With the memory of last summer’s flooding rains and tornadoes still fresh on the mind, we should all be proactive in preparing for severe weather damage to our property, whether a homeowner or renter. Many homeowners and tenants without flood insurance coverage for their home or personal property were left at a loss, after last years historic flooding in Bucks County. Making sure you have adequate insurance coverage to protect your property is one factor to consider when being prepared to weather a storm. For more information on types of flood insurance for homeowners, businesses, and renters visit www.floodsmart.gov/types-flood-insurance. For example, a renter’s flood insurance policy covering up to $100,000 of personal property such as furniture, clothing, televisions, and computers could cost as little as $99 per year. Having your insurance coverage set takes care of being financially prepared for the storm, but in a physical aspect the next step is being able to restore your property after storm damage. It’s important to have a vetted list of service professionals and contractors to take care of any potential emergency repair your home may need such as; tree work after high winds or tornadoes, an electrician for damage from a power surge, a roofing, siding, or window contractor for wind or debris damage from high winds or tornadoes.
Hiring a contractor can be a daunting process. When properly vetting a company, you want to make sure they’re registered with the PA Office of Attorney General, as required by law. Make sure the contractor is insured and provides you with a copy of his insurance certificate prior to signing a contract or paying a deposit. A consumer should also ask for references and check online reviews to make an informed decision on which contractor they’re comfortable moving forward with. Bucks County Consumer Protection urges consumers to call our office first for help vetting contractors you’re considering hiring, so residents don’t chance falling victim to home improvement fraud. Residents can go to the Bucks County Consumer Protection web site at www.buckscounty.gov/ConsumerProtection, then click on our “Consumer Tips” section and download the Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor booklet. This informational booklet provides tips on what must be in a home improvement contract for it to be legal, as well as red flags to help you avoid being scammed by an unregistered or non-compliant contractor. Bucks County residents may also call 215-348-6060 to ask for assistance vetting a contractor. Our office can check our Consumer Protection database of complaints built from prior cases we’ve mediated to see if a business has had complaints filed against them prior. Our Investigators will also verify registration status through the PA Office of Attorney General’s contractor search tool. Consumers can also access this search tool to verify a registration by visiting, www.hicsearch.attorneygeneral.gov .
After storm damage occurs many people are understandably overwhelmed and stressed with the daunting task ahead of repairing their property, insurance claims, and all that process entails. Reporting property damage claims to insurance can also be a confusing process, but the PA Department of Insurance has some helpful resources for you to be prepared as well. Visit: https://www.insurance.pa.gov/Coverage/Pages/After-the-Storm.aspx for information on filing an insurance claim, vetting a public adjuster, and red flags to avoid. Never do business with someone who shows up at your door offering to help you with your insurance claim, or repair your property, without properly vetting them first. Some unscrupulous contractors and public adjusters may listen to emergency scanners and show up at consumers homes as fires, floods, and other emergencies are unfolding trying to get consumers under contract quickly. These hasty decisions many times result in more headache than help and our office has mediated many such cases where consumers are left without the funds necessary to repair their homes. In all cases the written contract is the most important and deciding factor in all disputes so be careful what you sign and always read documents thoroughly. Don’t let someone rush you to sign papers without reviewing them so you know what terms you’re agreeing to. Keep in mind when emergency repairs are being performed there is not always a 3 day right to cancel a contract as that right can be waived in emergency repair situations. A Public Adjuster may be helpful down the road if you’ve hit a roadblock with the insurance company and they’re denying your claim, or not paying out enough to cover the damages, however there are other steps you should take first such as filing an appeal with your insurance company asking them to reconsider your claim, and contacting the PA Department of Insurance for assistance and advice in navigating this process. If you’re unsuccessful on your own and the PA Department of Insurance isn’t able to assist then considering an adjuster may be an option, however, keep in mind that hiring a public adjuster from the start could leave you with typically 15-30% less funds from your claim, that could be needed to repair your home. This amount depends on the percentage outlined in your contract with the adjuster that you contractually agree to relinquish to them as their payment for working with the insurance company on your behalf. Always thoroughly read any contract before signing and make sure there are no blank areas that could be filled in after you’ve signed. Keep in mind that losing a large percentage of your claim to an adjuster that charges a higher fee could leave you without enough funds to repair the damage to your home, leading to even more of a financial loss on top of your insurance deductible. Being insured and with a list of trustworthy service professionals you can call in a disaster are two important steps to being prepared. Another proactive step towards being prepared is having a warning to alert you when emergencies are occurring, which can save valuable time to protect life and property. Bucks County Emergency Management has residents covered with an alerts system called Ready Bucks to keep residents informed in emergencies. Bucks County residents can get alerted about emergencies and other important community news by signing up for Ready Bucks. The system enables Bucks County Emergency Management to provide residents with critical information in a variety of situations, such as severe weather, unexpected road closures, missing persons, and evacuations of building or neighborhoods. Residents will receive time-sensitive messages and can specify how to be notified, whether it be at a home, mobile or business phone number, e-mail, or by text message. For more information and to register for Ready Bucks, visit: www.BucksCounty.gov/ReadyBucks