Living in South Florida :: Getting ready for the next hurricane.

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Questions & answers on preparing for hurricane season with members of Living in South Florida

As we move into hurricane season homeowners should prepare for the possibility that a hurricane can follow any path.  If you are living in South Florida below is some important information you should read.

People living in South Florida should know a hurricane could travel anyplace
Residents who live in South Florida should start to prepare for hurricane season before July. After July the chances of a major hurricane hitting your town increase. For people living in South Florida hurricanes are just a fact if life. It’s better to prepare sooner rather than later.

As we move deeper into hurricane season, homeowners are starting to wake up to the fact that a direct hit from a major hurricane is a real possibility.  As of August Florida has experienced 8 named storms with more on the way.  Every day more and more Florida residents start preparing for the next potential hurricane.  Given the clear-cut sign that more storm activity is in the future, the question is, why haven’t more homeowners started to prepare for the next big storm or hurricane?  There are many reasons why.  Some homeowners feel that they have plenty of time and can wait until the next hurricane is in the forecast.  Others feel that, if a major hurricane has not hit their home yet, they are in the clear.   Some homeowners feel that they don’t have the time to prepare; others don’t want to spend the money.  When it comes to human nature, people are more likely to take action when faced with short term consequences as opposed to an event that may happen in several months, if even at all.   However when it comes to storm and hurricane damage, the cost of taking preventive steps to minimize damage is so much lower than the cost of actual hurricane damage.  

This article has been taken from a zoom video discussion with several South Florida storm and hurricane experts.  

Topics in the discussion include;  “How to prepare for a hurricane.”  “Working with your insurance company.”  “Why you would hire a public adjuster” When should you evacuate? And more.  South Florida homeowners, property owners, business owners, and residents in the South Florida area have submitted the questions. 

The participants in this hurricane meeting are all experts in different aspects of “Living in South Florida” They all have real world experience, and are specialists in their industry. 

Included in this discussion are:

Eleanor Balash, who is a home mortgage specialist. Need mortgage advise? Looking for the best mortgage rate?  Eleanor can help.

LJ Hannah, who is the round table moderator and a home design professional. LJ is an award-winning home designer who can customize you living space by designing you closet, wall space, office.  

Karrie Clinton, an incredibly knowledgeable home insurance agent with Clovered Insurance.

Michelle Jackson, from Get Dry, Inc.  Michelle is a hurricane damage expert with experience handling mold, water damage, and many other storm and hurricane related issues.  

John Franzese, from Full House Public Adjusters is a top-notch home damage insurance expert.  John works with homeowners need to submit home damage claims, or have had the unfortunate experience of having their claim denied by their insurance company.

Lisa Punsky,  Thinking about moving to South Florida, or looking to buy or sell your home?  Lisa is a realtor with Keller Williams and the owner of Relox a South Florida relocation company.  No one knows South Florida like Lisa.

Here is the discussion

Eleanor:
Welcome to Living in South Florida.  The purpose of this discussion is to help South Florida residents understand how to prepare their homes and properties for this year’s hurricane and storm season.  Although we are addressing the 2021 storm season, most of the information provided in this discussion could be applied to future hurricane seasons.   So please feel free to sit back, relax, and if you’re at work, grab an extra cup of coffee and enjoy what our experts have to share.

Eleanor:
And without further ado, I’m going to hand this over to our moderator, LJ Hanna, Thank you.

LJ:
Good afternoon, everyone. So I’d like to start off by just going through some of the questions we’ve received, and I’m going to ask Carrie this first question.

Living in South Florida hurricane season starts in June.  What’s the first thing that someone should do to be prepared for a hurricane?

Carrie:
The first thing that someone should do prepare for a hurricane is make sure you have an active homeowners insurance policy.  You can also download your homeowners insurance company’s app on your smart device. Often a claim could be filed through your insurance company’s app.

LJ:
That’s a very good tip; I would have never thought to download my insurance company’s app.

Michelle, I taped my windows. Is this enough hurricane protection for me?

