Blow, Blow, Blow the House Down
Updated: Jul 10
Preparing Your Belongings for Hurricanes and Natural Disasters
I hate to even bring this up but it is that time of year again. Despite some people’s beliefs, the Lowcountry does get hurricanes though we haven’t really suffered from a wide spread major storm in years. Sure some of us have dealt with wind and flooding but not like the major devastation some regions have seen. It is easy to become complacent about properly insuring our possessions when we don’t feel the danger of oncoming storms. Unfortunately, more property is destroyed every year by fire or flood (and not always the Mother Nature type) than by hurricane. I hate to even mention the increased number of tornadoes we seem to be experiencing.
Let’s play a game. Think about a favorite room in your house, the one where you spend most of your time. If you thought of your bathroom then you may want to pick your second favorite since porcelain tends to handle disaster pretty well. After you’ve pictured your room open your eyes and make a list of all the things in that room you would replace if it was all destroyed. The next part of the game is to take the list to the room and compare. I bet you forgot some things that surprise you. As observant as I must be professionally I have forgotten to list items that I consider treasures.
Many people assume that their homeowner’s policy is sufficient to fully cover the contents. Most of us have more value in our personal property than we realize. Ask your insurer about how your claim would be handled, should you have one, to make sure your coverage matches your expectations. Talk to them about a rider offering additional coverage if you own items of significant value such as jewelry, art or collectibles. These items will be individually scheduled. Your insurer will probably suggest you work with a qualified appraiser to properly catalog and value your appreciable property. Review your policies and appraisals regularly to make sure you have adequate coverage. Make notes of items of value you’ve purchased since the last review so they can be added. This is an important step for collectors who frequently make new purchases, sell items or move items among homes or offices. Don’t forget to ask if you need an additional flood policy if you live along the coast.
It is always a good idea to have clear photographs of the interior of your home. I suggest a “four corners” approach where you take photos from each of the four corners of a room. Another option is to use video to make slow circles from the center of the room to provide a sweeping view of the items. After each room is photographed in general take specific close ups of more valuable items. You can skip the sofa you purchased last year but don’t skip the small bronze on the table beside it. Make sure you take photos of paintings from the front and back and try to record the artist’s signatures. Most of this can be easily done on a smart phone.
Take time to prepare a written inventory to make your record complete. Make notes that are in enough detail to help the underwriter understand that your chest is an 18th century original rather than a new reproduction or that artwork is a painting rather than a giclée print. Include any specific information such as serial numbers (especially for firearms), maker’s marks, edition numbers, etc. for other types of appreciable property. You won’t have to take these steps for items you have had appraised since that report will include the photos and information. Even though many items in your home depreciate I recommend scanning receipts of major purchases and keeping them at hand for three to five years. It is your responsibility to be clear about what you have.
Keeping the photos, inventory and any appraisals in the cloud or other digital storage is a good idea. I suggest at least one copy be in the cloud, one is on a drive that you take with you if you evacuate and one stored with a trusted person who doesn’t live with you. Even if a hurricane misses and you return home quickly it is important to have the record available. Several years ago when an evacuation was called people left only to be told they could return the next day. One client arrived at home to a house in good shape except for the broken window and all her missing valuables. Her appraisal and photos helped her reclaim items, even some silver someone else was sure was theirs, when the police released the items to their owners.
Most insurers want to make satisfying a claim a positive experience for their clients. You can do your part to make the process smooth and you are properly indemnified by taking a the time to prepare. I know we plan to review our insurance coverage this month. Keep in mind the old adage: “it only rains when you forget to carry your umbrella”.