Prep ahead for Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving creeps closer, everybody’s got turkey, football and family dinner on the brain. But as much fun Thanksgiving is, we all know it’s also quite the undertaking to throw a successful party that goes off without a hitch. To make things easier, we’ve thought of eight things you can do in advance and to free up Gobble Day for family and friends.

  1. Finalize your guest list. You probably already have an estimate of who’ll be attending, but call everybody to confirm. This is also a great opportunity to ask about food allergies and special diets, especially if guests are bringing new significant others or people whom you haven’t seen in a while will attend. People with special dietary needs are aware that it can cause a hitch in others’ menu planning and will be extra-grateful to you if you’re the one who initiates the conversation. Assure them you are happy to create a menu or at least a few dishes that take their needs into account.
  2. Now that you have a clear guest list, it’s time to work on your menu. You might want to go traditional, or have a theme celebration. Once you’ve decided on a theme, scour through grandma’s recipe collection and that magical land known as Pinterest. Copy or print recipes and start your list of ingredients. If your guests are expected to contribute to dinner with drinks, a dish or desert let them know now.
  3. Take stock of your pantry. Knowing exactly what and how much of it you have at home will help you during shopping and cooking. It’s also a great opportunity to put aside items for a food bank, where donations are much appreciated at this time of year. Make sure you toss all expired items – do not donate them!
  4. Clean out your freezer and fridge and put the oven through a self-clean cycle. This ensures that all the ingredients and leftovers are stored in a safe environment. Clean and replace missing Tupperware so you can put away leftovers as soon as you take the dish off the dinner table.
  5. Finish up that comprehensive list of ingredients you’ll need and hit the stores. One week before Thanksgiving buy all drinks, non-perishables, any special cooking utensils you might need and the turkey. Pick up all ingredients, even perishables for dishes you’ll make in advance such as vegetable soup, stock, pies and rolls. Store these in the freezer when they’re done. Sturdy perishables such as pumpkins, carrots, potatoes and such can also be bought now. Other perishables that will be cooked on Thanksgiving should be bought no more than three days in advance.
  6. Take care of deep cleaning now so you only have to do a quick vacuum before your guests arrive. Polish your silverware now.
  7. Make Compile a cooking schedule, so on the day before and the day of Thanksgiving you know exactly what, when and in what order needs to be cooked, whipped, reheated and popped in the oven.
  8. Review you renter’s insurance and make sure it’s up to date. Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous days of the year, with the highest number of home fires. In fact there are three times more home fires on this day, helping November take the top spot for cooking-related fires. Make sure you’re protected with Resident Shield.

 

Thanksgiving safety tips for cooks

Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving Day, from preparations, to the cooking, and especially getting together with friends and family to savor a delicious meal, tell stories and create memories. Some Thanksgivings are more memorable than others; the idea is to create the best kind of memories, as the host and as the guest.

Thanksgiving is the day for home cooks to shine, but because cooking causes around 69 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires, here are ways to avoid a kitchen disaster on Thanksgiving, or any other day. You won’t want to have to use your renter’s insurance as a result of a culinary mishap this holiday.

Most of the cooking fires happen as a result of unattended cooking. Even though it’s easy to get distracted as the host through the arrival of guests and serving appetizers, the first rule is to not walk away from a stove or appliance in use.

Select your cooking clothes carefully; avoid loose-fitting clothing while cooking as the fabric can catch fire. And your sleeves – make sure you roll them tightly beforehand.

Carbon monoxide is not something you want to play with, so check your carbon monoxide and smoke alarms to be in good order. Also, turn on the kitchen fan or vents and open windows periodically.

In the event that a fire starts in a pan on your stove, turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid. You can also use a fire extinguisher to put it out. Never ever try to kill a stove fire with water, flour, or anything else you have around in your kitchen as these can cause a flare-up.

In case the fire starts in your oven, turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and call 911. Wait for the firefighters outside.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy and make sure everyone in your residence knows how to use it.

If you’re a fan of deep-fired turkey, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t use the fryer indoors
  • Keep it at a safe distance from buildings and flammable items
  • When preparing the turkey, make sure it’s completely thawed and dry
  • Keep children and pets away

Hot grease shouldn’t be thrown in the garbage; let it cool and discard it in a covered metal can.

