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Hurricane preparedness

Massive Matthew: This is not a drill

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Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order yesterday putting the entire state on notice that ill winds are coming. The National Hurricane Center continues to update its advisories, and hurricane watches and warnings are in effect. A warning means take immediate action. This is not a drill.

The hurricane drill may be a distant memory for some. Here’s hoping those who had experience with the storms of 2004 and 2005 provide quick tutorials, and the lessons are put into practice. If you are in an evacuation zone and in an area where a hurricane warning has been issued, get on the road — while you still can. Don’t fight with the authorities over your right to stay. Don’t fight with the wind because it’s stronger than you. The (often) arduous journey of your flight to safety is a better tale to tell than a first-person account of the physical mess Matthew is expected to deliver.

Be safe. Be Ready, Florida.

How mean Hermine?

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We live in Florida; we know the drill. Yet, this might not be a drill but the real thing. At the time of this post (early afternoon on Thursday), the National Hurricane Center forecast had Tropical Storm Hermine extending her reach along our coastline. You can be glued to the TV watching weather reports – or you can be a person of action.  

How named storms matter to property insurance

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Late summer is the peak time for hurricane season. And as if on cue, there’s a few storms brewing out in the Atlantic. It’s too early to tell if they will impact Florida, but it is not too early to prepare as if they are.

Review our hurricane season insurance checklist. First on the list is probably the most important: Make certain to have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home in the event it is severely damaged or destroyed. This means sufficient insurance protection to rebuild your home and replace all its contents.

Don’t confuse the real estate value of your home with its insurance cost. Typically, the older your home the bigger the gap between what it costs to insure it, which is the rebuilding costs, and what you would get if you sold it.

Flood Myth: Not in my neighborhood

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There are many myths about flood insurance, and the biggest myth is thinking you don’t need it. With a tropical weather system stalled over parts of Florida this week, the ensuing deluge should get you thinking about why you need this important protection.

A standard homeowners insurance policy does not cover flood insurance, and that’s been true for more than four decades. If you live in an area at high risk for flooding, the mortgage lender requires flood insurance. If you live in a low-risk flood zone, the lender does not require it. But that does not mean you don’t need it. Would you be motivated to consider flood insurance if you knew that nearly 25 percent of flood insurance claims are paid to people living in low- to moderate-risk flood zones? Well, now you know.

As of September 2015, there were 1.8 million flood policies in force in Florida. Yet, there are more than 3.1 million single family homes in our state. Many of those Florida flood policies are bought by people living in coastal condos. Do you need flood insurance if you live on the 9th floor of a high rise on the Gulf? Yeah, you do. Because if storm surge beats up the bottom floors of the condo making it uninhabitable, you won’t be able to retrieve your personal possessions as the building is likely to be unstable/condemned. Flood insurance would cover that loss.

Flood insurance statistics show about 68 percent of policies nationally cover single family homes, 21 percent cover condominiums, and 5 percent cover businesses and other non-residential properties. Two- to four-family units and other residential policies accounted for the remainder.

Earlier this summer, there was flooding in parts of Tampa Bay. The National Flood Insurance Program reported just 38 claims. That is not an indication of the minimal amount of flood damage; it is an indication of how few people have flood insurance.

Annual checkup time for trees

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Florida summers means thunderstorms nearly every day. Most trees benefit from the daily drenching, except for the dead ones. They get deader, if that’s really a thing. Dead trees and diseased or damaged tree limbs can cause havoc on your property as summer rains root out (literally AND figuratively) the weak from the strong. Inspect your property and get rid of damage waiting to happen.

Look up. If your home is surrounded by tall pine trees, you might see one that looks more like a telephone pole. That is an obvious sign that it has passed its useful life. A tree without branches is not a tree anymore.

Check hurricane deductible, have a plan to fund it

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Let’s start with the most important tip about deductibles: You should NEVER select a higher deductible than you can afford.

Big deductibles reduce the amount you pay for insurance. But the higher the deductible, the more you pay out of pocket when things go wrong. That means selecting a hefty deductible is only smart in a Perfect World. And, while we all wished we lived on that planet, all kinds of disasters happen – manmade and natural – to mess with it, at least temporarily.

You have two deductibles on your homeowners insurance: one is for hurricanes and the other is for everything else. The “everything else” deductible is for things like a fire, lightning strike or water damage, to name a few. It is usually a flat dollar amount, such as $1,000. The hurricane deductible is, obviously, for hurricanes – and for homes valued over $100,000, it starts at 2 percent of what the home is insured for, which is what it would cost to rebuild it. So, if the house is insured for $250,000, a 2 percent deductible would be $5,000.

In Florida, you can select up to a 10 percent deductible. And, some people decide to do that, which is fine if you have a plan to save that amount of money and keep it secured for when the wind blows.

Here is a handy factsheet on how insurance deductibles work in Florida. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation explains when hurricane deductibles go into effect and how long they last. Regulators also require this notice on the declarations page of every homeowners policy, in boldface type of at least 18 points:

“THIS POLICY CONTAINS A SEPARATE DEDUCTIBLE FOR HURRICANE LOSSES, WHICH MAY RESULT IN HIGH OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES TO YOU.”

Now is the time to verify that the deductible amount you chose makes sense for your circumstances.