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Posted: October 8, 2009 4:03 p.m.

Dealing with storm damage

After the recent "100 Year Rain" and last year's bout of hail and wind storms, dealing with storm damage concerns many homeowners. Some discover the damage on their own. Others realize they may have damage when they see neighbors having repairs done.

Some decide to make a claim after a contractor knocks on their door.

Insurance claim myths. Many homeowners are afraid to make a claim after a storm for fear of a rate increase or policy cancellation. Not true. Storm damage falls into the insurance category of "Act of God" which insurers understand is out of your control. The only way storm damage can affect your rate is if they determine a geographic area is prone to hail, tornadoes, etc. Then rates for the entire area are affected.

Another myth is that you can claim storm damage for poor design or construction, or your lack of property maintenance. If you fail to ensure the caulk and paint is in good condition on your windows, then the sills or moulding start decaying, this is NOT storm damage. Insurers see this as homeowner neglect and will deny the claim.

Now, the storm has hit and you have a problem.

Typical issues: leaking roof, shingles blown off, hail damage, water entering your home, tree falls onto your home, etc. What do you do?

First priority: try to minimize the damage by whatever means you can. Get the buckets out, put down towels, move furniture, pull back carpet. Next, immediately call your insurance company. Know whom to call before you need to call. Check your policy now and keep the number handy.

Your insurer will walk you through the process on the phone, reassure you, and arrange for an adjuster to come out. They will ask if you need a contractor or if you have one. They will also tell you to take whatever steps you can to minimize the damage. They may or may not tell you to take pictures. Take a bunch. Different angles. Show the source of the problem and the damage it is causing. This is extremely important.

The adjuster will make an appointment to assess the damages at your home and meet with you and/or your contractor (I recommend both are present). This may take a day or a week, depending upon the volume of claims. He/she will assess the situation and give a determination on the spot or will submit the assessment to the insurer for a decision. Once a decision is made, your check will be issued.

Payment. I've seen a number of different situations: 1) adjuster (not an independent contractor) working for the insurer issues checks on the spot; 2) adjuster will tell you it is approved (or disapproved) before leaving, and the insurer mails the check; 3) typically with independent contractors working for insurance companies following a storm, the adjuster will present their assessment but you must wait for the insurer to provide a decision. The insurer may issue partial payment, with final payment issued upon completion of work.

Picking your contractor. The Secretary of State recently issued a spot-on press release warning about contractor selection. Beware of "Storm Chasers," contractors who swoop into a storm-damaged area, perform a bunch of work, and then leave town. Their warranty is worthless, as you'll never find them. These characters will form an LLC and get a phone number, use it for the duration of the storm, and then disband once they're done in the area. Last year several preyed on the local hail storm victims.

Your insurer will offer to have a contractor come to the site. This may or may not be a good thing because most will not be from your immediate area. What you really want is a solid local company, with references, that you can reach in the event of a warranty issue.

How do you find one? Check your local Home Builder's Association. The Newton County Home Builder's Association offers a list of licensed builders and qualified contractors at www.newtoncountyhba.com.

The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce also provides references of their members. Both provide names of local professionals. The Georgia Secretary of State's Web site lists all licensed contractors, sortable by county and profession. You can also verify a contractor's license on their site. Finally, look for signs and ask the homeowners for a reference about the contractor they used.

Remember, if a contractor cannot provide their state license (not just their business license), proof of workers compensation and general liability insurance, and references, they are not a contractor with whom you want to deal. Good luck and stay dry.


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