Home builders are confident- why it matters

Get ready for more new homes!
Regardless of the reasons or politics, new home builders are optimistic… more than they have been in a decade!

The good news comes from a recently issued press release by the National Association of Home Builders. The association surveys several hundred home builders each month and asks them how they feel about a couple of things. Simple, emotional gut reactions.

One of the “how do you feel” questions is:
​Do you expect sales of new homes, over the next six months, to be good, fair or poor?”

Sounds simple. It is. With that and a few other questions, the association issues a monthly report about how builders feel about the future. They assign it a number, and that number becomes the Housing Market Index (HMI).

​The number went up 3 points in October, to 64. That’s the highest it’s been in 10 years. ​

Builders are optimistic- so what?
It’s a big so what!

When new home builders read the tea leaves… they see more folks buying new homes over the next six months. So they start building now to make sure they’ve got homes on the market for these new buyers.

New home construction means more materials purchased. That means someone has to make and sell those materials. Jobs are created. Someone then has to build those homes. More jobs created.

New home sales are only a tenth of the housing market- but they pack a punch.

The economy just LOVES new homes!

​Is it time to buy a new home?
We can’t answer that for you. But considering that the Federal Reserve recently refused to raise interest rates (that was a bit of a shock), interest rates are still at all time lows. No one knows how long the builder optimism will stay high and the rates stay low, but it’s a perfect combination for builders and buyers alike.

It could all change in next month’s report.

But for now…the economy just got a shot of adrenaline. And that’s good news.

Homeowners insurance: Whiteside Insurance: (830) 693-8881.

Caffeinated peanut butter- what’s next?

Caffeinated peanut butter was born last week in New England. It’s proof that everything hasn’t yet been invented. There’s still room for your great idea.

Will you try it?
​One serving has the equivalent amount of caffeine as your next grande latte. Your stomach might appreciate this instead of another shot of acidic coffee. Or maybe the thought of two of your favorite things bundled so smoothly is enough to make you a fan.

Order now online. It’s making national news.

Singing Happy Birthday Is Legal Now!

The Happy Birthday song was not free to sing.
Until recently, the song Happy Birthday was owned by Warner Music, and you could have gotten in trouble for singing it. But you didn’t get in trouble, and no one that you knew got in trouble, because Warner looked the other way when you sang it at your kid’s last birthday party.

But some were not so lucky.

Businesses paid Warner Music millions of dollars for the rights to use the Happy Birthday song in ad campaigns. It’s the most recognized song in the English language, and it wasn’t free.

That all just changed.

​Happy Birthday was set free by U.S. District Judge George H. King. He basically gave the song Happy Birthday a new birthday on September 22, 2015. Anyone can now use Happy Birthday for anything they wish. Yay!

​Go ahead. Sing it. (You know you want to.)

​Copyright and all that stuff.
This is a good time to think about all the Internet stuff you borrow.

If you are a small business owner, small advertising budgets may tempt you to “borrow” stuff from the Internet. A quick Google search and Bam! you’ve got a picture and a slogan or article.

Bad idea.

That “stuff on the Internet” usually belongs to someone.

​Businesses get “Cease and Desist” orders from major companies all the time. It really happens. Usually, they get off easy- a bill for a few hundred dollars and removing the “borrowed” material. But sometimes, penalties are huge. Learn the common myths about copyright here.

Personal and Advertising Injury Coverage.
If you are a small business owner, you may have some limited coverage for advertising injury & copyright infringement under your General Liability Insurance. But it may not be automatically included. You need to check your policy or call your insurance agent to be sure.

​Don’t assume you have this coverage.

Even if you have this coverage, you still need to be careful. The policy language is not always the same between different policies. There are always excluded behaviors. Lawyers can have a field day with your mistakes.

​Two pieces of advice.
Ask first.
Most folks will be happy to share what they have created- for a price. Some kind souls will even allow you to use what they create for free, as long as they are asked. Many creatives license their work under Creative Commons, and if you follow their terms, you can use their work.

Call your insurance agent.
If you are a small business owner, now is a good time (heck- it’s always a good time!) to call your insurance agent. You should review your business policy each year, and this topic can go on the list of things to discuss. Your agent gets paid to worry about things like this. Call your agent.

