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Hurricane Florence: Key things to know about homeowners, flood and renters insurance

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Hurricane Florence continues along a path projected to take it almost completely across the Carolinas, a track that could result in widespread property damage in both states.

With landfall taking place, now is when people with or without property insurance naturally have questions about that topic. Here are some key things to know:

Homeowners and flood insurance are two different things.

Many people, especially those with a mortgage, already have homeowners insurance. What that type of insurance covers can differ by policy, but in general it includes wind damage from hurricanes — think a tree falling on your home. (Some policies, though, might have exclusions for wind damage, so check your policy.)

What homeowners insurance doesn’t usually cover is damage from flooding. For that, you’ll need flood insurance, which is available through a national program managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Flood insurance is bought from insurance agents, though, not from the National Flood Insurance Program directly.

Do I still have time to buy homeowners or flood insurance?

You can still buy flood insurance — but it won’t take effect for 30 days. That’s the typical waiting period before new flood insurance policies kick in. That means, even if you buy a policy today, you won’t be covered for Florence damage. There are some exceptions to the 30-day delay, though. For example, there’s no waiting period when buying flood insurance as part of a home purchase.

As for a homeowners insurance policy, it might be tough to find someone willing to sell you one.

Matt Rice, manager of North Carolina Farm Bureau’s Steele Creek office, said he hasn’t heard of any agents issuing new policies for homeowners or renters as Florence slams into the Carolinas. Policy sales won’t resume until after Florence passes, he said. “Absolutely, we are under hurricane restrictions,” he said, adding that agents are not restricted though from discussing coverage and quotes with potential customers.

What is renters insurance?

Renters insurance covers your personal belongings, such as clothing, electronics and furniture, in the event of a fire, vandalism, theft or other catastrophes. It might also cover costs to remove damaged items from your apartment, as well as replacement costs for food that spoils in a refrigerator if power is lost during a storm.

But it might not necessarily insure your belongings against all hurricane-related damages.

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Damages from wind might be covered, such as if a window breaks. But damages from floodwater that enters your apartment would likely not be covered. For flood protection, a policy can be bought through the National Flood Insurance Program, which cover contents up to $100,000, according to a May press release from the agency.

If I have insurance, is there anything I should I do before the storm hits?

Insurance agents recommend that you document your possessions.

George Pettice, a Charlotte agent on Tyvola Road, said he advises his clients to take photos of belongings for which they don’t have receipts or other proof of. Taking such steps can help a homeowner prove the existence of belongings that might get destroyed or stolen in a storm, he said.

“You do have a duty to prove your claim to an insurance company,” he said.

He also recommended that any valuables be stored in a safe deposit box.

Also, before a storm, agents recommend homeowners and renters have the contact information for their insurance company, in case they need to file a claim.

What should I do after the storm?

Agents said homeowners have a responsibility to prevent further damage to their property once a storm passes.

For example, if there’s a hole in the roof, the homeowner should contact a roofer or other contractor to place a tarp over the hole until it can be repaired, said Rice, of Farm Bureau. He stressed that homeowners should not climb onto their roofs or doing anything else they are incapable of.

But, he said, “at the end of the day it is the insured’s responsibility with the home to maintain the property.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts
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