Levitt-Fuirst Associates Named a “Best Place to Work in Insurance”

Levitt-Fuirst Associates Named a Best Place to Work in Insurance by Business Insurance Magazine 

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We are proud to announce that the national trade periodical Business Insurance has named Levitt-Fuirst as a winner of their Best Place to Work in Insurance competition!

This summer our 50 employees completed an anonymous survey on their opinions about working at Levitt-Fuirst.   This included questions about: their compensation and benefits, how they are treated and respected, opportunities and recognition for individual achievement, what they thought of their co-workers and managers, and some general open ended questions.

 2015 LF Beach Day
2015 Family Beach Day

Levitt-Fuirst Principals also had to complete an in-depth survey that took about 3 hours to complete.   This involved information on: salary distribution, benefits offered, availability of flexible work schedules, number of minority employees, female and minority managers, how do we recognize individual and group achievement, and employee longevity.    We also had to submit pictures of activities we do as a company, such as our Habitat for Humanity project, our offsite team building exercises, and our summer fun day at the beach (including employees’ family members)!

We know that our employees are our strongest asset.   We do our best to help them to thrive, both as individuals and as members of a team.  We strive to offer our staff the independence needed to achieve personal success.   To retain the best in the industry, we provide innovative incentives, such as subsidized gym memberships and healthy lunches, monthly recognition awards, and fun celebrations (when deserved!).

 

 Habitat
Habitat for Humanity

We are very proud of this Best Place to Work in Insurance award, especially since it reflects that our employees enjoy being part of the Levitt-Fuirst family.

 

Storm Preparedness and You

Flood

Today, we have a guest blogger from EducatorLabs, Jasmine Dyoco.  Jasmine came to us with the thought of giving our clients and readers some great information on storm preparedness.  The best way to lower claim costs is to stop the claims from happening in the first place, and storm preparation is a great first step.  These great tips will help protect you, your family and your property from loss during storms of all types.

Thank you, Jasmine, for this valuable information.  You are welcome to join us as a guest blogger any time!

P. Andersen


Tree-Fall-house

by Jasmine Dyoco

Although summer is coming to a close, hurricane season is still in full swing. These storms’ strong winds and torrential downpours cause millions of dollars in damage each year, often due to tornado-strength winds, and most especially, flooding. In fact, around 75 percent of Presidential declared weather emergencies are flood related. While we can’t control the weather and the many natural disasters it causes, we can be prepared for them to help ensure the safety of our loved ones, homes and communities!

But how many people really know what measures to take to protect themselves in the event of an emergency?

That’s why I created the following list on preparedness for floods, hurricanes and other weather phenomena.

Thank you for taking action to create a more well-informed community on staying safe and healthy in the eye of a storm!

Seeing The Light – 1 Year After Incandescent Lighting was Retired

luminance

by P. Andersen

About a year ago, the standard incandescent bulb was officially phased out. You can still get them under certain circumstances, but the technology of that style bulb has run its course. It was up to 10 times less efficient than newer technology, and had a much shorter shelf life than the bulbs that would follow; CFL (compact florescent) and LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs. Today, a year later, the options have grown and pricing has come down – and the energy benefits continue to be staggering. That 60 watt bulb now uses around 10 watts, and lights a room in so many different ways; from a nice incandescent feeling summery warmth to cool and clear stark blue hues.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I bought a house about a year ago. My energy bills are too high for the size of my home, so I am in the process of doing all the little things I can do to make things better. Today, I wanted to let you know what I have done regarding my lighting, and why I made the choice…

Up to this past month, I was buying CFL bulbs for my lighting needs. Every time I tried a new brand it was hit or miss if I would like the light that was emitted. Some of the best bulbs were warm, but the worst were a harsh color that would make anyone look washed out and old! Most were slow to fully light, causing a 30 second delay in lighting the room fully, and their life is reduced by regular on/off usage. Finally, disposal of these bulbs is difficult, because of the use of Mercury in them.

(NOTE: BE CAREFUL IF A CFL BREAKS! Leave the room immediately, open windows, air out the room, come back and sweep up the mess, do not use a vacuum or you will potentially spread the mercury. There is a link at the bottom discussing how to clean up a broken CFL).

LED’s are the alternative, and they have recently taken off. They come in every imaginable shape and size (including candelabra, Christmas tree, standard, and more), are more efficient than CFLs, light instantly, are not impacted by regular on/off usage, work well in all temperatures, and give you whatever lighting you want (warm, cool, daylight, colors). They ARE more expensive, between $5 and $15 per bulb on Amazon if you buy in bulk, but they last longer than any other bulb out there.

