How to Inventory and Assign Value to Estate Personal Property

There is an old saying that goes: What is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Personal property is the elephant of an estate. It is the responsibility that can take up most of your time, and it provides the estate with the least amount of money for the effort involved. But, dealing with the personal property cannot be avoided. The property must be inventoried, valued, distributed, or sold. Let us start our analysis by looking at what property we have (inventory); then we will determine what it is worth (valuation). In a future post, we will determine what to do with it (distribution/sale).

When you go to the courthouse, the clerk will provide you with the form you will need to fill out for the inventory. The form will ask you to provide general categories and a value for each category you have listed. For example, you would list: furniture, $1500; office equipment, $300, etc.. You will not have to list the items separately, such as sofa, $100; chair, $5; typewriter, $25. I suggest that you do keep a list of the individual items, though. Although you will not have to go into a lot of detail for the court, you will likely want a more detailed inventory for yourself. You will want this for two reasons: to track the sale of estate property, and to protect yourself against claims of heirs and/or creditors.

You do not have to get real fancy with with the inventory; pencil and paper will do. If you are so inclined, there are home inventory record books available at office supply stores, or you can purchase software online. There are also companies that specialize in taking home inventories.

You will need a helper. One person sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house, and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room to room with a consistent pattern so that you do not miss anything: always clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room. Write down what is on the walls as well, not just what is on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items such as 200 hardcover books, 100 paperback books, 42 nick-knacks, etc.. On your list, put a star next to any item that you think may be valuable. If the nick-knacks are porcelain and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you are finished, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage unit, vacation home, recreational vehicle or boat, they will need to be inventoried as well.

When you file the inventory at the courthouse, you will need to state a value for the personal property. For run-of-the-mill household items, a good resource for determining the value is the software program It’s Deductible that comes bundled with the income tax program Turbo Tax. It’s Deductible can also be purchased separately. The software lists the thrift shop value for most household items, and it is easy to use.

For the items that you have identified as being valuable, It’s Deductible will not work. There are several ways to determine the value of single items or collections. A good place to start is eBay ( http://www.ebay.com ). To use eBay to help set your values, you will need to be a registered user. Registering for eBay is free; just follow the instructions when you get to the website. Once registered, type in the item you are researching, and eBay will search for the item. When the search results come up, scroll down and look on the left side of the page to where it says Search Options, click on completed listings, then scroll down further and click on Show Items. The search results displayed will be for completed auctions, not for auctions in progress. The prices listed in green are items that actually sold; the prices in red are for items that did not sell. If you find your item listed, and the price is green, you have a good value. Compare the details of the item you found on eBay with the details of the item you have. Use the closest match as your value.

If you are unable to find your item listed on eBay, it is time to go to the library or bookstore. There you will find an assortment of price guides for every sort of antique or collectible. You will also find blue books for automobiles and equipment.

If you have lots of items and no time to research, then it is time to call in an expert. In your local phone book you will find jewelers, antique dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, and other professionals who will tell you what the property is worth. What they will offer you is an opinion of value, not an appraisal. An appraisal is based on actual sales data, not an opinion. I will cover appraisals below; for now, just be aware that there is a difference. For probate valuation purposes, the value placed must be the fair market value at the time of the decedents death. This is the value you should ask your expert to provide.

In my home state of Virginia, individual items or collections that are valued over $500 must have an appraisal. Personal property appraisers are not licensed like real estate appraisers, but the content of their reports is regulated. For a personal property appraisal to be valid and accepted for tax purposes, it must be performed by a qualified expert and follow the federal guidelines of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Most real estate appraisers do not appraise personal property. You can find a personal property appraiser online by checking the websites of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, the National Association of Auctioneers, or the American Society of Appraisers.

Estate Executors will find that the inventory and valuation of estate personal property is their most time-consuming task, but there are resources available to help.

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5 Fundamental Principles of Insurance

Insurance is a contract, a risk transfer mechanism whereby a company (Underwriter) promised to compensate or indemnify another party (Policyholder) upon the payment of reasonable premium to the insurance company to cover the subject-matter of insurance. If you are well conversant with these principles, you will be in a better position in negotiating you insurance needs.

1. Insurable interest. This is the financial or monetary interest that the owner or possessor of property has in the subject-matter of insurance. The mere fact that it might be detrimental to him should a loss occurred because of his financial stake in that assets gives him the ability to insure the property. Castellin Vs Preston 1886.

2. Umberima fadei. It means utmost good faith, this principle stated that the parties to insurance contract must disclose accurately and fully all the facts material to the risk being proposed. That is to say that the insured must make known to the insurer all facts regarding the risk to be insured (Looker Vs Law Union and Rock 1928). Likewise, the underwriter must highlight and explain the terms, conditions and exceptions of the insurance policy. And the policy must be void of ‘small prints’.

