Houston is the biggest small town in the world. For as big as we are, we know no strangers. In the past week, Hurricane Harvey dumped a ton of water on Texas – trillions of gallons. While most of our city (and many surrounding areas including our neighbors to the south & east) is underwater, many of our friends, family & neighbors who were flooded out of their homes are headed home to assess the damage & begin the arduous process of rebuilding.
This process can provide closure & make victims feel better knowing what they are facing. And no doubt it feels better to take action than to sit, be still, watch & wait.
There are some things to keep in mind as we begin recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
1. Don’t do anything that might invalidate or otherwise affect your insurance coverage
The sun is out & there is a break in the rain for a few days. Time to start cleaning up & clearing out right? Of course it is. Friends, family, neighbors, & volunteers come together to help one another – but before you do anything, contact your insurance company/agent.
You’ll need to file a claim & the sooner you do, the better. While you’re doing that, tell them your plans & ASK if it is okay to get to work.
Because if you have not read your policy in detail, and most of us don’t, there may be clauses that could invalidate or lessen your coverage. Including starting any cleanup or DIY projects (like cutting out wet sheetrock).
I don’t suggest going through your policy at this stage; just call, be transparent & ask. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Standard Homeowner’s & Rental insurance policies do NOT cover flooding
If you have a mortgage, you have homeowner’s insurance. At least you should – it’s typically required. Know what your policy covers.
Homeowner’s & rental insurance does NOT cover flooding unless it originates from inside. If your toilet overflows or your (tank) water heater springs a leak or a pipe bursts while you’re on vacation, you’re covered.
Flood waters from Hurricane Harvey is not. For that, you need flood insurance.
Many of us didn’t get flood insurance for several reasons:
- We were told we didn’t need it because of the floodplain we live in
- It’s a separate policy that can’t be an add on to current homeowner’s policy
- Cost – the annual premium must be paid for in full at initiation
- There was a time when no one was writing policies in Houston
If you are unsure whether you have flood insurance, contact your insurance company/agent or your landlord to find out.
If you don’t have it, get it. The cost is negligible in the grand scheme of things – usually $400-600 per year at the most.
If your’s doesn’t offer it, ask around – see if your friends, neighbors, or family members have it & then talk to their agent.
In the meantime, what can you do if you don’t have flood insurance?
It’s not all doom & gloom; there are options.
- Did your home take on water as a result of other hurricane related damage? You may be covered – contact your agent. Examples might be something like:
- roof damage caused leaking inside
- uprooted tree(s) destroyed underground pipes causing water to back up into house
- high winds sent debris flying & cracked or broke a window
- Car got flooded out? If you have comprehensive auto insurance, you may be covered for that – contact your agent.
I am NOT an insurance agent, and never have been. Some of these things I have experienced & that is all I can speak to. That’s why I continue to repeat “CONTACT YOUR AGENT“.
3. Know your options – Insurance vs. FEMA
You know you don’t have flood insurance, yet most or all of your home & belongings are saturated. What now?
Contact your insurance agent or company to discuss your options. As I mentioned earlier, be transparent – they likely know exactly what’s going on already, but every situation is different so tell them EVERYTHING. Even without the additional coverage, your (reputable) agent will be able to help you get the help you need.
I don’t know much about FEMA at all, but your (reputable) insurance agent should be able to help you determine what they can do for you. If nothing else, you can get information online here and apply for help here or by calling 1-800-621-3362.
4. Watch the clock
No I’m not saying to just sit around & wait for things to happen. Exactly the opposite in fact. The minute there is a problem, call your insurance company.
Even if there is no obvious damage right now to you, your home, or your belongings, if you see or notice anything strange in the weeks or even months later, call your insurance agent. They will usually send out a reputable contractor who is trained to know & advise homeowners on precautionary measures.
If you don’t do this & have additional damage after the fact as a result, the subsequent damage may not be covered.
Real life example – in our previous home we had 2 large oak trees in a fairly small (but typical) suburban front yard. During the high winds of 1 of the many storms we get here, 1 of the oaks lost several of its smaller branches – many of which fell on the roof or very close to the home.
When our agent called to check on us, we talked about it & he suggested an arborist come out along with a field agent & contractor “just to check things out”. All 3 agreed that the tree needed to go – not just pruned back like we’d normally done regularly – GONE.
It was too close to the house, the roots could cause major unseen damage, & we were 1 branch away from serious roof damage. At the very least we needed to cut it back significantly.
We were warned. We listened & followed suit; when Ike hit our entire roof had to be replaced. Had we not removed that tree, we were told it could have fallen directly into 1 of our kids’ bedroom causing even more damage that we might have had to fight to have covered.
5. If it sounds too good to be true or seems a little odd, it probably is.
There are lots of scammers out there. And they rear their heads the most during times like these, preying on victims of tragedy who just want all the madness to go away.[clickToTweet tweet=”Beware of scammers. Stay alert, be vigilant, & remember that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.” quote=”Beware of scammers. Stay alert, be vigilant, & remember that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.”]
Stay alert, be vigilant, and remember that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. If people you don’t know or have never heard of calls you directly offering assistance, beware. Be practical & ask “how did you get in touch with me”, “how do we know one another”, “where are you calling from”?
Pay attention to the answers; most of the time the name will give them away – ask them to spell it & give you a call back number. The name may sound reputable, but the spelling may be totally off & the phone number may be a completely different number from what showed up when the person called.
No one is going to just call a person directly offering free money, free lodging, free assistance without you having “done” something to request it.
In the face of all things, seek prayer 1st. Recall Matthew 8:23-27…
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being covered by the waves; but Jesus was sleeping. And the disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us, we are going to die!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was [at once] a great and wonderful calm [a perfect peacefulness]. The men wondered in amazement, saying, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Last but not least, reach out, accept help, & do not despair.
Many business owners – decorators, designers, contractors, DIYers – are ready & willing to volunteer their services & time, including me. If you know of a family that is in need & who may or may not have the resources to recover & rebuild, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can’t help, I probably know someone who can.
Together we are stronger than we are apart.