I decided it was time to buy into the LED craze, and I have been replacing all of my bulbs with Cree 2800 (warm) LED bulbs in 40 or 60 watts. This light has the feel of an incandescent without the drawbacks. Even for my small house, there are light bulbs everywhere! Inside, outside, basement, closets, desk lamps, stove lamps, etc. etc. etc. You will find old bulbs here and there, and you will know how much more efficient your home will be with each change. I should have my house completely turned over to LED this week.

What is the net result? I am not sure yet, but I know that with each improvement, I am moving toward a net-zero energy footprint. Bigger repairs and updates are on the horizon, but today I can say that at least my home is lit with the warmest, longest lasting, most efficient lighting available. It is an easy change for a modest investment. Don’t think of it as a $10 bulb, think of it as a home improvement project costing $250, and know that it will pay for itself in no time at all. More importantly, these cost savings will be rolling in while I continue to find ways to have a lower impact on the environment.

LED vs. CFL

Cleaning up a CFL Break

Team Building

by P. Andersen

 

group picture 1A

The Levitt-Fuirst staff prepares for a day of hard work.

Team building.  It is a catch phrase used throughout the business world to describe off-site meetings where employees and managers are required to work together to complete a task.  It can be something silly like building a balloon pyramid, or more difficult like an obstacle course.  The end goal is the same: to accomplish something as a group that would be difficult or impossible to accomplish as an individual.

Each year, Levitt-Fuirst looks for a project that will build this team philosophy.  Since I joined Levitt-Fuirst nearly 5 years ago, the projects have included days of learning, fun, adventure, and more recently, volunteerism.  In 2013 and 2014, we joined Habitat for Humanity working to rehabilitate two houses in a Yonkers neighborhood just to our south, to benefit two military families.  Working on the Habitat houses was an amazing experience, and we all felt great pride in seeing the families prepare to move in after all of our hard work.  Levitt-Fuirst cannot take all the credit for renovating these houses – The two families contributed continuously, many of our business partners joined us in our work, and several other organizations also volunteered their time and energy – many hands make light work.  But we were proud to be a part of it, and happy to know that two very deserving families were getting the opportunity to buy a small home that would otherwise be out of reach.

With that project completed, Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano took us in a different direction, literally.  Just to our north, abutting our office building’s property, the Andrus School thrives in their goal of helping the kids that most need help.  Andrus offers both residential and day programs for nearly 150 students ages 5 to 17.  These kids have seen more hardship than I will see in my entire life, and Andrus offers a safe haven to live, learn, grow, and imagine a brighter future for themselves.

LF-Andrus Ditch

Jason Digs In.

There are many Andrus centers, from pre-school programs to nursing homes, and each is devoted to improving the lives of those most in need in our area.  The Andrus School is housed on over 100 beautiful acres off of North Broadway in Yonkers, and on a bright, sunny morning in July, the employees of Levitt-Fuirst arrived to help with whatever Andrus needed us to help with.

One of the goals of the school is to empower their students to work hard and succeed, and many of the programs are centered on the land.  With beautiful greenhouses and gardens, resident animals (sheep, chickens, honey bees, and a pair of Alpacas coming soon!), wooded trails, and more, our task would be to work on the upkeep of the property.  My co-workers broke into groups to work on 5 or 6 projects, with several Andrus students joining each group to assist.

My love of forest and trails made me choose the project in the woods, clearing a current trail and blazing a new one.  That morning, about 8 Levitt-Fuirst employees, Andrus supervisor Stephan, and three students marched into the woods to clear trees, dig out rocks (boulders!), clear the path of leaves, and re-mark the trail.  I personally got a chance to dig out a big, heavy boulder with the help of two of the students, and when I was ready to give up, their refusal to do so resulted in a very big rock being rolled out of the path.  Work hard and succeed, a good lesson learned.

The afternoon was filled with the more difficult task of trail blazing.  Battling pricker bushes, bugs, branches, stumps and weeds, we developed a path where there was none.  A hot afternoon made for hard work, but the results were a great success.  The final path was explored, marked, and prepared for a more thorough cleaning in the near future.

LF-Andrus Weeding

Weeding the Lavender Garden

Away from the woods, other projects included weeding the lavender and vegetable gardens, digging trenches to keep pesky wildlife from the gardens, deck repair, painting birdhouses, and making weighted stuffed animals.  The work was hard and the day was long, but it was productive and fulfilling.  My co-workers and I met up for some well-earned food and drink at the end of the day, and everyone seemed an equal measure of exhausted and satisfied in a job done well for a great organization.

