Hurricane recovery tips

Selling a house, finding a new place to live or donating to charity always requires keen awareness, but even more so after a hurricane strikes. As Beaufort County residents try to return to normalcy after Hurricane Matthew, they should take extra steps to prevent the unexpected financial heartaches that can follow a hurricane.

For instance, owners of hurricane-damaged homes could have trouble selling their properties or filing insurance claims for future damage; people in desperate need of replacement housing could unknowingly sign a lease on a fake property; and those who want to help storm victims in need could fall prey to the many scams that natural disasters attract.

To avoid these pitfalls, as well as others you might not expect, check out these tips.

TIPS FOR SELLERS

Despite destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew, local real estate investors predict 2016 will continue to be a record-setting year for southern Beaufort County home sales. Still, sellers will need to be extra careful in the aftermath of the storm.

 

Real estate advisers at Engel & Volkers on Hilton Head Island learned from their sister office in New Orleans that after Hurricane Katrina, some people had trouble selling their homes because of the way renovation documentation was handled. International buyer adviser Loni Lueke said homeowners needed to prove to potential buyers that any wind or flood damage was properly repaired. Documents such as warranties, certificates, invoices and quotes should be saved.

“Document everything you are doing,” Lueke said of repairs. “Take pictures as much as possible; keep the invoices. Because when you are going to sell, everybody will ask for this.”

Some Katrina victims also had problems getting insurance claims paid for damage that occurred from later storms. Insurers wanted proof the Katrina damage had been repaired so they didn’t duplicate payouts for damages after later storms.

Engel & Volkers also recommends the following advice for sellers whose homes were damaged:

  • Use local and licensed contractors and workers whenever possible. They’ll be easier to find if there are any problems with the work, and they’ll be motivated to do a good job to maintain their local reputation.
  • Don’t hire contractors based only on price and how soon they can start. Homebuyers will have inspections performed and be on the lookout for shoddy work and unrepaired damage.
  • Get a home warranty and consider having a pre-inspection performed. This will help put buyers at ease and can smooth the closing process.
  • Work with a Realtor who knows your neighborhood to determine the correct post-storm value of your home. Realtors can track recent sales of nearby properties to keep abreast of price trends.

DON’T FALL FOR RENTAL SCAMS

While Hurricane Matthew damaged houses, it also left many people searching for a new place to live. The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs warns people to be on the lookout for fake rental and realty listings, as are sometimes found on Craigslist. The agency offers the following tips to help you find a legitimate residence:

  • Talk to the owner or landlord in person; don’t rely on email. If they refuse to meet with you, it could be a scam.
  • Check online for duplicate listings of the property or any negative information related to the listing or the owner.
  • Tour the property inside and out.
  • Get any oral promises in writing.
  • Don’t pay a deposit by wire transfer. Such transactions are difficult to recover if the listing turns out to be phony.

CON ARTISTS FOLLOW DISASTERS

Natural disasters bring out the philanthropist in many community members, and financial donations to reputable organizations can help many in need. But the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs warns that fake charities also tend to pop up in the wake of disasters. Here’s how to avoid them:

  • Don’t give to door-to-door solicitors.
  • Don’t give or send cash.
  • Ask any cold-caller to send information by mail.
  • Stick with well-established charities. You can also check up on registered charities at the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office at 888-242-7484 or by going to www.scsos.com.

PROTECT YOUR INFORMATION

Just as con artists form fake charities, there are also people willing to pose as government officials, bank or insurance representatives, and other professionals to steal your personal information. The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs recommends the following tips to protect yourself:

  • Ask for ID and don’t be afraid to contact the organization the person claims to represent to verify his or her identity.
  • Don’t give personal information to cold-callers.
  • Send all sensitive personal documents by certified mail.

If you suspect a scammer might have gotten your personal information, call the department’s Identity Theft Unit at 800-922-1594.