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Some hurdles to home buying need immediate action

You've found a house you like, and your offer has been accepted. Hooray! You're almost a homeowner.

Almost is the operative word here. There's still a lot of work to be done. So put aside for a moment your plans for where the furniture will go and what color you're going to paint the living room.

Here's what you need to do in the next couple of weeks.

Insurance: start looking now. Besides applying for your mortgage (see story, Page 4H), you also need to start looking for homeowners' insurance.

The industry, facing $18-billion in claims from Hurricane Andrew, is in crisis in Florida. Most of the big companies won't write insurance for new customers, many insurors have cut back sharply on their business in the state, and whopping rate increases are anticipated, so obtaining insurance may no longer be as simple as calling an agent.

"Nobody has to worry that there won't be insurance," said Scott Johnson, a spokesman for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, which represents independent agents. "There are 300 or so companies that sell insurance in Florida, and only about 40 have indicated they're pulling back or pulling out. A whole bunch out there haven't made that kind of decision."

Johnson's recommendation: "If you can't find the coverage you want, try a different agent."

If you already own a home, your agent may be able to provide coverage on your new home, or the company with which you have auto insurance may be willing to take you on as a homeowners' client.

At Allstate, for example, if you're an existing customer, "we will be able to help them," said spokesman Rob Hair. "In general, we try to take care of them. We're not looking for people who haven't established a relationship with us."

If you can't find insurance in the standard market, you can turn to the Joint Underwriting Association, a risk pool established by the state after Hurricane Andrew to step in and provide coverage. JUA policies cost about 25 percent more than standard insurance, and they're strictly no-frills coverage.

The hope is that eventually private insurance companies will find it profitable to take on some of the customers in that pool. Any insurance agent can write a JUA policy.

If you have questions about a particular insurance company, call the state Insurance Department hotline at (800) 342-2762.

Termite inspections: a must. Having the house inspected for termites isn't required by law, but it is required in the sales contract. The buyer pays for the inspection, which usually takes place after the mortgage has been approved and not more than 30 days before closing. A typical inspection costs $40 to $75, depending on size of the house and type of construction.

The survey. The lender, real-estate agent or title company will arrange for this.

A survey will show any encroachments _ did the neighbors build a garage or erect a fence on the property? Did the sellers build a carport on the neighbor's property? Cost: $150-$200.

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