For homeowners in the path of Hurricane Florenceâor even outside of itâitâs likely too late to add appropriate storm insurance. Flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period, while wind insurance typically comes with a 15-day one. Either way, with Florence set to hit the Carolina coasts later this week, the window has passed.
While thereâs a chance that homeownersâ and car insurance policies can still be altered, those changes typically arenât allowed if a hurricane watch has been issued (which the National Hurricane Center predicts will be by Tuesday morning, in many spots.)
Still, homeowners arenât without options. According to experts in the insurance, restoration and lending spaces, there are still ways to protect yourselfâand your real estate investmentsâeven as the storm surges forward.
Have a plan.
According to a survey by BELFOR Property Restoration 60 percent of homeowners donât have a disaster preparedness plan. Nearly half say they havenât thought about it, and 45 percent donât know what items to have on hand during an emergency. The National Hurricane Center offers resources for creating a family emergency plan, as well as what to include in a disaster supply kit.
Be preparedâeven if youâre not in Florenceâs exact path.
âHurricane Florence may cause extensive inland wind and flood-related property damage to states like Tennessee and Pennsylvania, so people far from the Carolina coastline need to assess their insurance coverage for wind and flood-caused damage.â â Michael Barry, Head of Media and Public Affairs at the Insurance Information Institute
Make sure you have wind coverage if youâre in a hurricane-prone area.
âThere are two primary insurance policies that protect homeowners from natural disasters: homeownerâs insurance and flood insurance. On the homeownerâs policy, the consumer needs to be certain that âwindâ is a peril covered under their policy. There are many ânon-windâ policies sold in coastal areas. The price is considerably less, but for good reason. There is no coverage for any hurricane or tropical storm wind coverage on a non-wind policy.â â Blaise DâAntoni, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Burns & Wilcox
Gather your insurerâs info.
âOnce the storm has passed, homeowners should reach out to their insurance agent or directly to the company to file a claim for their damages. If they have a local agent, remember, they may also be affected by the storm, on a personal or professional level. Insurance companies normally set up catastrophe teams to deal with the high volume of claims after a storm. This is a good source of information, direction and support for homeowners impacted by a hurricane.â â DâAntoni Â Â Â Â
Take photos and videos.
âTaking inventory or photographing the home is not required, and the insurance company should be able to settle a claim without it. That said, it can beneficial to have those items. One useful approach is to take a video of the exterior and interior of the home that can serve as a frame of reference during the claim process if there are issues or questions.â â Greg Isaacs, Head of Insurance at Blend
Get your important documents togetherâand put them in a safe place.
âBe prepared and know how to contact your insurance company and later, your mortgage lender, when the time is right. If it turns out youâll be applying for a 203(h) loan to purchase a home youâll need access to the typical documents you otherwise would have to have ready regardless of if there was a disaster, including a government-issued ID, social security card, tax returns and list of assets.â â Steven Marshall, National Director of Renovation Lending at Homebridge
Call your insurance provider.
âIt’s always a good idea for homeowners to confirm their policies are in force and not expired or canceled. They can usually check online or call their providers to confirm, ideally before the storm hits.â â Isaacs
Donât forget your car.
âPolicyholders should focus not only on damage to their home or rental apartment but also their car. If a car is flooded or damaged by a fallen tree, an auto insurance policyâs optional comprehensive coverage will pay for the damages.â â Barry
Prep the outside of your home.
âBoarding up the home or deploying hurricane shutters can reduce the direct loss to a home. If you live in a coastal area, having hurricane shutters and impact-resistant glass are two ways to improve your homeâs resilience in a storm. Look around the outside of the property for anything that could turn into a missile in high winds such as fire pits, patio furniture, etc. Bringing those items inside can help prevent from crashing through your home or otherwise damaging the outside of your home.â â Bill Gatewood, Corporate Vice President and Director of Personal Insurance at Burns & Wilcox
Make sure your emergency kit is waterproofâand thorough.
