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6 Tips for Home Insurance Shoppers: An Interview with Carolyn Konecki of Leavitt Insurance Agency (formerly Konecki Insurance Brokerage)

By Carolyn Konecki

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Leavitt Insurance Agency of San Diego is a locally owned agency that is part of the Leavitt Group, the nation's 7th largest privately held brokerage. We are an independent, full-service insurance agency committed to building long-term relationships, educating our valued clients and providing best-in-class customer service.

I manage the Personal Lines Department. Our department handles property and casualty insurance for individuals and families. We write insurance to cover every type of tangible asset, including homes, rental homes, autos, motorcycles, watercraft, aircraft and all types of valuable items, such as jewelry, art, wine and collectibles. Some additional lines of insurance we offer are earthquake, flood and excess liability (umbrella) insurance. Some of our differentiators are our total focus on customer service and placing the needs of our clients first; solving problems, not selling products; and taking a comprehensive approach to our client insurance program by thoroughly reviewing their coverage and lifestyle and providing customized solutions to meet their specific needs.

What facts should a homeowner have ready before they start shopping for home insurance?

They should know some basic information about their house, such as square footage, number of bathrooms, foundation type, etc. If their home is more than 25 years old, they need to know the year of updates to the roof, furnace, electrical system and plumbing. They should also be prepared to talk about safety features of the home, such as any burglar, fire or water alarm systems that are installed, or if a gas shut-off valve, back-up generator, fire suppression system, etc., is present.

How does the location of your home affect the insurance costs?

In Southern California, the thing that most affects the price is the proximity to brush. A home that is located less than 200 feet to open space is going to be harder to place and will cost more than one that is over 1,000 feet from open space. Homes that are on a slope or those that have an open foundation (such as on caissons) are more expensive to insure. Also, homes that are vacant or used as a vacation rental cost more to insure than owner-occupied homes.

How do people make sure they are not underinsured? What does it mean to make sure you insure your home to "replacement value"?

Every homeowner should work with their agent to complete a current replacement cost estimator, which calculates what it costs to build a home in today's dollars. This detailed report is required to be provided to every homeowner who has purchased a policy after June 1, 2011. However, if a homeowner has been in their house for longer than that, they can contact their agent for an updated report.

As an independent agent, I am required to insure all my clients homes to value, meaning to insure them to what it would cost to replace them in today's dollars if there were to be a total loss. Our goal is to properly insure each home, not to under- or over-insure it. The biggest point of confusion for new clients is confusing market value with replacement cost. Market value has no bearing on replacement cost. Two identical homes will cost the same to rebuild but the market value could vary depending on the proximity to the coast, good schools, view, neighborhood, etc.

In your personal opinion, is it worth it to get additional coverage for some of the high-value items in a home?

Yes. Most homeowners policies contain a sublimit for valuable items, such as jewelry, fine art and wine, and most people don't realize that. Virtually any collection or valuable such as wine, sports memorabilia, musical instruments, artwork, antiques, china, crystal, stamps, coins, furs and jewelry can be covered. Scheduling (adding separate coverage) valuables offers some unique benefits. These policies typically offer worldwide coverage and no deductible applies in the event of a loss. Also, removing high value items from the personal property section of the homeowners policy allows the general personal property to be more accurately stated. Another benefit is that current appraisals are generally required, which helps to minimize settlement problems in the event of a loss.

Can homeowners save money on their monthly premium if there are certain safety features in a home?

Absolutely! Features that offer discounts are monitored fire and/or burglary systems, interior ceiling sprinklers, an automatic gas shut-off valve, water flow alarms, a wildfire suppression system, being in a gated community and/or having a gated property, or having a back-up generator. Some safety features are a requirement for almost all carriers, such as having smoke alarms, a carbon monoxide detector and having a fence around any pools or spas.

What can people do to find a home insurance provider they can trust?

Asking family, friends or coworkers for the name of an independent agent is the best way to start. An independent agent is one who writes insurance directly with several carriers, not just one. The agent will have many more choices for the client and can tailor an insurance program that exactly fits the needs of the client. It is also a good idea to check the agent's license with the state of California (www.insurance.ca.gov), to make sure their license is current. A good agent will also have a Web page and/or online reviews that can be researched.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your company?

My direct line is 858-519-3225 and the Personal Lines number is 858-751-5888. My email is carolyn-konecki@leavitt.com.

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