Hurricane Irma’s Top Home Insurance Questions & Tips

12 Sep
Homeowners Questions After Hurricane Irma

Florida Homeowners Ask Questions After Hurricane Irma – How to be prepared before the next major hurricane. 

Hurricane Irma and Harvey have done billions of dollars in damage and if your home was uninsured when the storm hit, you will be on the hook for the cost of rebuilding.

In the days leading up to the storms hitting, most insurers stopped writing homeowner and car insurance polices in the areas most likely to be affected, surprising some homeowners who were trying to shop for last minute policies.

Unfortunately, this is standard procedure when a major storm is expected to make landfall. In the last week we have received hundreds of questions regarding homeowners insurance and major storms. We have answered the most common questions below to help you prepare for the next major storm.

If your home was damaged during Irma or Harvey, it is too late to purchase protection but hopefully this article will help you prepare for the next major storm.

When should I have purchased a home/flood insurance policy?

As soon as you close on a home, actually before you close, you should have a policy in place. If you have a mortgage on a home, your lender will absolutely require an insurance policy to be in place and if you live in a high-risk flood zone they will most likely require a flood insurance policy as well.

If you have inherited a home that doesn’t require a mortgage, paid off your home or purchased your home for cash, there is no requirement to carry homeowners or flood insurance but unless you can easily afford to rebuild your home and replace all of your possessions, insurance is a necessity.

While saving a few thousand dollars a year by not carrying insurance may seem like a good idea, it can be a catastrophic mistake if your home is hit by a hurricane or other major storm. Imagine having to pay to pay for cleanup, rebuilding the home and replacing all of your possessions out of pocket and decide if that would be a financial hardship.

If the answer is yes, you should insure your home. As many homeowners have learned recently, waiting until a storm is headed your way is too late, at that point it will be very difficult, if not impossible to find a policy.

When was it too late?

There are no laws that dictate when an insurer has to stop writing policies so it is up to each individual insurer to make that decision. In most cases, once a storm becomes named and shows the potential to turn catastrophic there is a good chance most major insurers will stop writing policies in the affected area.

Since there are no laws pertaining to this, it is always possible you will find an insurer willing to take you on, but that possibility is fairly unlikely during major storms such as Irma or Harold.

How long does it take to get a flood insurance policy for your home?

Flood insurance is another matter. Policies written by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) all require a 30-day waiting period so you are out of luck by the time a storm is named and headed your way.

One exception to this rule is that if you purchase flood insurance within 13 months after your home is added to a Special Flood Hazard Area. The waiting period under these circumstances is one day. However, the majority of homes in Irma’s path were probably already in a flood zone so this exception would not be a lot of help.

Private insurers can write flood insurance policies and have their own policy parameters but the majority of them require at least a 10 to 14 day waiting period so again, in most cases you will be out of luck. Private insurers can also simply decline to write new policies if a storm is headed your way and in most cases that is the path they will follow.

Can you insure your home if there is a named storm?

While it’s possible, its more than likely going to be pretty difficult if not impossible, especially if a major storm is headed for your home state. There are no laws regarding when insurers can or cannot suspend writing policies so it is up to each individual insurance company to set their own parameters. Once a storm is named, the majority of insurance companies will stop writing polices in the areas that are likely to be affected.

They will either make new policies effective 30 days into the future or wait for the storm to pass to start writing quotes again. While this may seem unfair, look at it from an insurers prospective, they will have collected one premium before having to make a major claim payout if the storm hits.

There can be exceptions for renters or homeowners who recently purchased a home. If you have moved into a new rental or closed on a home purchase within the last 45 days you may be able to find coverage.

There is no law that precludes insurers from writing a policy during a named storm so it can’t hurt to shop around, just be prepared to be declined a lot, especially from the major insurance companies.

When will the insurance companies start writing new business again?

This is up to each individual insurance company. There is a good chance the majority of them will start writing policies shortly after the storm passes, say within 48 hours but there are no laws or rules, it is up to each individual company.

Regardless of when they start writing polices, any damage you suffered from this storm will not be covered.

How long does it normally take to insure your home?

There is no set answer to this question, it will almost always depend on the home being insured as well as your personal factors. While it is often possible to get a policy within 24 hours if you are purchasing a new build or fairly new home, this is not always the case. Experts recommend starting the process at least two weeks before closing.

If you are hoping to insure a home quickly, be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Year and type of construction
  • Type of roofing materials and age
  • Distance to the nearest fire station and hydrants
  • If the home is older have information about any updates that have been made to the roof, plumbing, electrical and heating.

Older homes, homes situated on wooded lots or in a flood zone can take longer. Insurers may require an inspection from one of their adjusters to make sure the electrical is up to date and the roof is in decent condition, this can easily add a week to the process. On wooded lots, trees close to the home must be trimmed up and possibly taken down if they are too close to the house, again this can dramatically increase the time needed to get a policy.

Flood insurance is a whole different matter, while you may be able to get a policy quickly, all flood insurance policies written by the NFIP come with a 30 day waiting period and policies written by private insurers usually require a two week waiting period before taking effect.

The best advice is to start shopping a policy at least two weeks prior to closing or if you are inheriting a home that doesn’t come with mortgage, as soon as you take possession of it.

Homeowners Insurance Tips

Here are a few final tips:

  • If you have a homeowners policy in place before the storm hits verify it is paid up and offers the coverage that you need. While it is often impossible to purchase a new policy during a storm you may be able to up your coverage or add additional riders to protect your property.
  • Always have an up to date home inventory and if a storm is approaching and you are insured this is especially important. Take a video of every item in your home going room to room and make note of electronics as well as high-value possessions such as jewelry and artwork. Store the video in the cloud or use an app to make the inventory process easier.
  • If you need to evacuate, take your insurance policies and your home inventory with you in a waterproof bag or other storage device that will keep it secure.
  • Be aware of the hurricane deductible. Once a storm is named, a hurricane deductible will often apply on many policies in hurricane prone states. This means that your deductible will no longer be a flat rate such as $500 to $1,000 it will now be a percent of the insured value of your home, typically between 2 to 5 percent. This can dramatically increase your out of pocket costs.
  • Return to your home as soon as it is safe and secure your property. This means boarding up broken windows or covering a hole in the roof. Most insurers will not cover damage that occurs after the storm if you do not make reasonable efforts to secure your home.

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