Michelle:
Oh, no, Taping a homes window sounds like a great way to protect against breakage, but it can actually create airborne dangers from the glass if it does break due to high winds. It’s best to cover your windows with 5/8th inch plywood or metal, which should be fastened correctly.  You can also get all kinds of different hurricane shutters made for your home.  However if all else fails, and you don’t have hurricane shutters, or impact glass, use plywood. You can get that at Home Depot, My advice is to get it now before the stock is low.  Once a potential hurricane appears getting plywood will become more of a challenge. 

LJ:
Sort of like, let’s start trimming our foliage now, and not a week before it’s a hurricane is being tracked.

John, do I need to tarp my roof even after everything’s been ruined? And if I do, is it something that I’ll get reimbursed for?

John:
Actually, after a big storm, even if half your roof is gone, you want to do something to protect your home from further damage.  In your policy, you have a condition section, which states that you must try to prevent further damages. So, have somebody put a tarp on your roof, try your best to keep your house dry until the insurance company gets there.  Some people can pay out of pocket.  Some companies that will tarp your roof, then bill the insurance company. It all depends on who’s available during the time after a storm. It’s a matter of finding whomever you can get to do it, but you want to definitely put something on your roof right away.

LJ:
Carrie, I don’t have a mortgage. Can I just get hurricane coverage?

Carrie:
Absolutely. You can get a policy that covers you for wind only. You might need to get a few inspections in order to secure that policy, but you can definitely get a policy that’s hurricane only or wind only.

LJ:
You mentioned an inspection, would that be something done by the actual insurance company?  Or would it be some government agency or a private company?

Carrie:
That’s a great question, LJ. It’s actually going to be done by an independent inspection company. And the two inspections that I was referring to are actually the wind mitigation inspection form and a four-point inspection. The inspections needed could be based on your age of your home; your insurance agent could determine which inspections are needed.

LJ:
John, I’m coming back to you. Why would I want to hire a public adjuster before giving my insurance company a chance to process my claim?

John:
That’s a fair question because sometimes people have been with their insurance company for 20 years and never filed a claim.  Then when a storm comes in, and they feel that they’re going to be well taken care of, and they might be, it depends.  The key is, as a homeowner, you want to surround yourself with people who are going to actually protect you.  Since a public adjuster works for the homeowner, doing what is best for the homeowner is the goal of a Public Adjuster.  Also, by getting a licensed public adjuster to handle the claim, it’s going to get done the right way in accordance with your policy.  This way there are no surprises, or enormous bills sent into the insurance company ahead of time.
Another point to consider is that after a hurricane or major storm insurance adjusters, are sometimes so overwhelmed, they may have a thousand claims to handle, where as a public adjuster may have one hundred.  As a public adjuster we do all the work, We’re going to properly write an estimate and get all the forms together in a packet. Often by the time the adjuster comes out we handled everything.  Then we just we hand the packet to the insurance company and say, “Here We did all the work for you already. It’s done. Here’s everything including all the documentation, your proof of loss,” this and that, and everything needed.  This helps speed up the process.

So it’s always good to have a public adjuster from the start versus getting one involved after you’ve already missed important deadlines that may affect your claim.

LJ:
Michelle, we hear often hear about shelters, do you have any information on how big a shelter might be? What to expect?

Michelle:
Oh goodness, you won’t believe this. The space that you get in a shelter is 20 square feet. That is tiny.  Check out this video that shows footage from an actual shelter.  Emergency shelter video.  This is  very informative video.  This it actually shows you what goes in there.   It’s basically your little cot. So, you can’t take much with you. There are, on the same link, there are some handy tips if you are going to shelter at one of the shelters, what you can take and what is recommended. 20 square feet.   This link will provide further information on assistance with getting to a shelter, as well as information on pet friendly shelters.   

Public Hurricane Shelter info.    and   Pet Friendly Shelters.

LJ:
And I’m sure that that’s ever changing with COVID right now. One minute we’re masking, one minute we’re not. So, I think that link would be very helpful for anyone.