Once you finished cooking, before going to bed check to make sure the oven, turkey fryer/BBQ, and stove burners are off, candles too, and if you have a fireplace, make sure the chimney damper is open.

Bon appetite!

Protecting your personal property and identity

For personal property protection and liability coverage in cases of fire, weather damage, robbery and more ResidentShield Renters Insurance has you covered, but more and more we are seeing the importance of protecting yourself against identity theft. Now more than ever, renters must be aware of potential access points to their information in the real world and online.

watch for password theft

According to PrivacyRights.org, identity theft affects more than 8 million Americans. While that number is woefully high, fraudulent activities have decreased since their record high of 55.7 billion worldwide in 2006. Much of the decline can be attributed to institutions’ and businesses’ increased security investments to protect clients. The wise actions of residents also contribute to a significant portion of the decline.

There are a few simple things that you can do to protect your identity at home, on the internet and in your neighborhood:

  • Shred unwanted financial and personal documents instead of simply placing them in the trash.
  • Completely clear cookies, history, and all system caches on public computers after use.
  • Never access online banking on public computers. Technology exists to let remote users view your screen and any information that your type into a field whiles you’re online.
  • If you do not plan to buy a home, car, or other large investment in the near future, consider freezing your credit. This prevents the unauthorized opening of additional lines of credit in your name.
  • While on the web, don’t bother with “You’ve Won…” banners. No one wants to give you anything for free. Best case scenario is that you’re caught filling out a grueling survey. Worst case scenario is that you click the banner and inadvertently download spyware, viruses, and other dangers to your system.
  • If you’re filing your taxes at a center, take a thorough look around before accepting service. How are documents stored? Are files easily accessible to anyone passing by?

When it comes to storing personal property and documentation within your rental, keep these points in mind.

  • Keep copies of personal documents in a safe place outside of the home, like a safe deposit box.
  • Ensure that sensitive documents within the home are in a secure, obscure location.

 

Happy Halloween – the smart way

Decidedly one of the most beloved American holidays, Halloween brings out our playful side. But as the old adage goes, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Or a door. Or the home cinema system. Because Halloween not only brings out the fun side of people, which in itself can be annoying and dangerous (I’m looking at you bored teenaged pranksters!), but it certainly brings out the crazy as well.  To stay safe this Halloween, here are a few easy tips.

  1. Whether you plan on going out for the night or huddle around a giant bucket of popcorn while you rewatch the first season of American Horror story, check that all doors and windows are locked properly before you get on with your night.
  2. If you’re hosting a party, no matter how tired you are, do a quick roundup after your last guest leaves, to make sure all entry points are secured. Do not facilitate crimes of opportunity and do your best to hamper anyone’s malicious intent.
  3. While you do a room-by-room sweep for locked doors and windows, be sure to check for still lit cigarettes. Check in trashcans, take a peek under the furniture, between sofa folds and pillows.
  4. Make sure all your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are functioning well and have batteries. If something catches fire, say from a carelessly discarded cigarette or fallen candle, the smoke alarm is your first line of defense. And whatever you do, do not disable them. You might want to allow friends to smoke inside your apartment, but in all honesty, what’s more important: your physical safety or your smoker friends’ comfort? When guests arrive, inform them of the designated smoking area (ie. the balcony).  Print out a few simple signs with directional arrows leading towards the designated area and spread them throughout your place.
  5. Alcohol-related crimes and pranks tend to spike on All Hallows Eve, so be sure to update your renter’s insurance policy. Have you bought any new electronics, appliances, jewelry or books lately?  Be sure to add them to your policy. Should they go missing while you’re out trick-or-treating or be damaged in a fire thanks to the drunken random dude that knocked over your candles, the more accurate and detailed your inventory is, the more you’ll receive in your insurance claim. Renter’s insurance offers you coverage in case of vandalism too, so if your apartment get paint bombed or a rock flies through the window and knocks out your TV, you’re covered.
  6. Another perk of renter’s insurance is personal liability coverage, including a provision for dog bites. So if a guest tripped and hurt himself enough to need medical attention, and is blaming you and definitely not his way too elaborate and cumbersome costume, renter’s insurance has your back. The same goes for your friend’s girlfriend’s medical bills. Even though she wouldn’t have any had she listened to you, when you told her that your dog is afraid of new people and please do not pet him.
  7. Don’t put any candles, including jack-o-lanterns in places where they can easily be knocked over, especially if you’re throwing a party. Other than having to clean melted wax off your furniture, they pose a real fire hazard as well. Go for flameless candles, glow-in-the dark sticks and twinkly lights. If you can’t resist having candles, be sure to put them all out when the party is over.
  8. Avoid using extension cords. Any novelty appliances you use (ie. fog machines) should come from a reputable retailer and manufacturer, to decrease the chances of short-circuits. DO NOT DIY any electronics or appliances.

