As the owner of a house on the coast – and a financial advisor – the sight of a Weather Channel meteorologist standing on a beach while being lashed by wind and rain now gets my attention. Just a few weeks ago, the beach in question was a few hundred miles south of our house in St Simons and the storm in question was Matthew. When we had first set out on vacation, Matthew was supposed to be just another tropical storm, or at worst, a weak hurricane that would slowly wind down somewhere well out to sea.
Things didn’t exactly turn out that way, and as a result, forecasters were now predicting that Matthew could be a devastating hurricane. As a financial advisor, I should probably have been more up-to-speed on my insurance, but in my defense, the Georgia coast hadn’t witnessed a major hurricane since McKinley was President, and I was on vacation. While the process of watching Matthew lumber up the coast was a bit nerve-wracking, it gave me a chance to come up with a checklist that I can pass on to you. Here it is:
#1: Make sure you have paid your premiums and gotten confirmation of payment
If you pay premiums directly to your insurer, this is pretty straightforward, but it gets a bit more complicated if you escrow your premiums and your mortgage lender pays them. In the latter case, make sure the lender pays the premiums on time. For those on the coast and in flood zones, in addition to homeowner’s insurance, you’ll also need flood insurance so track payment on that as well. Don’t assume that just because your premiums were sent that the insurer received them – make sure you have received a payment confirmation and updated declaration page from the insurer showing the new insurance period.
#2: Respond quickly if your lenders don’t think premiums have been paid
If your lender doesn’t think you have insurance, they can and will purchase it on your behalf – typically at rates that are much higher than you would pay if you purchased your insurance directly. In my case, the lender for my second mortgage was unaware that my flood insurance, which I escrowed with my first mortgage lender, had been paid. The second mortgage lender sent a letter stating that I had 45 days to send proof of insurance. If I didn’t send them the documentation, they stated that they would purchase a policy that had a premium roughly three times higher than the premium for the policy I had renewed.
#3: Confirm your policy provides adequate coverage
Your policy should cover the replacement cost of your home. If it doesn’t, and the gap between policy coverage and replacement cost is large enough, the insurer will only cover a percentage of your loss. Further, if you have highly valuable items in your home, you may need to specifically list those items as being covered. In any event, work with your agent to ensure that you have enough coverage.
#4: Understand the details of your policy
Most homeowner’s policies are somewhat standardized, but some – like the policy on my beach house – are not. Regardless, the first thing you’ll want to confirm apart from adequacy of coverage is the deductible. I knew I had a $5,000 deductible on my policy, but what I had forgotten was my policy also had a separate named storm peril. What this meant was that if the damage was caused by a named hurricane (and not by flooding due to that hurricane, which would have been covered by flood insurance), the deductible was just under $10,000. Aside from understanding your deductible and ensuring you have adequate coverage, make sure you understand other relevant terms and conditions of your policy, and if your read-through raises any concerns or questions, make sure your agent answers your questions.
Ultimately, Matthew turned out to be much less destructive than forecasters feared, and in the end, there was no damage to my home (although clean-up of trees did cost a good bit and was not covered by insurance). While hurricanes on the coast are a fact of life, as a financial advisor and homeowner, I can attest that following the steps above help reduce stress whenever the Weather Channel starts dropping meteorologists in blue ponchos on a storm-tossed beach near you.