Insurance claim after storm

insurance claim
Storm safety guide (infographic from ameriprise.com)

After enduring the recent twenty-four hours of near hurricane winds, many home owners are making repairs to their homes.  Many are reporting storm damage claims to their insurance companies.  Anyone who has made an insurance claim to repair their home knows that it can be ordeal.  But you can make the process easier if you know what to do.

When making an insurance claim, the Maryland Insurance Administration recommends that you contact your insurance agent or company immediately to report damage.  Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed property, to provide to the adjuster and for your records.  It is recommended that you take pictures or video of the damage for documentation and to help the insurance company’s investigation.  If emergency repairs are required, keep all receipts.  It’s important to only make necessary repairs, and to contact your insurance company before making permanent repairs.  You can view the Maryland Insurance Commissioner’s video on “Filing a Weather-Related Claim” for additional information and tips about your homeowners insurance (youtu.be/XywD4mdU1q8).

Before you make a claim, check with your insurance company about your deductible, policy coverage, and how they will pay-out the claim.  If total cost of the repair is approximately, or slightly more than, your deductible, making a claim may not be worth the trouble.  Your homeowners policy may also limit repairs to only the damaged areas, resulting in mismatched roof or siding.  If your mortgage company has to endorse the insurance check, contact the mortgage company to engage the process and expect a delay in reimbursement or contractor payment.

Making an insurance claim may also have consequences on your insurance premiums and future applications.  Much like credit reports that help creditors make decisions about extending credit, there are reports that provide the same to insurers.  These reports help underwrite insurance policies.  The “CLUE” report is a history of your insurance claims for the last seven years.  A CLUE report can exist for you personally, as well as your home.  Although the CLUE report has taken the public spotlight over the last decade, the A-PLUS property loss report is also popular with insurers.

Much like checking your credit report annually, the Maryland Insurance Administration recommends that you annually review your CLUE and A-PLUS reports.  The reports contain a detailed history of insurance claims for you and your property, as well as details about damage to your home.  Knowing what is contained in the reports may help you understand how an insurance company views your and your home’s insurance risk.  This can affect your insurance policy acceptance, limitations, and/or premiums.  And like credit reports, you can dispute any errors on the CLUE and A-PLUS reports.  The MIA website offers a list of contacts to help you obtain these reports (insurance.maryland.gov/Consumer/Pages/CreditandPropertyLossHistoryReports.aspx).

It’s not uncommon to hear from contractors after the storm (verify contractor license).

The MIA issued a consumer advisory regarding what contractors can and cannot do:

What contractors can do:
-Prepare an estimate of the loss.
-Discuss the estimate with their customer.
-Answer questions the insurance company has about the estimates.

What contractors cannot do, unless they are licensed as a public adjuster by the Maryland Insurance Administration:
-Investigate, appraise, evaluate, give advice or assist their customer in adjusting a claim.
-Prepare the insurance claim for their customer.
-Negotiate the claim with the insurance company on their customer’s behalf.
-Advise their customer on the insurance policy’s coverage.
-Advertise or provide written materials that they can negotiate or investigate a claim on their customer’s behalf.

If the hassle of filing a claim is too much for you, you might consider hiring a Public Adjuster.  The MIA describes the Public Adjuster as, “…an insurance claim adjuster who, for compensation, acts as an advocate for the policyholder in appraising and negotiating a first party property insurance claim under a property and casualty policy that insures the policyholder’s real or personal property…”  The Public Adjuster must be licensed by the MIA and enter into a contract with the policy holder, as well as provide disclosures.   Although a convenience, your insurance company is not obligated to accept the Public Adjuster’s claim.

