Protecting Yourself and Your Home from Mother Nature
We are not immune from natural disasters.
On June 1, as Sudbury residents were watching and listening to tornado warnings and receiving recorded phone calls from town Manager Maureen Valente, I was at a closing with my clients. As occupied as they were signing papers, I couldn’t help but think of the very real possibility that something could potentially happen to their new house before they even move in.
Thankfully, nothing happened and the worst was that they had to physically move during the warnings and the awful weather. As much of a hassle that may have been – it is nothing in comparison to what could have happened and what did happen to our not-so-distant neighbors.
We were so lucky. Monson, Wilbraham and Springfield are only 65-75 miles away from Sudbury. The force of the tornadoes killed three people and wreaked more havoc on homes than we could ever imagine. The stories that we continue to hear are absolutely devastating.
For most, this is still a bit surreal — we are in Massachusetts, tornadoes aren’t “supposed to” happen to us.
As Sudbury residents were grabbing everything they could think of from kitchens and running down to their basements (Tweeting and posting on Facebook in the process), it still didn’t feel real. Sort of like seeing bears in your backyard. How many of you called your insurance company on Thursday to confirm that you would be covered? How many ran to Sudbury Farms to purchase what should be in a emergency package, stored in the basement? More time was probably spent thinking about finishing the unfinished basement or redecorating the currently finished basement, and for those who have a property under agreement – you and your buyers were praying for the best, and for my clients in the midst of a move, they just wanted to get out of the rain.
And if the tornado did hit Sudbury, would the leftover Lotus Blossom, box of Capri Sun waters, and bag of Popchips that you grabbed be enough? Never say never. Be prepared in the event this happens again.
FOR YOUR OWN HOUSE:
One of the biggest dangers with a tornado is flying debris. A tornado can, and will, remove your roof, blast open your windows and do much more damage than we can imagine.
If this happens again, for homes with basements – go into the basement and stay away from the windows. Recall where your heaviest items are (couch, TV, table) in the room above the basement and stay away from that area. Mark the safe spots on the ceiling. For homes without basements, go to a small room in the middle of your house – stay away from the windows.
Take a look outside and see if there are any large trees that hang over your house. I don’t need to tell you that these are a concern, especially if a natural disaster should strike. Remove debris from your yard.
As effective as your impromptu kit of everything in the fridge and flashlights may have been, it would be important to have – in a safe place, all together – a disaster kit, containing:
- Flashlight – and extra batteries
- Portable TV or radio/ wireless laptop/iPad
- Extra set of car keys
- First aid kit – fully stocked
- Credit card and cash
- Copies of your personal identification
- Candles and matches – it would be good to store these in a waterproof container
- Rx medication/diapers/eyeglasses – everything for your own family’s needs
- Signal flare (many first-aid kits contain these)
- List of phone numbers (written) in the event that you do not have your mobile phone charged or nearby.
ARE YOU COVERED?
I inquired with Sudbury Insurance Agent Katie Kissane about whether most homes are covered in the event of a tornado and was relieved by her response. Of course, she reminds us that everyone’s coverage is different and you should check with your own insurance company to verify your coverage.
"Wind damage is covered by most insurance policies and damage caused by a tornado would be considered wind damage," she says. "As always, it is important to report the claim as soon as possible and take pictures of all damage. We have seen a lot of damage to houses due to lightning strikes and falling trees, and this is also covered by most insurance policies. Again, please call your agent for details of your specific coverage."
IF YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS OF BUYING OR SELLING A HOME:
Real Estate attorneys Marc Canner and Richard Vetstein, authors of the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog, addressed the tornado with respect to properties that are under agreement. Once the house is under agreement, it is required that the seller keep the property insured. They note:
“The standard form Massachusetts purchase and sale agreement contains two important provisions dealing with homeowner’s insurance and casualty.
- The seller must keep the existing homeowner’s insurance coverage in place. A good buyer’s attorney will insert language that the “risk of loss” remains with the seller until the transaction closes, to ensure that if a tornado levels the home, that loss is the seller’s responsibility.
- Opt Out/Election. The standard form spells out what happens if there is a casualty. If the house is deemed a casualty loss, the buyer has the option of terminating the agreement and receiving his/her deposit monies back. However, the buyer has the option of proceeding with the transaction and can require the Seller to assign over to the buyer all of the insurance monies available. Depending on the amount of coverage available and the cost to re-built, this may not be a bad situation, but it’s the buyer’s call.
We recommend the following as a provision to be added to the purchase and sale rider to ensure that the buyer is protected in case of a disaster:
Notwithstanding any provisions of this agreement to the contrary, in the event that the dwelling and/or other improvements to the premises are destroyed or substantially damaged by fire or other casualty prior to the delivery of the deed, buyer may, at buyer's option, terminate this agreement by written notice to seller, whereupon all deposits made hereunder shall be forthwith refunded, all obligations of the parties hereto shall cease, and this agreement shall become null and void without further recourse to the parties hereto.”
Although there is nothing we can do to prevent a natural disaster, we can and should be prepared.
Next up: What to do if a bear knocks on your door.