By Renee Massey
There has been a lot in the news lately about the government refinance program HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program). The program was recently revamped by FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency) and lenders should be receiving the new guidelines this week. The biggest difference in the new program is the removal of the loan to value limit of 125%. Homeowners in many hard hit areas including San Diego did not qualify for the previous HARP program because of the 125% cap. Although lenders now have the new guidelines, it is unclear when they will be adopting the changes. If you are unfamiliar with HARP, listed below are the current guidelines from the making home affordable website: http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/programs/lower-rates/Pages/harp.aspx.
You may be eligible to apply if you meet all of the following:
*Eligibility criteria are for guidance only. Contact your mortgage servicer to see if you qualify for HARP.
The HARP program is offered by many servicers. Homeowners should check with their mortgage servicer (the company to which homeowners make their mortgage payments) to determine if they are participating in HARP. If their mortgage servicer is not participating, the homeowner may contact other lenders that participate in HARP to determine if they are eligible for a refinance.
Steps to HARP Refinance
For More Information
Renee Massey has been with Ken May Insurance services since February 2011. She is our customer service representative and also works as a Realtor® throughout San Diego County. If you are interested in buying or selling your home or have any real estate questions please contact her by phone or email.
By Ken May
When I started in the insurance business way back in 1982, the two things that excited me most were the insurance industry itself and running a small business for the first time. Believe it or not, the various facets of the insurance business are fascinating and being my own boss for the first time was both frightening and stimulating.
As I continued my journey in this business, technology became a magical tool which, as you all know, has accelerated to areas that I never dreamed of just a few years ago (when I started, a piece of carbon paper and a paper clip was the technology of the day).
Today, the latest technology still fascinates me but the one constant for me over the past 29 years that always piqued my interest has been human behavior. Observing how people react to a myriad of situations really interests me and I must admit, sometimes our clients give me a lot of joy and other times, not so much.
We are all experiencing a very difficult economy. And it seems that many of my clients in the North San Diego Tri-City area have been hit harder than others. My family and I, my employees, my friends, and my business have suffered as a result. But it’s important to remember to keep perspective, especially during this economical crisis.
I spoke with another insurance professional recently who told me that many of the clients they have at their company (a large nationally known direct writer) are reducing their liability limits to state minimums, even though they own a house or other property! A horrible move!
Recently, a client cancelled his auto insurance policy with us because he got a better “deal” with another agent. What our client didn’t understand was that he purchased a basic limits policy and his policy with us had substantial coverage, enough so that he could keep his umbrella policy (an excess limits policy) to protect his house, his business, and all of his assets. We had no choice but to cancel the umbrella policy because his primary policy was woefully inadequate to qualify for the umbrella policy. So now this guy who owns a house, rental properties, a business, and other assets is nowhere near adequately insured and could lose everything. Why? Because he lost sight of the big picture and put everything he owned in jeopardy. Was this really a great “deal”?
This morning, we had a gentleman come into the office very upset that the company that we placed him with paid out on a very minor claim, even though he was not charged for the “fender bender” that he was involved in. I explained that this was strictly a business decision that all companies make every day. His company decided that it is better to pay out a little now rather than pay for a big fight in court and potentially pay out a lot of money later. Then he became upset that he is being charged $75.00 for roadside assistance that he never asked for. I calmly explained that his company decided to provide all of their policyholders roadside assistance coverage for up to $75.00 as long as their vehicle has collision coverage at no additional charge. He reacted by cancelling his policy.
So here we have a situation where an insurance company professionally and properly handles a claim in his behalf and even though he was at-fault for this minor incident, didn’t charge him on the policy or his driving record for the accident. And, he was receiving additional coverage at no cost to him simply because the company feels that it gives their clients an extra incentive to stay insured with them.
There was no reasoning with this man. He had his mind made up that no matter what I said to him, he was going to show me by cancelling his policy. And I’m sure he went to another company where he is paying more for less coverage. Why? Because he lost perspective. Is he just blowing steam over what life has dealt him lately? Maybe, but why do something foolish that only hurts him further?
Recently, a young couple insured with us experienced a terrible accident. The problem was their insurance had been cancelled due to non-payment despite written warnings from the insurance company and numerous phone calls from us. They felt like they were successfully “gaming” the system when the worst thing possible happened. They are now personally responsible for the other party’s damages and medical expenses and are still paying a car payment on a car that no longer exists. This is a case where their perspective was obscure.
