Mobile Bay Real Estate and Community News

Oct. 18, 2016

Fortified roofs save homeowners money, grief

Of all the things one might replace on an existing home, a roof would be last on the list of costly updates that make you want to bask in its wondrous pattern, or admire its fine color. Really, a new roof is nice, but, at that cost, I could pay for three vacations.

Still, something has crept into the roofing industry since 2009 that is increasingly making homeowners take a second look at the old roof. It’s the Fortified roof that saves homeowners money and grief.

A little background: After Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, coastal homeowners were choking on bloated insurance rates, so various industry and government folk set out to see what could be done about it.

Building standards were the focus, and out of that came the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit that tests construction methods against natural disasters – winds up to 130 mph, wildfires, hail and so on.

It established three levels for Fortified homes: Bronze, which bolsters the roofing system; Silver, which goes further to brace gables and columns, and Gold, which secures the structure from foundation to chimney.

Buyers of new homes constructed to the Gold Fortified standard find that their insurance premiums are shockingly, delightfully dirt cheap. Like $800 for a 2,500-square-foot home.

But a homeowner must have the certificate indicating the level of fortification in order to receive the discount, says insurance agent Glen Gorowsky.

This piece of paper is the equivalent of a college degree for a home and, like that education, it is not obtained without money, study, research and examination.

“Don’t close without that certificate because you’ll need it to prove to your insurer that the roof is fortified,” Gorowsky cautions new home buyers.

When it comes to retrofitting existing homes, the process is a bit more involved and it depends upon the age and construction of the home.

I asked these folks about the process: (1) Alex Cary, fortified coastal programs manager for IBHS; (2) Lad Drago, a State Farm agent; and (3) a roofer with 39 years of experience who requested his name not be used for my report.

First you need to have the home evaluated, Cary said. A list of inspectors is on SmartHomeAmerica.org. The cost of this evaluation is $75 to $300.

Then you’ll need to contact a roofer who is able to follow through with the smart home process, including photographing the work and other important documentation.

The roofer says that going for the Bronze standard may add $1,500 in materials and labor to a roofing job.

So homeowners should examine the additional cost vs. the insurance savings.

And homeowners should know that this fortification certificate is good for only five years. The cost to renew it is $500.

One big positive about having a Fortified roof is coming home after a hurricane to a sound roof, both Drago and Cary point out.

Additionally, a Fortified roof that withstands a major wind storm saves you the deductible and other out-of-pocket costs.

Posted in Community News
Jan. 22, 2015

Will Spanish Fort school zones change?

Will Spanish Fort school zones change?

No. That was the unequivocal answer from Baldwin County School Superintendent Robbie Owen at the Jan. 20 Spanish Fort Education Summit at the Spanish Fort High School gym.

Currently, the Spanish Fort school feeder pattern encompasses four neighborhoods in the Daphne, Ala., city limits, as well as unincorporated areas of Spanish Fort in neighborhoods north on Hwy. 225. Some of these areas north of the city limits have Bay Minette telephone exchanges, as well as mailing addresses.

Parents have recently voiced concerns that as enrollment swells and the portable classroom count grows that the school zone will be redrawn to funnel students who are not living in Spanish Fort proper to other zones. Owen specifically addressed both the Daphne subdivisions and unincorporated areas. “No rezoning. No one’s going to be moved,” he said.

The news was met with applause from the crowd of about 200 parents and teachers. Owen’s comments came in a meeting to push for an 8-mil property tax increase to fund the capital construction plan. The tax increase will be up for a vote on March 31. The Daphne subdivisions that are zoned for Spanish Fort schools are TimberCreek, Historic Malbis, Bay Branch and Plantation Hills. Some of the subdivisions on Hwy. 225 include, Delta Woods, Saluda and Bromley Woods.

By Janet English. © Janet English Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet English and "Will Spanish Fort school zones change?" with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Community News
May 14, 2014

Homeowner Insurance 2014 update for Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope and Baldwin County

Give me 2 minutes of your time and I may save you money -- or heartache.

I saved $1,100 on my homeowner’s insurance. Interested?

I also incurred more financial risk should catastrophe strike. That’s what I learned when I talked to two of my favorite go-to guys who sell insurance in Fairhope, Daphne and Spanish Fort … and beyond.

But first, let’s talk about my last insurance carrier, Wilshire. The policy was written by a Mobile insurance company in 2011 for $2,556. When my renewal notice arrived in April, the cost was $3,499, roughly a $1,000 increase in 3 years. When I called the local office about the increase, let’s just say their explanation was unacceptable.

Enter Glen Gorowsky, an independent agent, and Lad Drago of State Farm.

“People need to shop around at least on a yearly basis,” Gorowsky says. “If your insurance renews between May and say October, it’s good to try and shop it in the first quarter of the year and try to have your renewal happen in the first part of the year before hurricane season starts.

“No. 1, prices are more stable the first quarter up to say May” before the “Weather Channel says you’re going to have 900 storms coming up Mobile Bay.”

Both Drago and Gorowsky say there’s more to the policy than just the annual fee.

