What To Do If Your House Floods

The Houston area is expecting a lot of rain this weekend, and after what happened in Houston over Memorial Day weekend, flooding is on a lot of people’s minds.

Dealing with a flooded home is a daunting, time-consuming and frustrating task that can take anywhere from six weeks to six months (or more) to resolve, depending on the severity of the damage, the insurance companies, the contractors, the banks, and the city.

Fortunately, we have some people on staff who have been through this, and have some tips for getting back into your house as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

Negotiate with Flood Remediation Companies

We’re not saying flood remediation companies are categorically bad or categorically good, but it is helpful to understand the way many of them operate. When a whole area floods (as opposed to a single home), remediation crews from all over the country swarm the area looking for work. You’ll bring one in for an estimate, and they’ll look around and tell you you’re gonna need to cut out this much drywall and have that many fans going for this period of time and that’s all going to run you, oh, looks like about $15,000.

Think of this as the beginning point in a negotiation. Shop around. Challenge the number of fans, crew members, and time they say is necessary to dry out your house. Play hardball with them. They do it every day. Plan on paying half the original estimate.

Photograph Everything

If you have flood insurance, your policy most likely includes coverage for not only the structure of your home, but its contents as well, usually to the tune of about 10 percent of the value of your home (a $250,000 home will typically have $25,000 worth of coverage for its contents). Fantastic, right? $25,000 will buy a lot of new furniture.

Well, here’s the thing: You’re going to have to individually document every item you wish to claim as a loss. That means a photo of the item, a description of the item, an estimated cost of the item, and in some cases a receipt for the item. Don’t start throwing things away until you have taken a photo, and made a note of the item’s brand or other identifying characteristics. The insurance company is not just going to take your word for it. It will go through each item individually, assign it a depreciated value, and eventually cut you a check based on those values.

The good news is, because flood water is considered toxic, you can claim virtually anything that got wet as a result of the flood. Your insurance company might push back on some items, but the more you claim, the more you’ll receive on the back end.

Borrow Money (If You Can)

It is going to take your insurance company many weeks or months to fully process your claim and write you a check for repairs. This means that if you don’t have cash available — and we’re talking about tens and tens of thousands of dollars — you’ll just be sitting around waiting for that money to arrive before you can hire a contractor. Considering that it could take several weeks to see even the first chunk of insurance momey, and that your home may or may not be inhabitable during this time, you’l be sitting around accomplishing nothing, staying at a friend’s house or in a hotel, and cursing your insurance company each passing day.

If a parent or someone like that can float you a short-term loan to get started, that’s ideal, but your bank or mortgage company may be able to help, too. Certainly, you should be careful not to borrow more than you’ll be receiving from the insurance company, but your contractor will probably be willing to work in chunks. If he estimates the damage is going to cost $50,000, odds are the insurance company’s estimate is going to be pretty close to that. Think about it like this: Your moldy drywall is going to have to be replaced one way or another, so if you can come up with enough money to get your contractor started, you’ll be weeks ahead of the game, without much risk of over-borrowing.

Be a Stickler

With your contractor, with your insurance adjuster, with everybody you deal with in this process. Read your contracts. Dispute errors. Negotiate. There is more fluidity and room for negotiation in this process than a lot of people realize. Besides, everyone is likely to be pretty busy. Things will get overlooked, and you have to remember that it’s your house, and once the job is done, you are the one that has to live with the result.

Look for Opportunities to Upgrade

So, they’re cutting open your walls, anyway, which makes this a good time to replace old wiring or plumbing or fix any numbr of other issues you might have been putting off. Now, you can’t assume your insurance company will cover you for those sorts of issues, and you may be coming out of pocket to do it. But some of these jobs will be less expensive and easier to pull off when the house is already being torn apart.

A flooded home is, literally, a disaster, but if you’re aggressive, detailed and well-informed, you can get through it in three or four months and come out the other side with a home that’s better than it was before.