Every so often, I need to remove myself from the bubble of a life that I have created.  I have been unbelievably lucky in life, and these projects give me insight into the needs of others, which makes me appreciate all that I have.  From building a house to clearing a trail, I can’t wait until next year to see what project our office will be doing.  Whatever it is, we will work hard and we will work together, as we strive to make Levitt-Fuirst your preferred insurance vendor.

Good Math: Home Efficiency in NY State

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by P. Andersen

Back in May, I wrote a blog about home efficiency.  That included some ideas on how to improve your home’s efficiency (logical!), but recently I found additional information that will assist you in paying for those money saving updates.

As some of you read a while back, I bought my first home in 2014. Though small, my electricity bills remain higher than I would like them to be. Part of that is simply using too much electricity, with TV’s and fans and such running 24/7 it seems. Part of it, though, is the house itself.  For example, my house came with original 1950’s appliances, and only recently did I replace them. That change should bring the electric bill down, but I don’t know how much yet. Other efficiency opportunities include improving the insulation and air tightness, adding solar power, replacing regular thermostats with smart thermostats, and potential savings in the home heating and water heating departments.

 

The question I asked myself is, “How do I find out what changes will have the biggest impact, and how do I pay for it?”

If you are live in New York, the answer might just be New York State…

 

ConEd, New York State, and Your Home

There was an article in a recent New Yorker magazine that talked about the difficulty of energy reform in our nation. Energy companies have a stake in you using more energy, but with more energy requirements come more energy sub-station investment. A big, potentially unnecessary expense. Why unnecessary? Because while the utility must generate enough energy for peak usage, the output is underutilized the rest of the day and night. There is a LOT of room for improvement.

The article discussed the energy utilities and their needs, when weighed against the benefits derived from energy savings for both you and the state and national governments that regulates the utility. As you can imagine, the country also wins if we all use less energy… The upshot was that many states, New York included, have embarked on a path that would work to make homes more energy efficient, and would subsidize the owner’s cost of doing so.

I am taking the first step this summer, and you can too – simply go to http://stars.nyserdagreenny.org/ and sign up for a free home energy assessment. From my research, here is how it works…

  • Pick a contractor from the NYSERDA website.
  • Apply for a free energy assessment (a $250 value).
  • Once approved, schedule your assessment with your chosen contractor.
  • After your contractor does an inspection, you will receive a list of updates you can make to save energy, and an proposal for the work.
  • If you accept the contractor’s proposal, they will make the agreed upon changes. The total cost is reduced by 10%, paid by NY State, and there are three payment options:
    1. Continue paying your current (pre-repair) estimated energy bill. The difference between what you are paying, and the new, lower energy costs will go to pay for the updates.
    2. Get a low interest loan from NY State.
    3. Pay for the updates up front.

I hope I qualify for the first option, but a low interest loan makes sense too. Either way, I expect my long term expenses will go down considerably, all with the help of New York State. Act now, though, as the program is new, and there is no guarantee it will last (though I expect it to become the standard).

With NY State’s help, there really is no reason to live in a house that isn’t energy efficient. Imagine saving thousands of dollars a year, starting now, simply by signing up for a free assessment. You win, the contractor wins, the state wins, and the utility breaks even. That is some good math…

 

Levitt-Fuirst: 2015 Family-Owned Business Award Winner

2015 Family Owned Bus Award ImageJune, 2015

Levitt-Fuirst Wins the 2015 Westchester Business Journal’s Family Owned Business Award

We are proud to announce that Levitt-Fuirst is one of the winners of the first-ever joint Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journal awards for top family-owned businesses.    We have worked throughout our company history to have a positive impact on the region, and look forward to continuing to be a leader in Westchester’s business community.

Levitt-Fuirst Essay Submission

The following  essay was submitted to the Westchester Business Journal by Levitt-Fuirst, focusing on the long history of Levitt-Fuirst in the region.

 

“One of Westchester’s largest independent insurance brokers, Levitt-Fuirst has involved three generations of Levitt and Fuirst family members.    Currently the Principals are made up of co-presidents  Jason Schiciano and Ken Fuirst, with Valerie Levitt as CFO, and Ondrea Levitt Schiciano, Marketing VP.

Dave Levitt and Alan Fuirst were best friends in law school and when they graduated they each joined their father’s insurance business.   In 1969 they combined businesses and created Levitt-Fuirst.   Over the years, the 12 person firm grew into a very successful, highly respected insurance agency.  

The third generation, with the addition of Darryl Friedricks as a key executive since 1994, has grown the company over the last 22 years, and now with 50 employees is one of Westchester’s most successful independent insurance brokers.    The growth occurred by further penetration of their niche construction and real estate business, and at the same time, by developing a highly successful general business group that services some of the largest manufacturers and distributors in the area. 