Now that Resident Shield has your back, you’ll definitely get the treat and not trick, so go have some fun! Happy Halloween!

10 questions to ask before you rent

Think you’ve found the best apartment to rent? It’s spacious, reasonably priced, and designed to impress. What more could you want?! Well, a lot more, actually. It might be a good idea to go over a few specifics before signing the lease. Minor details may mean a lot if we’re talking money deducted from your security deposit for the nails you drove through the living room walls to hang your pictures.

Here is our list of 10 questions to ask your landlord or property manager before closing the deal.

  1. What are my payment options? Is there a secure way to pay rent online?
  2. Can I see the actual unit where I will be living? This shouldn’t be a problem, unless the previous residents have not vacated yet. Either way, you should thoroughly inspect the unit before moving in and make sure it’s everything your landlord advertised.
  3. What does my monthly rent include? Many apartment communities now offer a series of amenities which may be free of charge for residents. While you’ll probably have to pay for cable, natural gas, and electricity, you might catch a break on trash removal. If you’re lucky, you’ll find WiFi on the freebies list as well.
  4. Are there any security features that might help residents feel safe? If the rental apartment is located in a gated community, that’s definitely a plus. Other security features that you might encounter in urban apartment buildings include electronic access control, video surveillance systems, good lighting in the common areas, a visible security presence on site or a state-of-the-art alarm system – these are all good options that will help you feel safe in your home.
  5. Can I do some decorating? And re-paint partitions? Chances are you’ll want to make the place your own, so knowing where you stand with regards to remodeling permissions is a must. Some landlords simply require that you leave the rental unit in the exact same condition you found it when you moved in, and will accept nothing more than the normal wear and tear. Others may not be comfortable with any remodeling projects at all, so unless you have their written permission, it’s better to stick to decorating with throw pillows, potted greenery and other pretty items that won’t alter the premises in any way.
  6. What is your pet policy? Make sure to specify what kind of pet you’re planning to shelter. Some landlords promote their properties as pet-friendly but when you read the lease you find out that by pet they mean cats, bunnies, or fish. Fido is nowhere to be found on that list. What about visiting pets? Will you be able to babysit your sister’s Beagle when she’s out of town? And if the answer is yes you should also inquire about the extra pet security deposit which is usually required to cover any damages brought about by four-legged companions (dog owners know well what we’re talking about here: wrecked floors, scratched doors, ripped patio screens, upsetting neighbors with barking in the middle of the night, etc.
  7. Where can I park my car? Needless to say free parking would be awesome. Renting a parking space can amount to a couple of hundred dollars per month in big cities, so landing a rental home that includes parking in the monthly rent would be both convenient and cost-efficient.
  8. How do you handle maintenance requests? Is there a property manager on site who can take care of work orders? Or an online resident portal for submitting requests? Find out which procedure you’ll need to follow should you experience leaking faucets, mold problems, or bug infestation.
  9. What is your policy on subletting? That’s something that you want to know, just in case you have to get out of your lease due to unforeseen circumstances, like moving to rejoin a life partner or deciding to pursue a job opportunity that is 2,000 miles away.
  10. What is the total cost of the move-in? In addition to the first month’s rent, deposit, and any extra fees that might apply for pet owners, there may be a rental application fee that covers the cost of the background and credit checks. This is something that most responsible landlords take care of before approving you as a tenant, but you just might encounter one who surprises you with it later.

