On the Market: Dealing with changes in home insurance coverage

The damage incurred in the wake of recent wildfires has dramatically impacted insurance companies’ bottom lines. In the past, homeowners didn’t have to worry much about purchasing insurance – it was nearly always available, and at a fairly reasonable cost. That, however, is changing.

Q: Where has the most dramatic change occurred in homeowners insurance?

A: The availability and cost of fire insurance. Not only are the rates rising, but in some places, insurance companies are not writing new policies for fire insurance.

Q: What happens if my insurance company raises my rates?

A: Get on the phone and call around to other insurance companies. (Or call me for some referrals.) In most cases, it is better to stay with your existing company rather than change companies altogether.

Q: What if my insurance company cancels my insurance?

A: A program called the California FAIR Plan (cfpnet.com), which operates like the California Earthquake Authority, offers fire insurance. It is expensive, though.

Q: What about flood insurance? Is it required?

A: Around here, it is not usually required unless you are in a designated flood zone. If you are in a flood zone and have a federally insured loan on your house, you will be required to purchase flood insurance (usually in the $2,000-$3,000 per year range).

Q: What other insurance problems are you seeing?

A: Airbnb, vacation rental, etc. If you are using your home for short-term rentals, contact your insurance company to ensure that you have the right kind of coverage.

Also, take action if your home will remain vacant for an extended period of time (usually 60-plus days). Call your insurance company to confirm that you will be covered.

Q: What’s the advantage of an insurance broker versus an insurance company?

A: Brokers offer access to insurance products from a wide range of insurance providers, so that would be a good place to start if you are having trouble finding insurance. Your best bet is to call around. Combining all of your insurance needs under one roof often provides substantial discounts, so be sure to ask.

Q: Should I upgrade the policy I have had for many years?

A: Yes, it is definitely worth reviewing. Replacement costs have risen dramatically, as labor is more expensive. There’s nothing worse than paying for insurance that ends up not covering you when you really need it.

Owen Halliday is a realtor who manages the Sereno Group office in downtown Los Altos. Text or call him with questions, comments, potential column topics or to request a valuation of your house at 492-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

BBB: Beware of Amazon scam

Free merchandise from Amazon left right on your doorstep – what could possibly be bad about that? Plenty, it turns out.

In this con, often called “brushing,” scam companies use the names and addresses of real people to create phony orders and fake customer reviews, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Eye Lite Optometry celebrates 20 years in downtown Los Altos this month

Julia Wagner/Town Crier
Eye Lite Optometry’s optometrists include, from left, Dr. Audrey Chu, Dr. Andrea Dong, Dr. Emily Yuen and owner Dr. Jabina Ramde.

When Dr. Jabina Ramde opened Eye Lite Optometry in downtown Los Altos, she had just two staff members and one exam room. Twenty years later, Ramde’s practice has grown to include three other optometrists, five support staff and three exam rooms in an office with approximately twice the square footage.

Ramde said something that hasn’t changed over time, however, is the way she and her staff treat their patients. From day one, Ramde said Eye Lite’s goal has been to make personal connections with patients and provide them with quality service.

Sweet things to come: Local baker waits patiently, sees new shop on the horizon

Sweet Diplomacy” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The storefront signage for Petit Baking Co. at 209 First Street in downtown Los Altos has been changed to Sweet Diplomacy, reflecting the decision of owner Melody Hu to rename her company.

Mountain View resident Melody Hu had anticipated that her patisserie-style bakery would open in downtown Los Altos over the summer. She’s still waiting.

Renovations needed to be made to her new shop, located at the former home of Cho’s dim sum restaurant on First Street, to create the airy, inviting ambience she had envisioned for her Petit Bakery Co. But six months after she last spoke with the Town Crier and a few red-tape run-ins later, Hu has changed her company’s name and timeline as she navigates the delays.

How to use up leftover money in a 529 college savings plan

Los Altos High School graduation” width=
Alicia Castro/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos High School seniors march toward graduation ceremonies in June. Many families start 529 college savings plans long before their child graduates from high school. In some cases, there is money left over even after their child finishes college.

Despite the burgeoning cost of higher education these days, you might still find yourself with unspent money in a 529 plan after your child has graduated from college. As you may know, if you withdraw the money for nonqualified education purposes, you have to pay taxes plus an additional 10% penalty on the earnings withdrawn from the account.

Latest phishing scam uses phony calendar invitations

First it was emails. Then it was text messages. Now the latest phishing scam involves calendar invitations.

According to the Better Business Bureau, scammers are infiltrating default calendar settings to plant phony events laced with phishing links on targets’ schedules.

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