Prepare now — before disaster strikes

Would you know what to do if a storm or other disaster damaged or destroyed your home? Our researchers followed six families who have rebuilt, or begun to, in the aftermath of hurricane, fire, tornado, explosion and other calamities. Based on those interviews, and on conversations with highly rated service providers, our team compiled advice on dealing with a disaster:

Before a disaster

Be aware. No home is immune to catastrophe. Each year, storms and other disasters damage thousands of houses.

Maintain an inventory. Go room to room, photographing or video-recording your home and its contents. Make a list of your property and keep receipts for high-ticket items. Include approximate age, replacement cost and serial numbers for major appliances or electronics. Keep a copy of the inventory somewhere besides your home.

Review your insurance. Once a year, read through your homeowners policy. Will your policy cover the cost to replace your home and furnishings? What about cost overruns? If you can’t live in the house, will insurance pay for a hotel room or apartment? Rental furniture?

Consider a safe. Before buying a safe, be sure it’s been tested to withstand fire and water damage.

After a disaster

Don’t delay your claim. Contact your insurer immediately. If you incur expenses in protecting or repairing what you can, keep receipts to later give the insurance adjuster.

Document damage. Your cellphone may be the perfect tool for this.

Pay your mortgage. You don’t want to deal with a negative credit rating or a loan default. But check to see what’s negotiable.

Be patient. Don’t rush to settle your insurance claim. Consider contacting your state’s insurance department if you believe the settlement is unfair.

Avoid scams. Disasters attract unscrupulous vendors. Take time to interview contractors and talk to former clients.

Seek specific experience. Hire a contractor with experience in rebuilding homes.

Avoid large upfront payments. Be wary of contractors who want a lot of money before the job starts.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews; www.angieslist.com/.

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