3. Indemnity. It stated that following a loss, the insurer should ensure that they placed the insured in the exact financial position he enjoyed prior to the loss (Leppard Vs Excess 1930).

4. Contribution. In a situation where two or more insurers is covering a particular risk, if a loss occurred, the insurers must contribute towards the settlement of the claim in accordance with their rateable proportion.

5. Subrogation. It has often been said that contribution and subrogation are corollary of indemnity, which means that these two principles operates so that indemnity does not fail. Subrogation operates mainly on motor insurance. When an accident occurred involving two or more vehicles, there must be tortfeasor(s) who is responsible for accident. On this basis, the insurer covering the policyholder who was not at fault can recover their outlay from the underwriter of the policyholder who is responsible for the incidence.

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Five Power Closing Techniques for Insurance and Financial Advisors

So, you have made it through the prospecting game. You made your cold calls, sent out your mass mortgage mailers, invited people to your coffee-sponsored seminars, you qualified responders as being serious prospects and have set the appointment.

Now what? You have done all this work, are you sure you are going to get their business? In this article are 5 closing techniques to help you solidify the deal and make the sale.

1. Quality Demonstration – If you are going to take the time to give a demonstration, be sure that you listen to your potential client’s needs and interpretations of what they expect to get out of your appointment. There is nothing worse than explaining variable life insurance and all the different cash options and disability waivers…to find out they only have a budget of $50 per month. So, listen and then tailor your demonstration to focus on their needs and to solve whatever void they need filled. Don’t get too wordy. The best demonstrations have few words, but are very poignant.

2. Small-closes – Throughout the demonstration, try to get periodic “buy ins” and acknowledgments that you are on track with solving their needs. Ask for their opinions, ask open ended questions; be sure to engage the potential client. If you can make many small closes throughout the sales process, then when it comes time to pull out the application, they won’t be shocked or caught off guard. When they ask a question, re-state their question. This does two things: it lets the potential client know that you are listening to their concerns, but it also restates to them what they have just said is their need. So, when the time comes for you to discuss possible solutions, such as term insurance to cover the mortgage, or a wrap-around disability income policy to substitute the rest of their income, then they cannot back out and say that it isn’t a concern.

3. Between 1 and 10 – This has got to be one of the greatest closing lines ever. It is easy to do, and it forces the potential client to sell themselves. When you have finished your demonstration, you simply turn to your client and ask them, “Between 1 and 10…10 being ‘I am ready to fill out the application and never worry about how my family will financially survive if something should happen to me’…or 1 being ‘I wish you would leave my house right now’….where do you fall? And no matter what they tell you, you ALWAYS answer, “Really, a “#”? Why so high?” Even if they tell you a “4”….you answer, “Really, a 4? I thought you would be a 3, you had your arms crossed and didn’t seem interested in anything I was saying. Why are you so high? What made you choose a 4?”

And then let them answer. Even with a low number, they will point out the features that they liked. They will point out the solutions that worked best. They will also tell you what they didn’t like…and then you can move forward from there. If they were turned off by the price….them give them other options. If they were turned off by the fee structure of A-share mutual funds, then tell them about B or C shares.

4. Suggest/Recommend– This isn’t so much a closing technique as it is a phrase that sets you apart from others by presenting you as the expert. Think about the times you have heard people use this phrase with you. Typically most large oil changing stations will say at the end of their “12 point inspection”, “I recommend you flush out your steering fluid or use a fuel injector cleaner”. What happens is that, they are recommending this to you, which gets you thinking, “hmm…they are the experts, perhaps I should listen to them”. Versus someone saying, “you NEED to do this.” That phrase turns us off. “I don’t NEED to do anything!” When you are sitting with a prospective client and you have finished your demonstration and they have agreed that they need to begin a college savings plan, or invest in a sound life insurance policy, the next phrase out of your mouth should be, “As your Financial Representative, I suggest we get started with…..” or “I recommend that we…..”. It sets you up as the professional that they will trust.

5. Take the sale away -This phrase sounds like the opposite of what you want to do, but rather than chasing someone for the sale, make them ask you for it. Statements like, “I don’t even know if you will qualify for this….why don’t we fill out some of the medical questions to see if we should even move forward with underwriting.” Or if they balk at the initial deposit to open a college plan or annuity, try saying, “You know what? Maybe you are right. This college plan doesn’t seem like the right fit to help you cover the cost of your children to go to any school they want to….why don’t you check out state savings plans through the bank…I believe that enrollment period starts in 6 more months”. This gets the person thinking, “Well what is wrong with me? I want to fit in, I want to belong.” When you push something, it moves away from you….when you pull the same item, it comes towards you. Another move you can make…if someone says that the premium is more than they want to spend, you can always say, “you know what, maybe you are right, but why don’t we go ahead and get you underwritten, see if you even qualify for this low of a premium, as you could come back rated. Then once you are approved, then we can determine which policy will work best for you.”

