Building Defenses Against Mother Nature
How to lessen storm damage, reduce insurance claims and save money.
Mother Nature’s fury is no stranger to Texans, who annually submit millions of dollars in property damage claims due to tornadoes, hail, wildfire and other natural disasters.
In 2015, Texas led the nation with 466,250 claims totaling more than $3.2 billion in insured losses from 16 catastrophic events, not including major flooding that likely amounted to hundreds of millions of additional claim dollars. Unfortunately, 2015 was not an unusual year in Texas, the only state with exposure to nine different types of natural disasters. This diverse weather risk is the biggest cost driver when it comes to buying homeowners insurance in Texas.
While we can’t control the weather, there are a number of things Texans – from individual homeowners to statelegislators – can do both before and after a storm hits to protect lives, lessen storm damage, reduce insurance claims and save money.
Before a Storm
Regularly review your insurance coverage
Homeowners should meet with their insurance agent every few years to reevaluate their coverage and to make note of any changes to their dwellings, such as a remodeling or a new roof. And insurance might not cover all damage from a natural catastrophe – an estimated 64 percent of U.S. homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to a 2008 study from Marshall & Swift, a company that provides building cost data. The study also found that most insurance policies provide enough money to rebuild, on average, just 81 percent of a home’s value.
Maintain your home
Regular maintenance of your home, inside and out, can reduce damage from catastrophic weather events. Special attention should be given to your home’s roof, the first line of defense in hailstorms and high winds. Routinely inspect your roof, quickly repair wear and tear, and replace it when necessary. For more easy maintenance tasks that can protect your home from all types of natural disasters, visit www.disastersafety.com.
Select appropriate materials when building or remodeling your home
Evaluate your risk for a specific weather disaster and consider investing in protective building materials such as impact resistant roof shingles (hail), fire resistant roofing material (wildfire) or using bolts, rather than nails, to anchor walls to a foundation (tornadoes, hurricanes and high winds). A little extra spent up front on structural features that exceed code can mean big savings when a storm hits by preventing or minimizing damage. More information on how to fortify your home can be found here.
Enact strong, uniform, modern building codes Building codes set design, construction and maintenance standards for structures. In addition to saving lives, strong codes mean damage to homes is less likely or severe, leading to fewer losses and driving down the number and cost of insurance claims. Although Texas has adopted a statewide building code, the law allows municipalities to adopt weaker standards. Texas trails most coastal states when it comes to instituting and enforcing building codes, according to a 2015 analysis by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.
After a Storm
Contact your insurance company
Immediately report any property damage to your insurance agent or company representative. When storms strike, insurance company adjusters, agents and mobile units quickly respond, offering aid, processing initial claim payments and providing other services to help storm victims put their lives back together. Homeowners appear to be satisfied, according to the Texas Department of Insurance’s annual report of complaints against insurance companies. In 2015, only .06 percent (318) of the more than 465,000 homeowner claims resulted in a justified complaint filed with TDI.
Beware of opportunistic third parties looking to profit on your loss
Following a disaster, Texans have seen a growth in unscrupulous lawyers, contractors, roofers and third party adjusters trying to force vulnerable, recovering homeowners into decisions that ultimately cost more money, delay insurance settlements and impact the insurance marketplace. In particularly, Texas has become a haven for rip-off roofers because, unlike neighboring states, Texas has no statewide registration or licensing requirements. Such roofers have victimized homeowners by performing substandard work, taking payment without providing service, interfering between customers and insurers in the claims process, and intentionally damaging roofs during the estimate process to secure work. These unethical and malicious practices have hurt consumers, taken business from reputable roofers, and increased claims costs.
Select a reputable contractor to make permanent repairs
How do you protect yourself against scams and get your home fixed properly? Some items to check when evaluating a contractor, roofer or other repairer include: insurance, bonding, a valid business address and a written contract. The Texas Department of Insurance offers comprehensive tips and information regarding unlicensed individuals and entities that adjust claims.
Crack down on opportunistic, abusive “storm-chasing” lawsuits In recent years, storms – especially hailstorms – have spawned a growing industry of profiteering trial lawyers, contractors and third party adjusters trying to get rich through the legal system at the expense of storm victims. Property insurance lawsuits have spiked in recent years as these third parties encourage homeowners to file lawsuits against their insurer instead of resolving disputes through normal claims handling processes. In many instances, the homeowner already had settled a claim with their insurer and filed a lawsuit at the urging of the third party who suggested the homeowner was underpaid or could get more money than the claim merits simply by filing suit. As further encouragement, homeowners are told they will not have to pay any legal fees.
While 97 percent of Texans have never filed a property insurance claim lawsuit as a result of damage to their home, they are aware of and concerned about this growing area of property insurance lawsuit abuse, and most favor reforms to prevent it, found a recent survey by Baselice & Associates. Lawsuit reforms are needed to put an end to abusive practices while allowing for continued consumer protections and good practices between insurers and their customers. If left unchecked, the abusive practices of blatant solicitation, frivolous lawsuit filings and strong-arm tactics will continue to drive up the cost of homeowners insurance for all Texans and prevent companies fromoffering coverage in some areas of the state.