What if I need a special assistance shelter, Michelle? Would we do then?

Michelle:
You can pre-register if you need any assistance at all. If you have any disabilities, there’s a Palm Tran connection that you can get to take you to shelter, if you need that. There is also a pet-friendly shelter. However, keep in mind all of the special needs, and pet-friendly shelters require you to register in advance.  I’m going to also drop some links for those shelters in the chat in case anyone needs to do that. But you can’t wait till last minute or you won’t get in. It’s a tragedy, but we just don’t have that much space here in Palm Beach County.

LJ:
Carrie, What is a hurricane deductible?

Carrie:
That’s a great question. A lot of people will purchase an insurance policy and they don’t really understand what a hurricane deductible is. Your hurricane deductible is normally listed as a percentage. Usually it’s one to 5% of your property’s insurance value. For example, if your home is insured for 300,000 and you have a deductible of 2%, you’ll pay $6,000 out of pocket before you’re reimbursed for hurricane damages to your home, and that’s an example of a hurricane deductible.  Living in South Florida, it’s important for homeowner to know their deductible and homeowner responsibilities.

LJ:
John, I’ve seen this before in the past as well, and it’s something that’s very good for anyone who’s new down here.

Why should I be cautious when after a storm a stranger knocks and asks me to sign a contract so that they can handle everything?

John:
Because I’m state-licensed, you’re going to be able to find me and hold my license accountable if something were to go wrong.  After a storm or hurricane, there are a lot of people out banging on doors offering what appears to be an easy fix, we call them gypsies. They’ll knock on your door whenever a storm hits, then they will try to take advantage of unknowledgeable homeowners.  They’ll get you to sign something called an assignment of benefits. And what they’ll say is, “Don’t worry, we’re going to handle your whole claim. You’re not going to have to worry about anything.

Once you sign their form, they hand it over to another company.  Now, you’ve given the entire claim and all the benefits of the claim to this other company, so that means they’re going to get your check, and that is the worst part about it.

For example, if they get $200,000 for your loss, all that money goes to them. They may spend $90,000 to repair your home, maybe even less.  Then they say, “See, we took care of everything and you didn’t have to pay us a penny. We got your insurance to cover everything.” Meanwhile, they just put $110,000 in their pocket. You don’t know the wiser.

After a hurricane or storm there’s a lot of fraud that takes place.  There is lot of movements trying to prevent this from happening, but fraud taking place after a storm or hurricane is still common.  Only three people are allowed to adjust your home damage claim, an attorney, a public adjuster and you, the homeowner. That’s it; nobody else can make adjustments to your damage claim.

So if a contractor says, “I’m going to take care of everything, don’t worry about it.” They’re trying to get you all your money, and then do as little work as possible.  My goal is to make sure that you have the money, it’s in your account, and you choose your contractors.

LJ:
Thank you John, as a former public official, I know that hiring your own people is so critical.  You really should get your own people in, that they are properly licensed and insured.

 

Michelle, I’m in a condo, and they’re forecasting that the surge is only going to be about nine to 10 feet. And I’m on one of the upper floors. Should I ride the storm out?

Michelle:
Oh, LJ, that’s difficult. Vertical evacuation or escaping from rising water resulting from a surge is an option.  However, high wind speeds are definitely something that makes it very, very risky, if you’re going up to escape from the rising water.  I wouldn’t recommend it. If you think that it’s going to be that bad, you should definitely evacuate. The high wind speed will bust out windows, will make the top floors less stable and secure. For your safety it’s definitely a good idea just to get out.

Knowing your flood zone is very important it’s very easily to find out if you’re in an evacuation zone. When you’re further inland, storm surge definitely isn’t going to be, as much of a problem, but being in the know of your zone will help you determine whether you should run from the water.

Anyone living in South Florida should know their flood zone.  If you are not sure which zone you live in click this link. South Florida flood zone information. 

LJ:
Carrie, how does my insurance company know how much coverage I need for my home?