5 ways to avoid a car-deer collision

Bambi is dangerous.​

Bambi is cute, but not in your headlights at 55 miles per hour.

Over 1 million people hit a deer each year in the United States. This kills most of the deer. It also kills about 200 people each year. Yes, Bambi kills. Deer are far more dangerous than wolves. Really. In fact, only two people in North America have been killed this century by wolves.

​The American Deer Lottery.
​Your chances of meeting a deer head-on depend upon where you live and drive. Overall, your chances of hitting a deer are 1 in 169.

These numbers vary drastically from state to state, with Pennsylvania usually topping the list, to Arizona near the bottom (Hawaii always is at the very bottom. Virtually no one in Hawaii every hits a deer. But hey- they have sharks to worry about.)

In every state, the odds against you go up in the Fall, when romantic bucks are moving around a lot. It’s mating season. Nearly half of deer collisions occur between October and December.

It doesn’t matter when or where it happens. It’s no fun if it happens. ​The average deer-car collision costs over $3,000 in damage to your vehicle, makes a huge mess, and pretty much ruins your day (or night).

​Suddenly, it’s your turn. You won the Deer Lottery. What do you do?

Defensive strategies that work.
​Besides wearing your seat belt and driving the speed limit, there are five things you can do to miss a head-on appointment with a deer:

1. Slow down at dusk and dawn.
Consider driving a little under the speed limit during the time when deer are most active. That’s dusk and dawn, and those times are also the most difficult to see deer.

2. Hug the center lane or line when possible.
Even a few feet of added space between you and the edge of the road could make a huge difference. This may add additional response time. Of course this depends upon all kinds of things like: are you on a multi lane freeway, what are current road conditions, and of course keeping it safe and legal.

3. Use highs and watch for eyes.
High beams on your headlights will illuminate deer eyes in a really cool and almost creepy way. There’s all kinds of science behind that. (You can read about it here.) This will give you more advance warning, especially after a full sunset. Of course, don’t shine those brights on the oncoming cars. Be safe and legal.

​4. Watch for the gang. Deer are almost never alone.
If you see one set of eyes on the side of the road, slow down and watch for the rest. And if one deer bounds across the road, you can bet more will follow. No one wants to be left behind.

​5. Honk, brake firmly and don’t swerve.
Let’s assume that impact is unavoidable. A deer is literally in your headlights and you are closing fast. Practice this in your mind a few times. HONK. Stay on the horn. No little polite “toot-toots.” This often will jolt the deer out of its stupor and save both of you. But if that doesn’t work, for goodness sake, HIT THE BRAKES. (That should go without saying.) Now here’s where your brain will have trouble: DON’T SWERVE. Everything in your instincts will tell you to swerve. That’s a really bad thing to do. The deer may jump at the last second and you will end up hitting it anyway. More likely though, you’ll flip your vehicle, or lose control and hit something else like a tree or another vehicle.

If a collision is unavoidable- HIT THE DEER.

Your odds are better. Experts agree. Don’t swerve.

​The good news.
Auto insurance companies know that it’s not your fault when you run into a deer on the road. You most likely have comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance, and that should normally cover it. If you don’t have comprehensive coverage on your car (or you don’t know what that is)… call your local insurance agent. Like right now. Get comprehensive coverage. It’s deer season.

Self-driving cars: will you still need auto insurance?

I’m not sure if I’m ready to get into a driverless car and let it take me to the store. Images of Skynet dance in my brain. I don’t think I’m alone.

​”Human decisions are removed.” This short clip from Terminator 2 is funny… and a little creepy.

​The future is here now.
​But it doesn’t matter if I’m comfortable with smart cars. ​Self-driving cars are already on the road. They’ve logged more than a million miles, and that’s just the start. Google has made self-driving cars front page news. By 2014, articles about these little robotic cars started showing up in my news feed almost every week.

Most major auto manufacturers have already begun working on driverless cars, including Audi, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo. And General Motors is offering a hands-free super cruise system with automated driving on some freeways in 2016.

The future will be at your local auto dealership in just a few months.