“I find a lot of people that have high percentage deductibles, and they’re really not saving that much. So their exposure is higher than what the savings is,” Gorowsky says.

Drago agrees: “The biggest mistake I see people making is exactly what’s it going to cost me instead of what is my coverage, what am I getting.”

For many, it will come down to how much risk you want to take.

  1. Named storm coverage (hurricane deductible) vs. wind and hail:Most carriers offer an a la carte menu of deductibles to choose from. Get out your calculator when you make those decisions. Gorowsky says you may find that a savings of $200 a year could cost you $15,000 if and when any wind deductible kicks in.“For five years, we weren’t writing wind,” Drago says. During that time, State Farm, like other carriers were offering what’s casually known as “fire,” and then going to the “beach pool” to cover wind.
  2. Drago says State Farm is again writing policies including wind and hail south of I-10 in selected areas. To be clear, State Farm offers named storm coverage vs. just wind and hail, which is more desirable but a bit more costly.
  3. Basically, you incur more risk as a homeowner if you choose the wind/hail deductible vs the named storm coverage, which is just confined to well, named storms, not just those terrible thunderstorms of late.
  4. “Beach pool” or AIUA perils:“It’s really designed for somebody who can’t get anybody else to write them,” Drago says. “It’s really an insurer of last resort.”Issues both men cite:
  5. Gorowsky adds: “It’s a non-profit org(anization).”
  6. Over the last few years, I’ve come across homeowners well inland who have elected to go into the beach pool, or the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association. That raised the hairs on the back of my neck and now I know why.
  • On homes 25 years or older, it is a depreciated cost policy. (When someone totals that old car, they don’t get the full cost of what they paid nor do they get the cost of a brand new car to replace it. Imagine that with a house!)
  • Contents are always a depreciated cost.
  • Other structures – fences, decks, detached garages, boat docks, etc. – are not covered.
  • And it doesn’t come with personal liability coverage in the event someone is injured on the property.
  1. Replacement value:The price per square foot of new construction is a better barometer for true replacement cost if your home burned to the ground.
  2. “Replacement cost may be higher than market value for older homes,” he says.
  3. “Some people run the risk of being under-insured,” Gorowsky cautions. That’s because they confuse replacement cost vs. market value.
  4. Home contents and other structures:In fact, this is where my new lower cost insurance may have also left me at risk with only $75,000 for contents. And then there is whether you have other structures on your property that need coverage, such as out-buildings, detached garages, decks and fences. Gorowsky says some companies come with a package for other structures, even if the homeowner doesn’t have any. “Other providers, you can fine tune it to exactly what you need.”
  5. Ok, here I backtracked and had to add to my policy to cover a second garage and deck to the tune of $189, shaving my savings to roughly $900 a year.
  6. Tip: Photograph or video tape your contents, upload and then email them back to yourself so you have a record of what you have.
  7. Drago urges homeowners to examine their contents coverage. State Farm covers contents based on 75% of the home’s value (i.e. $300,000 for contents for a $400,000 home).
  8. The industry in general: In fact, some were advised that they didn’t need flood insurance. Please, folks, don’t rely on “experts” to give you a pass on flood insurance. Use common sense if you’re near a stream, creek or an area where water rushes through or collects and get flood insurance.
  9. Finally, with the recent storms and flash floods, we all heard stories of people whose homes were flooded in areas that had never experienced that before.
  10. New construction, meeting higher building code requirements, has very attractive insurance rates. State Farm has written policies on $400,000 homes on the eastern edge of Spanish Fort and parts of Daphne for as little as $1,900, Drago says.
Posted in Community News
Feb. 24, 2014

Spanish Fort Fire rating improves and so do insurance rates

Spanish Fort Fire Rescue has improved to a Class 3 ISO Rating.

This apparently applies to homeowners within a 5-mile radius of the station, according to independent insurance agent Glen Gorowsky.

Homeowners may receive a reduction in insurance rates, but to be sure that the change is noted, homeowners should contact their insurers.

One Spanish Fort resident reported that her rate dropped $315 annually

Posted in Community News
Feb. 24, 2014

Spanish Fort get second grocery ... and the crowd goes wild!

Rouses, a Lousiana-based grocery, opened its Spanish Fort location on Feb. 22 to a packed house.

Many residents of Spanish Fort had been forced to shop in Daphne or at the Publix near the Eastern Shore Centre since Bruno's closed its doors in November at the Hwy. 225 & 31 intersection.

Throughout the weekend, Rouses parking lot was full to overflowing as Eastern Shore residents streamed in to see what the newcomer grocery to Baldwin County would offer. They found plenty of the usual, but many offerings with a decidedly Louisiana twist, from hot French bread, to steamed crawfish to ready-made gumbo or shrimp & corn chowder.

Just having milk and bananas nearby was a nice thing, too.

Posted in Community News
Sept. 20, 2012

When you need a quick break from it all, try Bayfront Park in Daphne, AL

Bayfront Park pavilion overlooks Mobile Bay and is accessible by taking U.S. Hwy. 98 South to Scenic 98, then taking an immediate right on Bayfront Drive (or Bel Air). This is the perfect location for watching a pretty sunset or spending an afternoon fishing. Bayfront Park is also home to the Richard Scardamalia Pavilion, which can be rented for wedding celebrations and the like. Bay front also has several nature trails and that lead to two boardwalks with bench sitting. This is one park where you need to keep your dog on a leash as alligators can be spotted when in season.

