When house hunting, the price of homeowners insurance probably isn’t top of mind. But homes with hidden risks can make getting coverage difficult, expensive or both. Learning how to identify them could save you a bundle.

This could be a particularly important concern for first-time home buyers and those moving from cities to suburban or rural areas who may not be aware of common hazards, says Jennifer Naughton, risk consulting officer for North America for Chubb, an insurance company.

Three out of 10 city dwellers told a Chubb survey in early August that they were considering moving out of the city because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the number of first-time home buyers in the first half of 2020 rose 4% compared to a year earlier as lower interest rates made mortgages more affordable, according to Genworth Mortgage Insurance.

 

WHERE’S THE NEAREST FIRE HYDRANT?

A homeowners insurance premium can depend in part on distance to the nearest fire hydrant and fire station, Naughton says. Homes that are on narrow roads or otherwise difficult for firetrucks to access also could be more expensive to insure.

“If they have to cross over a bridge, it’s not only a consideration of can a car go over that bridge, but also can a fire engine,” she says.

Some homes are at such high risk of wildfires and severe weather — hurricanes, tornadoes, windstorms and hail — that private companies won’t insure them. Without insurance, you can’t get a mortgage, so you’d need to turn to state-run risk pools such as Beach and Windstorm Plans or Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plans, better known as FAIR. These policies typically cost more and cover less than regular homeowners insurance.

Also, many homeowners policies in storm-prone areas have hurricane deductibles that are higher than the normal

Columns share an author’s personal perspective and are often based on facts in the newspaper’s reporting or from personal experience.

Largely unnoticed amidst this year’s significant events is the current historically low interest rate environment. These low interest rates present an opportunity for making gifts to family members at a low gift tax cost. This article will discuss three possible transfer strategies that are made more attractive by low interest raes.

Intra-family loans. A loan is not a gift because the lender receives a promise to be repaid. For a loan to be respected by the IRS it needs to be a bona fide debt and contain an interest rate at least equal to the monthly published applicable federal rate (AFR). For loans made in September, the short-term (three years or less) AFR is .14% (that’s .0014!); the mid-term (over three years but less than 10 years) AFR is .35%; and the long-term (over 9 years) AFR is 1%. That means a parent or grandparent could loan money to a family member for almost no interest. If the parent or grandparent later wishes to forgive a portion of the loan, they can do so provided the loan was valid and there was no preconceived plan to forgive the loan.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRAT). A GRAT is a trust used for estate planning purposes. The basic concept is that the donor transfers property to the GRAT in return for receiving an annuity payment over a period of years. At the end of the GRAT term, whatever is left in the trust passes to the trust’s beneficiaries. A GRAT is effective at passing assets to family members if the rate of return of the trust’s assets