Also, it would be wise to take photos of every room, including close-up shots of any damages, defects, and faults that you notice while doing the initial home inspection.

You can even jot these questions down and keep the printed checklist if you decide to make that particular apartment your new home.

P.S. Once you settle in, it’s important to consider other things as well, including getting renters’ insurance which will protect the contents of your home against a wide variety of mishaps, including fire, lightning, smoke or theft. It even comes with a personal liability clause which provides protection in case of all sorts of accidents, from slip-and-fall injuries to liability provision for dog bites.

It’s still hurricane season: protecting yourself and your possessions

For another two months or so, hurricanes are still a threat to homes in many of the United States, bringing powerful winds and heavy storms. Their power of destruction can be incredible: 2012’s Superstorm Sandy caused more than $68 billion in insurance claims across 24 states.warning sign of bad weather ahead

Homeowners know very well what steps they need to take to keep their homes on the safe side, but renters seem to be lagging behind. Do you know how to keep your possessions and house safe in case of tropical storm or hurricane?

1. Get renter’s insurance

No, your landlord’s homeowners insurance will not cover your belongings. Even if you’re just renting a room in a shared house, the coverage only protects your landlord’s furnishings, while your property is specifically excluded.

If you are renting the entire house, your possessions still won’t be covered without renter’s insurance. However, the additions and alterations made by the tenant to the property may be covered up to 10 percent of the home’s coverage limits for contents. Storm screens or carpeting are examples of addition and alterations. Make sure the policy you are purchasing specifically includes hurricane coverage as renter’s insurance policies provide coverage only for the types of situations that are explicitly names on it.

2. Create a home inventory

The next step, following the renter’s insurance purchase, is to make a home inventory of all your belongings to have it in case you need to file a claim in case of loss or destruction during a hurricane. The inventory should include photos of the items, estimated purchase dates and values, the brand name and model, and, if possible, copies of the receipts. Also, taking a photo of the receipt is another valid option to keep these records.

It’s important to keep your inventory safe from fire; a modern way, and a very secure one, is to create a digital file of the inventory that you can save online and can be accessed from anywhere.

3. Discuss with your landlord about measures to protect the home in case of a hurricane

As a renter, you have no responsibility to protect the property, unless your lease agreement states otherwise. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make sure the place you live in is not as wind- and storm-resistant as possible; talk to your landlord about precautionary measures to protect the dwelling.

FEMA recommends securing the roof with wooden planks running along the underside of the roof in the attic, known as truss bracing. Doors can be strengthened with reinforcing bolt kits and windows and glass doors can have added storm shutters. Perhaps some of them you can add yourself, but others might require professional skills in which case hiring a contractor is the best option.

Some local governments require homeowners to assure some or all of these measures, so you might want to look into seeing if the dwelling you’re renting meets the requirements of the region you live in. if you discover that they don’t, it’s your legal right to demand them from your landlord.

4. After hurricane damage, you might receive some help to recover from the loss

If you disregarded the first tip on this list and didn’t get renter’s insurance to protect your valuables, or perhaps lost items that weren’t in your renter’s policy, you may be eligible for a low-interest disaster assistance loan of up to $40,000 to repair or replace articles including clothing, furniture, appliances, and cars destroyed or lost during the super storm. You can apply for a disaster assistance loan here.

Three reasons why every football fan should have renter’s insurance

One of the many joys of the arrival of fall is the NFL fall football season. If you’re a true football fanatic, ‘tis the season to be jolly. Whether you’re pumped for the Patriots or cheering for the Chargers, you’ll surely have friends over for some beer and football. Although renter’s insurance might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning your next football viewing party, we’re here to show you why it’s as essential as the perfect salsa dip and high-def flatscreen.

