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Condominium Unit Owners: Knowing Your Rights and Responsibilities

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Image source: VRBO

Thinking of purchasing a condominium unit along the Gulf Coast? Or need guidance in managing your current property? Whichever it is, condominium unit owners should bear in mind that while they can exercise their rights as owners, they also have responsibilities not just to their tenants if they are renting out their property, but to the whole community as well.

Let’s start first with the costs of maintaining a condominium unit. The monthly dues will usually include insurance on the unit, sewer and waste management, regular maintenance, and utilities, which account for most of the monthly costs. The owner should make sure that these are paid on time to avoid the risks of more damages should unforeseen events happen.

If you are renting out your property, you have the right to demand from the renters to treat the unit with care and you can set out limitations in your contract, so everything falls in its proper place. If you want greater protection, you can choose to purchase an optional contents policy to protect yourself from any future damage caused by your renter(s), accidents that may bring harm to your renters, and outages.

As a condominium owner, you own a share of the common elements in the whole building itself, such as parking lot, pools, tennis courts, playground, hallways, and many others. The condominium association should ensure that roofs, elevators, and other building elements are immediately restored if defective or damaged, or are undergoing regular maintenance, for the protection of both the owners and renters.

While living in a condominium would give you instant access to security, building facilities and other privileges given to owners, you should be responsible enough in making sure that you are not disturbing your neighbors. Avoid hosting late night parties, dragging chairs or furniture in the middle of the night, owning a large or barking pet, and well, arguing in a loud manner with household members. Bear in mind that your neighbors are just a few meters away and would probably love (or hate) being involved with your domestic issues.

Finally, as a condominium owner, you should have access to important documents, be spared from discrimination in relation to age, sex, race, etc., and be able to practice your role and right to elect directors to the association’s board. Everything too much to handle? Consider getting the advice of a professional so you’ll know when and how to set things in motion.

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Sewer Backup Coverage: Deciding If It’s Worth It

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

When water overflows in a house, this means that the sewer has been blocked, and that non-stop rainfall or poor plumbing system may have caused it. When water emerges from your pipes, expect possible damage to the property. If you are renting out your property, there may be a bigger need to consider having sewer backup coverage. Let’s find out if it will be worth your investment. After all, having unnecessary additions to your policy might lessen the opportunity of spending your savings on more worthy causes.

Image source: FS Local Blog

Keep in mind that flood insurance does not usually cover sewer backups, and the homeowner must either buy it separately or request for an endorsement to an existing policy. Some of the main causes of sewer backups include:

  • Aging sewage systems – may depend on several factors such as materials used, how the pipes are installed, or if the property is near or located in flood-prone areas, or exposed to chemicals and other harmful substances
  • Storm water and raw sewage systems combined into the same pipeline
  • Blockages due to plant roots, shrubs, and trees; these can penetrate the sewer system and cause extensive damage
  • Water in basement or lower floors
  • A major rainstorm

With these factors in mind, evaluate the location of your property. Is it near trees or flood-prone areas? How old is your sewer system? On average, sewer systems in the US are over 30 years old. This contributes to increased sewer backups, backflows, and floods. Better yet, ask a plumbing expert to inspect your pipes if you think something is blocking the flow of water and to make an informed suggestion about your piping system.

Even if your property is located on top of a hill, this does not mean that it is already immune to sewer backup problems. Take time to evaluate your sewer backup rider. Compare costs and make sure that the amount you need to pay is not excessive, nor it is too cheap. If it is too low, chances are the restrictions are too many or the conditions may be difficult to meet if it is time to make a claim. Lessen the risks associated with sewer backups. Remember that your decision will impact not just your pocket, but the individuals living in your property as well.

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Protecting and Managing Coastal Properties

What are considered high-risk coastal properties? These are locations that are most susceptible to catastrophes and natural hazards. When left uninsured, they could pose huge amount of expenses to owners and renters as well, should a calamity strikes.

Image Source: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach

According to the May 2016 report “Residual Market Property Plans” by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), the exposure value of the residual property market in states that are more exposed to hurricanes has continued to decline from its peak levels in 2011. State natural catastrophe programs in various states including Alabama, California, Florida, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Texas were reviewed in the report. There is a supposed perceived threat for state finances, policyholders, and taxpayers that might result from underpriced coverage and increased assessments in the coming years.

