Personal Finance

Here's how homeowners can prepare for insurance claims after Hurricane Sally

Key Points
  • Take photos of your house (both inside and outside) and your belongings, both before and after the storm.
  • Review your insurance coverage so you know what to expect if you end up needing to file a claim.
  • Most homeowners insurance comes with a hurricane deductible, which is typically about 1% to 5%, depending on the specifics of your contract.
A driver navigates along a flooded road as the outer bands of Hurricane Sally come ashore on Sept. 15 in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

If you're a homeowner in Hurricane Sally's anticipated path, you may want to add insurance-claim preparation to your pre-storm to-do list.

The slow-moving Category 1 storm in the Gulf of Mexico was packing winds of 85 mph Tuesday morning as it crawled north toward the coastline of Mississippi, Alabama and northwestern Florida. Strong winds, a dangerous storm surge and heavy rainfall totaling 10 inches to 20 inches — 30 inches in some isolated spots — could end up leaving a trail of destruction that may mean months of cleanup and recovery in some areas.

On its current track, the center of Sally is expected to make landfall late Tuesday or on Wednesday. At that point, the storm is forecast to move inland on Wednesday and track across the Southeast toward northern Georgia and the western parts of the Carolinas.

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The Atlantic hurricane season started June 1 and will end Nov. 30. Last year, weather and climate disasters in the U.S. cost $45 billion, according to government data.

Amid the emotional upheaval caused by natural disasters, anticipating an insurance claim in advance can mean one less stressor if a worst-case scenario unfolds.

Here are some tips to help you prepare.

Do a home inventory

One of the easiest ways to document the condition of your house and belongings is to take pictures — lots of them. You should get shots of both inside and outside from various angles and be as thorough as you can.

The idea is to have proof not only of what you own, but also what kind of shape it was in before the storm. If you can't prove the prior condition of a damaged item or aspect of your house (i.e., missing shutters, siding, etc.), there may be snags or denials in the claims process if the insurance company has reason to question whether it was maintained properly.

Five costliest U.S. hurricanes on record

Storm Year Category Adjusted cost
Katrina20053$170.0B
Harvey20174$131.3B
Maria20174$94.5B
Sandy20121$74.1B
Irma20174$52.5B

It's also worthwhile to create a written record of your valued items, said Mark Friedlander, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Then, "store everything on a flash drive so you can easily take it with you if you need to evacuate," Friedlander said.

If possible, also back them up online.

Review and understand your coverage

The declarations page of your insurance policy is a summary that offers details on how much coverage you have, your deductibles and how a claim will be paid, Friedlander said. If you have questions, you should contact your agent.

Most homeowners insurance comes with a hurricane deductible. It typically ranges from about 1% to 5%, depending on the specifics of your insurance contract.

Note that the percentage is based on your insured value, not the damage caused. So if your home is insured for $200,000 and you have a 2% hurricane deductible, you'll pay $4,000 whether the damage is $5,000 or $50,000.

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Be aware that policies generally exclude damage caused from flooding, which means you'd need to have separate coverage in place for this storm (flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect).

When a homeowner faces storm-related damage that is uncovered but in a federally declared disaster zone, there might be government programs that can provide financial assistance through grants or loans. However, that help is not guaranteed, and it likely wouldn't get you quickly back on your feet.

For instance, after 2017′s Hurricane Harvey, which dumped as much as 60 inches of rain in some spots in Texas, the average grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individuals was $7,000, while the average claim through the National Flood Insurance Program was more than $100,000.

Incidentally, you can check your flood risk at realtor.com, which has started including that information alongside other details about properties.

After the storm

If you end up with damage from Sally, you should reach out to your agent, Friedlander said.

He said to find out if the damage is covered, whether the loss would likely exceed your deductible and how long the claims process will take. 

You'll receive claim forms, which must be sent to you within a specified time period based on state regulations, Friedlander said.

You should take photos of the damage your home sustained and then "take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage," he said.

Additionally, Friedlander said, avoid throwing out damaged items until after an insurance adjuster has visited your home. Hang on to any pertinent receipts, as well.

"You are going to need to substantiate your loss, so make a list of destroyed or damaged items, then make a copy of the list for your adjuster," Friedlander said. "Also, supply your adjuster with available copies of receipts from damaged items."