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10 Surprising Things That Can Affect Your Home Insurance

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Every homeowner hopes to never have to file a home insurance claim, but accidents do happen, and some factors increase the likelihood they will occur. Here are 10 surprising things that can affect the types of claims you might file and how much you pay for home insurance coverage.

1. Your Dog’s Breed

Although your canine companion may be a much-loved member of your family, depending on its breed, you may have difficulty getting home insurance. Your homeowner insurance includes liability protection to help you if you are sued by someone whom your dog has bitten or attacked. However, many home insurance companies won’t insure homeowners who own specific breeds (e.g., American Staffordshire Terriers, Presa Canarios, Pit Bulls, and Rottweilers) or dogs with a history of aggressive behavior or biting.

Some companies may require customers who own these dogs to sign a liability waiver for dog bites. This means that if the dog bites someone, the home insurance company will not be required to cover the resulting expenses and the homeowner will have to pay for them.

2. Exotic Pets

Certain dog breeds aren’t the only pets that could affect your home insurance. Other pets could also attack, injure, or even kill someone, and therefore could impact your insurance at well. If your household includes any species classified as an “exotic pet,” such as snakes, spiders, or amphibians, the liability portion of your homeowner insurance could be affected. Although liability insurance covers costs resulting from an injury to an individual that occurs at your home, coverage may not extend to injuries caused by exotic pets, or it may cost more.

3. Firearms

If you own firearms and store them in your home, it could impact your homeowners insurance policy, but perhaps, not in the way you would expect. Many insurance companies don’t ask whether you own guns, and you won’t pay more or less on the liability portion of your insurance because you own a gun.

Guns are usually treated as part of the general property covered by your homeowners insurance. However, the value of your antique or collectible firearms may exceed your valuable items sublimit. If this is the case, you may want to supplement your coverage with an insurance rider to ensure adequate protection if the firearms are damaged or stolen.

4. Wood-Burning Stoves

A wood-burning stove provides ambiance and warmth, but if it’s your main source of heat, your application for insurance could be declined. If it’s a secondary source of heat, be prepared to fill out a wood stove questionnaire. One way to reduce the higher premium that may accompany a wood-burning stove is to show proof that a licensed installer installed it and that it meets the code requirements of your area. Also confirm to your provider that you have smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher nearby.

5. Swimming Pools

Although a backyard swimming pool can be a wonderful addition to family barbecues and summer parties, keep in mind that your pool has an impact on your home insurance. In fact, if your home has an in-ground pool, it must be fenced or your coverage could be declined. When installing or replacing a fence, look for one that is at least 4 feet high with gates that are both self-closing and self-latching, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends.

6. Trampolines

Another popular pastime is trampolining, but having a trampoline could make it difficult to get home insurance, especially if your trampoline doesn’t have a safety net. Trampoline-related injuries have soared nationwide, and insurers have taken note. Even if you can get a home insurance policy with a trampoline in your backyard, the policy may not cover any losses resulting from its use.

7. Tree Houses

Whether you’re planning to build a tree house for your kids or grandkids or to buy a home that already has one on the property, be forewarned: A tree house or a tree fort can mean a more costly premium. As with swimming pools and trampolines, having a tree house on your property increases the chance that someone could be injured at your residence.

8. Ziplines

Ziplining is an outdoor activity that has increased in popularity over the past few years, but it has also led to increase in the number of home injuries. In the United States, 30 percent of zipline injuries occur in backyards or on farms. Having a zipline in your own back yard could impact the liability portion of your homeowner insurance.

9. Distance from the Fire Department

If your home is far away from a fire department, this could affect your home insurance premium. This is also true if your home is far away from a water source (e.g., a hydrant), as this increases the chance that your home will suffer more extensive (and expensive) damage if a fire occurs. In some states, such as Maine, even the quality of the community’s fire protection services could impact your insurance premium.

10. Where You Live

Your home’s location is another important factor in determining your home insurance rate. That is because risks vary depending on geographic location. These risks include losses due to severe weather events or crime. Relocation is probably not a practical or plausible option, but you can still lessen the impact of your location on your insurance. For example, installing storm shutters or fortifying your roof if you live in an area prone to bad weather could qualify you for a discount on your home insurance, as could installing a security system.

