Angie's LIST Guide to
Hurricane Recovery

Tropical cyclones like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina are among the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. After a hurricane hits, rebuilding is often a long process. Here's what to look out for when hiring someone to make repairs, along with information about insurance, utilities and government assistance.
 
 

After the storm

Although there are many things you can and should do to be prepared for weather damage, the damage and devestation caused by a massive storm like Hurricane Sandy can make even the most prepared among us feel helpless and alone.

The most important thing is the safety of your family, followed by your pets and irreplaceable items such as family photos. Everything else can be replaced. When it's safe for you to return to your home, call your insurance agent immediately and start taking pictures to document the damage.

If you have extensive damage, the first repairs to make should be to prevent the damage from spreading. If there's a hole in your roof, you can hire a roofing company just to cover the exposed area with a plastic tarp to keep out the weather while you make a careful decision about having the roof repaired. Get broken windows covered securely to keep out both weather and burglars  especially if you will be staying elsewhere.

Many service providers, such as roofing contractors, plumbers and electricians, offer 24-hour emergency service. But if the damage is widespread, these experts will be quickly overwhelmed by the demand, and chances are their own homes and businesses may have been damaged too.

You may be glad to find anyone to help you with an immediate need, such as pumping water out of your basement or removing a fallen tree, but don't sign any contract without reading it carefully. Sadly, unscrupulous con artists posing as repairmen often take advantage of people in a time of need.  Don't sign any contract that commits you to handing over your insurance money. 

Once you get past the most urgent needs, take the time to hire carefully, getting multiple estimates and vetting prospective service providers by checking their licensing and reading reviews on Angie's List.

Put safety first

After after a hurricane has passed, many hazards can linger in flooded or damaged areas. Be aware of these dangers:

  • Avoid flood water, especially if it’s moving. As little as 6 inches of moving water can knock a person to the ground. If you have to make your way through, wear a flotation device and use a walking stick to test the water’s depth before you take each step.

  • Do not attempt to drive your car through floodwater in roadways. One foot of moving water can move a small car, and two feet of moving water can move a large SUV.

  • Any standing water has the potential to be a powerful conductor of electricity. Do not attempt to move or repair any power lines or electrical appliances that are in standing water.

  • Flooding can also damage or break gas supply lines, making the risk of fire much greater. Report gas leaks or gas odors to local utilities.

  • If any natural gas-consuming appliances in your home were flooded, do not attempt to relight the pilot light yourself. Flood water can damage safety features built in to these appliances. Contact a licensed plumber or HVAC technician to relight the pilot lights.

  • Check local news reports and with the health department or with your utility company to learn if your local water is safe to drink. If a water advisory has been issued, you’ll need to boil your water before consuming it or rely on bottled water. To eliminate bacteria and other parasites, bring water to a full boil for at least one minute then allow it to cool.

  • If you lose power, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Your refrigerator temperature needs to be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler to safely store food. Most fridges can maintain that temperature for up to four hours if the doors remain closed. Throw out perishable foods like milk and meats if their temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t eat food that has come in contact with floodwaters.

Insurance tips

Here are tips for dealing with insured property damaged by a hurricane, according to the American Insurance Association:

Before you can return home:

  • If you haven't yet, report the loss to your insurance company. If you need help remembering the name of the insurer, call your mortgage company.

  • Keep receipts for all lodging and meals, such as expenses may be covered under the “additional living expenses” portion of your policy. To determine pre-loss living expenses, review your checkbook and credit card statements. If you don’t have statements, contact your bank or credit card company.

  • Start making a room-by-room list of all the home’s contents, including closets, drawers and the garage. To jog your memory, contact people who may have photos that show your home and some contents.

  • If you’re in a hotel, shelter, relative or friend's home, and it's clear you’ll be displaced for some time, consider renting an apartment near your house.

Once you can enter the home:

  • If damage is severe, contact local disaster response officials before entering. Report downed power lines or gas leaks. Keep electricity turned off if the building has been flooded.

  • Take reasonable steps to protect or repair what you can. Cover windows, damaged roofs and walls to prevent further destruction.

  • Save receipts for anything you buy for protection or repair. Talk to your insurer, which should reimburse you for reasonable expenses related to repairs to a property damaged by a covered peril.

  • When cleaning property, wear protective eyewear, gloves or other gear if available.

Meeting with the insurance adjuster or agent:

  • Meet with your insurance adjuster and/or insurance agent as soon as possible. Provide a general description of damage and have your policy number handy if possible. Write down the adjuster’s name, phone number and work schedule. If you have an agent, he or she will report the loss to the insurer or a qualified adjuster who’ll contact you as soon as possible to inspect damage. Provide your best phone number.