Carrie:
We take into account several different factors. Basically, the information that’s listed on Palm Beach County public appraiser’s website, along with any listings that you might have or an appraisal.  We don’t take into consideration the beautification aesthetics that surrounds your home, like the schools in the neighborhood. What we also look at is the type of roof the home has, the interior, how it’s set up, whether it’s a builders or a custom-made home. We take into consideration all those things, and it’s really the cost to rebuild your home. And that’s how we come up with the amount it costs to insuring the home.

LJ:
So there are other factors than just looking at the property appraiser, in other words?

Carrie:
Absolutely, because you do have some homeowners who, in this season, are upgrading their home.  These homeowners who are upgrading will want to make sure that they tell their homeowners insurance company.  Upgrades such quartz countertops versus the granite countertop all affect the appraisal.

So it’s important for us to have a discussion with the homeowner and ask, “Do you have porcelain top floors or do you have marble floors?” What type of bathroom system that you have. It’s very important that there’s a difference between a bidet and a regular toilet. We take into consideration all those things as well, when we’re thinking about rebuilding your home.

LJ:
Thank you very much. It’s really important to share that information as you’re shopping for your policy.

John, what about debris removal? Who pays for that after a storm? And there’s just so much, anyone that’s lived through one, knows how much there is around. Who pays for it?

John:
Living in South Florida, I get that question a lot.  Especially when hurricane Michael hit South Florida in October of 2018.  Debris removal is tricky because it’s one of those things where you’re going to have to get reimbursed for it.  Many people couldn’t remove all the debris since they had a lot of large trees, which has fallen in their yards.  Some debris removal companies offered to clear yards for a large fee.  They would tell homeowners something to the effect of “We’ll clear your lot for $6,000.” It’s not like every homeowner had thousands of dollars on hand for debris removal.  “Oh, sure, here, 6,000.00, No problem” It didn’t make for a good situation.   Unfortunately debris removal is an incurred expense that your insurance company may or may not reimburse.  If the homeowner hires a public adjuster, then the public adjuster could get to work on this possible reimbursement of expenses.

So, it’s going to be a matter of whatever amount the homeowner can afford at the time.  Preparing for a hurricane should include having some cash on hand for expenses such as this.  Please make sure you get some type of a receipt for all the home damage expenses.  Even if you pay in cash, just make sure you get a handwritten receipt.  The receipt needs to include the company name for example “Joe’s Tree Removal”

LJ:
Michelle, category four and category five storms. Should I evacuate?

Michelle:
This kind of goes back to the same thing we were talking about before, in a hurricane situation, mandatory evacuations are issued for people living in South Florida who have homes along the coastal area and the barrier islands. That’s the most susceptible place for storm surge.    In addition, manufactured homes, no matter where they are, should always be evacuated when a hurricane of category 3,4,or 5 hits South Florida. Just because a hurricane is a category 3, when it hits Florida, it could quickly grow to a category 4 or 5 by the time it gets to your home.  It’s very important to know your flood zone.  Every South Florida homeowner should find out what flood zone you’re in, and it will really help you determine if you should evacuate.  If you’re not going to evacuate, just take the precautions, look up the hurricane guides and find out what you need to have on hand. For example you should have a three-day supply of water. Remember to you’re your flood zone. It’s very important, especially while we’re preparing.
Right now we are in the middle of hurricane season, this is our preparation time.  This is when we need to know what to do when something does happen.

LJ:
We’ve all seen the panic over toilet paper, water and other items in the past. This is the time to go and get that plywood. Get that water; get your supplies in order. It should be a yearly ritual like getting the kids ready for school. Come May, homeowners should be getting everything ready for hurricane season.

 

Michelle. John, what do I do while I’m waiting seven, 10 or more days until my inspector shows up from my insurance company? What can I do so that I feel useful?

John:
Well, first thing people could always do is call public adjuster. Get them out there as soon as possible.  Next start documenting your damages. A lot of people will start dragging stuff out and creating a huge pile in front of their house.  Often the insurance adjuster will come by and say, “Let me see the items that are damaged,” and they’ll just point to the pile of stuff.  An insurance adjuster is not going to go through that pile of stuff and it’s very easy for items to get overlook when everything is sitting in a big pile.

