or garage is crumbling.
  • The siding or frame exterior of your dwelling is damaged, has peeling paint.
  • One or more of the trees on your property poses a risk to your property because it is overhanging.
  • The windows of your dwelling or garage needs paint.

According to much of what I’ve read, technically, if I correct Allstate’s laundry list of problems above, they should take me back. That said, since they burned me so bad back then in 2002, they’re not exactly my first choice.

Cancellation Letter from Allstate.  I’d love to know why they didn’t even sign it.Oh, and Allstate is no longer issuing homeowners policies in my state because we’re apparently in a hot hurricane zone.

Um, yeah… One, Hurricane Gloria in 1985 — 22 YEARS AGO!? — and it was just a heavy rain, but whatever…

A little back story first… when Allstate sent out their inspector, I was having a cable line added to the second floor of the house so I could have cable internet in my home office. Being broke at the time, the cheapest route, rather than snaking it through the walls, was to have the electrician run the line in one of those PVC tubes up the side of the house.

Apparently, while the electrician, a fellow in his 70’s, was working on the side of the house, the Allstate inspector stopped by and asked to go inside the house. The electrician said, “No.” When I arrived home that evening, the electrician explained to me that he’d had a “run-in” with an aggressive insurance inspector trying to enter my home.

I thanked him for not letting the inspector in my home. I was never made aware that an inspector was coming by, and thinking about it, I never recall having an insurance inspector ever enter our home when I was living with my parents. I was thankful that the electrician hadn’t let some stranger in my home without me there.

Then the cancellation letter came and it all became clear. I’d guess that the insurance inspector thought the electrician was the homeowner and refused to allow him entry. Ticked off, he essentially checked off every box on his standard form, in an immature “I’ll show you!” act of rage.

Windows need paint? Um… they’re vinyl windows. At that time, they were only 2 years old. That aside, you don’t paint vinyl windows.

Renovations incomplete? Um, okay, the contractor was there working on them at the time you stopped by without notice.

Trees overhanging the home? This is New England. I challenge you to find a residential home within a 100 mile radius of my home that doesn’t have a tree limb near the structure.

Those boxes were checked out of spite. Pure spite.

The rest of them… I could call legitimate… at the time. Which is why I didn’t dispute the letter.

The roof was old. The roof was ugly. But you know what? It didn’t leak. But I still spent $14k replacing a roof that didn’t leak.

The chimney was crumbling…we had it removed entirely.

The foundation was crumbling…we had it repaired.

All of this business about needing paint and peeling paint — well, vinyl siding is taking care of that.

All of that aside though, it is a little troubling that your insurance company can essentially cancel your coverage because your house could use a new coat of paint.

I can understand the “crumbling” brick work being a bit of an insurance problem, and realistically, that is where their list should have begun and ended. And I would have taken care of that immediately, but to pile on all of the additional cosmetic issues seemed a little unjust.

Especially when they agreed to insure the home for the closing, and then cancelled the policy less than 30 days later.

Hopefully we’ll have normal insurance in the coming months…

Slow day at the regular paycheck job.

Currently, I’m redesigning the company’s website, which is a nice needed change of pace from the regular daily grind. Unfortunately, it’s something I work on whenever I get a chance or things slow down, which isn’t very often.

It’s been a very productive day so far though — I’ve figured out how to prevent Firefox from looping an Adobe Flash file, when every other browser out there loads and displays things fine. It’s something I’ve been planning on sitting down and figuring out for a few weeks, but I finally did it this morning. I’d had a feeling it was something simple… and it was.

I’ve also filled in the content to two sections worth (16 pages so far). As I’m using a PHP template for this site, this part is really repetitive and *really* boring allowing my brain to ponder other things. If you hadn’t guessed, this is the project that isn’t bringing in any income that I’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts.

On the brain right now? Well, with the pending siding project nearing fruition, I’m starting to look even further ahead. The next potential obstacle to overcome for our homeowners insurance problem is the original knob and tube wiring throughout the house.

I removed some myself this past weekend, but it was all in full view. It’s the stuff behind the walls that’s out of my league. And lately, I’ve really been wishing that we had light switches like a normal house. (Most rooms have a pull chain fixture in the center of the ceiling.)

The greedy side of me would also like a sub-panel installed in the detached garage so we could have power out there again, but that’s just like extra frosting.

This week, I’ll dig up the number of the electrician, John Cyr, from when he upgraded the 60amp fuse box to 200amp service three or four years ago. He also wired a new outlet to the dryer and washing machine at around the same time.

Deep down, I know it’s not the type of project I can get a quote on, it’s understandably, as they say in the business, a “Time and Materials” type of project due to the number of variables hidden behind the plaster, but I think he charged me fairly for work done in the past.

That, and I learned a ton just from watching him and being a “stand-in” assistant. I’d be comfortable with him working in my house, really the most important thing, so I’m hoping he’s up for the project and some quick easy money for a job he can work on at his own leisure.

This will kill any chance of reaching my 2007 financial goal, but as long as I finish the year higher than I started, I’ll still be satisfied.