  • Get a detailed estimate for permanent repairs from a reliable, licensed and bonded contractor, and give to the adjuster. The estimate should contain proposed repairs, repair costs and replacement prices.

  • Keep damaged items or portions of them until the claim adjuster has visited. If you can, photograph or videotape damage to document your claim.

  • Prepare a list, as complete as possible, of damaged or lost items. Make two copies — one for you and one for the adjuster. Include all you can recall: dates of purchase or estimated age, cost at purchase and estimated replacement cost. If possible, collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other documents to help the adjuster determine the value of the destroyed property.

  • Once informed of your claim, the insurer must send necessary claim forms within a certain number of days, as specified by your state. Return completed forms as soon as possible. Ask any questions you have, and note the answers.

Many major insurance companies have dedicated catastrophe, or CAT, teams that are assigned to deal with specific events like Hurricane Sandy.

Contact information for some of the nation's largest insurance companies:

Allstate
Call: 1-800-547-8676
Online: allstate.com

American Family Insurance
Call: 1-800-692-6326
Online: amfam.com

Bristol West
Call: 1-800-274-7865
Online: bristolwest.com

Farmers and 21st Century
Call: 1-800-435-7764
Online: farmers.com

Foremost
Call: 1-800-527-3907
Online: foremost.com

Geico
Call: 1-800-841-3000
Online: geico.com

Liberty Mutual
Call: 1-800-225-2467
Online: libertymutual.com

Progressive (auto insurance)
Call for auto claims: 1-800-776-4737
Online: progressive.com

USAA
Call: 1-800-531-8722
Online: usaa.com

State Farm
Call: 1-800-732-5246
Online: statefarm.com

Progressive (home insurance partners)

  • Homesite Insurance Group — Report a claim online or call 1-866-621-4823

  • IDS/Ameriprise — Call 1-888-894-3523

  • ASI — Call 1-866-274-5677

  • Assurant — Call 1-800-358-0600

  • First American — Call 1-866-874-1295

  • Occidental — Call 1-800-780-8423

Disaster aid and utilities

In the areas hardest hit by hurricanes or superstorms, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency management offices have specific information for disaster survivors, including important safety information and helpful updates regarding assistance for food, shelter, housing and repairs.

Contact the FEMA disaster survivor assistance hotline at 800-621-3362 or your local emergency management agency.

Hurricanes and tropical storms can also cause widespread power disruptions and the potential for dangerous gas leaks — contact your local utility to report an electrical outage or emergency, or to check on the status of utility repairs.

Avoid 'storm chaser' scams

Dealing with the heartbreak and frustration of property loss or damage following a major storm like Hurricane Sandy can give you more than enough difficulty, but dealing additional loss or harm caused by with a shady storm-chasing contractor can make things much worse. To protect yourself financially, follow these tips:

Video: Angie Hicks on Fox & Friends

1. Avoid door-to-door solicitations

Out-of-state companies often rush into disaster areas where widespread damage has occurred, looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting homeowners, so be wary of door-to-door solicitors.

2. Always get multiple estimates

Although it may be difficult with busy contractors dealing with sheer number of other homeowners seeking to repair damage to their homes or property, don’t rush. Always get at least three estimates so you can make an apples-to-apples comparison.

3. Be on-site for any property inspections

Do not let anyone inspect your property without you or another responsible spouse or family member present. Crooked contractors have been known to fake storm damage with hammers or golf balls to increase the overall cost to the insurance company. If you have not vetted the contractor, it’s best to deny them access to your property.

4. Check the company’s details

Before signing a contract or hiring a contractor, verify the business’ contact information including phone and physical address. Many storm-chasing contractors will set up temporary offices to appear like a local company or use a local company’s name. Ask for local references.

5. Check the license

Contact your community's local licensing board and state attorney general's office to check for complaints and disciplinary actions. Consult the Angie's List License Check tool to check contractor license requirements in your community.

6. Verify bonding and insurance

Contact the company's insurance and bonding companies to determine whether their liability and worker's compensation policies are big enough to cover your job.

7. Play your cards close to the chest

When dealing with an insurance claim, do not to tell bidding contractors how much your policy will cover for the damages. Some companies will conveniently estimate the cost of repairs to near or exactly that amount. Instead, ask for a “scope of loss” that outlines materials and work needed, without prices, by a trusted contractor, public adjuster or insurance company.