A few years ago, I worked at a start-up insurance general agency in Texas. I went “all-in” on this endeavor. I sold my house in Carlsbad and my prior insurance agency in Oceanside for what seemed like a dream opportunity. Unfortunately, the insurance division of the company went out of business after 3 ½ years and my family and I lost everything. In fact, we dragged ourselves back to California on credit cards to start over again and start Ken May Insurance Services.
It would have been easy for me to lose my perspective, to only look at the horrible short-term situation we were in and not the long-term possibilities. What I am trying to say is that I understand what we are all going through. I’ve been knocked to the floor but by keeping my perspective, I’ve been able to get up once again, dust myself off, and keep moving forward.
So as things get tough financially, please remember to keep your perspective. Before making a knee-jerk decision on anything financial, check with your advisors. In the case of your insurance, please call us before making changes that you may regret later. We are able to assist you in making the right choices emotion-free which otherwise could take you in the wrong direction. If we don’t help you in making the right choices and keeping you properly protected from potentially catastrophic financial decisions, then we aren’t doing our job and you rightfully need to find somebody else to take care of you.
Be careful. There are many insurance “professionals” out there who have lost their own perspective or are just plain ignorant that will sell you a bill of goods with nobody’s interest in mind except their own. Keep a level head, don’t panic, and feel free to stop into the office, call us, or go onto our web site at kenmayinsurance.com for answers. If we don’t keep our perspective (and yours), fire us. If you are happy with us, please tell your friends.
Ken May has been serving the North San Diego County insurance community since 1982 except for that brief 3 ½ year stint in Texas. He is also the president of the American Agents Alliance, a non-profit professional insurance agent’s organization that originated in California in 1963. And over 60% of those that leave Ken May Insurance Services for any reason come back later.
By Chris Stankiewicz
Let’s talk cars. In this first review we are going to look at a segment referred to as the 5 door hatchback. Back in the day, the 5 door hatchback was referred to as a station wagon, two words that will bring tears to the eyes of a car guy turned family man. By the way, about 6 months ago I was cruising to work in a 1992 Buick Roadmaster, one of last great, big station wagons which came with a big V8 that is currently getting 18 miles to the gallon!
The 5 door hatchback segment is an exciting class of vehicles and just about every automobile manufacturer has one on the market today. These vehicles are versatile, roomy, and most models allow you to lay down the rear seats for more space; which is great if you want to transport larger than normal sized objects. One of the drawbacks to this segment is that some of the vehicles can be underpowered, with a majority of automobile manufactures putting in small 4 cylinder engines for the benefit of better mpgs. What I love about this segment of cars is the exterior design. A few of my favorites are Mazda3 hatchback, Ford Focus hatchback, and Nissan Juke, which is a cross between a 5 door hatchback and a crossover. Besides the styling, each of the three vehicles mentioned have potent engines with the Mazda Speed 3 Hatchback’s 3.2L engine delivering 263 horsepower.
Thanks for reading! Comments and suggestions are encouraged.
Chris Stankiewicz has been a licensed insurance agent at Ken May Insurance Services since 2008 and a car guy since his first hot wheel. He specializes in personal lines insurance and is always willing to answer your insurance questions.
We as agents hear a laundry list of excuses for not purchasing earthquake insurance: I don’t live in Los Angeles so I don’t need it. It is too expensive, the deductible’s too high or I just can’t afford it. Let me tell you, you do need it, it is not too expensive and you can’t afford NOT to have it!
I have experienced two major earthquakes here in California in my almost 30 years, the Landers earthquake in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Although both earthquakes were more than 100 miles from my home in Carlsbad, the shaking was severe and some items, including a small TV, were knocked to the ground. The damages from the Northridge earthquake alone exceeded $20 billion. Homes were destroyed, freeways collapsed, and more than a dozen people were killed in an apartment complex collapse. The Northridge Quake bankrupted many insurance companies in California which led to the creation of the California Earthquake Authority, a state run earthquake insurance provider.