  1. Speaking of that flatscreen, it cost a small fortune, right? I mean, if you can’t see your favorite team crush the competition on a stadium, you should at least watch it on a high definition TV set with a diagonal that would give some theatre screens a run for their money. We know you take good care of it, but the nature of accidents is that they’re unpredictable. What if lightning hits and fries your precious connection to the world of football? Well, if you have renter’s insurance, it will help pay for the repairs or a replacement.
  2. Beer. Yes, beer is one of the main reasons you should have a renter’s insurance policy as a football fan. Just think about it. You have a couple of friends over, your favorite team is winning, your popping brewskis and before you know it, everybody’s had one too many. Now we all know how even a bit of alcohol can make you accident-prone. Suddenly someone loses their balance, falls down and sprains an ankle or breaks an arm. And they’re blaming you and your supposedly slippery floors. That could get you into trouble, especially if your friend needs a visit to the ER and the medical bills pile up. Resident Shield covers accidental injuries of guests while at your residence and does it for as little as 50 cents a day. A bargain!
  3. Now let’s be honest and admit that some football fans can get a bit out hand. Like Jim from 12D, who can’t get over the fact that the Falcons just got crushed by the Vikings. And every time he sees that Vikings sticker on your door he inches closer to the edge. One day you come home to find your door ajar and every bit of Vikings memorabilia smashed, ripped or spray-painted. After going through the necessary motions with the authorities of course, you’re still left with a disaster.  If you have renter’s insurance however, you’re covered in case of vandalism. Even though nobody can replace the memories tied to all that was destroyed, renter’s insurance will cover the damage, helping you buy new reminders of mind-blowing touchdowns and last-minute wins.

Now go get renter’s insurance before the next big game, and host the most epic football viewing party ever! Geaux New Orleans Saints!

Only you can prevent apartment fires

Fall is now upon us and heating systems are turned on, fireplaces crackle and candles are lit to chase away the dark and cold hours. But the comfort of warmth and light can come with a price. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2012 97,000 fires were reported in apartment buildings alone, claiming the lives of 380 civilians, injuring 4,050 and causing $1.9 billion in property damage.

While renter’s insurance provides you with a safety net should the worst happen, it’s still safer to prevent. In observation of National Fire Prevention Week, running Oct. 5 through 11, here are a few tips to keep yourself, your loved ones and your property safe.

fire in apartment complex

  • Did you know that “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives” is this year’s National Fire Prevention Week theme? Check if your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are functional and operating. Be on the lookout and replace batteries in time.
  • If your apartment has a sprinkler system, ask your property manager when they were last inspected.
  • Check if your heating system works properly. If it makes weird sounds or you smell something out of place, shut it down (if it’s no danger to you) and contact your landlord and the appropriate authorities.
  • If you use alternative heating sources, such as space heaters, make sure they are always three feet away from anything that can burn. Always turn them off when you leave the room or go to bed. Always plug them directly into an outlet, never use an extension cord.
  • Make sure the insulation is intact on all your chords, appliances, light fixtures and any other gadget that runs on electricity. Short circuits are one of the most common fire sources.
  • Always use light bulbs with the correct wattage.
  • Never use extension cords for large appliances such as refrigerators or washing machines.
  • If your apartment has a real fireplace, make sure the chimney has been recently cleaned.
  • Always place candles in stable holders, far from flammables and never leave them unsupervised. If you have pets, be especially careful or simply switch to flameless candles.
  • Did you know that pets start around 1,000 fires every year? According to the Chicago Metropolitan Veterinary Center, it’s true. Put candles and chords out of their reach and remove or lock stove knobs. Although Pet Damage Coverage can help you pay for the damage, prevention is still easier.
  • Fall is also the time to celebrate one of America’s favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.  It is also the day with the highest number of residential fires in the entire year.
  • In fact, according to the Unites States Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of cooking fires triples on Thanksgiving Day. So remember your basics: don’t cook when you are tired or distracted, never wear loose-fitting or flammable clothing (i.e. high in polyesters), keep your cooking surface clean and uncluttered,  never leave cooking unattended and always make sure all sources of fire and heat have been turned off and put out before sitting down for dinner.

Welcome fall into your apartment

Fall has officially arrived with its many unique joys: pumpkin patches, football, Halloween candy, scarves, Thanksgiving and burning fireplaces.  Here are a few tips on how to welcome fall in your apartment.