Be wary of door-to-door storm chasers following major disasters. As long as the damage doesn't pose immediate threat, take your time. Be sure to get multiple estimates so you know you're getting the best price for the service. (Photo by Brandon York)

8. Avoid large down payments

A contractor may ask for a down payment, but be wary if they want a large deposit or cash payment that's more than one-third of the job's total cost. Withhold at least 10 percent until the job is completed to your satisfaction.

9. Don't sign away your settlement

Never sign over your homeowner's insurance settlement upfront and avoid a company that offers to pay or help with your deductible. In some states, deductible help is considered insurance fraud.

10. Make sure you're covered when the job is complete

Get lien waivers from the contractor or subcontractor at the same time you make a payment for materials and work. A lien waiver constitutes proof of payment and protects you if a general contractor fails to pay subcontractors.

11. Know your contract rights

Remember that in many areas you have a legal right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor's visit to your home. After natural disasters, state or local officials may extend that time frame. Don't sign a contract with blank spaces. Always obtain an original copy with both party's signatures.  

LISTEN: Angie talks to National Public Radio about "storm chaser" risks to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Words of wisdom

It can be difficult or impossible to follow standard advice on home repair during a time of extensive damage. Homeowners who have been through this before advise a “triage” approach in which you deal with the most urgent issues however you can, but then take more time and vetting before hiring anyone for extensive and expensive repairs.

Here are some specific tips from homeowners:

Document everything. Lorraine Whiteside, an Angie’s List member whose Houston home was flooded in 2008’s Hurricane Ike, advises taking pictures of all damage and keeping all receipts to apply toward your insurance deductible. “Write down everything you lost, including what you had to throw out of your refrigerator or pantry,” Whiteside says. “This adds up quickly and can be put toward your deductible.”

Expect frustration. Whiteside says she and her neighbors were surprised by questions asked by insurance adjustors. “They asked why we didn’t call a professional company to extract water. Well, we were 600th in line. They asked why we didn’t have things laundered. Well, how were we going to get down the flooded street? They wanted us to get big fan dryers, but our power was out for many days.”

Be willing to wait for quality. “For tree removal, we worked with the first chainsaw truck that came along; that was a no-brainer,” Whiteside says. “But for our house repairs, we got two bids, and I used Angie's list extensively. There were many fly-by-night advertisers coming door to door. I collected 50 circulars that were left on the doorstep. Our neighbors got sucked in; we didn't. The difference was we had to wait longer to have our house fixed. It took more than nine months to do all repairs, but in the long run it was done correctly.”

Be careful when the power comes back on. Sarah Fox, a Norfolk, Virginia, resident warns of fire hazards. “In the aftermath of (Hurricane) Isabel, which hit the Hampton Roads, Va., area with about six feet of storm surge, there were at least a few homes that caught fire from electrical failures in our immediate area,” Fox says. If flood water has penetrated your wiring, your breaker box or your appliances, you could be in real danger when the power suddenly comes back on. If your main breaker has been flooded and you haven’t turned it off, call an electrician to perform this delicate task.

Help your neighbors. “Once you get your household up and running again, remember your neighbors,” Fox wrote in a blog post about her experience. “Never assume your neighbors are OK. They won't ask you for help, even when they're in crisis. Go from door to door and ask not just what people need, but what they can offer.” She also says, “Find ways to band together. Our biggest failing in this neighborhood was that we didn't pull together.”

Leave a Comment - 4

Comments

AJPrenderville

Subject: Storm Chasers

I want to thank you for putting out such a comprehensive list of what to do and what not to do. So very nice of you to put together such a great list of do's and don'ts. I just think the vast number of people who really need that advice, unfortunately, are not Angie's list members. Let's hope the Government puts out as comprehensive a list as Angie has.
Thanks again!

Local Dad Repairs and Renovations

Subject: Where to turn for contractors when your local ones are swamped?

I am a home repair contractor on Angies with great reviews but 2 hours outside the region worst affected by the storms. We have had very little damage here so we are willing and available to hep with rebuilding in the areas that are heavily damaged. In anticipation of this we are going through the considerable expense of complying with New Jersey licensing laws (which will be approx 3 mos now instead of 3 weeks), insurance and bonding requirements. We are also registered with FEMA.

In my professional opinion any well rated Angies contractor from a little ways outside your region may be a reliable option for Angies customers when availability of local contractors becomes stretched beyond capacity. As always, check reviews, insurance and licensing closely.

Best of luck and Godspeed to everyone

Lea Cullen Boyer

Subject: Thanks Angie!

Thank you Angie! This is an amazingly comprehensive tool for people who's rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I knew we could count on you!

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