Would you know
what to do if a storm or other disaster damaged or destroyed your
months, our researchers followed six families who have rebuilt, or
begun to, in the aftermath of hurricane, fire, tornado, explosion and
other calamities. Based on those interviews, and on conversations with
highly rated service providers, our team compiled advice on preparing
for and dealing with a disaster:
Be aware. No
home is immune to catastrophe. Each year, storms and other disasters
damage thousands of houses. Property and casualty losses during the
first six months of this year totaled $7.9 billion. For all of 2012,
losses were $35 billion, the second highest amount of annual insured
losses since 1980, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
inventory. Go room to room, photographing or video-recording your home
and its contents. Make a list of your property and keep receipts for
high-ticket items. Include approximate age, replacement cost and
serial numbers for major appliances or electronics. Keep a copy of the
inventory somewhere besides your home. (The list is also handy for
helping you know when itís time to consider upgrading or replacing
appliances and systems.)
insurance. Once a year, read through your homeowners policy. The
extent of coverage can make or break your post-disaster experience.
Consider these questions: Will your policy cover the cost to replace
your home and furnishings? Does it include an allowance for cost
overruns? If you canít live in the house, will insurance pay for a
hotel room or apartment? Will it cover the cost of rental furniture?
Will it cover a cellphone bill thatís exceeded its limit during this
time of crisis?
insurance agent to explain all available options and endorsements,
including flood insurance, so you can intelligently choose your
preferred level of coverage.
Consider a safe.
Itís a good idea to safely store important documents and items. But
be aware that fireproof safes are not necessarily waterproof, as
homeowners our team interviewed learned after firefighters doused
their house fires. Before buying a safe, be sure itís been tested to
withstand fire and water damage.
your claim. Contact your insurer immediately, even if itís the
middle of the night. If you incur expenses in protecting or repairing
what you can, keep receipts to later give the insurance adjuster.
Your cellphone may be the perfect tool for this.
mortgage. You donít want to deal with a negative credit rating or a
loan default. But check with your insurance agent and bank to see whatís
Walking through the stages of the recovery process will take time and
energy. Donít rush to settle your insurance claim, and consider
contacting your stateís insurance department if you believe the
settlement is unfair. If your home is a total loss, take as much time
as you need to decide about rebuilding.
Avoid scams. Be
aware that storms and other disasters attract unscrupulous vendors.
Take time to interview contractors, visit their previous projects and
talk to former clients. Make sure the contractor you hire is licensed,
bonded, insured and, preferably, local. Donít sign anything
experience. Hire a contractor with experience in rebuilding homes,
which can be more difficult than building new because of site
constraints, neighborhood covenants or other codes.
upfront payments. Be wary of contractors who want a lot of money
before the job starts. If your state or locality doesnít limit
allowable down payments, pay only a portion upfront and tie additional
payments to project milestones.