With the recent Fires that impacted California and the devastation they caused and continue to cause we felt it was a good time for us to share some advice about how to protect your home should you become a victim of a natural disaster. With the loss of anyone’s primary dwelling and inevitably all of his or her possessions, it’s often difficult to know how to pick up the pieces and move forward.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a natural disaster, it’s important to act in a timely manner. Part of getting back on your feet is taking immediate steps to rebuild your home and your future.

Take These First Steps

1. Take pictures before disaster strikes. Be as thorough as you can and keep them at a separate location or online.

2. Contact your home insurance carrier. Within 48 hours, your carrier should provide you with a claim number to be able to get the funds to start rebuilding your home. Your insurance carrier will attempt to get you the money as soon as possible.

3.  Ask your home and car insurance carriers to send you a copy of your insurance policies, if they were destroyed, so you know exactly how much coverage you have. This information will tell you how much of the building, outlining fences, pool if you have one, cars, and personal property is covered so you can budget and plan for replacement.

4. Create an itemized list of all the expenses you are incurring as a result of being displaced. Include cost to live elsewhere, food, clothing, necessities. Most homeowners’ policies provide for some type of compensation when homeowners are forced to find new lodging while they get their lives back in order and rebuild the home.  Save receipts and pay by credit card if possible so that you can track purchases.

Do Not Fall Behind on Your Mortgage

As difficult as it may be to pay for a dwelling that no longer exists or is so badly damaged you are unable to stay there, you still need to make your mortgage payments.

An exception would be if your home is already paid off. Failure to pay your mortgage can result in fines and or penalties as well as damage your credit score and make it even more difficult to purchase, rebuild your new home, or get a new loan.

Ask Lenders for Help

Consider asking your lenders for help. Contact your mortgage or car servicer or lender and ask them to work with you while you maneuver through this difficult time. Depending on the lender, they might be able to work with you. You may even get some relief as it relates to your monthly payments, including possibly getting a reprieve from making your payments.

If you were facing foreclosure, even if your home was destroyed, they can still foreclose on the property after the event.  If you received a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee Sale before your home was destroyed, the Lender/Servicer and Trustee can still foreclose on your real property. If you are not sure what to do and don’t want to lose your rights to any insurance proceeds, you need to speak with an attorney to protect your rights.

For more information visit the California Statewide Wildfire Recovery Resource