The San Andreas Fault, which runs the length of California, gets the most attention because it has been the most active. However, the Rose Canyon Fault which runs through the heart of San Diego County has not produced a major earthquake in centuries but it is considered active because there is a history of earthquakes in the last 11,000 years. Nonetheless, the lack of recent earthquake activity in our region has created a false sense of immunity for the residents of San Diego County. If an earthquake were to occur along the Rose Canyon Fault, our infrastructure could be destroyed and it could take months or even years to rebuild.
Every insurance company that sells residential property insurance (homeowners insurance) is required by law to offer its insured’s earthquake insurance. Many carriers in California use the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) for earthquake insurance but if your insurance company does not use the CEA program, you may purchase earthquake insurance directly from your insurance company or from another company that offers stand alone earthquake insurance. The basic earthquake policy in California includes dwelling coverage equal to the dwelling amount on your home insurance, $5,000 in personal property coverage and $1,500 in additional living expense with a 15% deductible. Below is a premium breakdown for basic earthquake insurance for a 2-story home that is approximately 1700 square feet built after 1991 using zip codes from San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Coverage (All Zip Codes)
Dwelling Amount $300,000
Personal Property $5,000
Loss of Use $1,500
Deductible (15%) $45,000
(Damages would need to exceed $45,000 before earthquake coverage would apply)
San Diego $168
(That is only $14/month for basic coverage)
Los Angeles $516
San Francisco $939
Of course the illustration above is only for a basic earthquake policy but more coverage is available for additional premium. The CEA also announced a rate reduction for many homeowners effective January 1, 2012. So please give us a call for a quote or visit our website at www.kenmayinsurance.com.
Ken May Insurance Services is an independent insurance agency in Oceanside, CA. We offer auto, home, earthquake insurance and other types of insurance for residents of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, San Marcos and Fallbrook, CA.
There was quite a spike in readership for my “Should the trainers get back into the water at the Shamu show” article! It seems that people were more interested in reading about Sea World and Shamu than they were about insurance! Who would have figured that would happen (lol)?
Now, I think that there are a lot of interesting facts and recommendations when it comes to insurance but then again, I am an insurance geek. And I will continue to give you insurance advice as well as stories from the insurance world that I think you’ll find interesting and insightful but because of the tremendous feedback I received after the Shamu article (one lady sent an e-mail to me and I swear that she remembers and knows more details about the killer whales at Sea World over the past 35 years than I do), I’m going to sprinkle in some Sea World stories just for fun.
The one question that I get asked more than any other is “How did you get started”?
Well, in the beginning………..I was already working in the park at the Skyride. In fact, I had been at the ride for a year and a half and worked my way up to being the “lead” of the ride meaning that I supervised the day-to-day operations of the personnel at the ride as well as writing the weekly work schedules. This was pretty heady stuff and my pay shot up to $2.80/hour! Seriously, I worked with a great group of guys and the fact that I could write my own schedule while attending school full time was a real bonus.
In the spring of 1976, a rumor circulated around the park that the training department was going to hire additional people for the summer season but some of these people would stay on full time while others would be laid off. I considered whether or not I should even apply for one of these spots considering I had a good thing going at the Skyride but I figured that the chance that I would actually land one of these plumb spots was about 100-1 so I thought “what would be the harm in interviewing?”
I interviewed with a real nice guy named Bob Shepard who was the Director of Training at the time. Bob was a real showman and loved to talk and I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut, listen intently, and nod my head a lot. The only thing that I really had going for me was that I was a certified scuba diver. I was going to school full-time as a business major so it wasn’t like I had any background for the job but miracle of miracles, I got the job! And not only that, I was assigned to the famous Shamu Show!
But it’s not like I picked up my bag and walked across the park and started performing in shows. First, I had to put time into working with the animal care department. Hardly glamorous, it was hard work but very rewarding. And the people working in animal care were really great to work with and were real professionals. On my first day on the job, my first task was to work with supervisor Tom Goff and force-feed a harbor seal. Most of the marine mammals at Sea World were either born there or were once “beached” animals (you have probably heard about whales sliding up onto the beach in preparation of dying). The animal care guys routinely go to the beach to pick up beached animals and will either assist them back into the water or if necessary, bring them back to Sea World for needed medical care. Most will be released back into the ocean when they are well but some are in need of daily care and live at the park.