âPrepare an emergency kit in a waterproof container or bag. Include your insurance documents, damage footage and photos, other important documents (e.g. birth certificates and vehicle registrations), phone chargers and prescription bottles. Keep this kit with you. Back up any important computer files and move computers above potential flooding areas of your home or office.â â Gatewood
If your property does get hit, experts stress that itâs important to stay calm and not panic. Follow the below tips:
Donât attemptÂ the cleanup yourself.
âThereâs a quite common mistake people make after a storm that can be very harmful, which is to try to initiate the immediate cleanup themselves. In the event of property damage, homeowners should not try to mitigate the destruction themselvesânot only for obvious safety reasons but also because it may cause further damage. Instead, property owners should document the damage and take inventory of the destruction right away.â â Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Property Restoration
Contact your mortgage lender if you might have trouble making payments.
âAfter you contact your insurance company, contact your mortgage lender or a local one you trust and has experience with disasters. One of the advantages homeowners have, when their area has been declared a disaster by the president, is that mortgage lenders usually have to grant borrowers some leeway in terms of when payments are due and often the need for payments can be put on hold for a few months without penalty.â â Marshall
âTake pictures and keep receipts of all the work you doâthat will be useful for your insurance company claims adjuster. Try not to throw away anything before your insurance company has had an opportunity to inspect the home. If you have to throw away debris, take pictures or video to document the actions. After a storm, it may take a few days for things to settle down enough for claims adjusters to get to your home.â â Gatewood
If the damage is really bad, look into an FHA 203(h) loan.
âIf someoneâs home lies within a presidentially-designated disaster area, and it was either destroyed or damaged so severely so that rebuilding or replacement is necessary, they should be eligible for loans. FHA 203(h) loans are government-insured mortgages that were created specifically to make it easier for disaster victims to get back on their feet and do not require a down payment. These loans allow borrowers the ability to purchase, improve, remodel or rebuild a home, as well as rebuild or remodel their current home, due to damage caused by the disaster.â â Marshall
âThe 203(h) application process is only open for a year from when the disaster is first declared though. And if youâre looking to purchase a home elsewhere using this loan, instead of rebuild, youâll want to move as soon as possible if youâre looking at areas where the number of desirable homes are limited.â â Marshall
âHomeowners should try to submit their claim early. Carriers have high a number of claims to manage after an event like this, so getting the claim submitted early helps speed up the process. Keeping good records of all expenses related to the storm and repairs they make is also key. Things like meals and hotel costs due to evacuation may be covered depending on the policy.â â Isaacs
Be wary of dishonest contractors.
âUnfortunately, these disasters bring out the worst in some people. Beware unscrupulous contractors arriving overnight and telling you they can start repairs tomorrow. Be calm, and if you do make repairs, make sure you only hire those who are licensed and insured locally and throughout the state. This sort of expertise is where a local lender can help as well.â â Marshall
If youâre not in a declared disaster area, a renovation loan can help.
âIn presidentially-designated disaster areas, 203(h) loans are a great option since they donât require a down payment. However, they only work if your area was declared a disaster by the President. Unfortunately, sometimes homes are severely damaged by storms that are not deemed lie within a declared disaster area. If you canât qualify for a 203(h), then an FHA 203(k) or FNMA HomeStyle renovation mortgage could be a great option for refinancing your home in order to make repairs or purchasing an existing new home and renovating it to your liking. These loans bundle together the cost of a homeâs repair with their monthly mortgage, streamlining the payment process for the borrower. When you refinance with one of these loans, other repairs and renovations can also be factored in, such as a kitchen upgrade, HVAC alterations or even a room addition.â â Marshall
Insure First, Stay Safe
In the end though, having the right insurance in place ahead of time is key. After all, FEMA reports that just one inch of water can equal $25,000 in property damage.
âHomeowners need to make sure they have the policies in place before a storm is imminent, especially since flood insurance generally includes a 30-day waiting period before coverage can go into effect,â he said. âThey should be sure to have adequate coverage limits including extended replacement cost, building code upgrade and a manageable wind or hurricane deductible, which is usually higher than the standard peril deductible.â
But if thatâs not possibleâor itâs too late to actâsafety should always come first.
âThe first priority should always be protecting themselves and their loved ones from harm,â Isaacs said. âInsurance is meant to protect the property. Homeowners should never put themselves in danger to try and prevent or limit damage.â