How to Repair your Vacation Home after a Natural Disaster

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Whether your investment home took a hit during Hurricane Harvey or Irma, weathered an intense storm, or fell victim to a fire, the road to recovery is often a long one.

“No one wants a disaster to happen,” points out Kevin Kaufmann, owner of Property Adjustment Corporation. “But it’s always wise to know: if it did, what are my first steps?”

Acting swiftly – and with the right moves – can help your second home become guest-ready again in a faster-than-expected timeframe.

Follow these do’s and don’ts to properly assess the damage, work with insurance companies, and make the best repair decisions for your investment home.

Do: Take in the extent of damage.

If you live close enough to visit the property, “assess any space for obstacles and collapse potential before entering,” advises Emily Long, a home safety expert with SafeWise.

Call on professionals to help you evaluate the home’s condition. Restoration contractors such as SERVPRO, ServiceMaster, and Paul Davis, operate on a national level. You also may want to tap a local professional with a good reputation in the restoration industry.

A caretaker or public adjuster can also help you through these initial steps.

Don’t: Dawdle with the damage.

“Mold can set in as soon as 24 hours after a flood and is highly likely after 48,” explains Long.

To save any valuables, move quickly. Rugs and electronics hit with water will usually need to be thrown out. There could be some exceptions, however. “A microwave may be salvageable if it was unplugged and is given plenty of time to dry out before turning it on and testing it,” explains Long.

After a fire, you could face some of the same water hazards, as firefighters might have flooded the space while putting out the flames.

In some cases, professionals may be able to deep-clean and sanitize surfaces to reverse smoke and soot damage.

Since both water and fire repairs require time and expertise, rely on disaster cleanup specialists to take the right steps.

Do: Communicate clearly with the insurance company.

“Most insurance adjusters are pretty good at assessing damage,” notes Teris Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch.com, a homebuyer and handyman community software. “However, they may not be fully aware of the condition prior to the storm.”

If you have pictures that show how the property looked before the disaster, it may be helpful to share these with the insurance company.

Keep in mind that insurance estimates are negotiable, adds Pantazes. “If you get back an estimate and cannot find someone to complete the work, ask your insurance company to assist in finding someone.”

You may also need to tell your insurer about special circumstances. A place in a remote area, such as the mountains or an island, could have additional travel and labor costs for workers carrying out renovations. And if your second home is part of a Homeowners’ Association, there might be certain guidelines that increase fees. A contractor, for instance, may have to park two miles from the property, only work during specific times, and keep the driveway clear during peak vacation times.

Don’t: Sacrifice quality.

After a natural disaster, contractors are all busy, notes Ethan Gross, vice president and chief operating officer at Globe Midwest. “It can be hard to find people. Beyond that, if your vacation home is in an isolated location, you may have a limited pool of people to pick from.”

Rather than selecting a sub-par or unlicensed contractor, wait until the best options are available.

“This is your home,” adds Pantazes. “Hold the repairs to the same extent that you would any upgrade or home improvement work that has been done in the past.”

If you’ve worked with a contractor in the area before, start by reaching out again. Ask for a recommendation if the wait will be longer than you like.

When working with a new contractor, consider your priorities. You might want the work to be spotless, but not have a preference regarding when the crew shows up and leaves. Ask questions regarding quality and time to make sure you’ll be a good fit before moving forward.

Do: Inspect the work before making a payment.

You may not be able to be on-site when the repairs are carried out, but make sure you have evidence of a job well done before issuing a check.

For smaller projects, “you might be able to ask for a picture of the finished job,” suggests Pantazes. “If the image is satisfactory, you can send the payment to the contractor.”

For bigger jobs, you’ll likely need to personally inspect the finished work. If you can’t make it, have someone who helps you with the property take a look before writing a check.

Don’t: Overlook lost rent.

To claim any rental income that would normally have been brought in during the time the home is under repair, search your records.

Also keep time in mind. Your place likely rents for a lower amount on a Thursday night in October than over the Fourth of July weekend. If the property will be unavailable from January to June, look back at the same time period from prior years to correctly calculate the amount needed to cover the loss in rental income.

Solid records can lead to accounting for increases as well. “Your loss of rental income claim is based on past performance,” explains Kaufmann. If you documented the income you received for the past three years, you might find that the amount you received increased by five percent each year. With this data in hand, you could calculate a forecasted amount of rent that factors in this increase.

All these steps will lead your property to where you want it to be: ready for guests.

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