Saturday’s Cessna purchase is still ongoing as well. I was unable to pick it up today, but the plan is for a fellow from work to help me lift it into my wife’s truck tomorrow morning. The weather isn’t likely to cooperate, but I think it should be okay. For whatever reason, I’m pretty excited about getting it home.

Now I can honestly say that, “I own my own company, I drive a BMW, and I recently purchased a private plane.”

Hey — it’s true in a wacky sort of way.

All that’s left is for me to turn my house into a palace — and we’re working on that!

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This badge supposedly adds $10k to the price of any car that wears it.  My car has this logo stamped in 9 different places. Can you say overkill?I called the folks at the autobody shop this morning about how the car repairs were going and when it might be ready to be picked up. Next Friday (June 15th) is the tentative date — so the accident will have essentially taken the car off the road for a month.

That’s about what I had expected.

Apparently we tore a hole in the floor of the car which still needs to be stitched up, but the body work is done and the car had a primer coat put on yesterday. I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

And then driving it to see if it feels the same. You hear so many horror stories from people claiming that their cars never drove the same after an accident. I’d like to experience that firsthand and then make my own judgement.

Also, from the Allstate side of things, I still haven’t had to pay my deductible. I’m not sure why, I’m not even sure how that’s supposed to work. In the mail, I’ve received a couple of things from them basically confirming that a claim was indeed filed and that a check was issued — but no “bill”.

Not sure if this is the norm, but I’ve got $500 ready and off to the side for when the time comes.

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Allstate LogoYou’re in good hands will Allstate.

Well, I’m not going to go that far just yet.

We’re up to 5 phone calls so far since I originally filed my claim online on Saturday after the accident. I received a call from a pleasant woman that afternoon confirming the information I’d submitted online — or more accurately, I had to regurgitate all of the info again.

On Wednesday, I received a call from “Joe” at Allstate and went through it all again. Where was the accident? How fast were you going? Did you get a plate number? Where is the car now? I’m not sure if it’s that they’re disorganized, or if they’re going to sit and compare my answers from the recordings they have before determining what to do.

Yesterday morning, rinse and repeat, but this time it was “Angela” from Allstate. One thing I do have to mention is that the staff they have in their call centers are all very pleasant. They all spoke the Queen’s English (which is unusually rare these days), so at no point did I feel the need to hang up and call them back hoping for a better agent. I was never on hold for more than 20 seconds, and they didn’t sound as if they were brain dead zombies reading from a script.

The in the afternoon, the adjuster called. He was “Mike” from Allstate, though he’s likely a hired gun who works for a ton of insurance companies. Again, very upbeat and pleasant guy. Not being from the area, I asked where he’d take a BMW in that condition and he suggested a “Johnson Autobody” and gave me the number. I told him, “Sure, that sounds fine,” and took down the contact info.

In the meantime, he said he’d call them to give them the heads up and that I should call them later on in the afternoon to authorize them to pick the car up. Wow — this is sounding too easy.

Not 5 minutes later, my phone rings again, this time it’s Wayne from Johnson Autobody. Very nice guy. He went through everything that was going to happen — and all around seemed like a really great guy — over the phone. After explaining the brief history of the company, he gave me three contacts to call at the autobody place in case I had any questions at all.

Certainly not the stereotypical call you’d get from an autobody — no loud torque wrenches in the background, no loud music blaring, no gum smacking, and again, he spoke proper English — very VERY professional! I was starting to think this whole thing might not be as stressful as I’d originally thought.

Received another call from the adjuster, Mike, with the estimate (ouch!). I told him I’d already spoken with Wayne and things were good to go — he offered to leave the check with the car at the Citgo so the Autobody could pick them both up. His job was done.

I didn’t leave the keys with the Citgo after the accident, even though it wasn’t drivable, but I wasn’t too keen on leaving my keys there so I made the journey out to Johnson Autobody to drop them off. Looks a bit like the picture they have on their website — it’s tucked behind another auto place, so it’s a bit tough to see from the road, but once I stepped into the office, what little remaining apprehension I had over the whole thing quickly evaporated.

I wish this place were closer to home — I think I may have finally found a mechanic’s place that I like; this whole thing is going to turn out okay.

I’ll report again when the car is ready to come home with how they did.

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BMW Z3 Damage

This weekend my wife and I were involved in an accident on the highway.

Cruising along with the top down in my ego-tag at highway speed yesterday morning, the car in front of us kicked a large truck tire re-tread into the air which struck the hood of our car.

Evidently swerving at high speed doesn’t quite work like it does in the movies. We spun around a few times across three lanes and ended up facing the wrong direction and tangled up in the three steel cord style of guardrail.

The great news, at first, having gone from 70 mph to zero in the span of less than two seconds, was that we were both okay. Not a scratch between us.

I have to credit BMW — the outcome should have been worse. In fact, I’d bet if we’d been in one of our other vehicles, it would have been worse.

Who’d have thought a convertible would be safe?

After the fact, the news got even better.

As we stood on the side of the highway watching a wrecker tug our car down from the tangled mess of guardrails and torn up asphalt and onto a flatbed it hit me: the last remaining relic of my time as a frivolous spender was gone.