Levitt-Fuirst also expanded into the high-end homeowners markets by offering unique services that no other agency in the tri-state offers.   They are recognized as a Chubb Cornerstone agent and represent other leading companies like ACE, AIG and PURE.

The Levitt and Fuirst families like to support their employees and the Westchester communities around them.   They subsidize gym memberships and bring-in nutritional lunches to foster a healthy environment.   And most importantly they give back to the community by supporting local charities including underwriting a Habitat for Humanity project in Yonkers.   Over the last two years over 200 man days were spent building the Habitat homes.”

Home Efficiency – Keeping $$$ In your Home

by P. Andersen

Close up of a welcome mat in front of an inviting house. Focus on foreground

Spring brings many wonderful things to the New York region. Warmer weather, flowers, thick green grass, spending time outdoors with friends and family, perhaps a round of golf…  Another benefit is the rapidly falling energy bills, as the heat is shut down and the air conditioning is still a month or two away. Now is a good time to think about ways you can better insulate your home – and your wallet – from the wildly fluctuating energy prices.

There are many ways to reduce your energy costs, from the ad hoc to the inclusive. How you go about it might be based on your budget, the age of your house, or biggest benefit derived. If you have no idea where to start, having an efficiency evaluation is a great first step. Many companies in this field will come out to inspect your home for air tightness, insulation, heating and cooling options, and appliances. Going this route will give you the ability to map out a plan, and you should be able to roll the cost of the inspection into any work that gets done.

An efficient home has many attributes, but regardless of your current home situation, starting today will help you save money over the long term. More importantly, now is a great time to get rebates and incentives for improving your home’s efficiency. Your city and state know how important this is, and will work with you to make your home less of a burden on the energy infrastructure of the region.

Here are a few of the steps you can take to improve your efficiency.

Air Tightness:

When your home leaks air, it leaks money. Heat escapes in the winter, cool air escapes in the summer. Fixing a leaky home might include replacing windows, doors, sealing up the attic or the basement. All of this will help to keep the outside air where it belongs – outside.

Insulation:

If fixing a leaking home is step 1, insulation is step 1a. Insulating your home properly is a very cost effective measure, and it will keep your living spaces at the temperature you want. There are loads of how-to videos on how to insulate your home on YouTube (from all of your favorite repair shows), or leave it to the experts to do the job right.

Heating/AC:

Having your heating and cooling systems evaluated could be a huge benefit to your home’s efficiency. Newer systems work so much better than those systems installed just 5-10 years ago, and a new system will more than pay for itself during it’s lifespan.

Another option you may not have considered (which I will address again in the fall) is installing a wood burning stove. The new pellet stoves are incredibly efficient, and they can heat most of a home from a central location. I personally have two brothers that utilize this heating source, and they rarely, if ever, turn on their heating systems during the winter.  Pellets are reasonable, they utilize waste wood (saving trees), they create very little pollution, and with their feeder bins and timers make usage easier than ever.

Appliances:

Old appliances are expensive to run. Replace them with new, highly efficient models, and you will easily pay them off over the life of the appliance. Hand in hand with this is the replacement of lighting. Most of you have already moved to compact florescent lighting, but LED seems to be the wave of the future. Though more expensive, the light is less harsh and more efficient than florescent lights.

Solar:

Is your roof relatively new? Does your roof get good sunlight? Is there minimal shade? You might be a great candidate for solar. Ideally, your roof would face North/South, but East/West roofs will still work under some circumstances (though generating 10-20% less energy than a traditional southern exposure). Have an evaluation done to see if you are a good candidate, and watch your energy bills evaporate, even selling excess energy back to the town.

The most important thing is to take the leap. You don’t have to do it all at once, but each step you take will improve your homes efficiency. Remember – if you invest a little, you will get back a lot in return.

Visit these sites to learn more about home efficiency.

FEMA Offering Superstorm Sandy Claim Re-Evaluation

Flood

In the coming weeks, FEMA will be sending letters to all policy holders who had a claim resulting from Superstorm Sandy. The letters will offer each of the nearly 142,000 policy holders the option of having their claim re-reviewed by a certified flood adjuster if they felt they were shortchanged in the initial review.

Policyholders will have 90 days from receipt of the notice to contact FEMA to schedule the review.

Did Sandy damage your property, and were you dissatisfied with the claim process in the first go-round? Now is the time to get a second opinion, and potentially receive a more lucrative claim payment. Keep a lookout for the FEMA notice, and don’t delay in requesting a review.