A natural disaster does not need to be a financial disaster too. Taking the right step after a disaster can help people and businesses protect their surviving assets and rebuild successfully.
Following a Disaster
Regarding a damaged dwelling, there are some important initial steps that should be taken:
- If there is a question about whether a building is habitable, contact local building authorities for a decision.
- Contact your insurance company to establish a claim, but do not settle immediately.
- If you are able, make temporary repairs to prevent further damage (e.g., placing tarps over broken windows or having a professional place a tarp or other temporary covering over your roof to keep rain from coming in).
Resist the urge to quickly accept a settlement from your insurance company. You may need the advice of professional construction experts to determine what it will cost to repair the damage. It may be worthwhile to hire a public adjustor to deal with the insurance company. Often, the payment to the adjustor will be more than offset by the amount that the settlement increased as a result of the adjustor’s experience working with insurance companies.
Wait until you know the amount of the insurance settlement before hiring a contractor. Otherwise, you may enter into a contract for repairs you may not be able to afford.
Dealing with ContractorsConsult friends, relatives and neighbors for recommendations. Initiate inquiries with contractors you have researched rather than responding to the sales pitches of contractors who contact you directly. In some cases, unlicensed contractors will move into disaster-affected areas and try to obtain work. Any contractor you hire should be licensed, insured and bonded.
It is best to get bids from three contractors. Through the process you will learn about the problems and hear options to fix them.
Once repairs begin, it is a good idea to inspect the work regularly to ensure the contractor is performing the job properly.
Planning AheadPrepare for potential emergencies and disasters by doing the following:
- Make a photographic or video inventory for insurance purposes.
- Protect important documents such as marriage and birth certificates, vehicle titles and insurance policies in a locked, fireproof and water-resistant location. Backup copies of documents should be scanned and placed on a flash drive to be stored in a bank safety deposit box. Contact information for important people such as lawyers, CPAs and insurance agents also should be placed with the other documents and stored on the flash drive.
- Carefully assess whether your current insurance is appropriate for the risks in your area. Insurance for floods and earthquakes may not be included in general policies and may need to be purchased separately.
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