Nor’easter Update: Trees Down? Here are the facts from Levitt-Fuirst

If You Have Fallen Trees On Your Property,
Here Is How Your Homeowners Insurance Is Designed to Respond

Over the last week we have received many questions about insurance coverage for trees falling on your property.   However, we have not been asked “if a tree falls when no one is home, does it make a sound?”.

If trees falls and does not damage property (e.g. the home, fence, etc.), there is no coverage for the removal.   (The insurance company bases premium on the cost to insure your home, NOT how many trees you have or the acreage of your lot.)

When a tree falls onto your neighbor’s property as a result of nature (i.e. an “Act of God”), and not your negligence, removal of the tree and resulting damage is typically the responsibility of the owner of the property where the tree lands.   Sometimes, to remain good neighbors, both parties split the costs.

Please contact us with any questions on this, or any other coverage or claims topic, or visit our Claims page for more information.

Home Improvement Tips – from The Popular Home

by P. Andersen

A big part of home ownership is upkeep.  Sometimes simple updates can amount to a significant upgrade, both in the beautification and the protection of your investment…

I have found many sites that are incredibly useful to homeowners, from valuation to improvement to protection  – and recently stumbled across The Popular Home.  Filled with interesting items, a recent blog post seemed to strike that balance between easy to do and big benefits.  Take a look at these 65 simple home improvement tips from The Popular Home, and let us know if you implemented any of them – a few will certainly make their way to my property in the coming weeks and months.

As a reminder – larger changes to your home may require updates to your insurance policy.  Pools, additions, garages or other big alterations may require an endorsement to your policy.  Be sure to contact us with any questions about your homeowners insurance, so you can be confident that you are covered for every eventuality.

Storm Preparedness and You


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


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


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.


Cleaning up a CFL Break

Good Math: Home Efficiency in NY State


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 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…


Insurance Facts & Myths: What You Know, What you Don’t

By P. Andersen, 10/28/14


Do you know your insurance facts? Can you pick out the insurance myths that seem to crop up time and time again? Here is a quiz that gave to 2000 respondents, and the results may surprise you. I put the 10 questions below for you to answer, and you can click the link at the bottom to see how you did. If that isn’t good enough, there is a gender breakdown! That’s right, among the 2000 respondents, women did substantially better on this quiz than men!  Leave your ego at the door guys, or prove you ACTUALLY know what you THINK you know…

But what is the point? The point is that we all make decisions based on perceived facts. We don’t ask questions because we mistakenly think we know the answers, and because of that, we miss out on some important things in life. This is not just about insurance, it is about a world that we think we know, but that really is full of mystery.

But today, let’s focus on the insurance side of things. Decide if these 10 statements are facts or myths, then click the link and see how you did. Ready?

1: I should buy insurance coverage for my house based on its real estate market value.

2: Red cars cost more to insure because they get pulled over for speeding more.

3: If I cause a crash with extensive damages to others, my auto insurance company can cancel me immediately.

4: Small cars are the cheapest to insure.

5: The Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare) allows health insurance companies to base rates on medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.

6: Comprehensive auto insurance covers everything and anything.

7: Thieves prefer to steal new cars.

8: If my friend borrows my car and crashes it, their insurance will pay for damage.

9: The Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare) requires me to take the health insurance plan offered by my employer.

10: Out-of-state speeding tickets can’t follow you home.

Results? Click here. Good Luck!

Fire Safety

by P. Andersen and The Hartford, 10/24/14


A big part of writing a blog is finding useful things to impart, and to impart those things in a unique way.  Sometimes, others offer information in a way that is pretty excellent, though, and pointing you to that information can be as useful as reinventing the wheel.

We have spoken about the relationships Levitt-Fuirst has with our insurance carrier partners, most notably in our “Why An Independent Agent?” piece.  These partners have amazing information available to them, and some of that really fits with what we are trying to impart to you in this blog.  For example?

The Hartford.  the Hartford started out as a fire insurance company 200 years ago, and continues today to lead in fire safety and prevention –  a major cause of loss to homeowners since, well, since the beginning…  They recently created this 28 page fire prevention and safety guide that should be mandatory reading for all homeowners.  Today’s blog?  Today I am hoping you will take the time to read this Hartford booklet to have a better understanding of fire risks, to reduce those risks, and to survive a catastrophe.  As is always the case, the safety of you and your family are the most important things – the rest is replaceable.

If you own a home, please read this booklet.  It will give you insights and reminders, conversation starters and a fresh perspective.  An ounce of prevention, as they say…

Buying Your First Home Part 3: From Contract to Close

by P. Andersen, 9/26/14


It has been a few weeks since we discussed the process of buying a home.  If you recall, part 2 left us at the contract signing.  This is the point of no return, assuming things go well with the rest of the process.  Part 3?  Part 3 takes us from Contract to Closing.

