While we can’t schedule a storm-related crisis, we can plan to reduce the stress that comes with it.

Knowing what’s covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy, which contractors to call if needed, as well as having important items in one safe place can make a big difference in reducing pocketbook stress.

What's my coverage?

If you haven’t reviewed your homeowner’s insurance policy recently, sit down with your agent before suffering a loss.

Verify there’s sufficient hazard coverage on the value of your home — especially with rising area construction costs — and its contents, Are your contents reimbursed for actual or replacement cash value? That’s the difference between what a used couch would fetch at a thrift store or a new one off the showroom floor.

What happens if your windows are blown out, but current building codes require they be replaced by more expensive hurricane impact-resistant ones? “Law and ordinance” coverage pays for that significant differential. If you don’t have it, you pay for the upgrade.

And your pool cage? After Hurricane Charley, most policies began dropping it from standardized coverage, making it a purchasable option. Seawalls and boat docks, however, cannot be insured.

If shopping around, make sure you’re comparing policies on an apples-to-apples basis, including the hurricane deductible amount.

Do you need flood insurance?

Only water damage caused by wind blowing water in through an opening is covered by hurricane insurance. Rising water damage caused directly by flooding is specifically excluded. That’s why it’s also important to talk with your insurance agent about a separate flood insurance policy.

If you have a mortgage and live in what FEMA determines is a high-risk flood zone, you’re required by the lender to purchase a policy.

While not required, most homeowners in moderate-to-low-risk areas are eligible for coverage at preferred rates and should consider purchasing a policy as well.

Just a few inches of interior water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Statistically, those outside of mapped high-risk flood areas file nearly 25 percent of all flood insurance claims and receive one-third of federal disaster assistance for flooding.

Jim Nolan, president of Nolan Family Insurance Agency in Punta Gorda, says flood policies issued by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) — and purchasable through most insurance agents nationwide — will be the best choice for the majority of homeowners.

However, depending on residency status and flood zone area, private insurance policies may offer a better alternative. Those private companies also can offer excess flood insurance over and above standard NFIP limits.

Don't wait. There’s usually a 30-day waiting period after the premium is paid before a flood insurance policy becomes effective. 

Have a 'go-to' contractors list 

Now’s the time to prepare a list of trustworthy contractors, because good ones are harder to get after a storm. That means having a plumber, air conditioning contractor, electrician, door and window installer and, if appropriate, a septic contractor and a pool and spa contractor.

Ideally, you already have an existing relationship with many of these contractors. Not only does it allow you to trust their work, but current customers will usually get preferential treatment in an emergency.

Over 300 licensed contractors — besides the key trades noted above — as well as aluminum, drywall and roofing contractors and companies that specialize in debris removal, garage doors, gutters, and painting, are in the Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association’s directory, at www.cdbia.com or by calling 941-625-0804.

CDBIA vets all members, including verification of appropriate state and/or county licensure if it’s required. It will also check licensure of non-members if requested.

There is a similar association serving Sarasota County, the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association at www.ms-bia.org and 941-907-4133 x 309.

Beware of scammers

Unlicensed activity typically increases after a storm as scammers prey on desperate situations. During a declared state of emergency, unlicensed contractor activity is a felony offense.

Homeowners who knowingly hire unlicensed construction contractors face a fine of up to $5,000. Additionally, your insurance company may not cover work performed without a permit.

To verify Charlotte County licensure yourself call 941-743-1201. For Punta Gorda, call 941-575-3324. In North Port, call 941-429-7016. And in DeSoto County — including the City of Arcadia — call 863-993-4811. In Sarasota County, call 941-861-6678.

The Better Business Bureau cautions to be wary of any contractor that demands full payment upfront or asks to have payments made to an individual rather than a company. A contractor’s vehicle should include the company’s name and phone number.

Resist high-pressure sales tactics, such as only getting an offered deal if the contractor is hired on the spot. If possible use a credit card for added protection. Otherwise, pay by check, but never in cash. And get everything in writing.

Hiring someone without liability and workers’ compensation insurance could make you liable for personal injuries on your property and the cost to repair any damage.

Get a portable fireproof box 

Put important documents, an external back up to your computer’s hard drive if it’s not in the cloud, an extra set of keys for your house and car, your safe deposit box key, a list of your valuable possessions with photos, and some cash in a fireproof-safe box.

The Federal Trade Commission suggests those important documents should include copies of health insurance cards, Social Security cards, current prescriptions, policy numbers for auto, flood, and homeowner’s insurance, and a list of telephone numbers of your insurance companies.

Also make front and back copies of all credit and debit cards and a list of bank, loan, mortgage, and investment account numbers.

Report price gouging 

If there’s a declared emergency in our area, Florida law prohibits extreme price increases on such needed commodities as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, and lumber. If you suspect any price gouging, call the Attorney General’s hotline at 866-9-NO-SCAM (966-7226).

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Read David’s column every Tuesday in all editions of the Sun. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980, e-mail dmorris@yoursun.com or leave a message at 941-206-1114.

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