It takes a little time to change your thinking, especially when you are just starting out. But give it some time, and practice these steps. You will see clients becoming more attracted to you as a professional.

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Construction Site Management – Accessibility

Construction sites offer different challenges as far as accessibility is concerned. This follows the fact that there is a mass movement of men (labor) as well as material haulers. These range from pick up trucks to trailers. Depending on the items being moved, the weight is different and as such the capacity of the route to and from site should match these requirements. There will also be visitors in light personal vehicles, especially consultants and prospective property buyers in case of commercial projects or prospective tenants in case of residential or other rental spaces. The available or provided access should well cater for these requirements as far as is possible. The different site conditions include;

· Virgin sites: This reflects to a new site where no other construction activity has been done before. This means that there is no access to the specific point of construction. Where such route may be available, it may not be sufficient and may need improvement. This may include works like cutting down trees, cutting high sections and filling low ones, dumping murram or other appropriate material. It will also include compact, wetting and curing of the dumped material. Being a new and sometimes temporary route, it will need maintenance. Where such access is to pass through other people's property, appropriate permissions should be thought. The local authorities must also be informed and provided with plans like ways of averting problems like ecological disturbance. It is usually wise to have the access route for construction being also the permanent access to the permanent route for accessing the completed facility.

· Existing sites: These are sites that have already been built upon previously. They may have existing access. The only hurdle would be where such access is still in use by others, as it will create an inconvenience and delivery use may be regulated to low peak periods only. There could also arise the need to provide alternative routes for the existing users. A good example here is road maintenance or improvement works, wherey diversions are created and maintained in good order during the construction period. Appropriate arrangements should be made to minimize inconvenience as well as prevent accidents.

· Tight Sites: These are unique sites in the fact that they have minimal space for maneuverability. Examples here are found in town centers or institutions. Regulation here is very strict and as such stringent measures should be put in place to follow such regulations. These sites are very difficult to manage as far as accessibility is concerned. An example is where concrete is to be delivered on site already mixed (In premix trucks). This presents the headache of timing as well as preventing inconvenience to other users.

The provision of access to sites should be a well thought out activity. Maintenance should be in top priority. The design of such access roads should also cater for the traffic envisaged for the said project. Road signage and other such furniture should also be provided and well maintained.

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Property Tax – Pros and Cons

Property tax can be the fairest and at the same time the not so fair tax collected by municipalities.

Two of the determining factors of how it can affect what an individual will pay for this type of tax are where you live and a person’s economic condition.

Even though we all can appreciate the good points of owning a home vs. renting, when it comes to property tax, renting is by far the better option. States will collect property tax on the following:

Any additions to the property such as improvements to the land

Land itself

Any structures that are not permanent to the property

The assessment is commonly made by an exclusive county tax collector in each state. An individual’s property and land will be appraised of its value and subsequently mailed as a tax payment notice. This usually is paid through a homeowner’s escrow amount stated on their mortgage.

Many times this can negatively affect a property or land owner as the taxes in a specific state can sometimes double or triple in amount and leave the homeowner unable to afford to pay their taxes, forcing them to sell their property or land.

People on a fixed income such as Senior citizens who have retired, can be greatly affected by the increase of property tax. The value of their homes increase, but at the same time they find themselves unable to pay their taxes because of their reduced income. Unfortunately, property tax doesn’t allow much wiggle room in the event of acts of nature or personal tragedy.

Although 2.3 seems to be the average percentage for property tax, it varies greatly from state to state, making it seem highly unfair for certain states such as New Hampshire, as it is a high 4.9 percent.

It also seem unfair when states like Alabama pay 1.3 percent and yet just a little distance away in neighboring Georgia would be required to pay 2.6 percent, then even more in Florida at a rate of 3.1 percent.

So who determines how the money generated from this income is spent or in some cases wasted? The state legislatures will determine this along with the decision to increase or decrease property tax and how frequent it is collected.

Even though property tax can absolutely help states with income,the amount of property tax to be paid can be a determining factor in one’s decision where to reside to achieve the American Dream of land or home ownership.

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Single Premium Life Insurance – Pros and Cons

Single Premium Whole Life Insurance (SPLI) Explained

Most of the time, when we purchase life insurance, we agree to make monthly, quarterly, or yearly payments. There are some whole life policies which can be paid off, usually over a period of 7 years or more. But another way of purchasing coverage has begun to get more attention lately. This simply involves making one large payment in the beginning. The single premium is set to fund the coverage for the rest of an insured person’s life.

