Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What do to next? After home loss - Tornado, Fire, Flood, Natural Disaster.

There are tips here that would be applicable to anyone who might have total loss of a home from any major disaster.  I'm archiving this for myself - - and sharing here for anyone.

I received this information with permission to share with Tornado Victims in Oklahoma.

From Dr. Ed Neuenschwander, a renown Physics professor who lost his home to a Tornado in 2011. This list of important tips & steps comes from him and his first-hand experience in Oklahoma.

"Based on our experience in the aftermath of the May 24, 2011 tornado that wiped out our house, here are some actions that tornado victims may want to consider.

1. Contact insurance agent about homeowner's policy. It should have funds in it not only for the house, but also for the contents, debris removal, and temporary housing. Your agent will probably come and take photos to send to the company.

2. Contact your insurance agent about vehicles.

3. For insurance, and for your own memories (you will be telling your stories in years to come), take lots of photos. They may be painful to look at, but they really help in showing friends and family what you had to deal with. They will want to see. In addition, as you find items that you need to claim for insurance, photos will help document your losses. Even stuff that you throw away immediately should be noted so you can remember to claim it on the insurance.

4. Get a plastic file box, pads of paper, and so on, because you will be inundated with papers. Not only important documents but a avalanche of telephone numbers and so forth.

5. Get some plastic tubs to put stuff in that you will try to clean up and salvage.

6. Very soon the Red Cross will set up some kind of headquarters near your neighborhood, where you can go to get plastic tubs, meals, bottled water, shovels and rakes, donations of clothing and household items, soaps and toiletries, and hot meals. Make use of these facilities; they help you keep from getting exhausted, dehydrated, and discouraged--in addition to the useful stuff that they will give you, which will all be donated. Stories, besides meals and necessities, will be shared there. Sharing experiences helps a lot.

7. Put an alert on your credit cards, bank accounts, and so on. A bank statement, with your account number and address, may be on someone's yard in Arkansas this morning. Likewise your tax documents with your SSN on them.

8. Until you are back in a new permanent house, you may want to get a post office box, and send change of address notices to your utilities, mortgage company, bank, and so on.

9. Contact your mortgage company and tell them what happened. Let them know that the house was destroyed, and as soon as you get the insurance settlement, that you will pay it off. They may or may not insist that you make the next payment at the usual time before payoff; get that clarified. Some lenders want the payment schedule maintained; others will let you miss the next payment without penalty if they know the payoff is coming in a few weeks. But make sure they understand what is happening, and that you understand what is expected of you. The maddening thing in dealing with mortgage companies, insurance, and so on will be that you will get bounced around from one person to another, seldom to the same person each time you call. Expect this, so it does not become too frustrating. The check for the house will be made out to you and the mortgage company jointly; you have to sign it then mail it to them for them to sign, and they will eventually mail it back to you. They will probably hold it in their bank for a month to draw interest on it, while you sit and wait. This is annoying but don't let it get to you.

10. Notify your utilities that your address is one of those affected. No need to pay an electrical hookup charge, trash collection, and water there for the next few months!

11. Notify your county assessor so that your property tax rate reverts to that of vacant land for the time being.

12. If you cannot find copies of your mortgage documents, car title, birth certificates, and so on, you can contact which is a group of lawyers that donate their time to tornado victims to help them with these legal issues. They had a spokesman on Channel 4 this morning talking about these matters. Eventually you will work with your mortgage company, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, and the state of your birth to get copies of essential lost documents. When the insurance company gives you the check for a vehicle that was totaled, they will want the title and keys, especially the title.

13. While you are sifting through the rubble, you will step on a nail or two. Get a tetanus shot. Some of the local hospitals give them free to tornado victims. A medical technician from the state health department came down our street giving us tetanus shot on the spot, a couple of days afterwards.

14. Some civic groups collect funds to distribute to tornado victims. You will need to find out how to register or otherwise make them aware of you. Someone at the Red Cross location mentioned above will know about this.

15. As you collect stuff that might be salvageable, you may need a storage unit for a few weeks.

16. Sometime during the next several weeks, the federal agency FEMA will set up a meeting in a church or school near you, describing government assistance programs for natural disaster victims. If your insurance is adequate you may not need FEMA, but if your insurance is not adequate then they can offer real help, but expect a lot of bureaucracy and federal guidelines. It would be worthwhile to go and hear what they have to say. It's also a good chance to swap stories with other tornado victims at the meeting. In such settings you will all feel the kinship of a shared experience throughout all of this.

17. Don't be afraid to ask questions, whether you're in the county courthouse or the insurance office. When your house gets wiped out by a tornado, you will find that people genuinely want to help. I was trying to get some piece of paperwork sorted out about our property before we could rebuild on it, and made at least two trips to the Canadian County courthouse about it, and talked to the ladies in this particular office. No, they had not seen the paperwork come back from the mortgage company releasing the lien on the property, even though the mortgage company told us they had sent it. A couple of days later one of those ladies phoned us and said they had found it. It was a personal touch that was very uplifting because they genuinely wanted to help. The bureaucracy will be frustrating, especially when dealing with people by phone in other states (especially the mortgage and insurance companies; your local insurance agent can facilitate a lot of stuff for you with your insurance company), but expect some delays. Be persistent and patient.

18. We suggest opening an new checking account into which you will deposit the funds you get from insurance and other sources for rebuilding your house and replacing your car and household contents. If you mix the rebuilding monies with your daily living expense monies, it will be hard to know where you are at financially. We opened a separate checking account for rebuilding and were glad we did. Later on when rebuilding you will also need a construction loan up front, but your builder can send you to bankers he works with all the time. You could also take the insurance money, pay off the mortgage, then use the balance as a down payment on an existing house elsewhere.

19. You will be responsible for seeing that the debris is removed. Don't mess with trying to salvage the slab even if it looks good. It will be compromised, and be a liability if you decide to sell the property. Clean it off the ground so you or a buyer can start over. Don't try to do the debris removal yourself, after spending $1600 on four dumpsters from WCA you will not have made a dent in the debris, with no end in sight, and will feel overwhelmed. Get somebody like Midwest Wrecking who has the big trucks and serious front-end loaders, and they will have it all cleaned off in an afternoon.

20. If you decide to rebuild, get a builder who has a long-standing, excellent local reputation, even if you have to wait awhile for him. You and that builder will be talking daily for months, so the working relationship and trust must be there too.

21. Allow your self time to grieve over the that which cannot be replaced. Remember that new beginnings can be good. Keep perspective. If we never had any trouble, where would our great stories come from?"

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