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The morning after: 3 things homeowners should do now

A lot of homeowners in the Northeast woke up today and confronted the specter of flooded structures, fallen trees and other serious property damage. Last year's Hurricane Irene clocked in as the fifth most expensive hurricane in history, with $19 billion in damages, and Sandy's impact is expected to be even larger.Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said homeowners wh

A lot of homeowners in the Northeast woke up today and confronted the specter of flooded structures, fallen trees and other serious property damage. Last year's Hurricane Irene clocked in as the fifth most expensive hurricane in history, with $19 billion in damages, and Sandy's impact is expected to be even larger.

Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said homeowners who suffered damage from Superstorm Sandy should take a few steps immediately. Here's what you need to do to get repairs under way.

  • While Hartwig recommends a sit-down with an insurance agent once a year to go over coverage types and levels, many of us don't do that, so the first step is reading your policy to find out whether or not you have covered claims. While wind causes some damage to homes, cars and other property, the big issue is flooding. Flooding is responsible for more than 90 percent of property damage inflicted by natural disasters, although it isn't covered in most homeowners' insurance policies.
  • Inspect your home, take pictures of any structural or property damage as soon as possible and pull together a list of damaged property along with, if possible, how much those items were worth. Gathering all that information quickly will help your claim get processed faster, Hartwig said. Homeowners who file their claims right away can expect to meet with an adjuster in just a few days, so people who file today could meet with an adjuster by the end of the week. If your home is too badly damaged to inhabit, some insurance companies can give you money for temporary living expenses on the spot. 
  • To get rebuilding under way, shop around for estimates from contractors. Even though you'll be anxious to get your house and your life back to normal, it's important to conduct due diligence and make sure that whoever's handling the repairs is reliable. Unscrupulous contractors prey on the victims of natural disasters, so ask friends or family for referrals, and be sure to check the contractor's references.

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