By Mark Cole, HLP Chief Executive Officer
Hurricanes and other natural disasters are expected to cause an enormous amount of property damage in 2019. Hurricane Barry made landfall in Louisiana in July before moving over northern Arkansas and caused an estimated $600 million in property damage. Hurricane season began on June 1 and experts are predicting 13 US tropical storms for the season, including five hurricanes.
When disaster strikes, everyone is concerned for the safety of their family and friends – and their home becomes secondary until after the damage occurs. But once the hurricane or natural disaster passes, people quickly realize their lives have been upended and it may take years to rebuild their homes.
While it’s difficult to plan for these once-in-a-lifetime events, here are several actions you can take to help ensure that you are able to keep your home and can begin making repairs:
The Federal Emergency Management
Administration (FEMA) advises people with a homeowner’s or flood insurance
policy to file your insurance claim immediately before applying for disaster
assistance. According to FEMA, the faster you file, the faster your recovery
FEMA also advises homeowners that if they cannot return to your home, or you are unable to live in your home because of disaster damage, visit DisasterAssistance.gov, or call 800-621-3362 (800-462-7585 TTY) (Multilingual operators are available, press 2 for Spanish) to determine if state, voluntary, and local organizations are in your community to address your immediate needs.
Aid may also be available from the federal government. FEMA may provide housing assistance, including rent for temporary housing while disaster-caused repairs are made to your primary residence, home repairs or home replacement.
Homeowners should also immediately contact their mortgage servicing company to report any damage and, if needed, request a forbearance or other delay in making their upcoming mortgage payments.
Right after a natural disaster occurs, HLP’s HomeownerConnect.org website and mobile app is an easy way for homeowners to reach servicers with their requests for assistance following any natural disaster. Once the homeowner files information on HomeownerConnect.org, HLP will immediately forward the information to the homeowner’s mortgage servicing company.
The HomeownerConnect.org mobile app allows homeowners to submit documents and upload photos of damaged property directly to their mortgage company. Homeowners using the site update contact data and request assistance in less than five minutes on average.
Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, more than 5,000 homeowners in Texas and Florida that had mortgage loans with more than 20 mortgage companies filed their requests for help via HomeownerConnect.org. By using this website, the mortgage companies quickly discovered that they could eliminate wait times on the telephone and serve customers faster by using this site.
US Bank is a great example. The company says more than 50 percent of its requests from homeowners for an emergency forbearance affected by last year’s hurricanes came via HLP’s HomeownerConnect.org.
If homeowners need any assistance filing their request with their mortgage company, an internet “chat” counselor is available on the HomeownerConnect.org website to provide assistance and answer any questions. These are nonprofit housing counselors who understand the immediate importance of filing a request for help. People who may be unfamiliar with filing documents online will receive the help they need from these counselors.
All of us need to be prepared to handle these major events, especially since they seem to occur more regularly now than in the past. Knowing how to get file for assistance could help you save money in mortgage payments and get the help needed to repair your home as quickly as possible.