In the aftermath of a storm, it’s important for homeowners to have a game plan. Here’s a step-by-step guide to insurance and FEMA claims that will save you time, money and aggravation.
Before the storm
The first step to handling weather damage should occur long before the first wind blows. While life is normal, take pictures and videos of the inside and outside of your house. While shooting the video, describe your home’s features and your personal property. File it in a secure place. You now have a detailed view of what your property was like before disaster struck. Also, be sure to have a copy of your insurance policy filed safely away or digitally available online.
When life gets shaken
After the storm, take new pictures showing what happened in the immediate aftermath. That way, you’ll have before and after shots to show the insurance adjuster. If the house is unlivable, use your policy’s provision for temporary housing. If you do not have this provision, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be able to help, as discussed below.
In case of minor damage
Before contacting the insurance company, if the damage is not great, review your policy and its deductibles. If the deductible amount is, for example, 1 percent of the insured value of the house and the house is insured at $325,000, this means you will pay for damage costing at or below $3,250. If the total damage is, say, $15,000 a claim is definitely worth filing because the insurance company covers the remaining $11,750. If the loss is much closer to the deductible amount, you’re likely better off to pay out of pocket to avoid having a claim on your record and a later rate increase.
Getting repairs done
Be careful when searching for contractors to fix your home. Search online and get personal recommendations for reputable contractors who have been in business for many years. Get three separate bids. Never sign your insurance settlement check over to a contractor. Deposit the money and pay only when the work is done to your satisfaction.
If the loss is catastrophic, making your house unlivable, even though you file a private insurance claim, you may be eligible for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA helps with costs that your insurance won’t cover. FEMA will not cover your deductible amounts on your private insurance. FEMA assistance can help with the cost of clean-up, medical expenses from the disaster, and funeral costs. It may pay for temporary housing and situations involving inadequate or no insurance coverage. Income qualification is not required for help with housing damage but does come into play for the replacement of personal property. Persons living in apartments may qualify for help with personal property.
Reach FEMA at 800-621-3362 or go to www.disasterassistance.gov. You will be assigned a FEMA representative who will contact you within a few days of your application. FEMA representatives will have official identification.