If your home is significantly damaged by a storm, you will likely feel overwhelmed and confused just when you are faced with making several major repair decisions. Take a deep breath and let us walk you through the mess.
Judge your home’s livability. Can you live in the home while it is being repaired? Is your neighborhood also heavily damaged? Do you need permission from local law enforcement to return to your home for clean-up. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible so that a claims adjuster can assess the damage. Little repair work can be done until adjusters have inspected and determined costs.
Filing a claim. If the roof is leaking or there is any other exposure to the elements, do not delay. Take pictures immediately and use tarps to prevent further damage, which the insurance may contest. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers relief for eligible disaster victims, sometimes helping with costs not covered by private insurance. To learn more about eligibility requirements visit https://www.fema.gov/blog/2011-07-22/eligibility-criteria-fema-assistance.
Finding and hiring contractors. Proceed cautiously when hiring contractors in the aftermath of a storm. Always check references to avoid hiring “storm chasers,” who prey on homeowners in disaster zones. They do substandard work, or worse, take deposit money and leave town. Once the insurance adjuster has determined what the damages are and how much the company will pay, begin looking for contractors for each project. Use a variety of resources: online research, personal referrals and recommendations from your insurance company.
Get three written estimates for each project. Look for contractors who are members of the Better Business Bureau’s accreditation program and have been in business a long time. Also look at reviews on sites such as Yelp.
Ask for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance card. Read your repair contract carefully. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Do not agree to pay the contractor’s employees and suppliers in the event the contractor doesn’t pay them. Get a “release of lien” once the work is done to your satisfaction.
Paying for the repairs. Set up a payment schedule with your contractor. Never pay all of the cost in advance. A deposit of one third of the total amount is acceptable. Never endorse your insurance settlement check over to the contractor.
Need more assistance? A helpful site for detailed information on dealing with storm damage is www.stormdamagecenter.org.