Steps can help when rebuilding after disaster
CHAMPAIGN — People who suddenly find themselves without a home — such as the tornado victims in Gifford — may find the rebuilding process takes longer than expected, a veteran contractor said.
Jody Wesley, president of USPRO/United Services in Mahomet, has spent 34 years doing restoration work following disasters.
On one day last week, he was working with four different customers in the Gifford area and three insurance companies.
Both he and Vann Parkin, the Champaign County agent manager for Country Financial, said getting things back in shape often takes longer than anticipated.
A home builder may say construction will take only 4-1/2 months, Parkin said. But the estimate is often overly optimistic.
"I would assume that's going to be on the low side, that it will take a much longer period of time," Parkin said.
Wesley said it's vital that homeowners find out how long their insurance company will cover living expenses while they're out of their home. Typically, it's six months or so.
Then they need to define with their contractor the time frame for rebuilding or repairing, he said. Don't assume you can take two years to make repairs.
"A lot of people miss that and get themselves in trouble," Wesley said.
Getting payment from the insurance company also may take longer than expected, he said.
Companies with replacement-cost policies will first pay out a depreciated amount based on the home's age and the actual cash value, he said. Once repairs are made, they'll pay the balance.
But if there's a mortgage on the property, payments will be made to the mortgage company, Wesley said. The mortgage company, in turn, will make incremental payments to the contractor, based on inspections.
"You need to hire a contractor capable of funding the project," Wesley said, "because it might be three months before you see any money from the mortgage company."
Here are other things tornado victims should do in recovering from their loss:
— Salvaging possessions and documenting the loss. Insurance claims cover both structure and contents, so the homeowner needs to review the contents.
"You have to inventory all the items that are non-salvageable," Wesley said. "That's the emotional part of the claim. It's pictures, it's grandma's quilt."
Folks need to document their losses and keep track of their purchases.
"Keep receipts," Parkin said. "Do all you can to keep receipts and document them well.
"Take pictures of the things destroyed. Phones (with photo-taking capability) are a great tool. Open up the fridge and take pictures of it," he said, noting that many policies provide up to $500 for food lost to spoilage.
The website WhatHappensNow.com suggests that for each item damaged, you record: the make, model and serial number; the date purchased; the purchase cost; a description of damage; and the location in the home.
— Arranging advances for purchases and living expenses. Ask your adjuster to provide you with advances for buying clothes and necessities, Parkin said.
Most policies have coverage for additional living expenses, he added.
"That's going to help you in setting up a residence you can be in until you determine to rebuild," he said.
— Arranging for restoration and cleaning. "For many items, time is of the essence for proper cleaning and storage," Wesley said.
Some insurance companies will work with restoration companies that will clean and store your contents until the house is rebuilt and you can move back, Wesley said.
In other cases, companies may determine that contents are beyond repair and you should buy new.
— Finding a reputable contractor. Look for someone experienced in restoration/rebuilding work, Wesley said. Often the best resources are insurance agents and insurance companies, he said.
"So much of the process (for contractors) involves experience dealing with insurance companies," he said. "It requires estimates being put together in a fashion so they can negotiate a settlement."
Parkin said homeowners should be careful about the contractors they choose.
"Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure they have no complaints against them," he said. "Stay close to home with the people you use."
The National Association of Home Builders suggests finding out how long a contractor has been in business and whether the firm has a permanent business location.
The builder should provide you with a clearly written contract as well as names of previous customers. The association says to beware of "unusually low-priced bids."
The Restoration Industry Association suggests that if you feel pressured to choose a certain contractor, contact the state attorney general's office to file a complaint.
— Getting a repair estimate and coming to terms with the adjuster. "The contractor will need to compile an estimate of the repairs needed to return the home to pre-loss conditions," Wesley said.
That may require the use of a structural engineer and maybe an architect, he said.
"The contractor will then prepare an estimate and negotiate with the insurance adjuster on an agreed scope of work at an agreed price," he said.
WhatHappensNow.com suggests you get a breakdown of costs from the contractor on how much is to be paid for labor, insurance, materials and overhead.
Parkin, who has been in the insurance field for 30 years, urged those who turn in claims to maintain open communications with their adjuster.
They should also develop a relationship with their agent — and keep the agent involved to ensure the claim moves along smoothly, he said.
RECOVERING FROM A TORNADO
Here are 10 things tornado victims need to think about in the days following a tornado, according to the website WhatHappensNow.com:
1. Getting a rough time line from your insurance agent on the next steps.
2. Arranging cleaning or restoration service for clothes, house, property.
3. Coordinating your workplace schedule.
4. Arranging schedules for child care providers.
5. Contacting utility companies.
6. Contacting your mortgage holder or landlord.
7. Renting a postal box if mail needs to be redirected.
8. Arranging for security service to prevent looting.
9. Renting a storage unit for vehicles, possessions.
10. Obtaining tote boxes with folders to hold documents and receipts.