Reduce your insurance premiums - here's how

Most landlords think high insurance premium, like death and taxes, are inevitable. But they're not.

Costs can be greatly minimized on some of the highest expenses owners face, especially general liability, workmen's compensation and property and casualty insurance.

Although the average insurance premium for real estate owners increased about 6% last year, insurance premiums for W&M Properties, which manages several million square feet of real estate in six states, were no higher in 1995 than in 1994.

Here are some guidelines that can be used to help your company save on premiums also:

* For workmen's compensation, try to get your property into a "safety group," an entity which buys insurance in bulk for buildings it recognizes as practicing risk management. Train your staff well, so it's less accident prone. And be sure to maintain your building well.

Because of W&M's insistence on high property management standards, our buildings were accepted for coverage by The Flanders Group. As a result, the company is expected to earn a 40% refund on the $158,000 premium it was paying for workmen's compensation at our flagship building at 1185 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan - that's over $60,000.

It also helps to group risks together: W&M manages three Connecticut office complexes. Even though the limited partners are different for each property, W&M was able to group them together, resulting in a reduction of premiums of about 15%.

* With property and casualty insurance, there are two basic ways to cut costs. The first comes into play before any loss occurs; again, risk management plays a role. The goal is to eliminate the threat or possibility of accident or malfunction before it occurs. This is accomplished through diligent maintenance and effective staff training.

A second way to save money is through a process known as loss control. After a fire, make sure the loss is well documented. Control related professional expenses; e.g., avoid excessive legal fees by knowing the appropriate procedures for filing and documenting claims. And make sure that any loss history given to insurance companies is accurate. Such steps will enable the insurance company to reduce your estimated loss and consequent premiums.

* To avoid escalation of general liability premiums, be sure to verify that all contractors carry adequate coverage, including workmen's compensation. W&M Properties requires each of its contractors to have a minimum of $2 million in liability insurance. And if a contractor causes a loss, it is he - not the owner - who must take responsibility. Even if an owner's insurance company reimburses the owner, it should pursue the contractor's insurance company to collect what was paid out. To keep their own premiums from being increased, owners should follow up with their insurance company to make sure this step is carried out.

Always stress risk management with your employees. Perhaps surprisingly, one big loss, such as a major flood, will generally prove less costly to an owner than will many small losses, such as a maintenance person hurting himself after a snowfall or a contractor breaking a pipe. The reason is that these suggest poor overall property management.

* Avoid a very low deductible. When you buy a building, evaluate such factors as its age, whether it has sprinklers, the competence of its staff and the condition of sidewalks and other public areas. While a deductible of $25,000 may seem too high, it can prove a blessing if it will save you $5,000 a year in premiums. If you're upgrading the building, by all means, consider taking a greater deductible.

* Don't over-insure. When W&M Properties of Connecticut Inc. structured the purchase of MerrittView, a 250,000 sq. ft. Class-A office building in Connecticut, the underwriter said the property was in a flood zone and asked the new owner to buy flood insurance. Although MerrittView is near a river, W&M questioned the insurance company's accuracy and decided to check with the state. As we suspected, the site turned out not to be in a flood zone. The result: we avoided overpayment.

* Never forget that merely having adequate insurance is not enough. Make certain your carrier is solvent, with a good rating.

* Finally, if disaster hits, act quickly to get reimbursed. Obtain detailed documentation, including photographs and extensive notes.

In short, saving on premiums is a matter of maintaining a safe, well-managed building, keeping accurate and thorough records, and carefully choosing the venue through which the insurance is purchased.

9 ways to reduce your

insurance premiums

1. Get your property into a "safety group" 2. Employ diligent maintenance and effective staff training 3. Practice loss control 4. Verify contractor's coverage 5. Stress risk management 6. Avoid very low deductibles 7. Don't over-insure 8. Make sure your carrier is solvent 9. If disaster hits, act quickly

Vincent Sultana is a risk manager at New York-based W&M Properties, a fourth-generation turnkey real estate operator in six states.

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