Seeing the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has Westchester residents reliving the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Uprooted trees, roof damage, flooded basements, and mold contamination were just some of the headaches residents endured. So, with weeks to go of the 2017 hurricane season, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, homeowners are wise to be ready not just with a packed bag of emergency supplies, but a course of action for preparing and recovering from catastrophes at home.
A roadmap for recovery afterwards is critical, says Fiona Dogan, a Licensed Realtor® in the Rye office of Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty.
“The damage a storm causes your home may leave you feeling overwhelmed, emotional, and disoriented,” says Dogan, who has helped many of her clients through post-storm fallout. “So, it is wise to have plans in place now so you can methodically tackle what needs to be done later.”
Your plans should include “proactive maintenance,” according to Dogan.
“Proactive maintenance has a high return on investment,” she advises. Dogan has extensive experience working with an array of contractors throughout Westchester County on various repair and renovations projects. She recommends the following:
1. Remove damaged trees and keep branches trimmed to keep them from potentially hitting your home.
2. Clean leaves and debris from gutters, to allow water to move away from the house.
3. Install storm quality shutters on windows and garage door reinforcements to withstand high winds.
4. Keep your yard clutter free; identify a location or method to secure outdoor furniture, play gyms, grills, potted plants and trash cans, in order to prevent objects from moving and harming your home.
5. Prevent water from entering your home by caulking around window frames, door jambs, and shutters.
6. Consider elevating your home if you are in a low-lying coastal area like Rye or Mamaroneck.
When disaster strikes, homeowners often don’t know where to start, says Dogan. As someone who has worked with a wide range of experts across the real estate industry and other related service areas, she knows first-hand how working with a level-headed professional can ease the stress of getting your home back in order as quickly as possible.
“Government regulations, flood maps, and insurance provisions frequently change, so it’s best to have someone to guide you to the right agencies and experts who are up-to-date on the latest information,” Dogan says. “I’ve seen it all before, and am happy to use my experience, as a realtor and homeowner in Rye, to advise my clients through the recovery process.”
Depending on the severity of the storm — and the related damage — the recovery may include working with real estate agents, general contractors, home inspectors, environmental testing and remediation firms, energy and utility companies, and technology providers. Dogan recommends including the following on a checklist for storm recovery:
1. Be safe: After Irene and Sandy, live power lines, downed trees, and flooded basements posed risks for homeowners who wanted to return home to survey the damage. Your insurance company may provide someone to inspect your home for safety hazards, or you may need to hire someone privately to do so.
2. Document damage: Your homeowner’s insurance may only cover certain types of damage. Be sure to take photos of affected areas, including growing mold, damp and wet floors or walls, broken fences, roof damage, and more.
3. Register with FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a variety of assistance to victims of storm damage. Register online to access an array of relief programs, such as temporary housing, meals, and help with filing claims.
4. Learn about other relief programs: Look for information from local officials on targeted relief for your geographic area. After Superstorm Sandy, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac authorized mortgage servicers to grant relief to local borrowers.
5. File your claims: Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. They will assign you a claims representative who will work with you throughout the repair and/or renovation process. If you home has flooded, and you have flood insurance, contact them as well.
6. Keep a file of trusted vendors: Damaged homes often see an increase in solicitors stopping by and business cards left in the mailbox, from tree removal services and real estate agents to mold remediation companies and general contractors. Start building a list of vendors you know or ask your realtor for recommendations on trusted professionals.
7. Be aware of scammers: Does that quote to remove a tree seem high? Wait a few weeks. Vendors may raise prices because homeowners are desperate. Make sure anyone you hire is licensed professional and can provide documentation of the work completed in case your insurance company requires it.
8. Lend a hand: If your home suffered minimal damage, but your neighbor’s had more, roll up your sleeves and help out. The unfortunate reality is that the number of extreme weather events are increasing in Westchester County, and you may need the help someday.
Above all, don’t make any rash decisions about leaving your home, advises Dogan.
“Take a deep breath. We have recovered from hurricanes and super storms and tornados in Westchester, and we will again. It’s a great community!”
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