*This is not meant to be legal or construction advice; only friendly information based on my personal experience.
Follow these steps to make sure that you are not victimized twice:
- Contact FEMA and the Red Cross to see what emergency aid may be available in terms of funds, food and other supplies.
- Take pictures of all of the damage-make sure you photograph all of your possessions, focusing on the brand name of the item. Then, make a list of all damaged belongings, to include a description of the item, the date you purchased it, and the price.
- Read your flood policy to understand the terms of what is covered-your declarations of coverages form, or “dec sheet”, will show you how much coverage you have for structures and how much coverage you have for contents, or your personal items such as furniture, clothing, etc. If you have accessory structures, like a cabana or outdoor kitchen, it will only be covered if it is connected by an interior wall to the main, covered structure.
- Read your homeowner’s policy. It will cover “wind driven damage”. Although water that is pushed by wind is not covered, if shingles are blown off of a nearby roof into a swimming pool, for example, it may be covered. Also, if your homeowner’s policy provides coverage, determine if it is an RCV (Replacement cost value) or ACV (Actual cost value) policy. RCV is better, because it provides coverage for the cost to replace your damaged item at today’s cost. If an ACV policy, then it will only cover the depreciated cost of the item. If clothing or furniture, you will likely lose 75% or more of the value. Finally, check and see if it will cover the cost of your displacement, i.e., rent you’ll have to pay elsewhere while your home is being repaired.
- Beware of “Force placed” policies. These are policies that your mortgage company buys for you if you fail to purchase one for yourself or if you miss a payment and your policy lapses. It provides a lot less coverage and costs a lot more.
- Make sure that you hire a certified public adjuster. This is a person that specializes in evaluating the cost to repair your home. Damage estimates are created by looking at the costs of the materials and labor necessary to make the repairs based on accurate measurements. Seems simple, right? Not so fast. Insurance companies will base these prices on statistics that are gathered from across the nation. But what happens when you have a large-scale disaster in a small geographic area? Labor and materials are in very short supply, so the prices for them spike to much higher levels. But the insurance company won’t tell you that. They simply have an interest in paying out as little as possible. So make sure that your estimate accounts for those increases in prices. Public adjusters will likely use the software as the insurance company, BUT can also adjust it upwards to account for this phenomenon.
- If your home is mortgaged, call your mortgage company and learn what their process is for the repairs. Remember, they own your home until it is paid off. Therefore, your flood proceeds will go to them, not you. They will inevitable have a procedure for how the money is distributed. It is usually in three payments: the first, after you have secured a contractor and are ready for construction. The second payment will be when you’ve reached a certain percentage of repairs. The third payment will be for completion. Remember also that inspections may be performed along the way, so maintain communication between yourself, your contractor and the mortgage company so that you don’t suffer unnecessary delays in getting back into your home.
- Be aware of “storm chaser” contractors. These are people that essentially follow disasters, many of whom are not from your area. Therefore, they have no standing in the community or other considerations of good will that may keep them honest. They are fantastic marketers that know well how to comfort you and give you the feeling of relief of knowing YOU have someone that will make it better at a time when finding a contractor seems are but impossible. Don’t be fooled. Do a background check on the person and the company. See how long they have been in business. See if they are a licensed contractor in Louisiana. See if they have every been sued and for what. See if they have ever been accused of fraud. Remember: their past behavior is generally a good indicator of their future behavior. Don’t be their next victim.
- A contractor’s insurance is basically a handful of exclusions. Just because a contractor shows you proof that he or she has insurance, it’s no guarantee that your work will be performed correctly. Generally, the only thing their insurance covers is if they cause bodily injury while they are working. It does NOT cover workmanship, which is generally the greatest complaint against contractors.
- Don’t overpay for gutting services. These people prey on unsuspecting flood victims that are desperate to get started on home repairs. I’ve seen quotes for gutting services that range from $7,000-$10,000 on the same house! After Hurricane Katrina, I hired 4 teenagers that were happy to get $100/day and worked very efficiently. I gutted one property for $1200.00 and the other for $1600.00. I did have to purchase about $500 in tools, but it was well worth it, as I still have the tools!
- Resist the urge to simply get rid of everything and start over. After Katrina, flood victims were told that their possession were marinating in a “toxic soup” and your health would be in danger if you retained it. People discarded untold sums worth of wedding china and silver, as well as everyday items that could have been cleaned, sanitized and used again. Later, the government admitted it was wrong about the health risks of which they had previously warned. Even items that are sentimental, such as family photos, documents and film can be preserved. I unwittingly made this mistake and knowing that I discarded the video of both my daughters’ births plagues me to this day.
- Learn if you can benefit from your own labor. Some policies will not allow you to “pay yourself”, meaning that if you perform any of the repairs yourself, it will not benefit you, but instead, will only benefit the insurer. Read your policy and confirm if you can in writing with your adjuster so that should a misunderstanding arise later, you’ll have the necessary proof in your favor.
- Spend money on mold remediation. I caution you NOT to do this yourself. Hire a pro for this, as your health and that of your family will depend on it. Make sure the company has insurance and credentials and vet them on your own. After it has been performed and your home has been properly dehumidified, I would suggest sealing the studs of your home with an antimicrobial formula. I used a product that I purchased at Pest Stop called Boracare. It’s not cheap, but it will seal the studs from any remaining microbes and inhibit rot. Plus, it contains boric acid, which is typically found in insecticides, so there is an added benefit.
- Gut the sheetrock and insulation several feet above the flood line. Most houses have fiberglass bat insulation in the interior walls. Water will “wick” up the walls. If you don’t make sure to remove enough of the sheetrock and insulation above the flood line, moisture will remain in the walls and mold will eventually resurface after your repairs are complete and you will have to start over. If the flood line is close enough to the ceiling, I would spend the extra money and gut the ceiling, as well. This is money well-spent to ensure the health of your family.
- Take pictures of your mold remediation and repairs. One day you may choose to sell your home but it is officially now a “flood damaged home”. Thus, the ability to sell your home compared to others may be the comfort that the potential buyer feels in being able to see how you repaired your home.
- If you have young children, try not to discuss these events too much around them. Remember, they are young and impressionable and could develop anxiety or other issues based upon how you act and more importantly, react to these events. For Katrina, we tried to use it as a teaching moment and made some slight changes to our home to make it better when we returned. “Coming back stronger” was our mantra.
Obviously, this list is not complete and is meant to be a snapshot of what I consider to be some of the more important issues to consider. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this trying time.