If you own a home, you know that insurance is a crucial part of protecting what you’ve worked hard to build. Without adequate coverage, you could find yourself responsible for all sorts of expenses in the event of a loss or an injury. That’s why it’s so important to purchase the right home insurance coverage. You don’t want to expose yourself and your family to unnecessary and potentially financially devastating risk.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informational in nature, may not be current, and is subject to change without notice. Please contact your agent or carrier for your specific coverage implications.

READ MORE: How Moving Affects Your Auto and Home Insurance

Why Cats Make the Best Pets for Retirees

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When it comes to finding the right pet for your life after retirement, felines are the cat’s meow. Low maintenance and mellow, cats require little work and offer big benefits.

After 65-year-old Fredi Miller retired from her job as a cat caregiver at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, she adopted a special needs cat, Naveen, who had been under her care at the sanctuary. In the months since Miller brought her home, Naveen has bonded with Miller’s other two cats and her special needs foster cat.

Naveen, who used to spend her days alone in a cat tree, now socializes and plays. Watching the cat’s personality blossom has brought much joy to Miller’s first months of retirement. “She adds so much to my life,” she says.

If you’re retired or planning to retire, you too might want to consider adding a feline friend to your life. Here are eight reasons cats make the best pets for retirees:

1. Cats Sit Quietly by Your Side

Plenty of retirees take up hobbies like cycling, running, and even skydiving, but for many, retirement is a time to settle into quieter pursuits like reading, coloring and binge-watching the must-see TV series your friends recommended. Cats make perfect companions for those low-key activities.

Despite their reputation for independence, many cats actually enjoy curling up on the couch with their humans, points out Steve Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that gathers and funds research on the benefits of companion animals.

Two of Miller’s cats love to snuggle up on her lap while she watches TV, but even Inga, her independently minded third cat, will climb into her lap when she’s in the mood. Miller says.

2. Purrs Provide Soothing White Noise

There’s something special about a cat’s purr, and many find the sound exceptionally calming. Cats likely purr for a variety of reasons, and in various situations, such as when they’re happy, hungry or even stressed. Think of it as a way to self-soothe. And purring may help cats to heal by reducing pain, repairing bones and stimulating muscle growth.

There’s even speculation that those same vibrations may have beneficial effects on human health, but more research needs to be done. In the meantime, we’ll have to take the word of cat owners who claim that the soft purrs of their favorite feline quells anxiety.

3. Petting Reduces Stress

There’s something especially wonderful about petting the soft, silky fur of a cat. A cat’s coat may contain as many as 130,000 hairs per square inch, which is one of the reasons it feels so luxurious to the touch. And petting your cat doesn’t just feel good, it’s good for you.

As you pet your cat, the level of oxytocin in your brain increases, Feldman explains. “Oxytocin is a really good hormone associated with reducing stress,” he adds. “The level of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, goes down when petting your cat.”

4. Cats Do Your Heart Good

Having a feline friend around may promote heart health. One study found that current cat owners, and even those who had lived with a cat in the past, had a lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those who never had a cat. Should that stat send you to the local animal shelter to adopt a kitten companion? Give it some serious thought. Getting a cat “may represent a novel strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals,” according to the study.

5. Cats Can Get You Moving

Generally, the daily tasks associated with cat care aren’t physically taxing, but some activities due encourage light exercise, which can be good for your health, says Darius Russin, MD, a family practice physician and geriatrician in Austin, Texas.

For example, lightly brushing a cat that enjoys being groomed can be beneficial if you have arthritis in your wrists, Russin explains. Playing with a feather-and-stick can provide an arm workout, along with exercise for your cat. And throwing a small ball for your cat to chase encourages you to move around as you go through the motions of throwing the ball, walking to wherever your cat drops it, and bending to pick it up, he adds.

6. Cats Are Self-Cleaning

A major bonus to having a cat is that you almost never have to bathe your cat or pay a groomer to do so (though, if you have a long-haired cat, you might want to opt for regular trims).

