ALT="storm aftermath, hurrican hermine" urance Problem Solver"The storm aftermath may be worse than the storm itself. I’m writing this from Tallahassee, FL where we were under a hurricane warning as of September 1, 2016 with Hurricane Hermine.

The predictions were right and the storm arrived on schedule. Power at my house went out around 10:30 p.m. and was not restored for almost four days.

While Tallahassee is the Capitol of Florida, it still has a fairly small-town atmosphere. Mostly nice people, a major University, smaller colleges, and a generally Southern feel. “Southern feel” can be interpreted as boring, and sometimes Tallahassee is boring. But when a hurricane warning goes up, the place goes nuts. The warning assumed a life of its own and everybody entered panic mode. Groceries, ice, bottled water, batteries, and even $1,000 generators flew (off shelves) and we waited to see what would happen. In past storms, although severe, haven’t really amounted to much or have veered away. This one seemed different from the start and it didn’t veer. It hit dead-on; first one in a good 10 years.

Everybody gets scared about a big storm. Preparations can be made but ultimately, the personal impact is unpredictable. The impact can be relatively small like limbs falling from trees in the yard requiring clean-up. I spent about 5 hours doing that. Or it can be the annoyance of being without cable for a few days (but we survived 4 days without HGTV). We lost internet for about as long, and I’ll admit to that being tough. The impact can also be very serious like trees blowing over and taking electric wires with them causing blackouts. Or limbs falling through roofs causing water and wind damage, ruining possessions, requiring costly structural repairs, and temporary relocation.

Despite Tallahassee and most other communities being populated by fundamentally good people, there is an element who prey on others at times when they are vulnerable. Some of them are local and some come from elsewhere to profit from the misery.

Homeowners’ Tips to Manage Storm Aftermath

Here are some tips to guide you after a disaster to stay sane and minimize the chance of getting ripped-off:

  • Once you have found damage, notify your homeowner’s insurance company. In the case of a big storm, many people will have claims. Don’t get crazy if you can’t get through immediately; keep trying. It is often a better bet to contact your agent who sold you the policy as he/she has fewer clients than the insurer itself. Don’t delay the notification just because you don’t know the full extent of the damage-you may not for some time. BUT, if it is major damage (like a tree through the roof), make sure that you give that information. Knowing it will enable the insurer to prioritize your claim against many others. Follow all instructions, such as taking pictures, water removal, unplugging appliances, covering furniture, etc.
  • Supposed “tree experts” or “roofing contractors” may swarm. Many will be scammers. Genuine artisans wait to be contacted, appointments set, estimates given-all the things that you’d expect of a professional. They also don’t work for “cash-only” or require payment in advance like many of the scammers do.
  • At a minimum, get the following kinds of information from anyone you are considering working with:
    1. An ID (issued by the agency that licenses the trade)
    2. An office phone and physical address (not a PO Box)
    3. Proof of insurance, bonding, and licensure for the kind of work that they do. They should be insured for liability and worker’s compensation. However, a small company may be exempt from worker’s compensation requirements if it employs fewer than a certain number of employees; that number varies by state. If exempt, ask for the contractor’s certificate of exemption issued by the state authorities. A bond is similar, but not the same, as insurance. It is issued to ensure that the work will be finished if the contractor disappears, runs out of money, or does shoddy work. Call the insurance company that issued the insurance or bond to make sure that it is in force when the work starts and that the premium is paid through the expected completion date. Call periodically through the course of the work to make sure that the insurance or bond remains in force; sometimes premiums are paid in installments- if an installment is missed, the insurance or bond will lapse. Finally, any contractor must be licensed by the state in which the work is being done. Licenses of many types exist depending on the type of work: general contractor, electrical, plumbing, etc. All states have agencies that handle licensure but the names may differ. Each state will have a main telephone number that you can call to get the name of, and probably directed to, the specific agency that handles contractor licensing.
    4. Recent references from other local customers. Talk to them. Go see the work if they will permit it. Satisfy yourself that the “reference” is not the guy’s sister.
    5. Get a written contract defining the scope of the work, the start date, a reasonable time to complete the work (keeping in mind that contractors tend to keep several jobs running at one time), the name of the person assigned to oversee your job, the clean-up that will be done, the price, and the terms of payment (such as, in stages, upon completion, upon your (reasonable) satisfaction), and in what form payment is to be made (a red flag should go up if the contractor wants cash).

If the scope of the work is relatively small, you may choose to use a handyman. That’s OK if it suits your needs or is what your budget allows. Just understand that a handyman does a little of a lot of things, is not tested or licensed, and may not be bonded or insured. He or she may be transient and may be gone once the job is done, however poorly.

If you get your homeowner’s insurer involved, it will require licensure and proof of credentials of any contractor; in fact, the insurance company may be involved in the choice of the repair people and the scheduling of payment(s). If the insurer is involved, make no commitments for work without the insurer’s consent Yet, you do have an obligation to prevent additional damage, and will usually be reimbursed for initial, emergency repair. This includes things like getting a licensed tree company to remove a dangerous limb, or a water extraction service to do emergency water extraction.