What does this mean for coastal property owners?

As the report warns, there may be a reduction in growth opportunities for carriers and choice if you are a policyholder or a possible distortion in the true cost of insurance coverage.

The Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) implements rules allowing property owners to protect imminently threatened oceanfront structures on a temporary basis. The following options are available for property owners:

  • Do note that a Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) general permit is needed to use sandbags.
  • Beach bulldozing to shore up the foundation of a building
  • Relocation of structures
  • Beach nourishment projects that are dependent on specific conditions
  • Exceptional cases where seawalls are permitted, provided that they do not adversely impact adjacent private properties and resources

Managing a coastal property may unnecessarily consume an owner’s time and money. To avoid huge expenses and damages to property, it is important to work with an insurer that has an excellent reputation for providing yearly insurance coverage. Whitehaven’s commendable record of writing high-risk coastal properties since 1994 proves the company’s ability to help you in the effective management of your property from unforeseen calamities.

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

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Earthquake Coverage | Residential and Commercial Property Insurance

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Image source: IBHS

While most of the earthquakes that happen in the US yearly are relatively small, owners of residential and commercial properties that are near geological fault lines or are quake-prone should consider buying a separate coverage for earthquake protection. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the states that have the highest risk of experiencing a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years include California, Alaska, Illinois, Utah, Washington, and Hawaii, among many others.

*Even though Alabama is not one of those states, we realize that you may have a vacation home or may possibly relocate to one of these locations in the future. We want you to have the best information possible on type of insurance offered throughout the US.

Deductibles for earthquake insurance may range between two percent and by as much as 20 percent of the building’s value, depending on several factors, including location, age, cost to rebuild the building or home, and the property’s condition. From an overall perspective, earthquake insurance can be quite expensive. You can either opt to buy a separate policy or via an endorsement, which means a written change to your existing policy to add a coverage.

Generally, an earthquake policy will cover repairs needed due to damage. This includes your inventory, or depending on the extent of coverage, may even include business losses arising from the damage. It also covers costs related to debris removal. In some cases, an additional living allowance is provided so the homeowner can find another place to stay while repairs are ongoing. Exclusions to a policy include fire, land, vehicles, or pre-existing damage.

What are the risks an earthquake poses to your property? They may include:

  • Partial or total building destruction
  • Collapse of one or more areas of the property
  • Structural damage
  • Explosions
  • Gas leaks which may lead to fires
  • Landslides
  • Flash floods

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) suggests the following tips for earthquake insurance:

  • Create a detailed inventory of each valuable and take pictures/videos for better documentation.
  • Review and update your inventory regularly especially if you have recently purchased expensive items.
  • If you are filing a claim, cooperate fully with the investigation so the adjuster can make accurate evaluations.
  • Make sure that a qualified professional inspects your home after a quake so both cosmetic and structural damage can be verified.
  • If there are disagreements with your insurer, try to resolve it in a more peaceful manner. Experts recommend bringing your contractor during discussions to get professional advice.

If your property is along the Gulf Coast and you want to know the current insurance conditions in your area, you may get in touch with an agency that specializes in writing high-risk coastal properties so you can take the first steps in protecting your property from earthquakes.


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Getting Insurance for Your Second Home | Vacation Home Insurance

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Image source: Zillow

Whether you are leasing your second home to seasonal travelers or keeps it exclusively for family use, there is always the risk of damage or loss from natural calamities, theft, and other unforeseen incidents or disasters. If you belong to the cautious group of homeowners, these threats may be enough to justify buying a second insurance for your vacation home.

What are the factors to consider when getting insurance for your second home?

