Questions to Ask Your Insurance Agent to Protect Your Real Estate TODAY!

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Ahhh property insurance! Who here has read their entire insurance policy? Before everyone raises their hand, let’s be real. Reading and talking about insurance sounds super boring. However, as a licensed agent -turned - financial coach, I’ve seen the devastating financial impact of NOT having the right coverage, especially when folks didn’t even know what to ask. So, protect yourself, your family, and your real estate by starting with asking the right questions.

First, you’ll want to know that insurance agents immediately have a conflict of interest (by admission of the continuing education ethics classes) because they are selling you an Insurance Product and giving you advice with a monetary reward in mind. Even though there are honest agents out there, know that even the best ones have a financial self-interest in working with you, very low level of training on their products, and most are terribly over-worked. Hence the reasons I no longer represent any one company but advocate for my private clients.

Disclaimer: Insurance varies from state to state in crazy, enormous details. I’m a licensed agent and licensed for claims adjusting on the East Coast. You’ll want to check out the questions below in terms of your state and local insurance laws.

When you call this week to review your policy with your agent, you’ll want to be sure to sweetly communicate that you have some questions and ask if they can set aside an hour. Agents are always over-worked and you’ll want to set the tone as positive and cooperative. You need answers! You need to make strategic decisions to protect your hard earned real estate! Your agent needs to be on your winning team of professionals that are working for you to protect your business.

Feel free to copy and print this list of questions for your meeting.

Question #1: “What Companies do you represent? Are they AM Best rated?” *This is the grading scale for insurance companies financial stability. Not a complete safe-guard but definitely helps. Your policy is ONLY as good as the company backing it up.

Question #2: “Does my policy cover the structure of my property at either Actual Cash Value or Replacement Cost?” If it’s Replacement Cost, is it FULL Replacement Cost or partial with Co-insurance? What is the Deductible and how does that work with ACV or Replacement Cost? *Make sure and land here for a while. This is a key component of your policy.

Question #3: “Does my policy have any limitations or exclusions that I should know about?” Ask your agent to pull up a digital or physical copy of your EXACT policy so you can look at the policy language together. Chances are your agent HAS NOT READ the policy for a long time, if ever. Be kind, but watch their response. You want an agent that actually reads what they sell.

Question #4: “How many policies do you work with that are like mine?” **This shows their level of daily expertise in the type of real estate that you own. If you’re the only one real estate investor in the agent’s whole book of business, you should be shopping for a new agent who works with your type of real estate on a regular basis. The insurance industry is quickly changing and is often NOT real estate investor friendly. You need a strong insurance agent who is keeping up on the changes that will impact you.

Question #5: “For the company that I have, how has their claims department been in handling claims for other clients? “ Stop here and let them tell stories. They will always have either good, neutral, or bad stories. You get to decide if that’s the kind of claims department you’d like to work with if something catastrophic happens.

Question #6: “I’d like to compare prices, but keep a high-level of coverage and service. What companies do you recommend?” Again realize, that they are always calculating commission. No judgment, they have families to feed. Look for an agent who can offer different companies (sometimes called an independent agent). Also, call other independent agents to get a quote. Please don’t work online! The artificial intelligence and automatic underwriting is not yet able to adequately evaluate your needs as a real estate investor, even if you only have a small portfolio. This is too important of a financial and strategic decision to purchase online.

Question #7: “What are my liability limits and what happens if I have a negligence claim?” Heaven forbid you have a trip-and-fall claim and get sued but you need to know how that works. Ask lots of questions until you are confident you’ve received that answers that will help you avoid this deathly serious kind of claim.

As you are building your real estate business, you are becoming the watch-dog of your asset and company. With this set of questions, you’ll begin to evaluate what you need and whom you want to work with in the important area of insurance. If you have any additional questions, you are welcome to call our office 740-255-3586 or email me at elizabeth@runningcreekco.com.

How to Evaluate a Potential CPA For Real Estate Investors

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It’s time to talk taxes. Yes, I know that’s about as fun as a root canal, but it doesn’t need to be stressful when you have right professionals working hard to help you maintain the highest possible cash flow for your business. The following is my personal list of what to ask a CPA as you "interview" them for the job of serving you, your family, and your real estate.

