Even if you heed warnings and plan ahead, no one is ever really prepared for the chaos a major disaster can unleash. Unfortunately, even after the disaster subsides, homeowners may continue to experience chaos for many months to come. We have compiled some advice from the experts to help you navigate the long path back home.
Call Your Insurance Agent
Once you and your family are safe, and the event has passed, the first official call should be to your insurance agent. Let them know about the state of your home to the best of your knowledge. Even if you evacuated and are not sure about the state of your home, let your agent know about your situation and any immediate needs your family may have.
Call Your Mortgage Company
Next, call your mortgage company to alert them to the disaster, asking for forbearance if needed. Usually you can be released from making payments for six months, extended to 12 if necessary. Interest will continue to accrue, and the bank will expect you to catch up through additional payments later, but at least you won’t be hit with late fees or negative credit ratings in the mean time. Be sure to do this right away and not after the bill is due.
Register with Disaster Relief Organizations
If the disaster is large enough to trigger federal assistance, you can register with FEMA at https://www.disasterassistance.gov or by phone at 1.800.621. FEMA. They can help connect you with transitional shelter and additional resources in your area.
The Red Cross is another helpful organization that springs into action during and after a disaster. They can help, especially with urgent needs, and connect you to other resources as well. Download their booklet full of expert advice for recovering from a disaster, called “Picking up the Pieces”.
Call Utility Companies
Once you settle into temporary housing, take the time to stop any unnecessary bills for utilities that you cannot use while your home is being repaired. It makes no sense to pay for a phone line, cable or alarm monitoring when there’s no telephone, television or alarm system, for example.
For each of these calls and every subsequent conversation—whether by phone or in person—that you have with your insurance company, bank and any contractors, log the time and date of the call and take careful notes. Who spoke with you? What topics were discussed? What decisions were made? What facts were relayed to you?
Keep Detailed Notes
You will be dealing with a mountain of information while under extreme stress, so those notes will help you keep on track. Unfortunately, you may also need to refer back to them as evidence in he-said/she-said disputes. Also keep all received and sent emails, and if you submit any paperwork to your insurance company, keep dated copies for yourself.
Replace Important Documents
As soon as possible, replace any important documents that were lost, like driver’s licenses, insurance cards and birth certificates. You can refer to a full list of necessary documents in the Red Cross booklet.
If you need financial assistance during the transition back to normalcy, as many disaster victims do, FEMA grants up to $33,300 per household for expenses not covered by insurance, and the U.S. Small Business Administration actually helps individuals and families with loans for disaster relief—no small business required. Also, the Federal Housing Administration insures mortgages for people affected by disasters. For more financial information, visit the government’s Disaster Assistance website.
Keep in mind that many local retailers will offer special financing and prices to victims of disaster. Call ahead to find out what deals are available to help make the most of the money you have to rebuild. For example, many local flooring retailers offer special financing options, like 0% financing for a period of time or special low rate loans to help rebuild the community. Always research your options before making any purchases. Select Mohawk retailers are offering up to $1,000 off your flooring purchase and special financing options.
When it is safe to return to your property, take multiple photos of the damage, and take and save photos of any damaged items you intend to claim whenever possible. Disputes often arise as to whether or not items are salvageable, so experts recommend not throwing away anything to be claimed until you have cleared it with your agent or adjuster.
Keep receipts for all living expenses, whether covered or not, any repairs or supplies, and any replacement items you purchase.
Through it all, remember: you are your advocate. Your insurance company’s goal is to save its money. Your bank’s goal is to retrieve the money you owe. Your contractor’s goal is to make money. None of these entities will advocate for you, and negotiating with them after a disaster can be a full-time job.
If navigating the logistics after a disaster becomes too much to handle, you may want to hire a public adjustor. They are independent insurance experts who work as advocates for disaster victims.