Whether you bought that giant flat screen to enjoy football season or to be thoroughly scared by all the goriness of the new season of The Walking Dead, be sure to update your renter’s insurance.  Should anything happen to your home theater system, renter’s insurance will help replacing it so you don’t miss one moment of Darryl and his awesome crossbow skills.

Take a few hours to thoroughly inspect your apartment. Do you have a window that doesn’t close properly? You could be providing an unwanted visitor with easy access to your belongings. Has the insulation around it worn away? Rain could get in and before you know it, cause damage not only to the apartment but your personal property as well. Put in a maintenance request with your community and have it fixed before anything happens. You should also check if the heating system works properly, whether you have any leaking pipes and in what shape your fireplace is. While renter’s insurance has your back in case of misfortune, prevention is still safer. If you own any extra sources of heat, i.e. space heaters, check if they’re compliant with your community’s regulations and if they work properly and safely. Never, ever improvise when it comes to heating.

With the decreasing hours of light comes the temptation to light up all the candles you own. By all means, go for it, just be sure to place them in stable holders, far from flammable materials, never leave them unattended and never fall asleep with them still burning. Be extra careful if you own pets, especially cats. They might accidentally knock them over, while investigating the mysterious source of light. Consider buying flameless candles.

If you’re a true fall fanatic, you’ll be doing some redecorating to bring the most awesome season into your apartment. Acorns, dried leaves, flowers and plants, pine cones, pumpkins and even a smaller hay bale (hello rustic new couch!) could find their way into your apartment.  Before bringing anything home though, be sure they’re not poisonous for your pet or small enough to be swallowed and cause internal damage. Be careful how you decorate with them as well. While those bright red maple leaves you strung from your chandelier look extra stylish, Captain Meowington might be tempted to pull them down. Along with your chandelier.  And even though you have Pet Damage Coverage, you really don’t need the hassle of getting them replaced.

Now go throw some marshmallows into a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the smell of your pumpkin spice candles while you cheer for your favorite football team – go New Orleans Saints!

Nine back-to-school shopping tips

It’s that time of year again – for parents across the US, back-to-school stress might be on the brain.  Here are a few shopping tips on how to tackle one of the most stressful activities of the start of the school year.

  • Sit down with your kids and make an inventory of their belongings. Sort through outgrown clothes, see which can be passed down to younger siblings or donated, which are too worn and make a list of items that need replacing.
  • Not everything needs to be replaced just because it’s a new school year. Shop smart when it comes to items that can have a longer life, such as backpacks and instrument cases. Take children’s passing whims into account as well. For example, Jimmy’s backpack doesn’t necessarily have to feature the comic book hero of the moment, because six months from now, he might be over it and the $50 backpack.

  • Set a fix budget and stick to it. Explain to kids, especially younger ones, what is needed and essential and what is a whim – i.e. store brand pencils and notebooks are as efficient as the ones featuring the boy band of the moment. This will help avoid in-store melt downs and impulse purchases.
  • If you and your partner have a busy work schedule during the week and the kids aren’t old enough to safely handle doing laundry, buy a generous stock of everyday basic items such as socks, to avoid those dreaded mornings that start with “Mom!/Dad!I don’t have any clean…”
  • Check if your state has a sales tax holiday. If it does, schedule your shopping outing accordingly and you might save significantly on supplies, clothing and footwear.
  • Although modified and year-round schools are increasing in popularity, 86 percent of US students still attend classes within the traditional school year system. That means hordes of anxious parents with kids in town flocking to the mall. Avoid the swarms by shopping online or hitting the stores early. The latter also ensures you get dibs on all the best choices.
  • Check with the school for classroom supply lists. If you know what extra-curricular activities your kids will attend, ask about supplies and equipment. While you might not manage to buy exactly everything, you at least won’t have to scour the city for a flute or a quality lacrosse stick.
  • Save all your receipts. Last-minute changes can happen and it’s good to have all your bases covered.  Also, should something unfortunate happen to your apartment, receipts can be very useful when filing a renter’s insurance claim.
  • Look over your renter’s insurance policy and update if necessary. Update your record of possessions, especially if you’ve purchased big ticket items such as computers, laptops, musical instruments, sports gear and bikes.