Hurricane season is underway until the end of November. With the National Hurricane Center now tracking multiple systems in the Atlantic and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting an above-normal season with 14 to 21 storms that have winds of 39 mph or greater, that means it’s time for homeowners to make sure they’re ready for anything the weather throws their way.
“The height of hurricane season is September 10,” says Michael Richmond-Crum, director of personal lines at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. While hurricanes and tropical storms generally originate far to the south, they can move up the Atlantic coast, come inland around the Chesapeake Bay, and have been known to hit Virginia and DC.
What People Overlook
Strong storms, even ones that are not hurricanes, can damage your property. First, Richmond-Crum says, survey your property and figure out what might be vulnerable. A few things to watch out for:
- Check your trees and schedule a trim if it seems necessary.
- Check your roof.
- See whether you need to do some caulking around the windows.
- Make sure the garage door is in good shape.
Once that’s done, you’ll want to have a look at your homeowner’s insurance policy and make sure you have the coverage you need. Richmond-Crum says there are a couple of things homeowners often overlook. For one thing, make sure the policy covers the actual value of your home.
“I know that a lot of people, in Northern Virginia particularly, have done some home improvements over the last four or five years. You want to make sure that the policy reflects any additions to the property, increase in square footage, or increase in value,” he says.
Richmond-Crum wants people to understand the difference between storm insurance and flood insurance.
“You’ve got your standard homeowner’s insurance, and that covers the structure. So [if] you’ve got this situation where you have wind damage or a tree falls on your house, those are the things that are going to be covered,” he says.
Flood insurance, however, is a different product, and it’s not typically included in the homeowner’s insurance policy. “So you want to go out and look to see whether you’ve got any flood risk,” including checking flood elevation maps, Richmond-Crum says.
If you don’t have flood insurance, you can get it either through a private insurer or the National Flood Insurance Program, run through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Structure and Property
Richmond-Crum also advises homeowners to remember the differences between insurance for the structure and for the things they own inside it.
Your personal property is covered under your homeowner’s insurance, but “it will be handled separately in terms of the policy cap,” he says. “Basically, you’ve got a separate cap on how much you can actually claim under the policy for that personal property.”
If you’ve made some substantial purchases since you last updated your policy, or the value of some of the things you own has gone up substantially, you probably want to have a look.
In case of any strong damage to your house, Richmond-Crum suggests making sure you know what you have. “One of the great things you can do, as a practical matter, is create an inventory of your personal property,” he says.
The best way to do that is to sit down and make a handwritten list of everything of value in your house, he says; some people have started walking through their homes recording video on their phones, describing their belongings and how much they paid for them. That also works well and is “quick and easy,” he says.
The most important thing is to have something on record because you’re not going to want to try to figure it out after a storm hits.
“Having that information readily available saves you the trouble of having to sit down and try and figure it out, and then realizing you forgot something later down the road and having to amend,” he says.
You’ll also want to make sure your policy is accessible, preferably both online and on paper in a watertight envelope, since access to either your physical home or your online accounts could be interrupted for a few days.
”That’s the thing about hurricanes in particular; They have a tendency to knock out a lot of the resources available. So having that stuff on hand is really helpful.”
Feature image, stock.adobe.com
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