Cats are meticulous about grooming themselves, and may spend as much as half of each day cleaning their fur. This is good news for retirees who either can’t hoist an animal into a tub or would rather spend their free time doing something a little more fun than trying to suds up a reluctant pet.

Another upside on the cleanliness of cats: You’re unlikely to ever have to scrub muddy paw prints off your floors.

7. Cats Are Relatively Affordable

If you no longer have a steady paycheck coming in, you might be looking for an animal friend that won’t break that bank. Although any pet—even a fish—can become sick and require emergency vet care, the day-to-day expenses of a cat tend to be fairly manageable.

On average, cat owners spend less than $250 annually on food and less than $200 a year on routine vet care. And perhaps because cats don’t require walks and you can have a friend or a neighbor check on your cat if you’re gone for a long weekend, cat owners spend only about $130 a year on boarding. Plus, cats don’t tend to destroy their toys so they last a long time, so cat owners spend only about $28 a year on toys.

8. Cats Won’t Bother the Neighbors

If you’ve recently downsized, you might be living in an apartment, town home or other location where you’re closely surrounded by neighbors. Luckily, you probably won’t have to worry about your cat disturbing anyone who lives nearby. Cats are so quiet that your neighbors may not even realize you have a pet.

In short, there are many reasons feline friends and retirement make a good match. “Cats are wonderful animals, and they make excellent companions,” Miller says.

Would you prefer a canine companion? Check out Why Dogs Make the Best Pets for Retirees

Surprising Alternatives To Typical Retirement Housing

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Louise Machinist, a Pittsburgh clinical psychologist, had noticed that her ex-mother-in-law, who lived alone, was lonely in a large house in Upstate New York. Since her ex-mother-in-law didn’t need all that space, and because the home was expensive and difficult to maintain on her own, maybe she could live with one or two others, Machinist suggested.

That idea didn’t fly with her former mother-in-law, but it did get Machinist thinking: When she herself got older, rather than living solo and feeling isolated, why not share a house with other single women? She mentioned the idea to church friends Karen Bush and Jean McQuillan. The suggestion of shared housing intrigued them, too—and not just for the future.

Bush traveled for work and was tired of scrambling to make arrangements for her cat and fish. And McQuillan, a recently divorced nurse, had moved to a rental apartment that provided no equity.

So, in 2004, Machinist, McQuillan and Bush became the proud owners of a $395,000, five-bedroom colonial, each paying one-third of the mortgage. “We could never have afforded it on our own and we have so enriched one another’s lives,” says Machinist. With a book they co-wrote called My House, Our House, they have also created a how-to primer for others on shared housing.

Last year, when Machinist retired, they sold their Pittsburgh house. McQuillan, 72, opted to stay in the area to be near her daughter and grandkids, whereas Machinist, 70, and Bush, 68, headed to Sarasota, Florida. There, they purchased a three-bedroom condo in a pink and white stucco building across from the bay.

“Moving down here alone after decades in Pittsburgh would have been frightening,” says Machinist. “Karen and I have very independent lives but it’s nice to have someone to come home to. Living with a friend is a great option for baby boomers and a fabulous way to enjoy retirement.”

There used to be three choices when you got older: live alone, move in with family, or relocate to a traditional long-term care facility. But things have changed. There are now a variety of different housing options: shared housing; cohousing; niche communities and more. Here’s what’s hot in housing for baby boomers and older adults:


Besides the shared housing option Machinist, McQuillan and Bush embraced, another increasingly popular alternative is cohousing. Here, you share a “common” house and outdoor space with other residents, but you have your own place.

The common house has a kitchen and dining room for meals (often made by residents once a week or so) and a space to hang out, watch movies, play board games, and have meetings and celebrations. Other rooms might be for computers, music, ping pong, working out or a guest or caretaker suite—whatever residents want.

The cohousing community can be either intergenerational or age-based, and in a city, suburban or rural area. For communities that are under construction, residents can plan and design their cohousing community from the ground up. All decisions are made by consensus.

