As Hurricane Irma tears through the Caribbean, and threatens to bear down on the U.S. mainland, those in its potential path are readying for the worst. That preparation, whether for Irma and any such event, should include laying the groundwork for making a claim on your home insurance.
The insurance you have in the days before the storm is all you’ll have once the “weather event” arrives. Insurance companies typically make new policies effective between a few days to 30 days after they’re purchased. In the prelude to a hurricane, getting a new policy, or even amending an old one, is likely an option only if you just moved into a new rental, or closed on a new house purchase within the last 30 to 45 days. You may not even be able to get a quote for a new policy until well after the storm has passed.
Review your coverage
You’ll want to especially check your documents for how, if at all, you are covered against the hazards that most often cause damage during hurricanes and other severe weather--namely wind and flooding. Here’s a rundown of relevant policies and coverage types.
Homeowners insurance. In some states, any wind damage is covered under your standard homeowners policy. However, in the states most prone to hurricanes--including Florida, Texas, and South Carolina--you need to buy a separate windstorm policy to be covered against damage from extreme wind.
Even if you’re covered, including for wind, under your home policy, the usual deductible--of, say, $500 or $1,000--may not apply when a weather event rises to the level of a named hurricane. In such cases, a special, and far higher, “hurricane deductible” may kick in. Rather than being a flat fee, hurricane deductibles are often a percentage--of between 2% to 5% typically--of the value to which your home is insured. For example, if your home is insured for $500,000, then you could be on the hook for the first $15,000 to $25,000 in damages.
In Florida, homeowners must be offered the option of deductibles of a flat $500 and of 2,5, or 10 %, with premiums of course varying accordingly. Check your policy for which option you chose.
Check also for what’s known as Additional Living Expenses (ALE) coverage. After the hurricane strikes, if your home is rendered unlivable, ALE coverage can also continue to make you whole for hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses. As a rule, the costs to evacuate generally aren’t covered by ALE, even when the evacuation is mandatory, according to Bill Davis, a regional representative for the Insurance Information Institute. However, he says that exceptions were made for Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and he recommends contacting your insurance company to see if they will be covering expenses in the event of a mandatory evacuation.
Flood insurance. While homeowners insurance covers any damage from rain, it doesn’t cover the aftereffects to your property from flooding. Flood damage--even when the flooding largely resulted from torrential rains, as was the case with Harvey in Texas--requires yet another policy, issued by either the National Flood Insurance Program, run by FEMA, or some private flood insurance companies.
If you’ve financed your home and live in a high-risk area, such coverage will have been required by your lender. But plenty of flooded homeowners are uninsured against property damage and loss of belongings from floods. For example, when Harvey struck the Houston region, research firm CoreLogic estimates that more than a million homes were uninsured for flooding.
Take stock of property and belongings
You may already have assembled a list of your personal belongings when you purchased your homeowners insurance. If you still have the list at hand, try to update it before the hurricane hits. Then plan to take the list along with you if you live--and send it off electronically as well, for safe and easy access later.
Whether or not you’ve listed your belongings, it’s useful to also make a visual record of your home and its contents for insurance purposes. The resulting images can help verify the contents of the home as well as document its physical integrity, for comparison as needed with the damage caused by the hurricane.
One simple method is to use your smartphone to record a video as you walk through your home. You can even narrate, identifying items and offering any additional information that might be relevant to a claim, such as value or replacement cost. It’s a good idea, too, to snap still photos of items that are especially expensive or cherished. On some smartphones, you can capture photos and video at the same time, typically by touching a camera icon on the screen to take a photo as the video is rolling.