  1. Check first your primary home insurance policy. Ask your insurer if the existing policy can cover a second home. Otherwise, you will have to purchase another insurance.
  2. If you are renting your home, consider a comprehensive insurance policy that will protect your property from fire, hailstorm, and any other catastrophe. The best way to deal with this is to determine first the risks to your home.
  3. Verify how much you need to spend if you add personal liability coverage. This will help minimize the costs if you are sued by someone following injuries obtained within your property.
  4. Be specific on what you want to insure. Second homes are usually covered by a more restricted type of policy called “named perils,” which means incidents not indicated in the list will likely not be covered.
  5. Note that vacation or second homes tend to be more expensive to insure because they are either located in an earthquake- or flood-prone (waterfront) area or would normally feature special amenities such as pools and hot tubs.
  6. Never misrepresent facts when talking to your insurer. This may delay or void your rights when you make claims in the future. The savings you are hoping to get will not be worth the risk.
  7. Ask your agent about a personal umbrella policy (PUP) for greater liability protection. However, PUPs generally cover incidents related to personal negligence. For vacation rental activities, a specific umbrella (commercial) will be required.

Before the family gets busy preparing for that much-needed vacation, check with your insurer your available options if you wish to insure your second home. Protect your investment. Call an agent now.

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7 Maintenance Tips to Prevent Major Roof Repairs

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

The roof is what makes any structure, whether a residential or commercial one, functioning. Aside from enclosing the whole space, it is every building’s first line of defense against the sun, rain, snow, natural calamities, and even fire. With the recent onslaught of hurricanes in the past weeks, one cannot argue against the value of keeping the roof regularly maintained.

While there will always be costs involved when you decide to schedule a roof maintenance, there are ways to make the most out of your budget without sacrificing the protection you need for your home. Here are some tips that will help reduce the dent in your pocket caused by leaking or damaged roofs:

  1. Use high-quality roofing materials. Roofs represent around 5 to 8 percent of capital building costs. Remember though, that they cover 100% of your house and thus should never be taken for granted.

There are many types of roofing materials to choose from, depending on what you are willing to invest in, but be sure to choose roofing with the highest fire rating (Class A):

  • Asphalt roofing – the most popular type; made of fiberglass and relatively easy to install; can last for 30 years or more but are not recommended for places that are prone to high winds.
  • Fake slate roofing – made of various materials such as plastic/polymer, clay, rubber or asphalt; can provide aesthetic value to your home since they look like actual slates, but may be less durable and thus have shorter lifespan.
  • Metal roofing – comes in a range of options: steel, copper, aluminum, and alloy strips; also easy to install and are ultra-light but can be noisy during a rainstorm.
  1. Check for missing or curled shingles and examine flashings, chimneys and roof valleys; look for cracks in vents. Cracks in the walls may also signal cracks in the roofing/flashing. Often these minor issues cause the biggest problems in the end if left unattended.
  2. Keep gutters and downspouts free from leaves and all kinds of debris.
  3. Monitor the most common issues resulting from poor workmanship and poor adhesion such as lifting at laps, cracking, and deterioration.
  4. Watch out for any signs of accumulation in moss. A roof moss can lead to leaks, mold growth and increased collection of debris. Start trimming your trees and getting rid of other organic junk, since they provide the needed nutrients for moss to grow.
  5. Ensure proper ventilation and insulation especially if your house has an attic; this can help in the prevention of leaks.
  6. Perform regular maintenance, including insect or pest control. This is one of the most important aspects of taking care of your roof, and in most cases, also one of the most ignored ones. Neglect is most often the culprit for damaged roofs. Roof inspection and maintenance should happen at least two times yearly, preferably after the roofs have passed through the severest levels of stress.

If you have already determined that you need to have your roof professionally maintained or repaired:

  • Ensure that only qualified personnel maintain your roof. Professional roofers have the expertise you normally will not find otherwise. They can also give the best advice, having been exposed to varying problems related to roofs.
  • Monitor the progress of the repair. Aside from learning the basics of how your roofs are structured and installed, there is an assurance that the work will not be rushed and will be completed according to your expectations.
  • Ask what materials they intend to use and if there are other alternatives. Furthermore, ask them to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Careful decision-making is the key to ensuring that the repair does not happen again soon.
  • Make sure to request for and witness actual roof testing. This involves checking if there are really no more water leaks and examining the durability of the new materials that have been added to the structure.
  • Do not forget to take a set of “before” photos of your roof and update them after every repair or maintenance. Do the same when damages occur. Keep all estimates, invoices and receipts. Doing all this will reduce the hassles normally associated with insurance claims processes.