If you thought the stress ended with the contract, well – who are we kidding, you knew the stress didn’t end there!  With a house, does the stress ever really end?  Still, that contract signing was a really nice milestone in the process, as it means that everyone agrees upon the basics of the sale.  So, what happens between contract and closing?  And what is involved in the closing itself???

From Contract to Closing

A few things happen during this time.  From the buyer’s perspective, there are at least three things that you can expect.

First, the house must appraise to value – the bank will send in an appraiser to make sure the loan is not larger than the appraised value of the house.  This can take a few weeks, to get scheduled, completed, and a report to be filed.  If the house does not appraise to value?  I have heard where a request was made for another appraiser to make a report, with success.  In the end, this step is essential – the bank does not want to have a loan outstanding that exceeds the value of the property…  Read more about what they look for here.

Secondly, a title search must be done on the house to verify the title is clear.  Are there any liens on the house that went unstated?  The title search will find the problems, and the title insurance (one policy for the bank, and if you are smart, one for you) will protect you should something come up down the road.  I am no title expert, but you can read more about them here.  One last note: Due to the Coop ownership structure, title insurance is generally not taken.  Because there is no real property changing hands, only shares, title searches are not generally done.  Note that there IS title insurance called Coop Leasehold Insurance Policy.  This article is from 2006, but gives Coop buyers some insights you might otherwise overlook…

Next, you need to have homeowners insurance.  Some banks will offer to get the insurance for you, but as you might expect, I think a broker is the way to go.  The price is usually pretty reasonable, given the size of the investment, and your trusted advisor (Levitt-Fuirst???) can guide you to a company that is right for you.

Finally, you will be asked to send 4,827.5 documents to the bank to verify just about everything you have told them up to this point….  It can be exhausting, but here is my advice to you.  Collect everything ahead of time!  You need tax records, bank statements, copies of checks and deposits, statements from every fiduciary account you hold, proof of employment, and and and and and…  Be patient, be close to a scanner, be prompt and be responsive.  Don’t hold things up, get your paperwork in!

At Closing

Congratulations, you made it!  The house appraised at or above the loan value, the title came back clear, and you somehow managed to appease the bank with 4,827.5 documents proving you are a good risk with regard to this very big loan.  And here you are, the date of closing.

On the morning of the closing, you will do a walk through to make sure the house is still in good shape (the owner is required to keep the property in good shape).  Remember those things you asked the seller to do?  The concessions?  Make sure they were done.  Make sure things seem to still work, and the place is as you expect it to be.  Even the yard should be kept in the same shape as when you decided to buy.

Now, it is off to the lawyers for the signing!  And signing.  And signing…  You will generally be required to bring a bank check to pay for those large closing costs we talked about (your lawyer will give you the amount and the HUD statement of what makes up that amount), and you should bring your personal checkbook in case there are some outstanding items that got missed.  After signing and reading several hundred documents, you will be given keys, and off you go!  Whew.

On a personal note, buying a home is a very exciting thing.  When you buy a car, that excitement comes when you drive off the lot.  When you buy a home, the excitement is when you drive into your driveway for the first time.  After all this time, you finally reached your goal.  Congratulations!

A Coop and Condo Primer

by P. Andersen, 9/10/14


Here in the region surrounding New York City, we have an abundance of both Condos and Coops.  In New York City limits, Coops account for 85% of all available apartments. The buildings look the same on the outside, but the ownership structure is very different. What do you need to know before buying an apartment in our area? Let’s take a look at the Condo and Coop situation.

Condos and Coops, Coops and Condos…

We will start simply with the condo, and go from there. A Condo is like any piece of real property you may own, such as a house. You are buying a parcel of property, and that apartment is considered property in your name. A Coop, however, is a bit different. When you buy a Coop, you are actually not buying a piece of property. Rather, you are buying stock in the corporation that owns the apartment, and leasing the apartment from the Coop.

A Condo owner is responsible for their own real estate taxes and its share of the common charges associated with the maintenance of the property. A Coop owner, on the other hand, pays monthly maintenance to the building corporation for maintenance, building operation, property taxes, and underlying building mortgages.

Here are a few more things to think about…

  • Buying a Condo is a contract between a buyer and a seller, but buying a Coop requires the board approval, and the process can be more time consuming and demanding. Horror stories abound, so be prepared with every financial document they request to make the process go smoothly.
  • A condo generally has a higher value than a comparable coop, but closing costs may be higher with regard to title insurance and other taxes. Also, monthly fees are generally higher with a Coop, due to underlying mortgage payments which are included (based on shares).
  • Coops may require a larger down payment, then a comparable condominium, often 20%, causing a barrier to entry for some home buyers.
  • Sub-letting your apartment is far more difficult in a Coop, due to board approval and financial requirements.