After about a month of assisting with the myriad of duties that the animal care guys perform, I had to put my time in working in the fish house. For a week (normally a rookie trainer works anywhere from two weeks to a month in the fish house with a gentleman named Santos but I was lucky in that I only had to work for one week there and with Santos on vacation, I worked with a different animal care guy every night), I had to work from midnight to 9:00 AM thawing fish, filling buckets, cleaning buckets, distributing the buckets to the various show areas and feeder pools in the park, cleaning more buckets, cutting fish for the sea lions, clean the fish house, and did I mention cleaning buckets? The hardest part of working in the fish house wasn’t the non-stop physical labor but rather the lack of sleep. I never could understand how certain professions like police officers could switch work shifts and suddenly be working midnights and sleep during the day.
The most fascinating fish house event occurred to me when one morning at about 4:30 AM, we were driving a utility cart filled with 30 pound buckets of fish through the park to make a delivery to the Shamu Stadium (this would be the old Shamu Stadium where I would eventually work and where the dolphin show is now held, not the fabulous new Shamu Stadium being used today). I was driving the cart along with animal care specialist Doug Wigdahl and had only the small headlight to help me navigate the path but I knew the park so well and with no other people around, I accelerated confidently. Suddenly, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting three fairly large California sea lions which were crossing the path! I exclaimed to Doug “the sea lions got out of the feeder pool”! He chuckled and explained to me that these sea lions actually come into the park from Mission Bay near the marina early every morning, jump into the feeder pool with the harbor seals, stay for the free food from the park guests all day long, and then jump out of the feeder pool and head back into Mission Bay after the park closes. Shaken by this unexpected event, I drove a bit slower from that point on.
Finally, the day came that I moved to my first show area as a trainer, the famous Shamu Show! I expected to jump right in, learn how to maintain and train these magnificent creatures, and perform in the shows. Not quite. I became very proficient at cleaning the trainers hut, hosing down the show’s back area, cleaning more buckets, scrubbing fish scales off of the show’s set with a small Dobie pad, and cleaning the toilet almost daily. It was miserable work. In hind sight, I understand why I couldn’t simply be given a whistle, a bucket of fish, and pointed in the right direction but this wasn’t quite what I signed up for.
Keeping in mind that some of the new trainers would get to stay and some would be laid off at the end of the summer plus the fact that the other new trainers were already performing in the shows in their show areas, I went to the boss, Bob Shepard, and asked to be moved to a different area. I wanted to at least have a chance to compete with the other new trainers and keep the job, even though I was now far behind. Bob told me that the only place he could move me was to the Underwater Show (otherwise referred to as the Theatre which was torn down a few years ago which I feel was a real shame. The trainers worked topside while the park guests watched the show through the glass from one of four sides). There were two experienced dolphins (Stein and Dinah) and two sea lions (Murphy and Wynn) in the Theatre. The head show trainer’s name was Dave Self who was known to be a bit old fashioned and difficult to work with as well as another new trainer named Dave Harkins and a volunteer named Chris Covington (female).
Please realize that nobody asks to go from the Shamu Show to the Theatre but I thought it was the perfect move. The animals could do the shows in their sleep and as far as working with Dave, I am a bit “old school” myself, we worked well together, and we became very good friends. As my first mentor, he was a demanding, no nonsense type of guy with a great heart and a real love for the animals. He liked and supported me and at the end of the season when trainers were shifted to other show areas, he made a request to the new Director of Training, Bruce Stephens, that I follow him to the Seal and Otter Show.
Needless to say, I got to keep the job as a trainer and in 1978, was moved back to the Shamu Show, now fully equipped to work with the killer whales and perform in the shows. The only downside to moving back to the whale show was that we had a lot more buckets to clean!
Ken May has been serving the North San Diego County insurance community since 1982 except for a brief 3 ½ year stint in Texas working on the company side. He is also the president of the American Agents Alliance, a non-profit professional insurance agents organization that originated in California in 1962. Please visit us at www.kenmayinsurance.com.
Don’t all of the agents have the same prices? Have access to the same companies? Offer the same customer service? Aren’t they cut from the same gray, boring cloth? Isn’t the whole thing one big scam?
Well, believe it or not, sometimes the answer is yes but most times it’s no and you need to be careful because the agent you choose is just as important as the company you are with.
Now, I’m not talking about the type of agent you work with but more importantly, the quality of the agent you choose to work with.
