By Quentin Fottrell
She wasn’t as bad a guest as we had feared. But Hurricane Irene still left a clean-up behind. The storm left most buildings without major damage, but with not a small amount of flooding. The hurricane made its way up the 1,100-mile stretch of the East Coast last week and around 100,000 people are expected to make claims of up to $4 billion, better than earlier worst-case scenarios of $15 billion.
Experts say now is the time to familiarize yourself with the details of your homeowner’s insurance. Some possible pitfalls: Renters need separate rental insurance for their belongings, flood damage policy is not typically covered by homeowners insurance – see the National Flood Insurance Program for the next time – and you should always alert your insurer to any house renovations.
While you assess the damage, here are some questions worth asking:
Will my insurance claim be delayed?
Most insurance companies have redeployed extra staff to the affected regions and say they are doing their best to ensure no customers will face unnecessary delays. Robert N. Berg, a partner at law firm Michelman & Robinson in San Francisco, Ca., agrees, but fears that non-Irene claimants may see delays. “It may affect other claims, but not emergency claims,” he says.
When will my adjuster arrive?
Adjusters are already on the scene. There are no hard-and-fast rules about what claims get priority. Some homeowners may decide to get an independent adjuster, while other companies will supply their own. But according to the Insurance Information Institute: “Because of the widespread scope of hurricane damage, insurers give those who suffered the most damage first priority.”
What can I do as I wait for my insurer?
Berg suggests getting expert advice from an independent contractor to assess the damage before the adjuster arrives and, at the very least, before you sign off on a claim. Make sure that you know what you are signing and there aren’t any long-term structural problems ahead like dry rot two or three years down the road. “The cost of that could be huge,” he says.
Should I get a hurricane deductible?
Some 18 U.S. states have hurricane deductibles from 1% to 5% of the value of your home. Independent insurance consultant Scott Simmonds says the answer depends on the hurricane risk – the higher your deductible, the lower your premium – whether the deductible seems fair. “Life is filled with risk,” he says. “We take some. We eliminate some. We transfer some.”
Should I repair some damage now?
Yes. The Insurance Information Institute does not advising waiting until a claims adjuster arrives to make temporary repairs to prevent further damage. “Most policies have a provision to reimburse you for the expenses of reasonable and necessary repairs that protects against more damage, up to a specified dollar amount,” it says. “Be sure to save all the receipts from your repair purchases.”
Will my premiums go up?
David Hilgen, a spokesman for Chubb Personal Insurance, a unit of Chubb Corp., says the decision to raise premiums is not dependent on one storm. But Simmonds says Irene could provide an incentive for companies to raise premiums, which have been relatively steady in recent years. “The payouts after Irene could lead to an increase in both premiums and deductibles, and soften the public to accept them,” he says.