Storm-Damage Advice: 9 Dos and Don’ts for Making the Best of a Bad Situation When Your Home is Damaged
We’ve been around the block when it comes to dealing with storm damage and with insurance companies. You can make it around the block a whole lot of times when you’ve been in business for 19 years, helping folks to recover from hail, wind, and snow storms.
Here’s what we recommend in order to make the process work in your favor as smoothly as possible:
1. Don’t sign anything quickly.
Do NOT be pressured into signing anything by your insurance company (or by a contractor) in the immediate aftermath of a storm when you’ve sustained damage. You may have the best insurance company around—we hope you do—but our advice comes from seeing homeowners who are not as lucky.
Homeowners sometimes have insurance companies that wave a small amount of immediate cash in front of them, in the hope that they’ll settle quickly for less money than they’re entitled to. We have a more-detailed description of the claims process [here].
2. Don’t get only one bid.
Do some comparison shopping because, unfortunately, certain predator contractors show up out of thin air right after a storm. They might talk a good game and tell you that you need to decide right away, because they’re getting booked up and if you don’t decide, they won’t be able to take you for many weeks. Don’t fall for it. Take your time to contact at least a couple of other contractors.
The other benefit of comparison shopping is to see who even calls you back promptly. In addition, you’ll be able to compare what they include in their bids and what they leave out. The bid-comparison process doesn’t have to take long, and if you follow it, you’ll have more confidence in your decision.
3. Don’t just pick any repair contractor that your insurance company recommends, or who rolls up to your property with a business card and a smile.
State laws differ on whether insurance companies can recommend contractors, because in the past there have sometimes been cozy relationships where the insurance company and contractor had a deal to promote each other.
By all means find out if the insurance company has a list of reputable contractors from which to choose, but use any list you get as a starting point only. In addition to any names you get from your insurance company, we suggest that you do the following:
- Ask neighbors, friends, and co-workers if they know of any good contractors, and whether they know anything about the names you’ve come across.
- Be sure to Google those names to see if you find glowing reviews, bad reviews, or very few reviews.
- Check the Better Business Bureau ratings online.
- Visit the contractors’ websites. Do they just have the most-basic site with contact information and a few pretty pictures? That’s better than nothing, but it’s reasonable to expect that a quality company will have taken the time to create a genuinely useful site.
4. Do NOT assume that the insurance company’s dollar amount of a claim offer is the best deal you can get.
This is a big one, and we go into more detail here. Their goal is to pay you the smallest claim amount or better yet— no claim at all. Your goal is different: it’s to get the most money you’re entitled to, in order to repair your property.
1. Take a ton of photographs.
These days with smartphones it’s easy, and they’re all date-stamped. You never know when a particular photograph will come in handy. It might be that someone told you that he needed to charge you more in order to replace a beam that was destroyed in the storm, but your photos show that the beam was intact. Document any damage to property inside your house from flooding, loss of power (show that your refrigerator and freezer were full at the time), etc.
2. Look for a local contractor, or at least one from your state.
You would not believe the amount of fake “local” businesses that appear on Google maps faster than even Google has the resources to stamp out.
If you go with an out-of-state contractor, you’re just asking for trouble. Some of these people may be great and are merely looking for extra work. Others are known for asking for the first check from your insurance company “to cover our materials purchases” and then they vanish. We write about this [here].
It’s a little harder for a business that’s based in your area to vanish in the night.
3. Take immediate steps to cover damaged areas from further weather problems, even before you talk to the insurance company.
For example, a tree limb might have damaged your roof and it’s now leaking there. The insurance company is going to expect you to buy some plastic sheeting or tarps to cover damaged areas. In fact, the chances are good that your policy already lists this as your responsibility, even before you choose a contractor to do the repairs. Most likely you will be reimbursed for these expenses; check your policy.
4. Document everything.
Buy a 50-cent notebook and have it with you for the hectic time after a storm, when you’re dealing with all these issues. Jot down when you called the insurance company, when you heard back, the name of each of the people you spoke to, what they said, and when they promised to get back to you. Do the same for any contractors you speak with. This includes noting the day and time that you make calls that go to voicemail.
This may seem like extra work at a time when you already are stressed, but it puts you in more of a position of power down the road, when you have all those details handy. Compare that to a situation where—and we hope it never comes to this—you need to take the insurance company to court. It will not be good for your case if all you can say are things like: “Well Your Honor, I’m not sure of the date they promised me that benefit, or the person I talked to, or what the exact amount was, but I’m pretty sure it was at the end of that week…”
5. Make sure you know all the insurance benefits you’ve been paying for, over the years.
Insurance policies are notorious for being hard to read and understand. What with the storm damage, you might not even have your very latest policy handy. This would be a good time to call the insurance company hotline and get an updated copy sent to you. Read it over, because you might be surprised: Your policy might contain clauses that will reimburse you for emergency expenses right after the storm like housing and meals, as well as for spoiled food in your refrigerator if the power was out.
Hint: These policies are a lot easier to understand once you have damage that needs repair, because you can zero in on just the sections of the very long legal language that deal with your storm damage. That saves you a lot of reading about hazards that do not apply to your current situation.
If you’ve suffered damage, please contact us here. We’ll get back to you promptly, we will listen closely to your situation and needs, and we will let you know if we can help.
Northern Lights Exteriors is rated 4.8 out of 5 by actual customers:
I dealt exclusively with my project manager at NLE. He laid out my options, worked well with my insurance company, kept me informed and quickly responded to my questions. I never felt pressured. Wes managed to have repairs on my house completed before many of my neighbors even got started. The workmanship on the roof, windows, gutters and paint were excellent.