With storm looming, it might be too late to buy insurance but not too late to renew

For those looking to buy insurance now that a big storm appears headed for the state, it’s probably too late for you.


But that doesn’t mean nothing for current policyholders to do in preparation for the storm.

With Hurricane Irma on a path to impact Florida, those in the insurance business have a few suggestions for homeowners (and those with other types of insurance) to get ready for a possible storm impact as they also prepare their own businesses for potential disaster.

The first thing to realize is that you can’t buy flood insurance in response to an impending storm. There is a 30-day waiting period for such a policy to go into effect.

And while that doesn’t apply to homeowners insurance, Doug Wiles, president of Herbie Wiles Insurance in St. Augustine, said it’s unlikely that any company is going to write a new policy right now — and almost certainly impossible by the end of the week.

That mainly affects people who might be buying a home this week. Wiles suggests trying to buy a policy immediately for those planning to close later in the week.

People who already have insurance should be able to renew, and Wiles said it’s a good idea to check now to make sure all payments are up to date. He added that it’s especially important for those with automobile policies. Storms with high winds often damages vehicles, and there were a lot of flooded vehicles here after Hurricane Matthew last year.

Wiles also said it’s a good idea to locate paperwork now so that you can have policy numbers and agent contact numbers within easy reach if you end up needing to file a claim.

In the meantime, Wiles and others in the business are busy preparing their own offices for some busy days. Wiles said his office has already expanded its operating hours because so many clients have questions about policies.

There is also the practical matter of coming up with a plan to make sure the staff is going to be safe in the storm and ready to deal with whatever happens afterwards.

“What we’re internally trying to do is be sure that we keep in touch with our staff and know where they are and we know who to expect when,” Wiles said.

Being able to answer the phones after a major storm is a top priority for any insurance business. Wiles said he and his staff can work virtually anywhere if they can get phone service and internet.

Fellow insurance agent Tim Huber in St. Augustine is dealing with the same issues as Wiles, as are his clients. Huber also suggested making a detailed inventory of one’s possessions in case of severe damage. Taking photos on a cellphone is an effective way to do this.

“It is always a good idea to itemize the contents of your home to aid in the event of a claim,” Huber said in an email to The Record. “Adjusters will itemize down to the forks that were in a drawer. The more documentation you have, the easier claim settlement will be.”

That goes for after a catastrophe, too, Huber said.

“If you are impacted, you can and should take measures to safeguard your home and belongings and prevent further damage (even prior to talking to your company),” he said. “If you do so, keep receipts. An example of this is tarping a damaged roof.”

State Farm representative Michal Brower said before a storm hits, there are little things that can be done to mitigate property damage. One of the simplest things, she said, is to remember to secure lawn furniture or other items in a homeowner’s yard that could be blown around in a storm.

“State Farm is encouraging all residents in the projected path of the storm to plan now and protect themselves and their property should the storm threaten their area,” Brower said in an email.

Of course, the agents also encouraged people to heed the warnings for evacuation if issued.

Huber said he went around to several homes last year after Matthew and was shocked by some of the damage. Currently, Irma is more powerful than Matthew.

“I personally drove around and visited some of the worst hit of my customers the day after we were hit last year, and the flood damages in particular were in many cases severe and unexpected,” he said. “I brought my chainsaw and helped some people cut tree limbs off of their houses and delivered water to help out. I can tell you that in the case of catastrophe, any help is appreciated by those who need it.”