Homeowner help after a hurricane
After a hurricane, your agency phone will be ringing off the hook (assuming phone service is available). In the meantime, you may be dealing with your own losses, both personal and business, after a hurricane. How can you best help your panicked homeowners, without losing your cool?
“What’s essential for agents during this time is to be operable,” said Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents in a St. Augustine Record article after Hurricane Matthew. “Agents have to be available. (They are) first responders to just try to help calm some of the confusion that may be out there as consumers go about recovering.”
Keep this list handy during hurricane season, to prompt you as you talk with clients:
- Urge them to listen to authorities and not return home until it’s safe. Downed utility lines, standing water and mounds of debris may cause authorities to tell residents to wait another day. Encourage them to do so.
- When they return home, they need to check that all utility connections are in good condition. Inspect and check gas lines, electrical connections, running water and sewer lines. Also make sure smoke detectors and alarm systems are working, if power is back on.
- Provide them with phone numbers for their insurance claim, utility companies, Red Cross and any other local relief organizations they may need after a hurricane.
- Explain how to inspect and document damage. Smart phones have made this process so much easier. Using photos and video, they need to document the extent of damage, both inside and out. If they have power and can recharge their phone, a narrated video is optimum. At the same time, urge them to use caution if their home doesn’t look safe to reenter. They shouldn’t risk their lives to try to rescue a few waterlogged items.
- Urge them to make temporary repairs as needed to prevent further damage after a hurricane, such as securing tarps, boarding up broken windows, pulling up carpets.
- Explain that they will be contacted shortly by an adjuster who can help them inspect more fully, particularly looking for structural issues in the foundation and walls. The inspector or adjuster will also look for potential problems such as mold growth or roof leaks. It’s best not to sign any contracts with a contractor prior to talking with your adjuster.
- As soon as possible, get rid of the water. Of course, they may have to wait for flood waters to recede after a hurricane, to pump out a basement or possibly the first floor, but that water needs to go. The longer it’s there, the greater the potential damage to their foundation.
- Pull contents outside. Yes, it’s a painful job, sorting through everything that’s ruined, but they don’t want to leave anything that can be salvaged in the house until it’s fully dried out. Carpeting and much of the furniture will have to be replaced, depending on water levels. Separate the unsalvageable from the still-good items, taking careful photos of all. They will need to follow their local authority’s procedures on how to dispose of the total loss items after a hurricane.
- Begin airing out their homes. Once waters have receded and items have been pulled out into the yard, including carpets, they need to open all windows and begin drying out rooms using portable fans and dehumidifiers. Chances are their policy will allow for a water remediation company, but their services are no doubt in short supply. If sheetrock is wet and the homeowner is handy, he or she can cut sheetrock themselves up about 2-3 feet, depending on how high the storm waters rose. They’ll need to remove insulation, wearing gloves and masks, to ensure mold doesn’t start growing. Wiping down wall studs and exposed concrete with bleach will help mitigate mold.
- Remove yard debris. Storm surge and flooding didn’t just displace your homeowners after a hurricane – it also displaced critters that they’d rather not share their space with. So they need to carefully remove downed branches, loose branches, and other flotsam and jetsam, taking away the hiding places of any unwanted visitors. Urge them to look carefully that trees and their branches are secure and not in danger of falling on power lines. Again, they should take photos of all damaged exterior items – not only landscaping but also cracked and up heaved driveways, patios, sidewalks and other hardscape.
- Remind them not to try to start a flooded vehicle. Any vehicle that was flooded first needs to be checked out by a mechanic before attempting to start it.
- How to live with a power outage. If your clients elect to return home after a hurricane before power is restored, hopefully they have a working generator to make life a little easier. If not, there are a few things that they can purchase that can make life a little easier in the short run (assuming everyone hasn’t beat them to the limited supplies). These items include
- Outdoor grill and extra propane or charcoal. By day 2 of the power outage, frozen food items have thawed and must be cooked immediately.
- Extra coolers and bags of ice
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable foods. Peanut butter and crackers, breakfast bars, trail mix, beef jerky – all are nutritious and will provide fuel for cleaning out a damaged home
- Lanterns, flashlights and candles. Urge them not to light any candles until the gas company has deemed their home safe.
- Car chargers for recharging phones
If your office is undamaged, call or email your homeowner clients and offer them access to your computer and copier as needed. Also offer to charge their phones for them. Provide them with a small care package: a few bottles of water and trail mix or snack crackers. Going beyond just providing them with a claims phone number and providing them with extra help may just earn you clients for life.