Flood insurance checkup

Hurricane Florence is not your average storm.  As it will undoubtedly devastate the area where it makes landfall, it will also wreak havoc along the east coast.  Some are already calling it a historic storm.  Flooding is expected not just along the coast, but also well into the mainland due to heavy rains.  Even my local county (Montgomery County) is bracing for persistent heavy rain even though we are in central MD. In its aftermath, hurricane Florence will be another reminder for Congress to act on a long-term reform of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created 1968 as a result of the aftermath of hurricane Betsy.    After the 1965 hurricane ravaged the gulf coast, Congress realized that flood insurance should be affordable and widely available to home owners, tenants, and businesses.  The National Flood Insurance Program provides coverage associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, and heavy rains.  Like other Federal programs, Congress funds the program.  However, in recent years, Congress has appropriated short term extensions for the program.  The current extension provides funding through November.

National Association of Realtors President Elizabeth Mendenhall, issued a statement regarding the impending storm and a plea to Congress to act on reforming the National Flood Insurance Plan.  Mendenhall stated in the September 11th press release that there are an estimated 750,000 homes at risk from a coastal storm surge.  Furthermore, there is the potential of an estimated $170 billion of property damage just in the Carolinas and Virginia (nar.realtor).

Representing the National Association of Realtors, Mendenhall urges Congress to pass a long-term National Flood Insurance Plan by pointing out that “Flooding is the most common disaster in the United States, one that affects Americans in communities both coastal and inland every year.” She is correct to say, “In these times, we are reminded of the importance of peace of mind for property owners with access to quality and affordable flood insurance.

FEMA’s Flood Smart (floodsmart.gov) portal is where you can find more information about flood insurance and protecting your home before and after a flood.  Before a storm like Florence, you can reduce your risk by preparing.  FEMA offers suggestions for flood prepping, which includes (but not limited to): elevating critical utilities; ensuring your sump pump is working and has a battery back-up; install a water alarm in your basement; clear debris from gutters and down spouts; store irreplaceable documents (such as birth certificates, passports, etc.) in a safe, dry place; and of course, build an emergency supply kit that is ready to go when you are.  Your emergency kit should minimally include non-perishable food, bottled water, first aid, medicines and a battery-operated radio.  Ready.gov has checklists and additional preparedness information, including building your emergency supply kit.

It’s also recommended to make an inventory of your valuables so as to make filing insurance claims easier.  Additionally, know your flood risk level by checking FEMA’s interactive flood map (msc.fema.gov/portal/search).

FEMA warns home owners that regardless of your risk zone, flood insurance may be a necessary add-on to your homeowners’ insurance policy.  Even if you live in low or moderate flood risk area, you are five times more likely to experience a flood in your home than a fire.  Don’t assume your homeowners’ insurance policy covers flood damage.  Even if you have a flood rider, your coverage may be limited.  Review your policy with your insurance agent to determine if you have flood coverage as well as its limitations.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/09/12/flood-insurance-checkup/

By Dan Krell.          Copyright © 2018.

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Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. 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.

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:

  1. the terms of the contract;
  2. the right to rescind or cancel the contract within 3 business days of signing;
  3. that out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the Public Adjuster and approved by the insured will be reimbursed out of the insurance proceeds;
  4. any compensation the Public Adjuster is to receive for services; and
  5. 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
  6. the insured’s rights under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018

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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.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, and your home

When I wrote about disaster preparedness earlier this year, who knew we would experience an earthquake and a hurricane within a few months? Now that Hurricane Irene and the “surprise” earthquake are still fresh in our memories, disaster preparedness is a top conversation. However, protecting your home, possessions, and family from disasters and severe weather goes beyond just having a preparedness kit along with several days’ worth of food and water.

Consider that basic home owners’ insurance typically doesn’t cover damage from flood or earthquake; and unfortunately, many home owners don’t know the extent (or limitations) of their own home owners’ insurance coverage. Unless you live in a flood zone, where you’re lender would require you to carry the extra coverage, chances are that you don’t have flood insurance. Additionally, who thinks about earthquake insurance in the east coast? Actually, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (www.pciaa.net) about only 12% of Californians have earthquake insurance – so it is likely that you might not either.

Although regular home maintenance could possibly avoid a catastrophe caused by severe weather and water penetration; any disaster (whether it’s a natural occurrence, manmade, deity made, alien made, or whatever your beliefs are) has the potential for major devastation regardless of how much you prepare.