One obvious advantage might be the guarantee that life insurance is taken care of without having to worry about paying any more bills. One obvious disadvantage, as you may have already guessed, is the fact that this first premium must be pretty large.

Who Considers SPLI?

The type of person who may consider this unusual way of paying for a life insurance policy would have a lump sum of cash they are sure they will not need to spend for the next few years. They will also want to leave money to their estate, and they want to turn the cash they have into a larger life insurance death benefit. This way they can be assured they will be able to leave money to their kids, grand kids, or a favorite charity..

Advantages of Single Premium Life

  • Set it and Forget it – You can make on premium payment, and be assured you have funded a lifetime policy.
  • Estate Building – Most of the time, the cash will buy a death benefit of several times the original premium amount. For example, let us say that a healthy 65 year old could turn $12,000 into a $100,000 death benefit to leave behind. That was just an example. Premiums will vary.
  • Cash Value – Since the one large lump sum fund coverage, the actual cash valued of the policy should grow very quickly. The policy may have enough cash value to be borrowed against or cashed in at some future point. The cash value may grow by a set interest rate, or it may grow my some market index, like the S&P 500. This will be specified in the particular policy you buy.
  • Policy Provisions – Policies may have an accelerated death benefit, or provisions for early surrender or using some of the face value while the insured person is still alive in special cases. These cases could include terminal illness or nursing home confinement. These functions can give you a policy which performs “double duty.”

Disadvantages of SPLI

This product is not for everybody. Look at some of the disadvantages to consider.

  • You Need The Money – You must have the lump sum payment. Of course, the premium will vary by the age and health of the insured person, the insurer, and the amount of coverage you buy. The premium is usually several thousand dollars. This must be money that is not needed for the next few years, or ever. If this is in question, you may be better off by buying a policy with multiple payments.
  • Early Surrender Charges or Fees – Here’s why you must use money you will not need to live on. Most policies do have early surrender charges or fees. If you do have to cash in the policy before this term, set in your individual policy, you will probably get back less than you put in. You can only benefit if you can wait until the date of fees or surrender charges has passed.
  • Tax Considerations – These type of policies, purchased with one payment, are considered to be Modified Endowment Contracts (MEC) by the IRS. They do not have all of the tax advantages or regular life insurance.

Example of SPLI

Let us say that a 65 year old retired teacher has a pension and savings which enable her to live comfortably. She also has $12,000 in cash from her own parent’s estate. She would like to turn this cash into a much larger estate she can split with her son and a favorite scholarship fund.

In this case, she is able to purchase a $100,000 single premium life policy. This works out well for her in a few ways. This policy has a provision for an accelerated death benefit in the cash of terminal illness or nursing home confinement, so she does not need to worry about purchasing another long term care policy.

Is Single Premium Life Right For You?

In order to make a good decision, it will help to figure out what you own retirement planning goals are. This product can be a good solution for some people.

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Real Estate and the AMT: Rental Or Investment Property

The Alternative Minimum Tax is a very important consideration for taxpayers who own real estate because just about every tax rule applying to real estate is different for the AMT than it is for the Regular Tax. This article on Real Estate and the AMT will address those situations where the individual holds the real estate as an investment, typically as rental property. The differences in tax treatment between the Regular Tax and the AMT can be significant.

Interest expense

Interest paid on the mortgage taken out to acquire the property is fully deductible, both for the Regular Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. Unlike itemized deductions that allow a tax benefit for what amounts to personal expenses, the tax law generally allows all deductions a taxpayer has to make in the pursuit of business income. Thus, the limitations discussed in the previous article on home mortgage interest do not apply.

If, however, the equity in the rental property is used as security for an additional loan – a second mortgage, for example – then the taxpayer must look to how the proceeds of that loan are used to determine interest deductibility. If the proceeds are used for a car loan or to finance a child’s education, for example, then the interest is nondeductible personal interest. If the proceeds are used to improve the rental property, the interest is deductible.

Suggestion – it is best that taxpayers keep personal borrowings separate from business borrowings. Mixing the two creates recordkeeping challenges and can result in disputes with the IRS.

Property taxes

Property taxes paid on rental or investment property are allowed in full both for Regular Tax purposes as well as for the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Planning idea – if you have an opportunity to pay your property tax bill either this year or next, pay it in a year when you have enough income from the property so as not to generate a rental loss. This strategy can help avoid triggering the passive activity loss limitations described below.

Example – in Florida property tax bills are mailed in October, and are payable under the following discount schedule: November – 4%, December – 3%, January – 2%, February – 1%. If you have a loss from the property in 2010 but expect to generate income in 2011, do not pay your bill in November or December – forgoing that small discount could help you avoid the loss-limitation rules.

