Top 5 Must Do’s After a Hurricane Damages Your Home
By: Paul Holmes
Superstorm Sandy ripped up the Atlantic Coast—destroying lives, homes, and businesses in its path. According to the National Hurricane Center, Sandy was responsible for more than 70 deaths in the U.S. and nearly 150 overall. The storm caused $50 billion in damage and destroyed or damaged over 650,000 homes, making Sandy the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricanes wreak havoc because they combine two of nature's most damaging forces: wind and water. If you live on or near the coast, your best defense against hurricane damage is to make sure you have the proper home insurance coverage and know what to do to support your claim after a storm.
When it comes to hurricane damage, water is usually the culprit. However, flooding from rising water – including storm surge or flooded rivers and lakes – typically isn't covered under standard home insurance, so you will need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy.
If you live in a flood-prone area and have a mortgage on your home, federal law may require you to carry flood insurance.
Most flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period, so don't put off getting coverage until a storm is threatening or it will be too late!
Providers typically include a hurricane deductible in insurance policies for coastal homes. Most other insurance deductibles have a set dollar amount, but hurricane deductibles are set at a percentage of the home's value.
That means if a house is valued at $300,000 and has a 5% deductible, the policyholder must contribute $15,000 out of pocket toward repairs or replacement before the policy begins paying. This applies only when a home is damaged or destroyed by a hurricane.
Hurricane deductibles didn't apply to most of the damage from Sandy, however, because the storm wasn’t considered a hurricane by the time it made landfall in the U.S.
To see if your policy includes a hurricane deductible and how much it is, contact your insurance agent.
What to Do After a Hurricane Strikes
If your home has been damaged by a hurricane, take the following steps:
- Photograph and Document Damage: Document the damage thoroughly with photos, as it will make the insurance claims process much easier. In addition to photos, keep a running list of all damaged items.
- Conduct Emergency Repairs: Do only what's necessary to prevent further damage after a storm, such as covering broken windows with plastic or roofs with tarps to keep rain out. Don't make or commission permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster reviews the damage. While it may be tempting to start cleaning up and throwing out damaged items after the storm, your insurance adjuster needs to see what happened firsthand to make you the best offer to settle your claim.
- Secure Home Inventory: All home insurance policyholders should compile a home inventory of their possessions before a storm strikes, and keep it in a safe place. A home inventory is a list that documents the contents of your home. It should include photos, detailed descriptions, and purchase receipts when possible. Having a home inventory will make the claims process much easier. If you don't currently keep a home inventory, start one as soon as possible.
- File a Claim ASAP: Insurance companies sometimes work on a first-come, first-served basis; so it's in your best interest to file an insurance claim as soon as possible. When you contact your provider, let them know the extent of the damages and that you have an inventory of your possessions. An insurance adjuster will come to your property, assess the damage, and determine the size of your payout.
- Secure Safe Lodging: If you home is uninhabitable, you'll need to find your family a safe place to stay while your home is being repaired. The loss of use coverage in a standard homeowner insurance policy typically helps pay for your family's lodging as long as the damage is part of a covered claim. Check your policy or ask your agent to make sure you have this coverage and to determine its monetary value and time limits.
Suffering damage or loss from a hurricane can be devastating, and recovery takes time. If you are prepared and plan in advance, repairing the damage will go much smoother.
Remember to be patient during the claims process. With the proper preparation, things will be back to normal soon.
- Flood Insurance for Your Home (video)
- Home Insurance Policy Limits (video)
- Understanding Homeowners Insurance Declaration Page (video)
- How to Prepare for a Hurricane (article)