A hurricane bearing down on the region is a really bad time to start thinking about homeowners' insurance.
The timing is even worse for trying to get new flood insurance policies.
As local insurance companies brace for Sandy, many carriers placed moratoriums on new homeowners' policies and coverage changes until the storm passes.
"I wouldn't want to emphatically state it's not possible, but it's fair to say it may be too late," said Marshall McKnight, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, which regulates the industry.
Tom Byrne, president of J. Byrne Insurance in Cape May County, said the multiple insurance carriers he deals with notified the business of the moratorium on Friday.
"As soon as a tropical storm is named in the Caribbean, they won't shut it down. They'll wait until they're pretty certain it's going to have a significant impact on the area, commonly 24 to 48 hours before an impact," he said.
Those without flood insurance — which is not covered under standard homeowners' policies — could be in similar straits.
The National Flood Insurance Program — the FEMA program that provides flood insurance almost exclusively — has a 30-day waiting period from when new policies are purchased.
Byrne said there can be exceptions for homeowners who let their flood insurance policies lapse less than a month ago.
"If someone has not paid a premium 26 days ago, they could reinstate it," Byrne said.
Southern New Jersey has nearly half of the state's 235,000 federally backed flood-insurance policies, mainly along coastal towns.
Meanwhile, homeowners insured or not can face different types of damage during the storm.
Insurance policies can vary significantly, but there are general guidelines for some scenarios:
* If a neighbor's tree falls on your house? "It would be your homeowner's insurance covering it," said Eric Stenson, spokesman for New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance, which has an office in Hammonton. "Eventually your insurance company may look to your neighbor's for subrogation."
* If you get flood damage because a tree limb punched through your roof and rain came through? "It would be covered by your homeowners as long as it was a covered peril," Stenson said. "A windstorm tears off a roof or something punctures through …That would be homeowners' rather than flood (insurance)."
* If you sustain home damage that needs to be fixed immediately? "The important thing is they make sure they've secured the property and protected it from any further damage — this could be making a temporary repair to the roof or shuttering some windows that may have been broken," McKnight said. "If a tree needs to be removed for the safety of the home, it's important they get that done. As they go, they should take photos to document the damage and any temporary repairs made."
* If a tree falls on your property but does no damage? "If a tree falls down and doesn't hit the home, insurance companies normally don't pay for tree removal. Usually only if it's blocking a way into or out of the house," said Richard Petry, executive vice president for Glenn Insurance with offices in Absecon and Vineland.
More than a year ago, Hurricane Irene, which was later classified as a tropical storm, hit southern New Jersey on Aug. 28, 2011, but did relatively less damage than elsewhere in the state and region.
By comparison, the June 30 "derecho" that struck Atlantic and Cumberland counties particularly hard — toppling trees, damaging roofs, and causing extended power outages — did much more damage than Irene, local insurers said at the time.
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