Have you looked up toward your roof lately? If your roof fails, high winds and heavy rain could not only lift and peel away shingles, but could allow water penetration into your home (which could affect other systems). Regular checks of the roof system, including shingles and flashing could prevent surprises when you’re relying on your home’s roof the most.

Additionally, don’t wait for wind or birds to clear the debris that has landed on your roof. Debris, such as tree branches, leaves, Frisbees, etc. have the potential to not only damage shingles and sheathing, but can also clog the gutters and downspouts. Instead of carrying water away from your home, clogged gutters and downspouts could force rains to cascade to the ground and pool around your home’s foundation. Additionally, a gutter that has pulled away from the roof can also allow rain to cascade off the roof and pool around the home’s foundation. To ensure proper function, gutters and downspouts should be checked and cleaned regularly.

If you have a basement, check if you have a sump pump. The sump pump is used to pump water away from your home’s foundation to prevent water penetration into your basement. Although sump pumps have an average life span of ten years, pumps can wear out much sooner. Regular testing makes sense to know if the pump is operational. Since power loss is often associated with severe weather events, you might consider a battery backup for your sump pump to ensure it can operate when you need it the most.

An additional source of water penetration could result from failing windows and siding. If the home’s windows are not sealed properly, strong winds and rain could force their way into the home. Additionally, siding that is not properly attached to your home can not only allow water to penetrate, but could separate from the home leaving wall systems unprotected.

Protect your home, possessions, and your family by conducting regular home maintenance, as well as regularly consulting with your insurance agent to ensure you’re properly covered.

by Dan Krell
© 2011

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Budgeting for home maintenance; the other housing crisis


by Dan Krell © 2009

Current economic conditions are creating another housing crisis. Even though credit is tight and savings are dwindling, don’t forgo regular home maintenance. Forgoing regular maintenance can not only possibly devalue your home, but also create larger problems that can potentially make your home unlivable.

Many first time home owners are surprised by the actual cost of home ownership. Some get caught in the trap of spending their savings to purchase their home without having any reserves for emergencies, let alone regular home maintenance. If regular home maintenance items are not attended to, these items can become expensive emergencies. For example, a small roof leak left unrepaired can wreak havoc on the roof, ceilings, and walls requiring extensive repairs, as well as the potential for mold.

Adding to the impending crisis is the fact that many home owners are so bogged down with debt that they cannot save enough money for regular maintenance items. A few years ago this wasn’t so much a problem because credit was easily available; qualifying for a home equity line of credit to pay for home repairs and renovations was easy. However, presently qualifying for a line of credit is difficult, let alone trying to keep one open.

Putting off home maintenance due to a clean home inspection may not be such a good idea. Having a home inspection can determine the overall condition of the home and give you some peace of mind when you purchase a home; but the inspection is limited. In fact the law governing Maryland home inspector licensure describes the limitations and exclusions of a home inspection as not being technically exhaustive and may not identify concealed conditions or latent defects. Additionally, a home inspector is not required to determine (among other items): the condition of systems or components that are not accessible; the remaining life of any system or component; the strength, adequacy, effectiveness, or efficiency of any system or component; any future failures of systems and components; compliance of the structure with applicable provisions of local ordinances, regulations, or codes; and the existence of any manufacturer’s recalls (COMAR 09.36.07.03).

Even new homes have maintenance requirements. Sometimes, poor craftsmanship or inadequate installation techniques necessitate repairs sooner rather than later.

Relying on your homeowner’s insurance to repair your home in case of a system or component failure may not be a good idea either as some insurance policies may limit damage/repair costs and/or not cover damages due to poorly maintained systems (insurance coverage varies; you should consult your insurance agent for clarifications to your policy).

If you haven’t yet budgeted for home maintenance- start today! Freddie Mac recommends having a “home audit” to assess the maintenance needs of your home. To meet regular and emergency maintenance needs, some experts recommend an annual savings of one to three percent of the home’s value. Planning ahead can make home maintenance easier as well allow you to make informed decisions to possibly lower your maintenance costs (FreddieMac.com).

A sign of a home owner facing financial challenges is often manifested by their home’s disrepair. Homes that fall into disrepair are an indication that the home owner is struggling. If you or a neighbor needs assistance to create a home maintenance budget, contact a local housing counseling agency.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 2, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Dan Krell.