The hurricane has passed. Now, comes the recovery phase when you assess the potential damage and make some tough decisions.
If your property sustained damage in the hurricane, you’ll soon become acquainted with your insurance company and the mounds of paperwork that you’ll have to complete.
Here are some pointers from the insurance experts.
First things first, get and maintain insurance.
If you’ve got a mortgage on your home, your lender most likely requires you to carry homeowners insurance. If you own your home, make sure you get homeowners insurance and keep it current. This will usually cover any wind damage, but double-check your policy to make sure the greatest risks to your property are covered.
That’s not the only kind of insurance you should have, though. Most homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from a flood. So, if your property is in a place that is prone to flooding or susceptible to tropical systems, you’ll want to secure flood insurance. Most of these policies are offered by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is a government-backed program. Your insurance agent will likely have information about the program, or you can visit floodsmart.gov. Note that these policies take 30 days to become effective, so planning ahead is key.
After the storm, assess your property damage
When it’s safe to return to your home or venture outside, take stock of the damage to your property.
"Separate and inventory any damaged personal property," the Travelers Indemnity Company advises on its website. "Create a list of any damaged contents, including a description of the item, name of the manufacturer, brand name, age, as well as the place and date of purchase, if known."
Travelers Insurance also recommends including photographs and videos as part of the assessment process.
Keep all of this information handy. You’re going to need it for what’s to come.
Contact your insurance company
According to the Texas Department of Insurance, you should contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible to report any hurricane damage.
You should be prepared to answer questions about the damage, and you should keep a record of everyone with whom you speak.
The TDI also suggests you talk to your insurer about getting an advance payment if you’re in need of quick assistance.
"Ask about living expenses," the TDI advises on its website. "Most policies will cover some of the costs you have if you are unable to live in your home because of damage that is covered by your insurance."
Keep your receipts
You may end up needing to spend money on immediate repairs to your home for safety reasons. That’s OK, but make sure you keep your receipts.
"Remember that payments for temporary repairs are part of the total settlement," the Insurance Information Institute writes in guidance posted on its website. "So if you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary repair job, you may not have enough money for permanent repairs."
The same rule applies for temporary housing. If you’re forced to pay for a place to stay because your home is too badly damaged, save all the receipts.
"Homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the cost of additional living expenses if your home is damaged by an insured disaster," the III writes.
Prepare for potential paperwork, the adjuster
There will usually be insurance forms you have to complete when your property is damaged. This is where all that great assessment you did earlier comes in handy. Travelers recommends people include photos and videos of the damage as part of submitting their claim.
The insurance company may also dispatch an adjuster to provide a first-hand assessment of the damage for them. The TDI recommends you make sure the adjuster can see your address from the street.
"You may need to post a sign with your address in the yard," the TDI writes on its website.
It is also recommended that you be present during the adjuster’s visit, according to the TDI.
According to the III, the more information about your damaged property that you can provide to the adjuster and insurance company, the faster your claim can be settled.
Get bids to repair property damage
The III says you should get bids for repairs from licensed contractors before any work starts.
"The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis," the III writes on its website.
The TDI also recommends you compare those bids with the adjuster’s report before you settle your claim with the insurance company.
Watch out for scams
It never fails. After a tropical disaster, people looking to make a quick buck off people desperate to return to their pre-storm life rear their ugly heads.
According to the TDI, some red flags of a contracting scam include:
- Being asked to sign documents before being given an estimate of repairs.
- Being asked to sign a contract with large sections of it that are blank.
- A contractor who offers to waive your deductible or "work it into the bid."
- A contractor who asks for a large down payment or full payment upfront.
To avoid these scams, the TDI recommends you:
- Use local companies whenever possible.
- Ensure the company’s name, address and phone number are listed on the bid.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau and the contractor’s references before accepting the bid.
- Pay with a check or credit card instead of cash to ensure there is a record of the payment.
You can get even more advice from TDI about avoiding scams here.
- National Flood Insurance Program
- Travelers Indemnity Company
- Texas Department of Insurance
- Insurance Information Institute
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