​How soon before your car is smarter than you?
​It may be a while before your car fires you from your job as “Driver-in Chief.” After all, airplanes still need pilots, even with auto pilot so good that it can land a 747 on a dime. There are several reasons why self-driving cars aren’t anywhere near replacing mom at the wheel:

    • Failure of technology (“stuff breaks”)
    • Sudden change of the driving environment (a police officer gesturing for you to pull over)
    • Ethical dilemmas (an emergency situation that requires an instant decision about which thing or person you hit in a “no-win” scenario”)

Of course, there are more obstacles than this. This Popular Mechanics article lists additional challenges to self-driving cars. We’re years away from being able to take a nap while your car drives you to work.

But experts seem agreed that self-driving cars will be a normal part of the driving landscape by 2020. Your friend will have one. You know *that* friend- the guy or gal who has to have the coolest new gadgets. By 2035, as many as 25% of all new cars sold will be self-driving.

Will you be able to drop your auto insurance?
​Nope. Probably not in this lifetime. At least not while you have the ability to take the wheel back from your super-smart car. Human error will still be a risk for decades to come…maybe indefinitely. And human error is what your insurance was made to protect you against. Whether it’s your error or the other person’s, it doesn’t matter. If a human makes a mistake, the car isn’t going to get blamed.

However, insurance companies will have to reduce rates when self driving cars hit the road in significant numbers. Google’s first million miles proved that the accident rate for self driving cars is incredibly lower than “human only” driving. The computer simply won’t make errors like we do. After 1.8 million miles, Google’s test vehicles had only 16 minor accidents- none of them the fault of the vehicle. So accidents and fatalities will go down, and your rates will too. Eventually. Hopefully. Some experts predict premiums as much as 60% lower than today’s premiums… 15 years from now.

You will still need auto insurance.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but there are going to be crazy drivers and unpredictable situations for many years to come. Technology may eventually replace every single driver. But until it does, you’re going to need an insurance agent.

What are your thoughts? Are you ready to give up the steering wheel?

Do-it-yourself car emergency kit

Why buy it when you can build it?
There are dozens of pre-built car emergency kits. They range in price from $20 to $200. Typically they will include a lots and lots of “pieces” like a 73 piece kit from AAA. But when you count the pieces, you realize that they count “bandages” as 20 of those pieces, because, after all, there are 20 bandages. So which car emergency kit should I buy? Maybe none of them.

Build your own kit.
It will be better. It will be fun. And it will have only what you need.

Start with simple questions.
Building your own emergency kit can start with role playing questions. Start by imagining a breakdown in the city, and then a breakdown in the country. Role play the seasons too- is it summer or winter? Rainy or dry season? Is it in your part of the state or are you on a trip? With these scenarios in mind, ask these five questions, and any others you may think of too:

1. What do I need to do first?
Maybe the answer is as simple as: “I need to make sure no one hits my car because I’m in traffic.” This tells you that you need reflective warning triangles and maybe even flares.

2. What will I do if I’m hurt?
This could start you thinking about what type of first aid kit you need. You may have unique health concerns, like asthma. Do you need an extra rescue inhaler in the kit?

3. How will I contact someone?
This can start you thinking about a car cell phone charger or an extra battery. It will also make you think of what to do if you don’t have a signal or your phone is broken. Maybe you’ll want a bright colored flag, or a marker and paper for a sign that tells passing motorists to call for help.

4. What if I’m stuck for hours?
It happens. People get stuck in their vehicles for hours- even days in rare cases. We’ve all seen the stories on the news. Answering this question should take you in many directions. Take notes; don’t trust your memory. Items you will want in your emergency kit will begin with simple things like “extra water” and progress up to “emergency hand crank radio.” It’ll be fun!

5. What basic tools will make it easier for me to get back on the road?
Don’t just think of your own skills with tools. Think about the shade tree mechanic who stops to help. What will they need? Of course we start with the handyman’s secret weapon- duct tape. Talk to friend who knows how to fix basic car “owies.” They can help with this part of the kit.

Now build your list of items.
After you’ve done the role playing exercise, and had fun imagining all of the “what if” scenarios, it’s time to write out a list of things you will need in your emergency car kit. You can compare that list to many of the lists already on the Internet, like here and here and here. I’ll highlight some things that everyone ought to have on their list:

    • First aid kit.
    • Triangle reflectors, flares, emergency tape.
    • Bright colored flag or tarp.
    • Jumper cables, spare tire and jack.
    • Screwdrivers, hammer, bungee cords, duct tape.
    • Bottled water and energy bars.
    • Warm blankets.
    • Car charger for your phone.
    • Roadside Assistance phone number. Your insurance agent can help with this.