It’s most important to document all your items, take a picture with your phone of anything that you’re throwing away.  In addition to documenting you items, do your best to secure your home and prevent further damage. Like I mentioned before tarp the roof, board up any broken windows and make the home is as safe as possible, then wait for the insurance adjuster to come out.  Or for faster service, call a Public Adjuster like myself.  Many company insurance adjusters will be overwhelmed filing claims which is why you will probably get faster and better service by reaching out to a Public Adjuster.

Michelle: In addition to water damage, people living in South Florida homes should be concerned about mold damage.  When a storm or hurricane hits and your roof is damaged rain water could saturate your attic’s insulation.  When this happens it’s possible that mold growth will begin.  It only takes 24-48 hours for mold growth to start. 

Read : How mold grows.

LJ:
I’ve got a high deductible. Is there another policy that I could get that would cover my insurance deductible?

Carrie:
Yes, there actually is a policy that you can get. It’s called a TAC 4 and it issues through Lloyd’s of London.  Basically let’s say you have that $6,000 hurricane deductible. You buy this additional policy, called TAC 4, it will cover that $6,000 expense.

Lisa:

Here are some questions that just came in over the feed.  The first one says, My in-laws have hurricane windows, but we don’t know the rating. So are they protected during a storm or should they still put up shutters?

John:
The fact that you have anything on your windows is definitely going to help. I’ve seen even with a cat five, no matter what you have, there’s stuff that’s going to come through. Unless it’s the Miami Dade hurricane approved window barrier.   If you don’t know the rating, then adding extra protection can’t hurt.

Lisa:
Is that rating stamped onto the window somewhere? Or how can you find out?

John:
It’s probably on the paperwork that the homeowner would have been given when the house was purchased or when the window glass was installed. Of course it’s somewhat likely that that paperwork has been lost.

Most of the hurricane glass made today has a small label or code etched into the one of the corners of the glass.  This code will help to identify the type of glass and the hurricane rating.  It’s possible that some of the older glass may not have this label but you should look at the corners of your windows to find this code.  Also, if you don’t see this code, and you don’t know for a fact your home has hurricane glass then it’s best to assume the window is up to hurricane glass standards.

Another option to consider is looking online.  There are plenty of building inspectors and online forums where you could post pictures and get answers.  You can look up the permit that was pulled when the windows were installed. Contractors are required to have a permit and the office of records may have a document that states the type of glass.

Lisa:
Thanks John, here is my next question, Carrie this ones for you.

I have, live in a home with a HOA community. Do they always handle the insurance claim?  If my HOA maintains the roof and exterior shouldn’t they handle the claim.

Carrie:
With your HOA, they’re going to call in a claim to repair the roof and the exterior wall, but as a homeowner that lives in a HOA, you are responsible for the interiors, and any drywall or sheetrock damage.  For example, if we have a category three storm that penetrates through the windows or under the door, seepage, and destroys your floors, your furniture inside, or your windows blow out and now your personal property is damaged? Your insurance company would be able to proceed and help you with those claims.

After you contact your insurance company regarding the interior and interior items, your agent should file a claim.  If your claim is not addressed and you have more issues, or if you’re not comprehending your policy, then you may way to consider calling a public adjuster such as John.

Lisa:
Okay. So, just to follow up on that. Say the roof is damaged, and therefore water gets inside and now is damaging your personal stuff, wouldn’t it ultimately go back to whoever’s covering the roof?

John:
No, it’s tricky. So, if you live in a community like that, you probably have an H06 policy versus a standard H03 for your regular single-family dwelling.

This could be a difficult situation to handle, because we may need to separate the damage claims.  It depends one several unique factors such as, did they use the drywall at the start of construction?  Basically anything that’s damaged from the drywall into the wall, your insurance company is not going to pay for. But your associations insurance should pay for it.

