By GARY NAGER & KATHERINE PATTERSON
After the devastating hurricane season of 2022, when much of Southwest Florida was blasted by Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole took a similar toll on much of central and eastern Florida, more and more people across the Sunshine State are concerned about making sure their homes are properly insured.
Between the company’s entertaining television ads featuring an adorable talking gecko, and its high customer satisfaction ratings, it’s easy to see why GEICO has become one of the top insurance companies in the state of Florida.
Jaime Bryant opened the local GEICO-Wesley Chapel office on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. (in the SuperTarget-anchored Northwoods Plaza) with nine employees in Dec. 2020, or a little more than two years ago. Since he and his wife Shannon had been living in Wesley Chapel (and they now have a year-old son, Elliot), he decided to open a local office, after working for GEICO’s corporate office in Lakeland for 16 years.
“The Wesley Chapel area has seen a lot of growth and a lot of changes the past few years,” Bryant says. “People are moving to this area to start and raise their families. In order to establish roots here, they need to be properly insured. That’s where we come in.”
He says that as far as homeowners (and hurricane) insurance is concerned, GEICO sells policies underwritten by Homesite Insurance, but Bryant says he and his on-site agents can tailor those policies to each homeowner’s specific needs. “We sell policies for homes built in 2002 or newer,” he says. “If it’s a mobile or manufactured home, it’s 1995 or newer. If it’s a condo or townhome, in most cases, they can be any age.”
He adds that since townhomes don’t require a full homeowners policy, since those owners share some of their space and, “there is a master policy that covers the roof and the exterior, so they only need to cover the interior, which is a lot cheaper.”
He also notes that brand new homes — and there are many here in the Wesley Chapel area, in particular — “are generally less expensive to insure because they have newer roofs and are being built to higher standards” than older homes.
Homeowners policies generally cover the dwelling/home itself, but also any other structures — garages, sheds, lanais, fences, etc. — as well as the personal property inside the home, including furniture, appliances, electronics, clothing, jewelry, etc.
“There’s also loss of use coverage, for if you’re ever displaced from your home by damage and have to live in a hotel,” he says. “It even includes money for dining out while you’re displaced.”
He adds that the same policy also generally includes personal liability coverage. “In other words, if anyone gets hurt in your home, it protects you from being sued. Some people do also require additional liability coverage, however.”
Hurricane insurance also is generally included with your homeowners policy, although Bryant says that it gives you a higher deductible, “usually around 2% of your home’s value.” If you have a home worth $500,000, that means you’d be liable for only the first $10,000 worth of damage from a hurricane. He says that here in Florida, all GEICO policies require hurricane coverage, although some other companies will try to get you a lower deductible — usually only $1,000-$2,500 — by not including hurricane coverage, which also covers damage caused by tropical storms, “as long as they’re also named storms. For non-named storms, those claims are usually covered under ‘wind damage.’”
As for flooding inside your home, whether caused by a hurricane, tropical storm, broken pipes, sewer backup, roof leaks, etc., Bryant says that because most of Wesley Chapel and New Tampa are not in high-threat flood zones that require flood insurance, most homeowners here choose not to get it.
“But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea to have it,” he says. “If your sewer backs up or the pond near your home overflows, it’s possible you could need a flood insurance policy, which isn’t usually too expensive to add.
Reasons To ‘Bundle’ Policies
One of the things that GEICO’s TV commercials have focused on in recent years is insurance policy “bundling.” Bryant says that bundling, for example, your home and auto policies together will qualify you for discounts on both policies. “It doesn’t always end up costing you less than buying them separately, but it usually does,” he says. “But, when you bundle multiple policies together through GEICO,” he adds, because GEICO, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is such a large company, “you don’t have to worry about us leaving the state (as many other insurance companies have over the past few years).”
He also notes that auto and renters insurance also are often bundled, “because the renters insurance will then either be free or cost pennies on the dollar, which is probably the biggest savings you get by bundling.”
When you own a boat, Bryant says that whether you bundle it with your homeowners policy or not, “that’s one of our most competitively priced products on the market.” Other competitively priced policies include for recreation vehicles (RVs), travel trailers and mobile/manufactured homes.
Bryant began working for GEICO in 2004, after earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of South Florida. He also received his Florida 2-20 Resident General Lines License (which allows him to provide property, casualty, surety, marine, health and miscellaneous insurance lines, including auto, motorcycle, boats/watercraft, homes, condos, RVs, renters and even pet insurance) to ensure that his local GEICO office can provide people with virtually any type of insurance they need.
“We’re a one-stop shop for all of your insurance needs,” he says. “Come on in and talk to one of our local agents, rather than just call a 1-800 number, because we get to know you as a person and can tailor all of your policies to your specific needs. “With insurance, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.”
Although GEICO also offers a lot of information on the phone or by visiting GEICO.com, Bryant says that anyone in Wesley Chapel (or New Tampa) seeking insurance (or information about insurance) for the first time should come into his office to talk to someone who knows the area, the community and what insurance policies will best serve your needs. while you may not need the highest level of coverage, you also shouldn’t always choose the lowest possible price for your coverage, either.
Your local GEICO office also participates in local community events, such as the recent Easter Egg Hunt event at the Tampa Premium Outlets, golf tournaments and more.
The GEICO–Wesley Chapel local office is located at 1227 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. The office is open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m., and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat. For more info, call (813) 953-4200, visit GEICO.com/Wesley-Chapel-Bryant.