Save this list for when you go to talk with a CPA. Now is the time to do this - before the rush of Tax Day in April. Print this list and write your answers here as you may interview preferably at least 3 different CPA’s and this will help you discern who is going to be the best fit for your business needs. It is worth the time to find a professional whom you know and can have a strong working relationship as you grow your business.

Ask the following:

  • How many real estate owners/ small business owners / business start-ups do they serve?  What type of businesses? Do they personally own rental properties?

  • Have they been familiar with your type of rental property (i.e. do they do single family homes, commercial with apartments above, duplexes - whatever type of rental you have ask them if they ever done the taxes before for this type).

  • If you have done any type of repairs, has the CPA asked you about the type of repairs? Some are subject to depreciation over the life of the asset whereas others may not be treated the same way. Ask lots of questions and give them lots of information on what types of expenses you’ve incurred.

  • On your schedule E that you bring into them, ask them questions like, “Am I getting all the tax benefits possible from owning this rental property?”

  • If you had to provide appliances or other items that are not attached to the structure, did the CPA list those items? What about computers/technology used solely for business? If you have to pay additional insurance, did they ask that amount?

  • What is viewpoint on the home office deduction?

  • Are they familiar with the guidelines of what constitutes a real estate professional?

  • What type of small businesses do they serve? LLC's S-Corps C-Corps?

  • Will they provide references? (they should, and then call their references!)  

  • Do they provide representation in the event of an audit? Ask how many audits in an average year that they represent. Let them tell you stories about recent audits.

  • What is the fee schedule for audit representation?

  • Is there any part of filing returns that they don't do? For example, Ohio has School District tax (in addition to property tax, yikes!) and it's a simple form but some CPA's don't want to bother with it.  

  • Will they review the last 3 years taxes to possibly amend?  

  • What is their philosophy on taxes? I.e. some CPA’s don’t want to deduct anything whereas others deduct possibly too much. Their personal viewpoint matters. This actually varies widely in interpretation of the law, especially with recent tax law changes. Be certain their philosophy aligns with yours.

  • What kind of work do they like to complete “pre-tax” season?

  • What will they do with the 1099 forms that may need to be completed? How much will that cost? Compare with with online options based on your level of tax expertise. Are they willing to complete them or are they willing to let you complete them? The cost difference and pros/cons are sometimes significant.

  • What are their digital security and identity theft procedures? How seriously do they take internet security and firewalls?

  • What other services do they provide? Bookkeeping?  Tax strategy/coaching?

  • What are the credentials of the staff? Are they all Enrolled Agents or CPA's or  tax prep secretaries?

  • What is the process that happens when a return is submitted? Who works on it? Who checks the numbers before it's filed? Who is liable for mistakes? Do they carry Errors and Omissions insurance on all their staff? If yes, what company? Listen to how they speak on this topic. Are they open and transparent about this?

  • What professional organizations are the members of and where do they complete their continuing education? Most of the time this will be readily posted in the office and they are happy to genuinely share all that they have accomplished professionally. You want someone committed to ongoing professional education.

  • What format do they require when taxes are submitted? Paper or digital? Do they keep digital copies of receipts or is that the client's responsibility?

  • Can you work with their personality and the friendliness of the staff? What is the office like? Organized? Peaceful? Or is it stuffy and filled chaos? Is the office clean or neglected and well-worn? You can discern a ton about services just from observing the physical environment.

I always recommend viewing this as a job interview of sorts with this CPA firm holding the very life of your family in their hands. I know and have seen the absolute devastating impact of not having the taxes done correctly.

Always double, triple check everything and ask questions until you’re completely comfortable and confident in their answers. Read www.irs.gov for yourself and cross check the answers you receive for perspective as well as accuracy. A good CPA is totally worthy of paying for their services - this is not an area to cut in trying to save money. Look at your CPA as a member of your winning team that will make your real estate profitable and in compliance for the long term. Always make certain you are receiving the quality of service that you need and that you communicate your long term goals clearly.


If you have any questions regarding this general guide or pulling together your financials for what a CPA needs, please feel free to contact us at 740-255-3586.