Depreciation

Depreciation is allowed for property held for investment. The portion of the cost allocable to land is not depreciable, but for the building itself and the furniture, appliances, carpeting, etc. a depreciation deduction may be taken.

Real property (this is the legal definition of the house or other building) held for rental/investment may only be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under the “straight-line” method, over a useful life of 27.5 years. Thus, a property with $275,000 allocated to the building would be depreciated at the rate of $10,000 per year.

Personal property (this is the legal definition of things such as furniture, appliances, carpeting and the like) may be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under an “accelerated” method over a useful life of five years. An accelerated method allows a larger depreciation deduction in the early years, in recognition of an obsolescence or decline-in-value factor that you see in new property (cars are a good example).

For purposes of the AMT, however, personal property may be depreciated only by using a straight-line method. Thus, an AMT item will be generated in the early years if the accelerated method is used.

Planning idea – for personal property consider electing the straight-line method for Regular Tax purposes. While giving up a little tax benefit from the greater depreciation in the early years, it could mean avoiding paying the AMT.

Active/passive investment rules and the “at-risk” rules

A taxpayer who is not “active” in managing investment property may not use losses from rental property to offset other income such as salaries and wages, dividends, interest, capital gains, etc. Instead, these losses are deferred until the taxpayer either sells the property or generates passive income from this or other passive investment sources.

The at-risk rules similarly deny using these types of losses to the extent the taxpayer has acquired the investment with borrowed money and does not have personal liability on the debt.

Planning idea

If these loss limitations apply, consider the planning ideas mentioned above to minimize the losses being generated each year. They are not doing you any good anyway.

Sale of the property

Several different AMT issues can arise on the sale of rental/investment property. One is that your gain or loss may be different for the AMT than it is for Regular Tax purposes. This would be caused if different depreciation methods were used. For example, if the personal property was depreciated using an accelerated method for Regular Tax purposes, then the basis in that property when calculating gain or loss on sale would be different because the straight-line method had to be used for Alternative Minimum Tax purposes.

Gain on the sale of investment property generally is capital gain, although a portion may be treated as ordinary income depending on the accelerated depreciation method was used. Capital gains in and of themselves are not an AMT item, but nonetheless they can result in AMT being paid. This is because the AMT exemption amount is phased out for taxpayers at certain income levels, so this additional income can have the result of reducing the exemption which in turn increases taxable income for purposes of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

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The 10 Most Common Mistakes Insurance Agents Make

Problem #1

Prospects have more sales resistance training than agents usually have in sales presentation skill.

Prospect response to insurance agents is designed to get as much information as possible and be in control of the situation. Prospects often mislead insurance agents about their intentions, how much they’ll spend, who makes decisions, etc.

The prospect intent is designed to turn agents into unpaid consultants, lead them on until they have all of the information they need, and often use their quotes to compare with their current agent or a competitor.

When prospects have what they need, they stop returning the agent’s phone calls.

Does this make prospects bad people?

Of course not.

We all use this system for dealing with salespeople…it’s almost second nature.

Why do prospects do this?

It’s simple.

It works.

The stereotype of an agent is not a good image for most of us, and prospects are afraid of being sold something they don’t want. In order to protect themselves, prospects feel they need a way to deal with agents. It is an instinctive reaction to the negative stereotype of agents that causes prospects to put up a defensive wall.

So how do most agents deal with the prospects system of defense? Most play right into it. Many don’t use a systematic approach to selling. They allow the prospect to take total control of the sales process. The agent eagerly:

o gives their knowledge

o makes commitments without getting any in return

o wastes resources on pursuing deals that will never close

o gives quotes to non-prospects who never buy

o misinterpret the ubiquitous “I’ll think it over and get back to you” as a future sale

How do most sales organizations contribute to the problem? Frequently they focus on product knowledge and overlook teaching what circumstances or concepts products fit best with.

The solution: Train agents on a systematic approach to making presentations so they have “a track to run on.” The training should balance both the prospect and agent’s best interest.

Problem #2

Spending too much time with prospects that will never buy.

A manager recently evaluated two of his agents like this: “Gary spends too much time with non-buyers, and gets too involved in non-productive activities. One root cause of this behavior is that he doesn’t ask the tough questions. Amy is strong with prospects, but both she and Gary have lost deals because the competition asks for the business while they give quotes to the prospect.” Why is this true?

Agents don’t ask the hard questions up-front for fear of making their prospects angry, they are afraid they will lose something they don’t have. Most agents think their job is to close everybody.