Posted in Community News
March 30, 2012

Comparing Baldwin County schools by test scores

You can't judge a school system just by its test scores, but it sure is a good place to start.

So check out the Alabama State Department of Education's Accountability Reporting System.

Pick the school you'd like to research and then you'll have an option of choosing from 4 Alabama test reports, including the High School Graduation Exam, and the Stanford Achievement Test.

If you want to get my take on the school system from a veteran parent, just give me a call at 251 591-2411 --- Janet

Posted in Community News
Jan. 30, 2012

Cheryl's Cafe & Market: A lunchtime institution

If the Eastern Shore is where Mayberry meets Maguaritaville, then Cheryl's Cafe is pure Mayberry, where regulars are greeted by name and non-regulars are soon to find something so addictive on the menu that they join the following.

Unauspcious at the end of a small strip of shops at U.S. 98 and Hwy. 31 in Spanish Fort, Cheryl's offers a a variety of fresh sandwiches and sides, as well as a heartier host of specials that change each day. Get there too late and you may watch as your favorite is wiped off the board.

What it all comes down to is that Cheryl is a very good cook, who has compiled a few secrets that simply enhance a standard dish.

So here are some of my favorites from the printed menu:

Chinese Chicken Salad: Ramen noodles are toasted and tossed with sheddred cabbage, lean chicken, water chestnuts, scallions, sesame seeds and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Chicken Salad: Maybe best around. Light and refreshing with mayo and crushed pineapple (yes, Cheryl has revealed a few of her secrets over the years).

Club Sandwich: Easily feeding two, everything is fresh here from the Boar's Head meats to the tomatoes. This sandwich is so thick every bite's a challenge.

Mitch's Reuben: My father's favorite, with tender, lean corned beef piled high, kraut and Thousand Island dressing on rye.

Sides are pasta salad, fresh fruit, cole slaw or potato salad, all freshly prepared.

From the day's menu, you may find pot roast or chicken and dumplings, shrimp salad or crawfish bisque. Any one of these will please and you can pick from about a dozen vegetables to round out your meal.

Some of my favorites:

Taco salad, with fresh greens, taco meat, beans, avocado, cheese and chips topped with a sort of salsa/Thousand Island dressing.

Tender pot roast with sweet green beans and a to-die-for yellow squash casserole. Cheryl has shared the secret to the green beans, but I shouldn't give everything away.

Service is quick and efficient. So this is often where I stop for lunch with buyers looking for real estate in Spanish Fort or Daphne.

It's snug at Cheryl's with barely enough room to maneuver between the red-and-white checked tablecloths, so this is not the place for intimate conversations.

Prices are moderate.

Address: 6580-D Spanish Fort, Blvd.

Phone: 251-626-2602

Posted in Community News
Jan. 30, 2012

Village Pointe Park a stroll through a timeless forest to the beach

Perhaps there's no better way to view Daphne's history and beauty than a brisk walk through Village Pointe Park Preserve, off Scenic 98.

Evidence of Indians, Spanish, French and English settlers has been found in the park, and while you won't see historic replicas of these forebears, you will see the land they were attracted by.

Rich with native trees, streams, tidal pools and wetlands, Village Pointe can be explored on foot or bike. Walk the dog or grab your fishing pool or towel because at the end you'll find a fishing pier and beach with panoramic views of Mobile Bay.

A brisk 20 minute walk past cypress knee swamps, deep forests to your final destination. Stop midway to view the Jackson Oak, some 95 feet tall and 28 feet in circumference, believed to be where Gen. Andrew Jackson addressed his troops in the War of 1812. According to the park site, the oak was shown on a survey in the original Spanish Land Grant map of 1787.

Even though I know this area well, it's still a wonder to emerge through the woods and find the beach.

Posted in Community News
Oct. 6, 2011

Mortgage rates fall to historic lows

Freddie Mac announced Thursday that 30-year fixed mortgage rates fell below 4% for the first time ever. The new rate - just 3.94% - is lower than the rate in the 1950s, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. For buyers looking at homes in Daphne, Fairhope and Spanish Fort, you'll find the 15-year fixed rate in the lower 3% range locally.

For example, Mary Brabner, loan originator for Region's Mortgage in Daphne, AL, says her 30-year fixed rate is 3.875% today. This is for over buyers with credit scores over 740, with 20% down on a purchase. A 15-year rate is 3.25%, Brabner said. Dean Watson of WestStar Mortgage, also in Daphne, AL, says rates may be higher for those whose credit scores are below 740. WestStar offers mortgages that don't require the often pricey wind coverage for home owners insurance; for that the rate may be a bit higher, he said.

With a nice selection of homes for sale in Spanish Fort, Daphne and Fairhope, it's a great time to buy and lock in a low fixed rate. If you have sufficient equity, it's also a great time to re-finance.

Posted in Buying a Home