The Right Tool for the Job

by P. Andersen

Cat5

I have to apologize… I have been remiss in my blogging in 2016, a function of the changes taking place here at Levitt-Fuirst. As with any business, changes happen – both good and bad. I am happy to report that we are in the middle of the very good kind of change, with exciting things taking place later this year. These changes have taken a bite out of my time, but I think I am just rationalizing. With that in mind, I thought it was time to get back to work on the blog, to let you know what is happening here at Levitt-Fuirst.

We have two big changes coming down the pike, today we will look at the first.

Change #1: Computer Software Upgrade.

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog about having the right tool for the job (Tool Shopping at Applied.net). Take a look at that post, because it is as true today as it was then. Go ahead, I will wait for you!

Fast forward to September 2015, when Levitt-Fuirst began the process of upgrading to the newest, most powerful software tool for insurance agencies. Since 1999, we have been on Applied Systems’ flagship program, The Agency Manager. This all-inclusive management program is utilized by nearly 10,000 independent agents across the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Last fall, Levitt-Fuirst took the plunge and decided to upgrade to the latest, most powerful software offered by Applied Systems, their new flagship program Epic.

How will this impact Levitt-Fuirst? How will this impact you?

The impact on Levitt-Fuirst is ongoing. The process takes a year, and we are working diligently to make the transition as smooth as possible. We have a vanguard of staff testing the new software, learning its nuances, and finding flaws in the transfer of data. We plan to “go live” in Late September, and the full staff training will take place this summer and fall. During go live, we expect a stressful time as we move from the old and comfortable to the new and different. By 2017, we will be much more comfortable in our new processes, and the new will become the comfortable.

The impact on our clients are many. First and foremost, we are expecting a more efficient system, allowing us to better serve you. The system will better document our interactions with you and our carrier partners, improving the information we have on hand, and speeding up our processes.

Second, the new program is cloud based, allowing our staff to work from any location with internet connectivity. Should there be a regional calamity, we can shift our operations to any location with internet access. In 2014, we moved our email to Microsoft’s cloud based Office365, and our telephone system will be moved to a cloud based vendor this summer. The net result of all of these changes is in the event of a disaster, be it regional or very local, we will have the tools to be up and running quickly and efficiently. When your profession is protecting your clients in the event of a claim, having an emergency plan for your own systems is essential.

To some, it may seem odd to write about what software we are using in our insurance office. To me, it is incredibly important to let you know that as the world is changing, Levitt-Fuirst is changing right along with it. We are not dragging our feet, we are actively pursuing a technological path that will help us take care of our clients’ needs today and tomorrow.

We appreciate your trust in Levitt-Fuirst, and these changes give us the tools to continue to earn your trust into the future.

 

 

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.

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.

Winter Storm Juno

Storm of the Century!  Or, Not?

by P. Andersen

SnowRoad

Is Juno coming, or will it be all sound and fury signifying nothing?  We are on the road to finding out, but preparation is key regardless of the result.   Storm preparation is all about accepting as much risk as you can and still be comfortable.  Can you shovel 2 feet of snow?  If not, get a snow blower.  If you can’t get to the store, do you have enough food to be comfortable?  You may not need steak, but canned food is important, as is plenty of water.  Being without food or water is not really an acceptable outcome.  What about driving?  We talked about the importance of snow tires here on this blog, and though it is too late today to have them put on, maybe not for the next storm.  Even with those great tires, don’t drive if you can’t afford to be stuck, and don’t drive too far from help.  It is just common sense that you stay home if you can, no matter what tires you are using!  In the end, this may or may not be the epic blizzard of 2015, but you should prepare as if it is.  If it isn’t, we can all berate the weathermen and TV talking heads for making a story out of nothing.  Still, I bet those people that were stuck on the LIE for a few days in that last big storm would have preferred to err on the side of caution…

Preparation is what insurance is all about…  The rule of insurance is to insure anything that you would have difficulty weathering without it.  Keep your deductibles as high as you can comfortably keep them, so your costs stay low.  Carry proper flood coverage if a flood would devastate you financially, and you live in an area where the waters may rise substantially.  Prepare for the worst, and then live your life to avoid those events that create havoc.

Be safe out there, it might just be what all those weathermen are predicting!

Click here for Blizzard Preparation Tips

Home Construction? You Need Proof of Insurance!

by O. Ritter

TapeMeasure

Are you thinking of having some work done on your home? It is important to take steps to protect yourself in case there is an accident caused by a contractor. Before you hire a contractor these are the questions you need to ask. How many projects have you done in the past? Will my project require a permit? What types of insurance do you carry? These are all important questions because you want to make sure that A) The contractor can do the job correctly B) you have legal and legit requirements for the job, and last but not least C) you want to make sure you are protected in case something goes wrong on the job.

Here are the four basic factors you should know before getting started.

  • How big is the job?
  • What are the risks?
  • How can I protect myself?
  • How vital is it to have a Workers Compensation policy?

 

How big is the Job?

Know how big the job is. This is a very important factor to know because it will allow you to make the necessary decisions on who you should hire (i.e. an architect, a contractor, a contractor and work crew). Well, keep in mind the bigger the job, the higher the risk. As briefly mentioned above, if you’re having a bigger job done on your home, you will need to hire an architect. Architects are professionally trained to create the blueprints necessary for larger jobs, and may be required to obtain permits. They should be licensed, as should your contractor. For smaller jobs, you may be able to skip this step and move right on to the construction.

What are the risks?