But it is worth a brief discussion on the different types of agents out there;
First, you have your Direct Writers. These are companies like the “Gecko” and “Flo” who cut out the agents and use the internet and call centers. This may work for somebody with just basic needs who don’t mind being 12th in line on the phone and working with different people who generally don’t have a lot of insurance experience and the employee turnover rate is high but hey, people have to start somewhere! And have you noticed that the lizard has opened up a few retail shops (I guess after dissing the independent agents for years, they finally realize the value of an agent). Even Progressive plays both sides of the fence by having Progressive Direct and working with independent agents. We call these “Pigs at the Trough”.
Next, you have the Captive Agents. These are companies like State Farm, Allstate, and Farmers. I know many great captive agents but because they can only sell insurance through their company (thus the reason that they are captive by these companies), I have seen numerous times where a captive agent will cut coverages to dangerous levels to be competitive with independent agents on price, primarily in the homeowners market. This is a very dangerous practice for the consumer which goes against what being an agent is supposed to be about.
Finally, you have your Independent Agents. These are agents like us (though many of our clients believe that we are owned by Mercury Insurance) who have many companies to choose from to be able to tailor your needs to the right program. Among the Independent agents you have preferred agents and non-standard agents. Non-standard agencies insure a lot of high risk or young drivers while preferred agents insure many of the low risk drivers who will usually have multiple policies with the same agent. Non-standard agents do not have access to many, if any, preferred companies while the preferred agents can insure both the preferred drivers and preferred property risks as well as the high risk drivers and property risks. Ken May Insurance Services is a preferred independent insurance agency who can cover the clean, preferred risks as well as the high risk clients. It’s all a matter of having quality programs in which to place each risk.
Why do some agents resort to cheating?
It’s simple really. It’s because they don’t have the experience, the expertise, or the ethical standards to be appointed with preferred companies so they feel that they have to cheat and cut corners to compete with agents who have years of experience and have shown the ability, professionalism, and ethical standards to have earned appointments with the top companies. They don’t have the client’s best interest in mind and will do almost anything to get the business even if it means engaging themselves and the unwitting client in insurance fraud and the real possibility of having a future claim denied. After all, the client signs the application which means that he states that the information on the application is true to the best of his knowledge.
Let me give you a real-life example!
Years ago, I briefly worked at an agency in Texas that I’ll call “The Cowboy Agency”. This agency wrote mostly high-risk and/or young drivers. One morning, a young lady called for an auto insurance quote. She was 16 years old and had already had 4 at-fault accidents! And of course, Daddy just bought her a brand new Ford Mustang GT convertible (Daddy wanted to be popular and cool instead of being a parent). The best price I could come up with was $800 every month! And you thought your payments are high!
I showed the quote to a co-worker (it’s not every day that a risk like this comes along) and she asked if she could take a look at the quote on my computer. I agreed and then she asked if she could call the young lady. Now I’m getting really curious so I agreed again. My co-worker then requoted the young lady a price of $450 per month. Incredulous, I asked how in the world she was able to come up with a price almost half as much as the one I came up with. First, she said that the girl is no longer 16 but she is now 26 because the company doesn’t ask for a copy of the drivers license. And, she now has a clean record because the company doesn’t look up driving records. And, she is now married with the name of a fictitious spouse on the excluded drivers list. Finally, for a final touch, she made a forged copy of prior insurance for the young lady to get an additional discount. With my mouth gaping wide open, I watched a single 16 year old with a horrible driving record (and a shiny new sports car from her Daddy) become a 26 year old married woman with a clean driving record with a long history of prior insurance. I left “The Cowboy Agency” shortly after this.
How do “bad apple” agents get away with this?
The sad truth is that the California Department of Insurance (DOI) simply does not have the resources to combat this type of fraud effectively. Even though the DOI tripled in size when prior insurance commission John Garamendi was in office, the department can’t go after the minnows when there are so many whales out there. And, many consumers don’t see the harm when they have a much lower rate so they don’t complain to the DOI. It’s like swimming in the pretty ocean not paying attention to the sharks lurking below.
How can I protect myself and my family from unscrupulous agents?
Ken May has been serving the North San Diego County insurance community since 1982 except for that brief 3 ½ year stint in Texas. He is also the president of the American Agents Alliance, a non-profit professional insurance agents organization that originated in California in 1963. And over 60% of those that leave Ken May Insurance Services for any reason come back later.