Insuring your Condo or Coop

Insuring your Condo OR Coop is very different than insuring your free standing home. The building itself will have a policy that covers the property’s common areas, and your insurance is generally meant to cover anything from the “walls in”. This unique situation is why a special form was developed, the HO-6. Freestanding homes utilize the HO-3 form, and renter utilize the HO-4 form – the HO-6 is designed for both Condos and Coops, and their unique requirements.

One last note regarding insurance. Take a good long look at the association documents, just to be sure you know what the association policy is covering. It is always better to go in knowing all the facts, than to be surprised when a claim happens.

So, if you are buying a Condo or a Coop, be it in New York City, Westchester, Connecticut, or anywhere else for that matter, do your due diligence beforehand with regard to your homeowners insurance policy. Give us a call, we would be happy to answer any questions.

Buying Your First Home Part 2: Finding Your Home

By: P. Andersen, 8/27/14

Last week, we covered the steps you should take before house hunting.  That is the logical course, and one that will make your life easier.  It is not the only course, however, as circumstances are constantly changing.  Me?  I found a place that met needs I didn’t really know I had, and did the rest of that stuff after the fact – which is to say, there are no hard and fast rules.  Preparation is always preferable to reaction, though…


As for finding a house, there are so many ways and places to look, it would be crazy to mention all of them.  Local realtors are always a great option if you know where you want to buy.  For a broader view, I recommend Zillow, a site that aggregates all the listings in a region, and allows you to enter criteria to search.  This was what happened with me – a year after looking, an email from Zillow came in with a great little house in my budget, in the town I wanted to be in.  From there, I contacted a realtor I talked to the previous year, he suggested a mortgage broker he liked, they both suggested a lawyer that was reasonable, and we were off to the races.

With your new-found understanding of all the fees, taxes and down payments (having read Part 1), you will be in a great position to make this process go smoothly.  I made some mistakes, and though it didn’t derail things, it did make my life more stressful.  Learn from me, and get the facts up front…

Once you have the place you want, it is time for the negotiations.  For simple sales, you can use the same broker as the seller, but there is something comforting in having someone that only has your interest at heart.  When it comes to requests to the seller for changes you want made, it is nice knowing that you have someone in your corner making those requests.  Same with the negotiation on price – you can be completely honest with someone that is working for you, and let them do their job.  “Offer $XXX,XXX, but I would be willing to go to $XXX,YYY if it comes down to it” is something you can tell your realtor, but you don’t want to share with the seller…

The negotiations are a dance that can be stressful for you, and for the seller too.  Remember, the seller has needs too.  They have to have a place to move to, they need a certain sale amount to have it make sense, they have a mortgage to pay off and they have their own fees associated with the sale.  Add to those things the fact that there are other buyers that may be bidding on the house or apartment?  You could get lucky, as I did, or you can have house after house not work out for you, as many others do.  Me?  The house I saw is the house I bid on, is the house that I am buying (fingers crossed for a few more steps in the process).  It isn’t always that easy!

Once you DO have an offer accepted, there are more steps before a contract is signed.  Now is when you have the home inspected (PLEASE LET THE ROOF BE GOOD, PLEASE NO TERMITES, PLEASE NO WATER IN THE BASEMENT!!!).  Find a good inspector to go over the place top to bottom, from roof to basement.  The inspector will make notes on things that should be changed, and these will be listed as concessions from the seller – things they will do prior to closing.  These things will wind up in the contract, making those updates binding.

Quick question: is the basement finished, does it have a bathroom, or a laundry room?  Any additions?  Is there a new deck?  Any real upgrades to the property would require a permit from the city – if they were done without a permit, you may be buying a home with a potential fine and back taxes owed.  Your lawyer can assist in this, just be sure to make a note of any renovations that have taken place to ensure that those renovations were done by the book.

Whew, are you tired YET???  Well, at least we have made it to signing the contracts.  This contract will have all the stipulations in it that you requested and were agreed to, along with selling price and other key pieces of information.  This is THE step – the point of no return.  Once you sign this form, and the seller signs and returns it to your lawyer?  You are on the hook to buy the house.  To not do so is to forfeit the large deposit you sent with the contract for escrow.  Essentially, the contract states that if all goes well with the appraisal, the title search, the repairs, and the mortgage, you must buy the house or forfeit the money you put in escrow (perhaps ¾ of the total down payment).


So, you signed the contract in 22 places?  You had your lawyer send it, along with your large check, to the seller’s lawyer?  The seller signed the contract in 22 places, and returned it to your lawyer?  Boom, you are in contract.  Congratulations, part 2 is complete.  You have a framework for buying a house, and in part 3, next month, we will discuss getting from Contract to Closing.  Oh, the fun is just beginning!