If something were to go wrong while a contractor is on the job, and the insurance provided is not adequate to cover the claims, there is risk of being sued (by an injured worker), and you may have to rely on your homeowners insurance to cover the damages. This is not something you want to do and I’ll explain why in just a moment.

First, before hiring a contractor or beginning a remodeling project on your property, check with your broker on your homeowners policy for specifics regarding your coverage. Your liability insurance will protect those uninsured, injured workers on your property, as well as any uncovered damages that occur -BUT – you don’t want that claim and ensuing premium increases! Still, for large jobs, you may want to contact your broker and see about getting additional coverage, such as an umbrella policy which protects your existing personal assets and future personal assets against the cost of losing a lawsuit on your property. It’s always in your best interest to be better prepared in case of any emergencies. That starts with making sure you hire a contractor or architect that has the proper insurance. So before hire, check their certificate of insurance

How can I protect myself?

Most states require having a permit before performing any work on a home or building so keep this in mind before you hire to get the job completed. Also you want to make sure there’s a written contract; what the contractor will or won’t do, the contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits, and the estimated start date etc… These documents are essential, and will help you in the long run if things get out of hand. Make sure the contractor has at least $1,000,000 in General Liability Coverage, and for exceeding risky or especially large jobs, an umbrella bringing that up to $5,000,000 may be recommended. Ask the contractor to name you as an “Additional Insured”, which will allow their insurance to pay for legal costs in the event of the claim. If subcontractors are being utilized by your contractor, their insurance should also be scrutinized – and don’t forget the Workers Compensation!

How vital is a Workers Compensation policy?

Workers Compensation is insurance that provides cash benefits and/or medical care for workers who are injured while on a job. When hiring a contractor, your home is the jobsite. Proof of Workers Compensation is essential when hiring a contractor that will be bringing workers on site! If someone were to get hurt, you don’t want to be the one in line to pay. Again, this goes for any subcontractors as well.

 

I sure hope this information was helpful to you in making the right decisions when hiring or looking for someone to do work on your home. Remember the four categories: how big is the job, what are the risks, how you can protect yourself, and the importance of Workers Compensation. This will be helpful to you in the long run, and will keep you protected during and after a construction project.

Movember 2014

by Peter Andersen, November 10, 2014

Movember1

It is Movember, which means it is time for me, and many hundreds of thousands of men like me (4 Million in 2013!), to grow the much misunderstood and maligned mustache. We do it because we love the odd looks from people we don’t know, we do it for the comments of friends and loved ones that either think it is great or horrible, but mostly, we do it because it is for a good cause.  The owners of Levitt-Fuirst have always supported this endeavor, donating money to my MoSpace page each of the years I have taken part.  I appreciate their support, and hope that with each year, I find more people to support me in this endeavor.

Much like breast cancer awareness and the color pink, Movember is designed to bring awareness to men’s health issues. From testicular and prostate cancers, to mental health issues.  Movember is designed to open the eyes of the masses that men need to take better care of themselves, and to bring into the light the risks that take the lives of so many men earlier than they should.  Movember is about encouraging more men to take steps today that may allow them to live longer, happier, healthier lives.

But about the mustache…  I have to say right off the bat – I cheated. You are supposed to grow a mustache from scratch, just a clean face with no pre-growth. Me? I had a goatee, and decided to maneuver it into the standard for which I have been known for these last three Novembers. The Movember site calls it the “Trucker”, though I think of it as a Modified Zappa… Sad fact is prostate cancer took Mr. Frank Zappa’s life, at 53 years of age, so let’s call this an homage to him, in the hopes that there will be fewer prostate cancer victims in the future.

Zappa

Regardless of the name, the shape, the comments it receives, or the motivation – the goal of Movember and the 4 million mustaches continues to be bigger than the fashion statement we are or are not making… The goal is to raise awareness, increase education, improve screening, catch diseases early, and improve treatment.  That is where you come in.

I ask you to visit my MoSpace page, http://us.movember.com/mospace/4335633, and donate to this good cause. Maybe because you know someone that has fought these diseases, maybe because you are a friend of mine, maybe because you just simply want to encourage a man with a mustache. Really, does the reason matter? The results are all good.

Thanks.

Peter

What’s Happening in the Region

by P. Andersen

Looking for something to do this weekend?  From Greenwich to Greenwich Village, from Westport to Irvington, our area offers a Cornucopia of entertainment.  Here are a couple options if your flavor runs towards pets of all shapes or sizes.

 

This Sunday, September 7th, come see, and maybe buy yourself a reptile at the Westchester County Center in White Plains! Over 100 reptile breeders will be at the NY Metro Reptile Expo selling their little (and not so little) friends, along with all the accompaniments you might need to turn your home into a terrarium. This is the largest reptile event on the east coast, so if you love the little critters, this is the place to be.

NY Metro Reptile Expo, $10/adults, $5/Children – 845-526-4845

Sunday, September 7th from 10:00 to 4:00

Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, NY

http://events.greenwichtime.com/white_plains_ny/events/show/371420510-ny-metro-reptile-expo

Dog Cat

Looking for a more traditional pet? The Larchmont Pet Rescue in Harrison NY is sponsoring a Puppy/Dog Meet and Greet on Saturday, September 6th. Visit from 11:00 to 1:00, and find your family’s new best friend.

Larchmont Pet Rescue, 7 Harrison Ave, Harrison NY.

Saturday, September 6th from 11:00 to 1:00

http://events.greenwichtime.com/harrison_ny/events/show/371600425-puppy-dog-meet-greet