Over the years sales training has emphasized, “Don’t take NO for an answer.” Insurance agents are taught to be persistent…handle stalls and objections…trial closes…always be closing…and yes, even be manipulative. No wonder prospects need sales resistance to shield themselves!

Prospects realize agents don’t want to hear “NO” and that when they do, they’ll “hang in there” and try to turn “NO” into “YES.” When the poor prospect really means “NO,” s/he has found the easiest way to get rid of a agent is to tell them, “I’ll think it over, and I’ll get back to you.” How many “think it over’s” really turn into business?

The solution: Agents need tools to separate tire-kickers from buyers. They need an approach that obtains support early in the sales cycle. They need to learn the fine art of tactfully qualifying prospects in, not qualifying them out. The top agents learn to ask the hard questions up-front, saving precious resources for real opportunities. “NO” is an acceptable response from a buyer. “Going for the NO” requires a tremendous paradigm shift for most agents, but it can take all the pressure off the agent and increase productivity. This approach allows prospects to feel in control, this then relaxes them, and lets them buy instead of feeling like they are being “sold.”

Problem #3

Agents talk too much.

A manager recently said, “My agents’ listening skills aren’t where they need to be; someone says something and they don’t find out the real reason or intent behind the question, which leaves the prospect feeling like my agents don’t understand them or their issues.

Of course, when we sent them to the College of Product Knowledge, filling them with technical knowledge and then sent them out to make their quotas, we should have expected this result.”

So what’s the problem telling our story? First, people buy for their reason, not the agents reasons, not even their company’s reasons. Second, most companies’ presentations sound the same to the prospect, and when they sound the same, the agent just becomes another agent to the prospect, and then to the prospect, low price becomes the determining factor in getting the business.

The solution: Asking questions is the answer. Teach insurance agents to stop regurgitating to the prospect and start asking questions. Prospects should do at least 70% of the talking on the sales call. The only way this will happen is for the sales rep to ask a lot of questions.

Questions gather information. Ask questions to find out what the prospect’s “pain” is. This is the same thing your family doctor does during an office visit. They ask – they don’t tell you anything until they have made the proper diagnosis.

Problem #4

Weak Agents focus on price.

Price is never the real issue! Agents focus on price because it’s often the first thing the prospect asks about. Yet study after study confirms that quality and services are almost always more important than price. Price is never the main reason for getting and keeping business. People buy our products to either solve a problem they have, or improve something about their current situation or protect against future occurrences.

The solution: Teach agents to be more effective in asking questions and getting to real issues. Once they learn to do this, price will not be the determining factor in making sales.

Problem #5

Product knowledge is over-emphasized and misused. As a result, selling often becomes nothing more than “pitching and presenting.”

Most sales training focuses on product knowledge. studies show that 80% of training dollars spent annually are spent on product knowledge training. Agents, once filled with this product knowledge, are eager to share this information and become a Professional, Unpaid Educator. The focus then becomes totally on product, and not on the prospects problem, which is where it belongs.

The solution: Provide training in the strategy and tactics our agents need to help prospects clearly define their problems and co-build solutions that fit their needs. Product knowledge is important, but how it’s used at each phase of the buying process is the key.

Problem #6

Agents fail to get prospects to reveal budgets up-front. Many insurance agents are uncomfortable talking about money. Discussing money is seen as intrusive, and unpleasant. Many agents avoid talking about money, until the prospect forces the issue. This is one of the five most common weaknesses that agents have.

The solution: Knowing whether there is money upfront will help the insurance agent distinguish between a prospects who is ready to solve a problem from one who is not committed. Comfortably talking about money is a key to management, where resources are evaluated based on bottom line impact. Teach your agents to find out two things about money:

o How much the problem is costing the prospect; in other words the amount at risk.

o How much they’d be willing to invest to solve the problem.

Without a candid discussion about money, the agent is left to make certain assumptions. And we all know what happens when we make assumptions!

Problem #7

Agents fail to get firm commitments from prospects.

Insurance agents are often very willing to jump at the opportunity to do a quote, presentation, etc. This approach is incredibly time-consuming and resource intensive.

How many quotes has your team/distribution sent out over the last twelve months that resulted in nothing? How much does it cost your team/distribution on an annual basis to do quotes that go nowhere?

The solution: Agents must learn what motivates people to buy. They must master the skills required to help prospects become comfortable sharing problems, and they must learn to determine the prospects’ level of commitment to solve these problems before they begin to offer their solutions.

Problem #8

Lack of sufficient prospecting.