And you know what? That felt good.

Sure, I’d just trashed a $50k car, that at one time meant so much to me, and one that I’d worked so hard to pay for — but since I started to control my spending, I’d realized that it was quite possibly my biggest financial mistake.

Even seconds before that tire tread was thrown into the air, the car was no longer the status symbol I’d originally thought it was, but more a symbol of personal embarrassment — a blatant sign of my former financial irresponsibility. As a result, in recent years, it rarely left the garage.

All in all, a good day in my financial quest.

On a side note, I feel I should give kudos to Drew Loethscher, Victor the tow truck driver, and the rest of the folks at Tolland Citgo in Connecticut. They towed the car and were very welcoming considering the situation. Definitely not the stereotypical gas station/towing company experience.

And so far so good on the Allstate front. I filed a claim online yesterday and a friendly claims rep called yesterday afternoon; though she apparently didn’t read anything that I had originally submitted.

Somehow, I think I’ll be explaining the situation at least 10 more times to them — though the police report could answer and verify everything I’ve already told them.

Here’s to hoping that everything works out on that end I won’t be added to the already long list of very dissatisfied Allstate auto insurance customers.

Original Roof and Siding - Summer 2006As the weather has finally begun to turn warm, it’s now time to start planning for phase 2 of our home improvement. Fun, fun…

This past December, we re-roofed the house utilizing a $12k loan (with a crappy 15.5% rate) from Bank of America. Thankfully, that should be paid off entirely later this month.

This summer, we plan to have vinyl siding put on, a few new doors, a new basement hatchway door, and some of the porches should likely be rebuilt from scratch.

Financing the work, though, has always been a problem due to an insurance issue we have.

Due to things like Hurricane Katrina, insurance companies aren’t willing to accept as much (or any) risk these days. Long before the hurricane, our carrier, the horrible Allstate, abruptly cancelled our policy because our home was over 100 years old. Nothing quite like carrying a new mortgage and having your home owners coverage lapse less than 3 months in. Thanks Allstate. Really appreciate it.

Anyway, while searching frantically for coverage, it became very apparent that it was going to be difficult to insure an older home. Amica, while they wouldn’t cover the home, was the most straight forward and for that, I’d recommend them to anyone.

They flat out said, “We won’t issue a policy for a home that old.” I asked about how they can even operate in the Northeast US since most of the homes here were built well before 1950, many before 1850. The response was that many of their customers in New England had been grandfathered in, but as homes sell, or homeowners look to change carriers, they could run into problems.

Seems, I was ‘dropped’ into this problem by Allstate.

Allstate Insurance Sucks.

Have I mentioned I’m not a fan of Allstate yet?  Long story short — I eventually ended up on a very expensive State plan. The don’t cover much of anything and they require that an inspector come through my home every few months. Each year, when it comes time to pay the premium, they get threatening — insisting that “problems” be corrected or they’ll drop coverage. It’s an empty threat though — this is the bottom of the barrel. The funniest part is that they essentially ask you to tear down your home and build a new one — oh, and keep paying their premium (400% higher than a ‘real’ insurance company) after that and things will be fine. But, you’ll still need to take a day off from work every few months to let an inspector come in and tell you that your basement takes on a little water after a big rain. Sigh…So, after having this hanging over our shoulders for a few years now, we’ve made it a goal to get the hell out of this situation. My parents say I should just sell the home and buy one of those poorly constructed contemporaries from the 1980’s. No thanks. We’re gonna make this place ‘look’ new. Updates to date:

  • We replaced an ancient oil burning furnace (seriously, it was a modified coal furnace) with a new natural gas one.
  • We updated our electrical service from 60amp (with those weird little screw in fuses) to 200amp service with a modern breaker box. We also had an outdoor meter installed so we wouldn’t need to let the electric company in anymore to check our usage.
  • We had an obsolete chimney removed. It was in poor shape and it wasn’t venting anything, so it was a problem waiting to happen.
  • We had the roof replaced. The roof actually had it’s original cedar shingles under a couple layers of the typical ones you see these days — resulting in a rather lumpy appearance. We did a complete tear off and installed plywood before having it re-shingled.

Adding siding and doors to that list will make the exterior look new. The non-cosmetic parts of the interior (furnace and wiring) will be new, and thankfully the plumbing is just fine as-is. That, in theory, should put the insurance issue, which has been a thorn in our side the last four years, to rest.

Yes, financially it cost us a fortune to make these upgrades — especially when it wasn’t really on “our” schedule… And the return (the future savings on our homeowners insurance) isn’t all that great. But now, with them soon to be out of the way (and paid for in full), we should be on a great track for the next decade or so. I can’t think of another large scale improvement left to be made. Cosmetic interior renovations will seem inexpensive after this. I hope.

So, later this month we’ll have the various contractors come in for estimates. We already have two in mind — both have recently done work on similar homes in the neighborhood and they both look great. It will be interesting to see how different their quotes are.

We’ll keep you posted.

Can You Dig It?

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