Most home insurance policies cover wind damage, but flood damage usually requires a separate policy. (Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP)
- Got insured property? There's an app for that
- Your deductible can rise dramatically for hurricane damage
- Stay with your claims adjuster and take notes as he surveys the damage
5:48PM EDT October 29. 2012 – If Hurricane Sandy hit your home, you’ve probably lost something, from a few shingles to the whole shebang. If you’ve planned well, you can keep your losses as low as possible. And if you haven’t planned well, you can take action now to minimize your losses in the next disaster.
The best thing you could have done before Sandy struck was make an inventory of your house and your possessions. There’s even an app for that if you still want to do it. Go to the Insurance Information Institute’s website (www.iii.org/software) and download its home inventory app.
The app lets you enter information on where you bought your possessions and how much they cost. All the information is stored remotely, so even if your iPhone gets swept out to sea, you’ll still have a record of what you lost.
Make sure you know your insurance policy number — and, if possible, where a copy of your policy is. If you haven’t read your policy, this is a very good time to review it. “Reading a policy isn’t exciting, but it’s very important,” says John Egan, editor of InsuranceQuotes.com.
Most policies will cover wind damage, and they will cover water damage if a tree crashes into your roof. But flood damage typically requires a separate policy. “There are many people who find out the hard way that flooding can cause a lot of damage,” Egan says. “They’re left holding the bag in flooded areas.”
And, yes, it’s too late to get flood insurance for Hurricane Sandy. Typically, insurers cease writing policies when hurricanes are nearby. “You need to think about it in dry weather,” Egan says. Most flood insurance policies kick in 30 days after you sign them.
You should also check your policy to see if your deductible is higher for a hurricane than a regular wind policy. Typically, your homeowner policy will have a dollar deductible — say, $1,000 — for damage to your house.
Many policies have hurricane deductibles, which then become a percentage of the home’s insured value. If your home’s insured value is $200,000, for example, the policy could have a 5% deductible — $10,000. Typically, the information is on the first page of your policy.
The hurricane deductible is usually spelled out carefully: Some may not kick in unless the hurricane is a Category 2 or above, for example. If you do have to pay the higher deductible, however, you may be able to deduct some of that loss from your income for tax purposes. You’ll need to fill out IRS Form 4684 to claim your loss.
Once the storm is over, it’s time to call your insurer. If you don’t know the number, you can find the toll-free numbers of all the insurance companies at the III’s website.
Claims adjusters are just outside the storm area, waiting for local authorities to give them the go-ahead to enter devastated areas, says Bob Hartwig, president of III.
It’s crucial that you be with the adjuster when he surveys the storm damage, Egan says. Keep a notebook and write down everything he says, as well as the name of everyone you talk to at the insurance company. “Point out damage, take notes of what’s happening and what the adjuster says and does,” Egan says. “No one else will do that for you.”
If your home is uninhabitable, and your policy covers it, your adjuster can probably cut a check on the spot for temporary housing. If you make a temporary repair to prevent further damage — boarding up a broken window, for example — you can probably get reimbursed for the cost of materials.
Be wary of contractors who go door-to-door and ask for an upfront fee to fix storm damage, Hartwig says. Too often, they’re scamsters who will take your money and scram.