The MIA states that a Public Adjuster must:

-be licensed by the Maryland Insurance Administration;
-prior to entering a contract with the policyholder, provide the policyholder with an explanation of the types of adjusters involved in the claims process and the insured’s rights to communicate directly with the insurer or its agents about settlement of the claims process and obtain the policyholder’s signature on the form;
-keep financial and business records and establish a separate escrow account for the policyholder’s proceeds.
-provide the policyholder with a written contract disclosing:

a.the terms of the contract;
b. the right to rescind or cancel the contract within 3 business days of signing;
c. that out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the Public Adjuster and approved by the insured will be reimbursed out of the insurance proceeds;
d. any compensation the Public Adjuster is to receive for services; and
e. the disclosure of any direct or indirect financial interest that the Public Adjuster or any immediate family member has with any other party who is involved in any aspect of the claim, including but not limited to the ownership of, or any compensation expected to be received from, any construction firm, salvage firm, building appraisal firm, motor vehicle repair shop, or any other firm that provides estimates for work or performs any work in conjunction with damages caused by the insured loss on which the public adjuster is engaged; and
f. the insured’s rights under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

 

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

In the unlikely event of nuclear war

Preparedness can mitigate personal disaster in case of nuclear war
Preparedness can mitigate personal disaster in case of nuclear blast (infographic from cdc.gov)

While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps.  Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness…”  This was the introduction to a highly anticipated Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov) Grand Rounds on the health response to a nuclear detonation.  Unfortunately, the January 16th topic “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” was shelved to discuss the current flu epidemic.  Home owners want to know how to protect their homes and family in the unlikely event of nuclear war.

Living just outside Washington DC, it feels as if the anxiety for such as disaster has increased in recent months.  Many of you might wonder if there is anything you can do to save your homes and your families in the event of a nuclear war.  Like other potential disasters, preparedness can help mitigate personal disaster.

I had the opportunity to correspond with the Outreach Coordinator for Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Joe Corona, CEM.  When asked if the county has a plan in case of a nuclear war, he stated “We’ve taken a look at what we would need during the unlikely scenario of a nuclear attack (i.e. plume modeling, evacuation planning, public messaging, recovery planning, etc.), and applied them to multiple situations, so that in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack, we’re able to look at the priorities and provide the most effective response that we can.”

Corona described the Montgomery County’s Emergency Operation Plan as an “all hazards framework” that is able to prepare, respond and recover from an incident “regardless of the type of event.”  He added, “Our focus is responding to community needs effectively regardless of the event, and to be able to quickly increase or direct resources in order to provide the maximum benefit to the community, with life safety always being the number one priority.”

In this unlikely scenario, what can you do to protect your home and family?

Prepare by creating a plan, and building an emergency kit.  Corona suggests tapping resources from agencies such as Ready.gov, The American Red Cross, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, etc. to help you with your plan.  He recommends that you think about areas in your home that provide the best shielding from outdoor elements, and to “take steps now to prepare to shelter in place for longer periods of times.”  Corona suggests that you prepare at least three days of emergency supplies. However, in the unlikely case of nuclear war, you probably need to plan for “longer periods.”

Ready.gov (ready.gov/nuclear-blast) provides information on what to do before, during and after a nuclear blast.  Preparedness recommendations include building an emergency kit, make a family emergency plan, as well as identifying any designated fallout shelters in your community, and/or make a list of potential shelters near home, work and school.   “During periods of heightened threat,” you should have at least a two week emergency supply.

Corona recommends staying informed through Alert Montgomery (alert.montgomerycountymd.gov), noting that your chance for survival increases if you can act quickly.  “Alert Montgomery is the official emergency communications service for Montgomery County, MD. During a major crisis, emergency or severe weather event, Montgomery County officials can send event updates, warnings and instructions directly to you on any of your devices.

Check your homeowners or renter’s insurance coverage.  He stated, “In our responses, those who have insurance require so much less of the limited government resources and have tremendously more options through ‘loss of use’ provisions to seek alternate accommodations.  Photographing pre-conditions, keeping policy info in your go kit [emergency kit], and notifying the insurance company early after events go a long way to promoting recovery for the individual and recouping any losses.”

The Montgomery County OEMHS is a rich source of information on preparedness for disasters, including the unlikely event of a nuclear war. Their outreach personnel can answer your questions about staying informed, making a plan, building an emergency kit, as well as getting involved in the community (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OEMHS/hazards/tech/radiological.html).

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Winter ready home

Winter Ready Home
Be Winter Ready (infographic from cdc.gov)

After several years of brutal winter weather, we were given a reprieve of mild weather last year.  The warm weather trend has moved into the fall with some balmy days.  But you shouldn’t become complacent thinking that winter weather is a long way off.  Yes, it’s the time of year to take stock in your home and prepare for winter.  Is your home winter ready?

