Tips for hiring a home contractor


home contractor replacing floor tiles

Hiring a home contractor to repair or renovate your property can be frustrating, time-consuming, and confusing. It’s easy to make costly mistakes. While it’s easy to call the contractor with the most eye-catching advertisement, it’s hard to know if you’re getting your money’s worth. The best way to make sure you’re getting quality work done is to treat the hiring process as seriously as the job itself. Take your time, be methodical, and work your plan. Here are some tips.

  • Ask around. Do you have friends or neighbors who’ve recently hired home contractors? Seek their input.
  • Get quotes. Obtain at least three written estimates for any job. It takes time, but it pays off. Remember that the lowest bid isn’t always the best bid. Paying a little more for careful work work with quality materials pays off in the long run.
  • Check references. Make sure you’re hiring a reputable home contractor. Ask to see licenses, proof of insurance, and proof of bond. Cross-reference with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the home contractor you hire is on the level.
  • Ask questions. How long has the contractor been in business? Can they show you pictures of completed projects similar to yours? What permits are required to do your project? What types of insurance does the contractor carry? Will they need to hire subcontractors, and if so, what’s that process look like?
  • Get a written contract. This is so important. It may require an attorney’s assistance on large or particularly detailed projects. A written contract sets expectations and gets everyone on the same page, working toward well-defined goals.
  • Bring your insurance agent into the loop. She can help you figure out how the repair or renovation will impact your existing coverage, and make recommendations to limit your liability going forward. Take a look at these great suggestions to use as a guideline for planning your insurance needs when home remodeling.

As you can see, there’s a lot of homework that goes into finding the right home contractor for your next big project. But putting in your due diligence and taking the time and effort to be methodical and aware of detail will help your job go smoothly and get you a quality outcome at a price you can afford.

For more detailed information about hiring a contractor, check out the FTC’s advice on hiring a contractor.

Sound the Alarm Campaign needs volunteers!


Here’s a great way you can help your community: Partner with the Red Cross to help stamp out house fires. From April 28 through May 12, the Red Cross is organizing a push to install smoke alarms in high-risk neighborhoods as part of their annual Sound the Alarm Campaign.

The Sound the Alarm Campaign works in conjunction with community organizations and local fire departments to install free smoke detectors in homes and apartments at no cost to residents.

The vast majority of crises to which the Red Cross responds are not natural disasters like earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, or floods – they’re home fires. Every day, home fires in the US take lives, destroy property, and displace families. That’s why the Red Cross has set a goal to reduce home fires by 25%, and they need your help. They are looking for 35,000 volunteers across the nation to help install alarms.

You can get involved by signing up at to volunteer at the Home Fire Campaign.

  • Donate your time to help install alarms or batteries, or to canvas at-risk neighborhoods.
  • Donate a few dollars to help reduce the threat of home fires in high-risk communities.
  • Attend a fire safety event to learn how to mitigate your risks.
  • If you’re an educator, devote some classroom time to fire safety techniques.
  • See events by date & by state. (PDF)

While you’re at it, take a moment to test your own smoke alarms. Maybe they need fresh batteries! It takes just a minute to keep your family, your pets, and your property protected from the threat of a house fire. Here are more home fire prevention tips.

 

Dog bites & insurance


cute but wary dog to illustrate dog bite risk

Two things you don’t want to be: You don’t want to be one of the 4.5 million people bitten by a dog in an average year, and you don’t want to be one of the 4.5 million dog owners paying for a dog bite claim. Last year, the average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,051. Even if your insurer covers all or most of the claim, the incident will be traumatic for the victim, for you and for your dog. It’s not a good situation.

California is the top state for dog bite claims – perhaps unsurprising, given the population. The state had 2,228 dog bite claims at an average claim cost of $40,563.49. Ouch.

Here’s a snapshot of the dog bite / claim situation here in New England.

State / Rank / # claims / Avg cost of claim
MA  – #14 – 429 – $34,117.48
CT – #15 – 418 – $39,910.23
NH – #38 – 86 – $39,306.26
ME – #39 -84 – $31,117.59
RI – #41 – 73 – $36,324.00
VT – # 48 – 36 – 37,370.76

This data is from the Insurance Information Institute – to learn more or to view other states see their interactive map on dog bite claims.