So, if you have a flood and they have to rip out all the drywall, your insurance company is basically only going to pay you for the texture that goes on the drywall, the paint, and then any flooring, any cabinets, anything that would start to move into the unit, would be what your insurance company covers.

These situations are very tricky because a lot of homeowner associations, we know move at the speed of slow. So now you’re dealing with their insurance company you could have a long wait until this gets handled.  On top of that, you could be waiting longer for them to pay you for the drywall. It’s pretty complicated, you have to know that what your personal insurance is going to cover, and that’s all that you can really deal with and then hound your HOA to

Lisa:
Would your personal insurance help you in this situation?  Could you file and then go after the HOAs insurance?

John:
Unfortunately that won’t work, the insurance company is only going to pay for what they’re responsible for and that’s it.   Now, if it was plumbing pipe burst and caused a flood, and it was their responsibility that’s another story.  They’re not going to give you more money to fix everything up quicker, and then go after another company for payback.  They’re just going to pay for what they owe you for.  In the event of a storm, I don’t think they would because there’s really nobody’s fault there. It’s an act of God.

Lisa:
Michelle, what is the difference between a hurricane warning and a hurricane watch? 

Actually the difference has to do with how much advance notice is given.   Both a hurricane warning and a hurricane watch should be taken very seriously.  There is a subtle difference between both.  A hurricane watch is when is possible that wind speeds of 74 mph or higher within a specified area given at 48 hour notice.  A hurricane warning is basically the same but within a 36-hour notice.

John:
It’s like this; you’re in the cone of uncertainty.  Your home is shuttered and you have all your hurricane supplies, by the way, the cone could be the size of Florida. A warning or watch tells you It’s time start planning for the hurricane party because it looks like you will have sitting home for a while.

All joking aside,

The winds surrounding a hurricane can spawn tornadoes or mini tornados that can cause a lot of damage. We’ve seen little tropical storms cause major damage. You’d be surprised how many people have roof damage, and broken singles from a tropical storm.  You may think it’s no big deal until parts of your roof start flying right off.   It’s crazy!

Lisa:
Better safe than sorry.  John, Absolutely. 

Michelle:
Another factor is storm surge; just think about just a normal thunderstorm.  Often you will see that the drainage is terrible, one big downpour and there are deep puddles everyplace.  There are so many neighborhoods like that. So we have to take surge very seriously. And when there’s prolonged rain from storms, from any kind of storm, hurricane or tropical storm, no matter what it is, we get a lot of rain, if it doesn’t drain off then that water could cause a lot of damage.  Especially if you’re in an older home in which you weren’t required to elevate a certain amount above required flood level.

Eleanor:
Quick question for John regarding HOA and public adjusters.  Do you ever get involved with an HOA when a storm arises and the association asks you to step in to help the community?  

John:
Yes, sometime we would get involved. Most of the time, there’s a committee that is going to handle it themselves. But in the past I have represented some communities. Actually, I’m currently representing a homeowners association where there was a small tornado that did damage to five buildings out of 37, and we’re helping them get the money to replace all of the roofs because they all have to match. So the answer is yes, but usually there’s a whole committee that would have to pick which public adjuster you will use.  I would have to be able to speak to the president of the association, try to get on board with that. But yeah, I could definitely help them.

Eleanor:
This was awesome, thank you to everyone.    We covered a wide range of storm and hurricane related topics.  If you have any further questions for anyone on the panel feel free to post your question in the chat below.  

All of us at Living in South Florida would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article.   We hope you found this informative.  If you would like to reach anyone of us below is the contact information is below.

Michelle Jackson, Get Dry Inc.   (561) 777-2618

John Franzese, Full House Public Adjusters.  (561) 808-6627

Lisa Punsky, Relox  and The Punsky Group (561) 316-7706

Eleanor Balash. NP, Inc.  (954) 960-3994

Karrie Clinton,  Clovered  (954) 256-8189

LJ Hannah, Your Spacial Specialist  (561) 247-0263

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