Of course, at the center of your winter ready home is the comfort your heating system delivers.  Regardless of the type of heating system you have, have a licensed a licensed professional inspect your home’s furnace.  The inspection can identify any issues that can cause your furnace to be inefficient and/or fail.  The inspection can also root out potential safety issues, such as carbon monoxide buildup.  If the system does not need to be repaired or replaced, the HVAC professional will tune the furnace to optimize the its performance.

Another thought for being winter ready is the fireplace.  Unfortunately, many homeowners overlook fireplace and chimney maintenance.  However, putting off fireplace and chimney maintenance can become a safety issue.  Wood burning fireplaces should be cleaned, inspected, and repaired if necessary.  Gas fireplaces require a licensed technician to inspect the pilot and electronics in the firebox.  Both wood and gas fireplaces require flue and chimney maintenance.  Creosote buildup can combust and cause a chimney fire.  Birds and other animals or debris can lodge in the chimney and prevent proper venting.  Defective fireplaces or improperly vented fireplaces can produce excess carbon monoxide in your home, which can be deadly.

You’re not winter ready unless you’re prepared for emergencies.  Test the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, replace them if necessary.  If your heating system and/or fireplace burns liquid, solid, or gas fuel, then you need to have carbon monoxide detectors installed.  Carbon monoxide is invisible, odorless and tasteless and prolonged exposure can result in brain damage and death.  Experts recommend installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home, primarily near bedrooms.

Hose bibs are often ignored because many people don’t use them, or are not aware of how to maintain them.  However, hose bibs that are not winter ready are probably the number one source of winter pipe leaks.  If not winterized properly, the pipes leading to the hose bibs can freeze and expand.  This expansion can cause the pipe to burst, creating an unwanted winter leak.  If you’ve never winterized the hose bibs, or are not sure how, contact a licensed plumber.  Attempting to operate pipe valves that have been idle or not operated in a while can create or exacerbate an undetected leak.

Make sure your home’s roof system is winter ready.  Have a licensed professional inspect your home’s roof.  If shingles are not secure, melting and freezing snow can create ice dams.  Ice dams can lift and dislodge shingles allowing water to penetrate your home.  Water penetration from ice dams can cause damage to your home’s interior.  Besides damaging ceilings, water penetration can also damage walls and windows.

While your roof is being checked out, inspect the roof flashing, gutters and downspouts.  Roof flashing is often ignored, however is as important as shingles.  Roof flashing is used to transition from shingles (or other roofing) to other materials (such as brick, metal or PVC).  The flashing prevents water to leak between the roof and chimney or vent pipes.

Clean and repair clogged gutters and blocked downspouts.  Poorly maintained gutters and downspouts won’t allow for proper drainage of water from snow and rain.  Improper drainage can allow water to penetrate the foundation, creating structural and mold issues.

Preparing for winter will reduce the probability of having surprises.  Being winter ready will allow you to enjoy the winter months in your own winter wonderland.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Vacation home preparation

vacation home preparation
Vacation home preparation (infographic from Tower Hill Insurance thig.com)

Summer vacation home preparation is much like preparing it for the winter or severe weather.  Much of the plan is conventional wisdom and incorporates penny pinching advice intended to prevent a potential hazard.  The goal is to anticipate and minimize problems while your away by safeguarding the home’s systems and implementing a security plan.

Many electrical items we use are considered to be “zombie” appliances; meaning they use electricity even when not in use.  Unplugging such items as the toaster, Keurig, and other small appliances that won’t be in use while you’re away will conserve energy (and may save you a few pennies).  More so, shut down (and unplug) your computers and printers to not just conserve energy, but to also thwart hackers while your away.

Some people play with their home’s thermostat to save some money.  The thought is that by setting the thermostat temperature much higher than usual, the air conditioner will not run as much (or at all).  However, if you have a basement or cellar, you might consider setting the thermostat temperature to a more reasonable temperature to prevent mold from growing in your dark and humid basement.

Some shut off the water to the house to prevent a water hazard.  However, shutting off valves at faucets, fixtures, or appliances may be a better plan if your home has a sprinkler system.  And to prevent someone taking advantage of your absence and wash a car or two in your driveway, you might also consider shutting off the valves to the exterior hose bibs.