After the catastrophe caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, this might be the best time to schedule an inspection of your roof to ensure that it has not become vulnerable to both internal and external elements. An ounce of pension is always worth a pound of repair.

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Green Roofing for a Sustainable Home

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Sustainability has become the popular term to describe practices through which a specific idea or technology can grow without having to drain the resources of an organization, a company or even a nation. It has been the focus of experts in the real estate industry in the past years as well. In fact, a study conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), published in the “Green Multifamily and Single Family Homes” 2017 SmartMarket Brief, reveals that green homes continue to gain market share among both single family and multi-family homebuilders. Green building has definitely become a constituted part in residential construction.

A green home expectantly goes hand in hand with green roofing, which refers to the layers of plants that building owners, both residential and commercial, grow on their rooftops. One of the many aspects of green roofing is sustainability. Green roofing can reduce the homeowner’s heating and cooling costs. Architects are continuously innovating designs to come up with sustainable green roofing. Some of the strategies they use include:

  • Using plants that come from the area’s local flora, thus stimulating the habitat of local wildlife
  • Designing a layout that can collect rainwater to help in landscape irrigation
  • Planting a garden that produces herbs and veggies
  • Making use of climate-controlling grasses that best suit the needs of a region to help them deal with climate challenges
  • Integrating the green roof with other natural features such as an aquarium or a man-made rain forest
  • Using a green roofing that is habitable; something that features a soft, grassy bed where one can enjoy the view of nature

While the materials used for sustainable green roofing vary from one manufacturer to another, their goals are similar, to come up with materials that can help conserve resources. They employ the following techniques in the production of sustainable green roofing materials:

  • Recycling of production waste such as plastic, rubber or wood fiber into materials that can reduce carbon emissions and help in the decrease of energy costs
  • Use of roofing granules that can radiate heat better than traditional roofing shingles

There are two common types of green roofing. Intensive roofs usually have deeper soil depths, heavier weight load, and feature more plant options; although their maintenance costs may be higher than extensive green roofs, since maintenance would include more comprehensive fertilization of the plants as well. Extensive green roofs are more common because they are lightweight and only need lower maintenance and irrigation requirements. In the previous blog, we highlighted the benefits of extensive green roofing, which include:

  • Reduced volume of and delayed storm water runoff
  • Energy conservation
  • Increased lifespan of roofing membranes
  • Increased biodiversity
  • Additional space for urban agriculture
  • As a habitat for microorganisms and wildlife
  • Improved aesthetic value
  • Mitigation of air pollution
  • Noise reduction
  • Additional credits in the Leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) standards

According to the University of Michigan, green roofing installation would cost almost $500,000 for a 21,000-square-foot property, versus $335,000 for a conventional roof in 2006 dollars. This means that the green roof would save around $200,000 almost over its lifetime.

Regarding green roofing maintenance, it will focus on upkeep and observation, particularly during spring and summer seasons. Below are examples of activities that should form part of your regular maintenance schedule:

  • Inspection of vegetation-free zones
  • Removal of debris and other organic waste materials
  • Control of weeds
  • Trimming off spent flowers
  • Checking of irrigation and moisture levels
  • Fertilization

If you are wondering how fast plants may grow, it depends on the method of initial planning. Cell plugs and bulk cuttings may reach full growth after three years while sedum tiles may grow 100% after two years. Clarify the installation method with your roofer first and ask for more information about the possible problems that you might encounter. This way, you can properly plan your green roofing maintenance. Scheduling it earlier may incur additional unnecessary costs and consume valuable time.

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Coastal Winter Storm: What to Prepare

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Coastal areas generally have more moderate temperatures than other areas during winter. Ocean currents may warm or cool coastal land, depending on the nature of the current that flows by that land.

Winter tourists who would rather skip the snow and enjoy the beach instead have the option to visit the Gulf Coast in Alabama, with its almost perfect weather that stays all year-round. The sun actually shines every day, so they have a wider range of activities to choose from if they do not like the idea of staying indoors.

Whether you are a golfer who needs green to get going or someone who likes the blue ambiance the beach offers, coastal areas may be the ideal spot to spend your winter vacation.