According to national cohousing experts and husband and wife architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, there are more than 120 intergenerational cohousing communities in the U.S., with less than ten for older adults exclusively. “As an empty nester, having kids in my life is one of the things I love about cohousing,” says McCamant, who, along with Durrett, designed Nevada City Cohousing in Nevada City, California, where the couple lives.

Their daughter Jessie grew up there, having on-the-premises playmates and surrogate parents and grandparents. Those “grandparents” are also surrounded by people of all ages— single, married, young families with kids, and retirees—who care about them.

An up-and-coming model: intergenerational communities with a social mission. Treehouse in Massachusetts, Bridge Meadows in Oregon, Hope Meadows in Illinois and New Life Village in Florida, are built around supporting traumatized children from state foster care and their foster or adoptive parents.

“Treehouse is an ideal place to continue to be useful,” says Mary Steele, 82, a retired guidance counselor. Treehouse kids have slept over and she helps out with a five-year-old boy when his mother is at work.

Niche Retirement Communities

Are you a budding artist, an avid boater, an RV enthusiast or a lifelong learner? Andrew Carle, a professor at George Mason University and senior housing expert, foresees a future with an infinite number of special interest “colonies.” They could be for dog lovers, environmentalists, or meditation enthusiasts. Who knows, maybe there’ll even be a Pokémon Go community!

One growing niche community is geared toward older LGBT individuals. These adults often face discrimination by staff and residents in traditional elder facilities or feel they have to hide their sexuality. Most LGBT projects focus on affordable housing, but Fountaingrove in California’s Sonoma Valley feels like a five-star hotel with long-term care.

Developers have learned that education also sells. There are more than 60 “university-based retirement communities” affiliated with colleges around the country (e.g., Cornell, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Oberlin, Penn State, Stanford.) Residents can take classes at the colleges or on their own “campus” (which offers independent- and assisted-living, as well as skilled nursing care).

Other not-your-grandma’s niche retirement communities include:

  •  Nalcrest in Florida is for postal workers.
  • ShantiNiketan, also in Florida, is for Indian Americans. It provides a prayer room and different cuisines from across India.
  • California’s Aegis Gardens, in California, is aimed at Chinese immigrants. It is designed with feng shui principles and offers calligraphy classes.
  • Lake Weir Preserve in Central Florida offers gigantic garages (2,000-3,000 square feet) which are often bigger than the houses. These garages can fit an RV, a boat, or a car collection–one even sports a man cave!

In a society in which one out of three baby boomers is single (i.e., widowed, divorced or never married), older adults are finding new ways to build community in later life. Living with or near others can be cost-effective, stave off loneliness, provide a sense of purpose and belonging, and create new “families” and surrogate caregivers. Forming relationships can be especially important because even when adults have grown children, they may live across the state or country.

There’s a projected future shortage of caregivers—yikes, the oldest of those “baby” boomers turns 70 this year and there are many millions following close behind! There’s also a financial impact: longevity can be great, but it costs money to live longer. Sharing expenses and property can be a smart business move.

“We have had to become more creative and expansive in the ways we think about family,” says Bella DePaulo, a Santa Barbara, California, social scientist and author of How We Live Now. “Biological and marital ties are now optional.”

Keep Reading: Most and Least Affordable States to Retire

Learn more about home insurance in the video below:

Distracted Driving: It’s Not Just Your Cellphone

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Distracted driving has been a matter of concern ever since the first cars rolled off the assembly line. In the early 1900s, when windshield wipers were first introduced on American cars, some worried that they would lull drivers into a daze. In the 1930s, state legislators unsuccessfully attempted to restrict the installation of car radios on the grounds that they could distract drivers and lead to crashes.

Today, with text messages, social media notifications, and talking GPS apps, it’s no surprise that mobile devices have become synonymous with distracted driving. But cell phones are only one of the many contributors to distracted driving. In fact, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that talking on a cell phone is only the second most time-consuming distraction for drivers.