A quote from a manager: “They don’t do enough prospecting, even ‘when I use a long stick.'” All professional agents will eventually be faced with a bout of call reluctance. You know the story – they have so much paperwork on their desk they can’t possibly find the time to prospect for new business OR they’re so busy calling on existing customers (who incidentally aren’t buying anything) there’s no way they could add any new appointments. Getting ready to get ready. The BT club (bout to) Sound familiar?

o Over 40% of all veteran sales professionals have experienced bouts of call reluctance severe enough to threaten their career in sales

o And 80% of all new agents who fail within their first year do so because of insufficient prospecting activity.

The Solution: Insurance agents need to develop a realistic activity plan. Monitor the plan weekly and implement effective accountability.

Problem #9

The insurance agent has a strong need for approval.

It’s an easy and common mistake. “I love people, so I’ll be an insurance agent.” You end up with an insurance agent that would rather make “friends” with their prospects than conduct business. While developing relationships are an important part of the selling process, selling is not a place for people to get their emotional needs met. In fact, it’s the opposite: a tough and demanding profession, full of rejection. People who internalize the rejection end up getting out of the profession. Truth is, they should never have gotten in the business. Sales interactions are fundamentally different than social interactions. Successful professionals understand and accept that the bottom line of professionally selling is: MAKING MONEY.

The Solution: Evaluate yourself to determine if you have this need for approval. Managers need to ask pre-hire screening questions that helps to hire stronger people and teach them a system that helps strike the appropriate balance between developing relationships and getting commitments.

Problem #10

Insurance agents don’t treat sales as a profession.

Professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and CPAs’ all have one thing in common – they attend continuing education to maintain and increase their proficiency. Yet how many insurance agents are continually seeking new ways to increase their skills? Many have the attitude, “I’ve been selling for years, what more can I learn?”

The solution: Top performers in every profession are always looking for ways to sharpen their skills and gain the fine edge that leads to consistent success. Managers need to invest in top performers and help them grow their skills. Ego stunts your growth so managers have to be willing to set their ego aside and be willing to grow, modeling behavior that demonstrates it is more important to the manager to be effective than to be right. We can all learn from each other.

In Summary:

Hiring: Distributions, supervisors and managers must complete, step-by-step, a formal process for profiling, attracting, recruiting, interviewing and hiring top performers. Look to hire goal achievers not goal setters. Most managers hire goal setters and are surprised when agents never achieve their goals. The truth is the agent only had a wish list. Ask the agent when interviewing or coaching to describe goals they set and “how” they achieved the goal. If they didn’t achieve then it was it a goal or only a wish list?

Effective recruiting and hiring is the most important job of any manager. No amount of training, coaching or mentoring will make up for a poor hiring decision. Do it right the first time.

Managing: Implement a sales management process that emphasizes more effective recruiting, hiring, coaching, growing, and developing agents. Most of all quit accepting excuses for poor performance from yourself and your agent, raise your expectations and implement a rigorous accountability process. This starts with your team production-if you are not meeting standards. how can you expect to hold your agents accountable?. In management, you don’t get what you want – you only get what you expect and inspect. Remember, you manage things – you lead people.

Training: Tapes, books and one -day seminars are fine for intellectual learning or external motivation, but if you want to be a better golfer, pianist – or a better sales person, you must practice and develop new skills. Selling is a skill that can be taught, learned, and mastered over time.

Phone scripts and rebuttals are intended to assist in moving your management and sales career forward or allowing you to increase you current volume of business.

Remember these are only meant to be sales tools, they do not work, you have to work them.

The key is to do enough of the right things, enough of the time.

Give success time to happen-and do something today to make it happen!

The clock starts NOW!

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Benefits of Holidays and Vacations

As a frontline medical practitioner for over 20 years, I have been actively encouraging and motivating my patients, relatives, friends and other people to take holidays and vacations on a regular basis. Except for those people who have serious medical conditions, there are no restrictions to travel and enjoy holidays. Even the elderly, disabled or pregnant women (within 28 weeks of pregnancy) can travel as much as anyone else. The benefits of holidays and vacations are numerous, both short-term and long-term, but most people fail to appreciate the benefits. As a result, only a small percentage of people worldwide travel and harvest the benefits of holidays and vacations. Research has shown that even workers who are offered paid vacations by their organizations do not take advantage of such offers to take some weeks off their work.

In this article, I will briefly highlight some benefits of holidays and vacations.

Longer and healthier life

A recent survey conducted by the State University of New York has shown that people who take holidays regularly every year reduce their risk of early death by about 20 percent. The survey also revealed that those who did not take any holiday in 5 years faced the highest death rate risk, along with higher incidence of heart diseases. This can be explained by the fact that during holidays people are happier, relaxed, carefree, spending more time with family and loved ones, and away from the regular stressing environment. A happy relaxed life increases longevity.

