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When Tropical Storm Irma barreled through the Georgia in early September, winds brought down trees or limbs onto homes, causing structural damage, prompting flooding and other destruction.

Fortunately, there are proactive steps homeowners can take ahead of storms that can help protect their greatest investments, according to attorney Zach McElveen with Campbell & Brannon, LLC.  The Atlanta real estate law firm concentrates in residential and commercial purchases and sales, refinances, construction loan closings, acquisition and development, foreclosures and evictions.

“Inspect trees around their yard that could pose a risk to their improvements OR their neighbors’ improvements,” said McElveen via email. “There is the possibility that if a tree falls on their neighbors’ improvements, and that tree was obviously hazardous before the storm, it’s possible that the neighbor(s) could look to the homeowner for monetary damages. Neighbor(s) may claim that the homeowner was negligent, because they knew, or had reason to know, that the tree was in bad shape, was threatening imminent harm and homeowner didn’t take any measures to rectify. Conversely, the homeowner can look (from his/her own property) at the neighbors’ trees to see if any look like they pose a threat to the homeowner’s improvements – if so, the best advice is to send a certified letter to the neighbor to put them on notice that the tree is dangerous, the homeowner has noticed, and the homeowner has asked the neighbor to correct.  That way if the tree falls in the future and damages any of homeowner’s improvements, the homeowner will be in a strengthened position to seek remedies from the neighbor/neighbor’s insurance company.”

Homeowners should have a good grasp of not only their coverage, but something much more basic: whom to call at the insurance company when storms wreak havoc on their residences. 

“First – who is their contact at the insurance company if they need to file a claim? Most homeowners have no idea where to start if a tree falls through their living room,” McElveen said. “A point of contact is incredibly important to establish/have established.  Second – make sure the policy covers the important improvements – sure, it covers the main dwelling, but does it also cover the pool house?  The garage apartment? And of course, be sure to know what your deductibles are so you aren’t surprised when a disaster does happen, at the amount you must pony up to get the insurance company engaged.”

Homeowners also should be careful to avoid some common insurance-related mistakes and do research to make sure they’re making the best choices for their situation. 

McElveen said some missteps include “delaying maintenance – get those trees trimmed and inspected, and if necessary, removed! Also, just because an insurance policy is the least expensive, doesn’t mean it’s the right coverage for you. Take the points above as a few examples of questions to ask the provider, before you choose your policy.”

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