Hurricane Property Restoration – The First 100 Days
The hurricane season of 2008 was active and costly for the citizens of the Gulf Coast again this year. Hurricane Ike hit Galveston and then followed the ship channel up into Houston. Hurricane Gustav came into Cocodrie in southern Louisiana and then slammed Baton Rouge. Predictions as to the costs for Hurricane Ike are as high as 20 billion dollars. As the professional, it is time to see where you are in closing these claims; for the property owner, it is time for moving on with your business and life. Unfortunately, now is the time that community leaders and homeowner association boards have to make hard decisions; many times, this involves assessing the folks they serve.
The restoration plans in badly damaged areas would have been pushed by insurance claim values, a compiled understanding of the damage, as well as knowledge of the current building codes which are critical in making decisions as to raze, replace or repair, or to restore a property. These plans will almost always not be occurring as quickly as one had hoped and there will be new adjusters assigned to files as some of the initial adjusters return to writing claims in their respective home towns. Decisions made by policyholders involve a delicate balance and careful understanding of an insured’s available coverages and exclusions, damages to the structure, current building code elevation requirements, and wind speed/mechanical code changes since the original construction. Hiring the right people to determine these needs can be the “penny that saved the pound.” The right person may include:
- Surveyors: Seeking the professional advice of a surveyor regarding elevation certificates associated with a flood-damaged property, keeping in mind flood zones change, can be beneficial. Understanding current flood maps, along with local free-board ordinances, is critical to decision making.
- Real Estate Appraisers: A forensic appraisal can help determine the value of a structure pre-storm and can be instrumental in making a determination for the 50% Rule consideration, as well as making business decisions associated with redevelopment.
- Roofing Contractors or Consultants: Roofing specialists can diagnose the cost and/or need for either re-roofing or repairing the roof system of a damaged structure. The National Roofing Contractors Association www.nrca.net is an excellent resource; another class act group is the www.ricowi.com.
- Mold Prevention/Identification Experts: If a property has taken on water and is experiencing indoor environmental problems that could be bad for the occupants’ health, the Environmental Protection Agency [www.epa.gov] has some good information. Look for the article entitled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings at www.nadca.com; this agency has many people trained to understand indoor air environments. If the big guns are needed, the best information will come from a Certified Industrial Hygienist; research the American Conference of Industrial Hygienist www.acgih.com.
- Exterior Envelope Replacement Contractors: Consulting an exterior specialty contractor greatly helps in making decisions on how to implement temporary measures. In the long run, these contractors can set out a plan for the replacement of the damaged exterior components starting with good framing, flashing, windows and then claddings. I recommend careful attention to weather-resistant barriers and the selection of quality windows. In most cases, a specialty contractor will work under the direction of a general contractor or architect. A great organization for the selection of a waterproofing specialist or detailed construction consultant is www.eeba.org.
- General Contractor/Architect/Consultant/CPA: These professionals have the ability to work as cost experts to delineate all of the dollars expected or known to date. The costs can be segregated out by wind, and if applicable flood; building law and ordinance; the increased cost of compliance; and appurtenant structure costs. I recommend www.ria.com as a great organization with a long history involving insurance restoration professionals.
- Meteorologist: A meteorologist or well-selected open source weather data can be a helpful tool to determine the wind speeds, flood surge timing and surge height. FEMA and the NFIP can provide this data at www.noaa.gov or www.floodsmart.gov.
- Photographer: Digital photographs, both pre and post-hurricane, can be instrumental in understanding damages later; be sure to have numerous photos of various areas of the damaged property.
- Engineers: In difficult cases, an engineer can evaluate the causation associated with the various components of the damage.
- Contents Experts and Appraisers: The use of an appraiser or interior designer is a sound way to establish and price the inventory of property affected by a hurricane; www.ria.com can help in this respect.
- Insurance Appraisers: Alternative Dispute Resolution, which is included in many insurance policies, may be considered. www.experts.com is where I am listed among other places.
- Hurricane Mediation Programs: These programs are usually a fair way for a policyholder to reach the ear of an experienced claims representative and can be useful in resolving many claims without litigation expenses. Watch the Texas and Louisiana Departments of Insurance for mediation programs that make a difference. www.tdi.state.tx.us or www.ldi.state.la.us
- Counsel: In the worst of cases on either side, it may be time to think of hiring a lawyer to guide the prosecution or defense of these claims. www.findlaw.com or www.lexisnexis.com are excellent referral sources for the legal community.
The purpose of this information is to give a few opinions that may be of use to a person whose financial future relies on a good outcome with their insurer and to those charged with assuring that people are paid a fair dollar for their damage.
This information should not be substituted for professional legal advice; consult with your lawyer for legal advice and ask your insurance professional to discuss the details of your policy and insurance needs.