Your kit will be better!
Will your own emergency car kit be better? You betcha! You will have thought through what you need in your own geographic area. You will have added items unique to your own needs. You will know everything in your kit, because you chose it item by item. And you will have purchased quality items, because after all, you want this kit to work right if it’s ever needed.

Now let’s get building your emergency kit!

Need insurance? Call Whiteside Insurance at (830) 693-8881.

Your check engine light isn’t so scary

If you’ve driven for many years, you’ve probably seen the “Check Engine” light come on in the dashboard of your car at least once. You are in good company. 10% of all cars on the road are driving around with the Check Engine light on. If that’s never happened to you, or if you have a new teenage driver in the house, I’ll share a few things with you that can keep your anxiety levels down before you head to the repair shop.

Don’t panic.
If the light is not flashing, don’t panic. You can keep driving. These lights all look a bit different depending upon the car you drive, but they usually are shaped like an engine, or say “Check Engine” or both. If it’s a solid color, you don’t need to slam on the brakes in traffic.

If the light is flashing, or if your oil or temperature light comes on at the same time, pull over as soon as you can safely do so. A flashing light means it’s much more urgent, and your engine could be at risk. Call a shade-tree mechanic friend. Most of us one of those, and they are good to have on speed dial. Let them advise you. If they don’t answer their phone, call a tow truck.

Here’s what it could be:
Different websites list a different number of things your Check Engine light could mean. There’s even a blogger who gives voice to the frustration many people feel when it comes on. So I’ll list the 5 most common things that this light can mean, and maybe you won’t feel so powerless and frustrated:

Loose gas cap.
Yes. Really. Your vehicle could simply be telling you… “hey, my gas cap is loose or cracked!” Then why doesn’t it just say so? I don’t know. But a loose gas cap can cause the entire system to mix gas and oxygen improperly, and eventually mess with the performance of your vehicle. Fortunately, this is the easiest thing in the world to check and the cheapest problem to fix.

Faulty oxygen sensor.
Yeah, I know… what the heck is an oxygen sensor? Basically it’s a very small computer in the engine compartment that tells the engine how much oxygen and fuel to mix. You probably have between two and four of these little gizmos in your car. When they go bad (and they always do eventually), they send either too much or too little oxygen to the engine, and you get a very rough ride. And you pollute the atmosphere. The good news is that they don’t cost a fortune to fix, and as long as your car is running, there’s no need to take care of it right this minute. This is the most common thing wrong when the check engine light comes on.

Bad catalytic converter.
Good news: this one can be dealt after you save up for the repair. Bad news: it’s the most expensive of the problems I’m listing, (it can cost up to $2,000) and it does need to be fixed. If it’s bad, you won’t pass any required emissions tests in your community. Your mileage will suffer. You will pollute the air. Eventually your car can suffer major problems. This is a tough repair. You’ll need a real mechanic to replace it.

Faulty mass airflow sensor.
This is another car part similar to the oxygen sensor. It’s not very big. It does what it sounds like; it senses air flow to the engine and sends signals to the car to adjust things so everything works just right. If it goes bad, it can also cause the oxygen sensor to go bad. The good news: it’s not super expensive, and it’s easily replaced. Just like the oxygen sensor, there’s no need to panic. You can schedule a repair for next payday.

Aging spark plugs and wires.
The good news: your shade-tree mechanic friend can probably fix this. On most cars, this is a Sunday afternoon task. And like all of these common engine light alerts, it can wait a bit. But you do want to replace these. They can make your engine run rough, hurt your mileage and eventually cause problems for your (expensive) catalytic converter.