How dog bites affect your insurance

Will the liability portion of your homeowners or rental policy cover dog bite? Typically, yes, at least up to your policy’s limits, but there are some exceptions. The Insurance Information Institute discusses these:

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.

Here is a list of 10 dog breeds that are sometimes blacklisted by insurance companies.

If you have a dog, talk about it with your independent agent when you shop to buy or renew a homeowners or a renters’ policy. Chances are, there will be no problem but be truthful even if you have a breed that might cause a problem. Lying on an insurance policy is never a good idea – it could be the basis for a claim denial or even a policy cancellation.

Many insurance companies aren’t breed-specific in their coverage. If you have a tough-to-place breed, your agent should be able to find the right coverage. But even if you have dog in a low-risk breed, things can and do happen. Even gentle dogs can bite under certain circumstances. Plus, bites aren’t the only exposure. From dog owners, here’s what you need to know about liability insurance:

Dig into pet-related policy details even if your dog wouldn’t hurt a flea. Bite claims may be the headliner, but they are just one kind of incident in a broader category.

“Technically, it’s a ‘dog-related injury’ [claim],” said Paul — the same coverage restrictions or conditions would typically also apply if say, your friendly, energetic dog causes injury by knocking over an elderly house guest or startling a passing bicyclist.

Whatever kind of dog you own, talk to your insurance agent about increasing your liability limits or getting an umbrella policy, which will boost your coverage. It’s worth discussing and considering the options.

In addition to limiting your financial risk, you should also take steps to reduce the risk of a bite occurring in the first place. Here are some tips from experts:

 

2018 Boston Marathon: Everything you need to know


Boston marathon runners

Marathon Monday is a big day in New England, but particularly in Massachusetts. First, it coincides with Patriots Day, which is a legal holiday in Massachusetts – one of only two states to commemorate the day as a holiday. As if all that weren’t enough, it’s also opening day for the Boston Red Sox. Whether you’re planning to be on scene for the action or you’d like to follow from the comfort of your TV or smartphone, we’ve gathered links to help you enjoy the day.

Boston Athletic Association’s official Marathon site offers complete event information, including spectator rules. Here’s a deep dive of some of the things you can find:

Weather is looking a little iffy. Here are a few forecasts for Boston Marathon weekend
from Dave Epstein and from AccuWeather

Here are the road closures for the 2018 Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon has 34 official charity teams. Here’s how you can donate to them.

The Boston Discovery Guide has great info on the Marathon as well as other Monday events.

 

Trucks & teens: Tips for safely sharing the road


trucks on the highway

Learning the rules of the road is essential for all new drivers, both teens getting their first driver’s license and adults venturing behind the wheel for first time. More and more Americans are delaying getting their licenses, and in an age that promises self-driving cars in the near future, that makes sense. But right now driving is still an important part of our lives, and safe driving is a rewarding skill that results in fewer accidents and injuries, lower insurance premiums, and lower public safety costs.

One of the scariest things that new drivers face on the roads are 18-wheelers. Big trucks are, well, big. And powerful. And they aren’t particularly nimble. New drivers tend to take them for granted or to become distracted by them. Both mistakes can have tragic outcomes. Knowing the rules and knowing what to look for around big trucks is an important part of road safety.

Scott Felthousen, a professional truck driver with more than a decade of driving under his belt, has put together a useful guide to safe driving around semis. While his tips are aimed at keeping teen drivers safe, the advice he dispenses is applicable to everyone.

In short, he advises:

  • Be aware of blind spots. Don’t assume the truck driver is regularly checking her mirrors.
  • Don’t linger. The safest place to be is as far from the truck as reasonable. If traffic allows, slow down or speed up to avoid driving in the trucker’s blind spot right next to the trailer.
  • Before passing a semi, check your rear-view mirror. Can you see both of the truck’s headlights in the center of your mirror? When you see those there, that’s the minimum distance you need to safely move ahead.
  • Give 18-wheelers the space they need. When encountering a big truck at an intersection, remember that truck needs a whole bunch of space to safely turn. A big rig turning onto a two-lane street is always going to need more space than the lane can accommodate.

Thinking ahead and being aware of your surroundings is a key part of safe driving for everyone,not just new drivers. Recognizing situations before they become dangerous and taking the right steps to prevent them from happening is a learned skill that new drivers should start practicing from the moment they grip the steering wheel.