As Hurricane season begins, residents of the Texas Gulf Coast must prepare for the possibility of this year’s storms. However, this time of the year can also serve as an important reminder to all Texans about the importance of preparing for an unexpected windstorm loss. Whether you live in the hurricane zone or not, you should take time to review your homeowners insurance policy now to make sure you have the coverage you need. Even if you don’t face the threat of a hurricane, a wildfire or hail storm could devastate your property.
Here are some tips on home to prepare in advance for a potential disaster:
* Review your insurance policy every year and make sure you have the coverage you need. Policyholders need to have enough coverage to fully protect themselves in the event of a total loss. In particular, pay attention to the exclusions and policy limits written into your policy and be aware of the deductible and type of replacement cost. The Texas Department of Insurance also has created a useful handout comparing homeowners, wind and flood insurance policies. * Take an inventory of the contents of your home now. This information can be vital if you have to file a claim with your insurance company. You can find a sample comprehensive homeowners insurance inventory list at http://www.texaswatch.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/HomeownersInsInventory2.pdf.
Get Prepared: Review and Update Your Insurance
To begin a review, start with your home inventory. Creating an inventory and storing it in a safe location away from home is one of the most basic – and effective – disaster preparedness steps you can take to help protect yourself and your financial future. A home inventory can save you time and headaches when filing a claim following a disaster.
You can download and print a home inventory checklist from the Texas Department of Insurance website: http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/pubs/consumer/cb086.pdf
It is important to review your inventory each year. Remember to note the make, model, serial number, purchase price and date of purchase of any new items and keep copies of receipts for major purchases with your inventory.
Also, make sure you know whether your policy includes coverage for replacement cost or actual cash value in case of a loss. Actual cash value (ACV) is the amount it would take to repair damage to your home or to replace its contents after allowing for depreciation. Replacement cost is the amount it would take to rebuild or replace your home and its contents with similar quality materials or goods, without deducting for depreciation.
Store copies of your insurance policies with your inventory in a safe location away from your home, so that these records can be easily retrieved in the event of a loss. Before you store the insurance policies, review them to verify that they meet your needs. Make sure you know your policy limits, deductibles, exclusions and policyholder claims notification requirements, before disaster strikes.
Keep a list of contact details for your insurance agent and/or company with your policies. Include office phone numbers, mailing addresses, website addresses and all of your policy numbers for quick reference. Email this information to yourself in case you’re separated from your hard copy list.
Make sure you have windstorm insurance. If your property is located in one of Texas’ 14 coastal counties, or parts of southeastern Harris County, your homeowners policy may not provide windstorm coverage. You may be able to obtain insurance coverage for windstorm or hail damage from a special insurance pool called the ** Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA)**. It’s important to note that you cannot buy or change TWIA coverage once a hurricane is in or near the Gulf of Mexico. If you currently have TWIA coverage, review your policy carefully and know your policy limits. Compare your TWIA and homeowners policies and determine whether you are insured to an appropriate replacement value. For more information about windstorm coverage and inspection requirements, call your insurance agent or TWIA at (512) 899-4900, or visit TWIA’s website at www.twia.org.
Consider flood insurance. Most homeowners and commercial property policies specifically exclude coverage for damage from flooding. To protect yourself from losses caused by rising water, you’ll need a separate flood insurance policy, typically from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Flood insurance policies usually have a 30-day waiting period after the purchase date before coverage takes effect on currently owned property, so don’t wait until a flooding threat is imminent. To obtain flood insurance contact your insurance agent or NFIP at 1-888-FLOOD 29 (356-6329) or visit www.floodsmart.gov. Note: for certain TWIA policyholders, flood coverage is required effective 9/1/2009; for more information about this requirement, contact your insurance agent or TWIA.
* In case disaster does unfortunately strike, you should carefully inspect your home inside and out (preferably with the assistance of a professional) to make sure you notice all damage caused by the storm. Not all damage is immediately apparent to a layman, so hiring a professional, such as an experienced public adjuster or attorney, you have a better chance of making a complete and accurate report of the damage to your insurance company. It is a good idea to take photographs to document all storm damage. Once you have assessed and documented the damage caused by the storm, you should report the damage to your insurance company so that they can open a claim file and make their assement of the damage. Do not assume that the insurance adjuster is on your side--they are there to try to minimize your damages on behalf of the insurance company. Many people feel more comfortable having an experienced attorney deal with the insurance company. * Lastly, if you are treated unfairly by your insurance company, file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance at 1-800-252-3439.