LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Hurricane season starts Thursday, and a Lamar County insurance agent said now is the time to check coverage and take inventory.
"If you feel like you need insurance or you want to talk about insurance, definitely do it as soon as possible," said Keith Easterling, an insurance agent with Keith & Lowrimore Insurance Agency LLC. "Once a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico, then all companies quit writing coverage. There's a moratorium issued, and all companies cease to write coverage for cars, homes, anything else as long as that hurricane is in the Gulf."
Easterling said it's important to remember homeowners insurance policies do not cover flood damage, and people shouldn't wait to buy flood insurance if they need it.
"Rising water, runoff water, water comes into your house from the outside, that's going to be flood, and there's no coverage for that under the homeowners," he said. "You definitely would need to have flood coverage for that type. It's going to take 30 days for that policy to go into effect from the day that you make application, and even if you're not in a flood prone area, so many times those premiums are so affordable that you may want to do that. I know that in Hattiesburg this past year, we had houses that got water in them that had never had that before."
If there's structural damage to a home that allows rain or water inside, like a broken window or a hole in the roof, Easterling said a homeowners policy does cover that kind of water damage. Easterling said water damage to cars is covered by comprehensive auto insurance, which he said is much broader than homeowners insurance.
If you already have a homeowners or renters insurance, he said now is the time to review your policy with an agent to be sure the coverage is what you want.
"A lot of times, especially with new home purchases, people may take a higher deductible to get the premium down, and that may not be the deductible you want in the event of a hurricane," Easterling said.
Renters can get essentially the same coverage as a homeowner for their belongings, without coverage for structural damage.
"You have the same type of coverage for contents, liability, fire, legal liability, all these types of things on a renters policy," Easterling said. "It's basically exactly the same as a homeowners except you don't have coverage for the structure itself."
Easterling said an important thing to check is contents coverage, or how you'll be paid if belongings inside are ruined. He said many people don't understand the difference between actual cash value and replacement cost coverage.
"You definitely want replacement cost if you can get that because that way you're getting something new for something old," he said. "Otherwise, it's going to be depreciated. I know that as was the case during Katrina, several people that I knew of really suffered a pretty good loss because everything they had was depreciated, rather than replacement cost. They had to come out of pocket with a good bit, so that's something you definitely want to make sure you've got replacement cost there."
He also suggests taking a photo or video inventory of your things now, not just after they're damaged.
"I've always encouraged my clients to go through every room in their house, open closet doors, take a picture or a video of shoes, clothes, anything that's there because if you have a total loss, if you have a significant, catastrophic type loss where the home is gone, whether it be by fire or tornado or hurricane, you're going to forget so many things that are in the house," Easterling said. "You have a right to recover the value of those articles, but sometimes it's just so overwhelming people forget things. But it's also so valuable for the adjuster also to be able see what was there prior to the loss."
Easterling said collecting and keeping important numbers will help both you and your agent if you need to file a claim.
"Have everything on hand, whether you put it in your phone or whatever," he said. "Policy numbers, claims numbers, your agent's number, these types of things. Just be prepared."
He said you should have an 800 for the insurance company in case local agents don't have phone service or internet access. Many companies also allow clients to file claims online. He also said taking and keeping a photo on your phone of your homeowners declaration page would be helpful.
Easterling said trees caused much of the home damage in the Pine Belt during Hurricane Katrina, so he suggests removing dead, dying or large trees that could fall onto a home. He also said to be sure your home and property are in good repair to prevent problems, even if you have insurance.