Here’s what you should do:
Assuming the light isn’t flashing, and it’s the only light that stays on, here’s a simple plan:

    • Don’t slam on the brakes in panic.
    • Finish your errands. You can visit your mechanic on the way home.
    • Check your gas cap for cracks. Tighten it. You might get lucky and the light goes away. If the cap is cracked, get to an auto parts store and buy a new one.
    • If it’s not the gas cap, stop by your favorite auto repair shop and ask them to hook up their fancy and expensive diagnostic computer to your car. This tool will spit out codes that will tell your mechanic exactly what’s wrong. Now you know what you are facing, along with the cost to fix it. There is almost never a charge to diagnose the problem.
    • Schedule a time to get the problem fixed. If you’re short of money, it probably can wait until you get paid or you can increase the credit line on your charge card. But it can’t wait forever. You do need to fix it. Discuss your options with your mechanic. He or she will tell you if it’s safe to keep driving. You can even get a second opinion. Just don’t panic.

I hope this helps. If you want to read more, check out LifeHacker’s pretty good post on this.

Need an insurance quote? Call me at (830) 693-8881.

Don’t buy insurance from a gecko!

“Mom and Dad, some day you’re gonna tell me to never talk to strangers. So how come you just called a stranger and bought insurance? What gives with that?” And it was a lizard! You make me laugh out loud.”

But the Gecko is cute!
Yep. He’s cute. And I have to admit, the British accent (it’s not Australian) makes him even more adorable. He used to be voiced by Kelsey Grammer, but now he’s a Brit. A BRITISH LIZARD selling American insurance. That should be a warning sign. OK, I’m reaching for reasons to not trust the cute little lizard.

Let’s get serious for a minute.
Friends don’t let friends buy insurance from strangers online. Or from a stranger at the other end of a toll free number.

You need an agent who is from the Hill County of Texas and the Austin area. Only someone local can understand your insurance needs. I’m located in Spicewood… as Texas as Texas gets. I’m and independent agent who represents many companies, including Germania Insurance.

Friends refer friends to their trusted local insurance agent. Why? Because your local agent goes above and beyond the anonymous person at the other end of a toll free number.

Here are a couple of the extra jobs your local agent takes on for you:

1. Red tape removal expert.
Your local insurance agent digs cutting through red tape for you. That red tape can sometimes be the dreaded FORM LETTERS that spit out of a home office faster than you can yell STOP!

One call to your agent, and the anonymous treatment by your insurance company stops dead in its tracks. To your local insurance agent, you are a person, not a number. They hate red tape as much as you do. It makes their day to get the scissors out and cut through the tape.

See if a call to Martin the Gecko, who lives in the mythical Kingdom of GEICO, gets you anywhere. Nope. The Gecko has “people” to make sure you remember your place. You are a number. A phone call to “Customer Service” will prove this. “What’s your policy number” will be one of the first questions. No policy number- no help.

Don’t call “Customer Service.” Call your local agent. Ditch the red tape!

2. Advocate and Ally.
You need an Advocate.
Let’s face it; we’ve all had a fight at least once with with someone in a corporate home office. And if that fight was ever with someone in the corporate office of an insurance company, you felt especially vulnerable. We need a super hero to come to our rescue. Enter your local agent.

Even the very best insurance companies make a bad hire sometimes. Or a good employee can have a bad day. It can be an annoying underwriter who lives in a room with no windows, a billing supervisor who just doesn’t “get it,” or a claims adjuster who woke up on the wrong side of the bed the same day your car is totaled.

One call to your agent, and suddenly you have an advocate. Someone to put that corporate employee in their place. Someone to fight for you. Ask the lizard if he will fight for you. He won’t. He’s bought and paid for by the ad agency that created him. He’s a fiction.

You need an Ally.
When you want advice about how much insurance you really need (and not just the cheapest price)… enter your local agent.

When you are confused about policy changes or rate increases, and you need someone who cares about you as friend and neighbor to just make it simple… enter your local agent.

When bad things happen to good people, like a house fire or a car accident, they need an Ally. Someone to come alongside with compassion. Someone who knows them and their family and maybe even cries with them over their disaster. Enter your local agent.

Let me apply for a job to work for you.
I don’t have a cute British accent. And I’m not nearly as funny as Flo on the TV commercials. But I’d love the chance to work for you. If you are already my client, you are someone I value, and I hope I can continue to earn your business by treating you the same way I’d like to be treated.

If you just found me (maybe because of a mutual friend), I’d love to get the chance to meet you. Do you have an insurance story? Most folks have one. I would be honored if you’d let me listen. Maybe, just maybe, I can get you a better insurance policy. And better service.

Wade Whiteside, (830) 693-8881