Member profile: Sixty years of home-ownership wisdom

You might say that Anne and Steven P. Eleniak know a good thing when they see it. After all, the couple has lived in the same home, in the same Edmonton neighbourhood, for 60 years. They purchased the modest, three-bedroom bungalow in Sherbrooke in 1954 for about $10,000. It was a 1,000-square-foot “starter home,” as Steven describes it. The decades ticked by, but the Eleniaks remained committed to a few essential things: family (the couple has two children, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren), their Sherbrooke home and AMA.

Steven vividly recalls the day in 1950 when he first bought an AMA membership.

“If I’m not mistaken, it was $5,” he says.

When AMA came out with insurance about a decade later, Steven signed up for that too, switching from his previous provider. He was one of AMA’s first policyholders. “It was almost like home. I thought it was a natural switch. At least you are dealing with people you know,” says Steven. “We’ve had the house and car insurance with AMA ever since.”

Although the Eleniaks lived in Regina and Vancouver for a while, they never sold the family home where their two children were born, and they kept it in excellent condition over six decades, updating the plumbing, remodelling the kitchen and replacing the roof every 10 to 15 years. “I think this is the fourth roof we have on it now,” says Steven. And they’ve never had a major repair problem: “No sewage backup. None at all. Ever.”

As Steven points out, periodic updates and regular maintenance are essential to keeping a home in good condition. “If you don’t, it’ll cost you,” he says. In the spring, he diligently clears maple leaves that blow over from his neighbour’s tree.  And in the winter, he removes snow from his roof using an ice rake. When the Eleniaks, who are frequent travellers, would escape winter for the desert heat of California’s Rancho Mirage, they entrusted their home to the care of long-time neighbour Margaret Stump. “She used to go in every day and check the mail. After she passed, her son Jim looked after the place for the next three-and-a-half decades,” Steven says. “Good neighbours help keep insurance costs down.”

The Eleniaks did exactly what policyholders are required to do in the event of an absence: “When you’re away for more than four consecutive days during the months you’d typically run your furnace, someone has to come into the house and check it every single day,” says Judy Mercer, director of member experience with AMA Insurance.

In their 60 years at the Sherbrooke home, the Eleniaks have had very few home-insurance claims. Only one really sticks in their minds: around 40 years ago, while they were on vacation, Stump noticed that the front door of the house was open. It turned out that thieves had broken into a dozen local houses that week. Fortunately, the damage was limited to a basement window. Very little of value was stolen, other than jewellery and some bottles of alcohol. The couple hurried home and quick-thinking Steven shot a roll of 36 photos to document the break-in for the adjuster. “I just realized that it was easier that way than trying to itemize everything. And there was no argument. The claim was paid out.”

After that incident, the Eleniaks installed a motion light and encouraged other homeowners in the neighbourhood to follow suit. “It wasn’t very expensive – only $240. But I thought that was cheap insurance,” says Steven. They haven’t had a break-in since.

Meticulous care has kept the Eleniaks’ home safe and sound, and prevented larger maintenance and security issues from developing. This has meant fewer claims and, as a result, lower premiums. Which just goes to show what they’ve known all along: when you know you have a good thing – whether it’s a beautiful home or a family or an enduring relationship – it’s in your best interest to take good care of it.

How often should you review your insurance policy?

“It’s a good idea to review your coverage yearly, or every time you renew your policy,” says Karen McDougall of AMA Insurance. Consider whether anything has changed since last time: have you renovated? Added a pricey entertainment system or multimedia room? A garden shed? A greenhouse? All of these things add to the total value of your home and belongings and increase the amount of coverage you’ll need to protect them. Go over your home inventory and make sure it’s up to date with your latest purchases – noting their full replacement cost – as well as any home renovations or improvements.

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