Lenders require property insurance before they’ll fund a mortgage, but most insurers stop issuing any policies when disasters are declared or it enters “the box.”

SOUTH FLORIDA – Florida is in Hurricane Dorian’s forecast cone, but it’s still not too late to buy or change your homeowners insurance.

Better hurry though.

Most homeowners insurance, including wind protection coverage also known as hurricane insurance, can be purchased until the National Hurricane Center issues an official watch or warning for a targeted county, according to Mark Friedlander, Florida communications consultant for the industry-funded Insurance Information Institute.

“There’s a short window. If you want to make changes or get covered, you have to do it now,” Friedlander said.

Typically, the hurricane center issues a watch 48 hours before tropical storm-force winds are expected in an area. That could give homeowners until sometime Thursday to buy or make changes to their insurance coverage. But the center could decide to issue a watch earlier, industry representatives said.

That’s why any coverage changes or additions should be made as soon as possible, Friedlander said.

State-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is still selling coverage but will suspend sales and modifications for the entire state as soon as a watch is issued for any part of the state, said spokesman Michael Peltier.

That’s different from how private-market insurers typically operate, Friedlander said. Private-market carriers generally won’t suspend sales or changes for parts of the state not expected to be impacted, he said. (Each insurer works differently and stops writing policies when a storm enters their arbitrary geographical “box.”)

You’re out of luck if you don’t have flood insurance, however. Coverage sold through the National Flood Insurance Program requires a 30-day waiting period before going into effect. Coverage sold through the private market has a shorter waiting period, usually 10 to 14 days, but it’s still too late to buy before Dorian’s expected arrival.

The only exception for purchase of both property and flood insurance is for homeowners scheduled to close on a mortgage, Friedlander said. In that case, coverage can still be obtained without any waiting period, and regardless of a storm’s threat, providing the insurer is still writing new policies.

Things to remember to ensure any damage claims will go as smoothly as possible:

Before the storm

  • Read your property and flood policies carefully and ask questions long before a storm approaches. Does it cover wind damage? Check coverage for Additional Living Expenses. This covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses if your home is rendered uninhabitable.
  • Prepare to install your hurricane shutters, or make sure they work if they are permanently affixed to your home. If the price of your insurance policy reflects that you have removable shutters, failure to install them could void any post-storm claim. If you live in a low-lying area, use sandbags and plastic sheeting to protect against rising water.
  • Make records of your home and possessions. Compile an inventory with estimated values and send it to the cloud for easy retrieval later. Do the same with a still or video camera. One easy way is to walk through your home and record video with your smartphone. Narrate what is being recorded and include value or replacement costs. Then upload your video to the cloud. This will help establish your claim.
  • Follow your insurance company on social media for important storm-related information. Save your insurance company’s or agent’s phone number for ease of filing future claims.
  • Review the “Duties After Loss” section of your policy. Failure to follow the provisions in this section could result in non-payment on your legitimate claim.
  • Make sure your insurers have up-to-date contact and mortgage company information.
  • Have copies of your insurance policies in a safe waterproof and easy to access location, along with other important documents such as deeds, wills, health records, financial records, pet records, identification details, home inventory, etc. Photograph or scan your documents and save them to the cloud for easy retrieval in the event of a loss.

After the storm

  • Call your insurance agent immediately. Most major insurers have toll-free phone numbers.
  • Take pictures/video of damaged property before clearing away any debris or obstructions. This ensures you have a record of exactly how the damage occurred. Keep notes and use inventory lists to help adjusters assess damages.
  • Be aware of your hurricane deductible ranging from 2% to 10% of your home’s insured value. For some policies, a $500 flat deductible applies. Whatever your deductible, you will be responsible for it.
  • Secure replacement costs/estimates from local retailers and obtain statements from vendors on items that cannot be repaired.
  • Begin making temporary repairs to prevent further damage. Save all receipts. But don’t make permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster has inspected any damage.
  • Do not dispose of damaged contents until authorized by your agent or claim representative.
  • Insurers usually don’t pay for removal of trees or debris that blew into your yard without damaging an insured structure.
  • Let your insurer know how to reach you if your home is uninhabitable or you move somewhere else temporarily.
  • Call your agent as well as your insurance company. If you run into snags with the insurer, your agent may be able to advocate on your behalf through other contacts at the insurance company.
  • Be careful about signing anything from contractors before speaking with your insurance company. Some contractors might try to persuade you to sign a document called an Assignment of Benefits which transfers rights to seek payment for your claim, including filing lawsuits.
  • Don’t assume that adjusters will know what street they are on; street signs may have blown away. Industry officials say spray-painting important information on homes after a hurricane has proven effective. But don’t include your policy number; someone else may take advantage of that.
  • Be patient. Insurers usually send adjusters to the worst-hit homes first.
  • Many adjusters and agents are authorized to issue checks on the spot to cover the cost of temporary housing.

If confused about your claim or dissatisfied with your insurance adjuster’s findings, consider seeking help from a public adjuster. A list of licensed adjusters is available from the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters at fapia.net.

Copyright © 2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Ron Hurtibise. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.