Improvement in mental health

One study conducted by the Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield and published in Wisconsin Medical Journal showed that women who went on frequent vacations had lower susceptibility to depression, tiredness, or tension and they were more satisfied with their marriages. Women who took rare vacations displayed higher stress levels in their homes, felt more exhausted and tired and slept lesser. It is without doubt that regular holidays will not just relax people from the stress accumulated during the day to day hectic life in the short-term but also will improve the overall mental and psychological well-being of an individual in the long-term. Many researchers have shown that depression increases the chances of heart disease. Since holidays provide a break from the normal boring routine, they also help in relieving the symptoms of depression.

Revamping of relations

The always busy, work-obsessed and chronically duty-minded culture of people of modern life has indeed taken a heavy toll not only on our physical and mental health but also on our relationships. People do not have much time to spend with their partners, children or families. As a result, there is disharmony in the family, children are not looked after well and there is increased tension between partners, which has responded in increased number of separations, divorce and other maritime conflicts. Taking regular breaks from work and enjoying holidays and vacations not only revamps the strained and estranged relationships but also renews and strengthens family relations and bonds.

Improvement in self-confidence

When we travel, we encounter various types of situations and meet different kinds of people. Such encounter improve our self-confidence. It also helps improve our social skills and prepare us for unexpected or unknown.

Creative inspiration through holidaying

When we do the same thing again and again, it becomes monotonous and stereotyped. This is what has happened to us in today's world. We have become victims of monotony that has gradually crept into our system and destroyed our creative abilities, new thinking processes, and inspirational opportunities. When we travel, we come across new situations and different environments. Such situations can induce and help develop the creativity within us.

Increase in productivity

Many studies have shown that holidays not only motivated people to work better but the relief from the monotony also rejuvenates people, resulting in higher productivity.

Seeking adventure

Holidaying is a time to pump adrenalin for many adventure lovers. This is a chance to make their dream come true and try manyaring sports and adventures, such as bungee jumping, water rafting, surfing, mountaineering and many others. Such adventures give people a sense of achievement and happiness.

Mental and psychological escape

Many people these days view holidaying as a form of mental or psychological escape. The change in atmosphere, climate, scenery, quiet surroundings, slow pace of life, and clean air is considered by many travelers as pathway to happiness and spirituality.

Improve physical fitness, and lose weight too

Obesity has become a global epidemic. Holidays and vacations can at leastduce people to do some form of exercise. They have more time and any form of physical activity (and away from TV and video games!) Can help lose weight. If they can continue the same sort of exercises once they are back home, it can at least help people change their habit and lose some weight at the same time. Losing weight not only improves the physical fitness and appearance of a person but also reduces the chances of getting depression, some cancers, heart diseases and other conditions.

In conclusion, holidays and vacations not only bring joy, excitements, fun and break in the usual monotony of life, but they also have far reaching effects in the long-term including improvement in physical and mental wellbeing, longer and happier life, revamping relationships , Improving self confidence and productivity, and instilling creative inspiration within us.

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How to Properly Insure Your Concrete Pumps

The business of concrete pumping comes with many challenges, one of them being being perfectly insured when something goes wrong. Many concrete pumping companies have pumps and assume they're automatically insured under their general liability policy, unfortunately they are not.

Trailer concrete pumps should be insured under what is called an inland marine floatater. This type of insurance policy provides comprehensive coverage for your pump, insuring it from perils such as theft, vandalism, and damage you may cause it in the event of a car accident. This is similar to the coverage you may have on your car.

Just like any other trailer, liability coverage is automatically extended from the vehicle to the trailer it's towing. For example: If your trailer sideswipes another vehicle, your auto policy will provide liability coverage to repair the vehicle you damaged. Repairs will only be provided up to your policy limits. Keep in mind if the auto policy your truck has not include business coverage the insurance company will most likely deny your claim. Make sure you have a proper commercial auto policy before you toward anything for business use.

What about concrete pumps you can drive, how are they insured? Because these type of pumps are self-propelled they would need to be insured under a standard commercial auto policy. Make sure to mention any custom equipment you have to your agent. Just like on any auto policy custom equipment should be stated as such and approved into the coverage limits. Custom equipment can include any aftermarket stereo systems, hose reels, ladder racks, etc.

Always provide the replacement cost you'd like if your pump is stolen and ask for it to be stated in your policy. This way you'll be sure you have enough to replace the pump in the event of a loss. Some carriers provide the actual cash value for your pumps without otherwise requested. This means you'll get the replacement cost minus depreciation to compensate you on your pump. Actual cash value may not be enough for you to buy another pump if yours is damaged, this option is not recommended.

Always consult your insurance agent before making any final decisions on your insurance policy. Each concrete pump is different and may have specific needs. Keep these points in mind when shopping for your insurance policy and you'll be well on your way to protecting your business in the event of a loss.

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