The study examined how using a cellphone while driving affected near-crash and crash risk, as well as what other distracting behaviors drivers engage in. The researchers found that although drivers spend around 7 percent of their time behind the wheel talking on a cellphone, the most time-consuming distraction for drivers was interacting with a passenger, which took up 12 percent of drivers’ time behind the wheel.

Here are the nine most common distractions for drivers as reported by the IIHS:

Senior couple enjoying a road trip in a convertible. Man talking on the phone while driving his car Mature woman and her dog together behind steering wheel Woman enjoying driving her convertible car Person looking at cell phone while driving Man smoking while driving Changing radio settings while driving Man eating burger while driving Woman looking at map app on cell phone while driving

What Can You Do to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Some of these distractions can be difficult to avoid. After all, it’s not like someone is going to go on a four-hour road trip and not talk to their passengers because they could be a distraction. Instead, in situations such as this, it’s helpful to find ways to mitigate the impact of distractions.

  • Eat first. One of the safest (and most affordable) ways to keep yourself from becoming a distracted driver is to manage non-driving tasks before you get on the road. Eating, drinking, programming your GPS, or assisting passengers can all be made safer if you perform these activities while parked.
  • Let passengers help. Passengers can be distracting, which is one of the reasons why most states have passed graduated driver licensing laws that restrict teens from having passengers in the car during their first year of driving. However, letting your passengers help with tasks that could distract you —like answering the phone or adjusting the radio —can help you remain more focused on driving.
  • Avoid conflict. When driving, it’s helpful to avoid emotionally charged conversations with your passenger so you can keep your attention on the road.
  • Use steering wheel controls. Adjusting the AC or the radio can also pose a huge risk because it involves taking both eyes off the road and one hand off the wheel. Many auto manufacturers now add radio, climate and other controls to steering wheels as a less distracting option.
  • Pull over to attend to children. If children are in the car, be sure to pull over to a safe spot before tending to their needs. Don’t turn to reach into the back seat while driving or at a stop light.
  • Pull over to talk. Finally, if you must make or take a call, it’s best to pull to the side of the road first, even if your state doesn’t prohibit cell phone use while driving. Note that even hands-free technology, whether through a headset or the vehicle’s Bluetooth system, can still impair your ability to recognize and respond to something or someone on the road—even if you’re looking at it—because your attention is directed elsewhere. The safest option for you, your passengers, pedestrians, and those in other vehicles is to only use your phone when you’re not on the road.

Is Distraction Just a Young Driver’s Problem?

Experienced drivers often believe that they can manage distractions while driving better than novice drivers. But driver distraction is present among drivers of all ages. This might explain why drivers over the age of 21 are only slightly less likely to use mobile devices while driving compared to drivers under the age of 21, according to the IIHS-VTTI research.

Likewise, a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 72 percent of adults between 40-59 admitted to using their phone while driving—the same percentage of adults between 19-24 that reported doing so.

Don’t let the number of years you have behind the wheel lead you to believe that you’re immune to distraction while driving. Experience is no substitute for safe driving habits.

Moving Forward as Better Drivers

The technology that helps contribute to a safer driving experience is always improving.

Auto manufacturers are making crash avoidance technologies, such as blind spot warning and collision avoidance systems, increasingly common in new vehicles. In fact, back-up cameras are required to be in all new lightweight vehicles by May 2018.

Additionally, traffic engineers are employing roundabouts, red light cameras and road condition warnings to make driving safer. But regardless of emerging technology, policies, and processes, there is no replacement for focused, alert driving.

“To effectively tackle the problem of distracted driving, we need a broader approach that takes into account the many and varied sources of driver distraction,” says IIHS president Adrian Lund. “Singling out cellphones may lead drivers to disregard the fact that other behaviors that divert their attention from the road are risky, too.”

Some of the biggest dangers we face on the road come from inside the cabin of our own vehicle. Just as all roads will have hazards, all commutes will have their share of distractions. Although these can’t always be avoided, at least the negative effects may be reduced through careful consideration and planning.

Need a refresher on the rules of the road where you’re driving? Click the image below to go to our state of driving page. Then select a state to learn more about its car culture, average gas price, insurance requirements, distracted driving laws, and more.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Drowsy Driving