Image source: UCS USA

If you are living along the coast however, there is always the need to prepare for the unexpected, one of which is a coastal winter storm. Stella, a late-season Northeast storm, was reported to have killed five people in March 2017. While the snowfall is not of a concern along coastal areas, Stella has caused ocean water to flood into streets in some parts of New Jersey and New York. The extreme weather has even forced several states to issue travel bans, resulting to almost 9,000 flight cancellations.

What to do in case of a winter storm warning? Follow these simple tips and you are on your way of having a good winter:

  • Protect pipes from freezing by draining water from your pool or from outdoor hoses and adding insulation to attics and basements. For exposed pipes, allow them to drip so they do not freeze.
  • For added insulation, install storm windows or just cover windows with plastic.
  • If you can, consider purchasing an emergency heating equipment in case of power outage.
  • Store sufficient heating fuel; and firewood or coal for your fireplace.
  • Some homeowners prefer to buy their own generators.
  • Talk to your insurer and consider adding flood insurance cover to your policy.

Keep in mind these reminders and live a stress-free winter. Who would not want to wear a good pair of boots, a waterproof jacket, and trousers to enjoy a walk along the enticing shores?


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Motor Vehicle Reports (MVR) and Insurance Premiums

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

There are many factors impacting vehicle insurance premiums, including the value of the vehicle, mileage, where you live (urban areas cost higher rates due to higher risk of theft, vandalism and crashes), and your credit history and financial capability. Sometimes to encourage safe driving, insurers also consider drivers who have taken additional safety courses.


For boat insurance, a key factor will be the years no claims bonus. The less number of claims you make for a certain number of years, the less your final insurance cost will be. Other optional factors may include breakdown and contents cover, among many others.

And that is not all. If you ever wondered why you have to supply your motor vehicle reports (MVR) during the application process, MVR will actually also affect the insurance premiums that you have to pay.

Aside from your personal details, the driving history will contain the following information:

  • Past and present license suspensions, revocations and cancellations
  • Driver’s license class
  • Special driver’s license endorsements
  • Any license restrictions
  • Traffic violations such as traffic citations, vehicular crimes, accidental reports, and DUI convictions

Since you probably are not looking forward to seeing your MRV pages filled to capacity, the best way to avoid this scenario is to drive safely. While this is an obvious solution, some drivers will not be able to avoid incurring these records. Ask your insurer about enrolling in a defensive driving course to lower your insurance rates and remove points from your driving record, which for example in Alabama, can go back to as far as three years.

Insurance is a common consideration in getting your MVR. However, there is a possibility of errors occurring on your driving record; thus, to avoid an increase in your insurance premium or driver’s license suspension, check your record now and avoid future inconvenience.

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The Pros and Cons of Coastal Living

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

For some people, living by the sea may be a dream worthy to wish for and follow. The serenity that coastal living promises may be understandably hard to resist. The Gulf Shores in Alabama, for example, is well known for its soft and ultra-bright white sand. Residents can both bask in the sea breeze or a few miles west, even watch sea turtles and migratory birds at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, an added perk any nature lover would surely enjoy.

Image source: Coastal Living

Aside from having a relaxed mental state and having an awesome view to wake up to every day, living on the coast also allows for more recreational activities, healthier living, and less stress. You can get more Vitamin D from the sun and breathe fresher air. The sea has also been proven as an effective way to get rid of hair chemicals and dirt or even cure skin diseases such as psoriasis and dermatitis.

However, those who wish to invest in coastal properties should also bear in mind the possible drawbacks of such decision:

  • The wear and tear resulting from extended exposure to sea air, which may shorten the lifespan of wood, cement and metal because of the higher level of moisture and corrosive salt it brings
  • The terrain types of properties along the coast are harder than normal to build on, thus may mean more expensive construction costs
  • Greater risk of flooding, which can impact your house and contents insurance
  • The possibility of coastal erosion which may result to temporary or worse, permanent damage to the property
  • Requires more maintenance especially if the façade is directly exposed to the prevailing wind

Whitehaven has specialized in writing high risk coastal properties since 2004. Get in touch with an expert now and find out how you can protect your investment without having to spend more.