Besides protecting your home’s systems, think about home security too!  First, refrain from posting your plans on social media.  Although you may want to inform your Facebook friends and Twitter followers of your itinerary, broadcasting vacation plans in such a way could also get the attention of a would be criminal looking for their next break-in.

Although storing your valuables in a safe place could minimize loss, consider implementing crime deterrents as well.  Installing motion activated lights on the home’s exterior may deter activity around the home at night; while electronic devices, such as the camera-doorbell, can notify you if there is any activity around the house during the day.

You may also consider implementing some common tactics to make it seem as if you never went on vacation.  Having a few lights on a timer will appear as if someone is turning lights on and off.  Besides having a neighbor pick up the mail and newspaper (many stop their paper and mail while they’re away), have them park in your driveway to make it seem as if someone is coming and going to and from the home.  Additionally, have a neighbor or friend check in on the home regularly to ensure it is secure.  Depending on the length of your vacation, they may drop in a few times, picking up any packages left at the door and adjusting the thermostat as necessary.

A summer vacation home preparation idea if your home is on the market – consider restricting showings to be by appointment only to ensure the house remains secure.  Talk to your agent about how to contact you in case of an emergency, your agent may check in on the home regularly too.  Don’t worry about missing out on a great offer on your home – if you will have email access, your agent can send you any offers and have you sign them electronically.

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After the blizzard home maintenance

home salesThe warm weather that occurred early in the season probably gave many of us a false sense of security, such that we may have put off the pre-winter inspection. The good news is that it’s not too late; and you should check out your home’s roof, gutters, and the surrounding grounds after the blizzard – even if you’ve already conducted a pre-winter inspection.

The blizzard of 2016 dumped a lot snow, and I’m sure you’ve heard about the collapsed roofs. Even if your roof survived, the stress of the accumulated snow may have caused damage that you won’t see unless you inspect the roofing system (including joists and beams). If your roof is already compromised, the amount of snow or ice it can handle is significantly reduced; and can push it toward failing when you need it the most. Don’t think that your home is immune from such damage; I have experienced home inspections that uncovered a cracked roof truss in an otherwise pristine home.

home maintenance
From the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (disastersafety.org)

According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (disastersafety.org), the average residential roof is designed to hold 20lbs per square foot of snow; beyond that, the roof system becomes “stressed.” Ten to twelve inches of fresh snow is estimated to apply about 5lbs of stress. And given the equation, the Institute says that an average roof in good condition should be able to withstand the stress of up to four feet of fresh snow. “Old” (compacted) snow and ice applies more force than fresh snow, and should be monitored closely in multiple snow events.

Another source of roof and gutter problems during and after a blizzard stem from ice dams. An “ice dam” is formed by the melting and refreezing of snow (or ice). When an ice dam forms on the roof and/or gutters, the expansion of the ice can loosen shingles as well as create gaps in gutters. Damage from ice dams formed during the blizzard has the potential for future damage from heavy spring rains. Loose shingles and gapped gutters can allow water to penetrate the home via ceilings and walls, in addition to allowing roof water runoff directly towards the home’s foundation.

Inspecting your home after a severe weather event can help identify maintenance issues and prevent future headaches; and in some situations, may uncover an urgent safety issue. FEMA’s 2013 Risk Management Series-Snow Load Safety Guide (fema.gov) lists warning signs of an “overstressed” roof to include (but is not limited to): any sagging of ceiling; sagging sprinkler lines or heads; popping, cracking, and creaking noises; sagging roof members; bowing truss members; doors and/or windows that can no longer be opened or closed; cracked or split wood members; cracks in walls; and/or severe roof leaks. If you observe any of these warning signs, FEMA recommends evacuating the home and consulting a structural engineer to inspect and assess the structural integrity of the home.

The amount of snow that a blizzard delivers can saturate the grounds surrounding your home; and if not drained properly, the ground can become supersaturated during spring showers (which can become a flood risk). Once the snow has melted, check the surrounding yard and remove any debris and downed trees that can impede proper drainage (which can also be a hazard during high winds). Make sure downspouts are secure and functional, so as to deposit water away from the home’s foundation.

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