Natural disasters have caused the loss of lives and an enormous amount of property damage so far in 2018. The California wildfires have destroyed thousands of homes and other structures throughout the state. On the East Coast, Florence became the first major hurricane of the season in September, and it was quickly followed in October by Hurricane Michael. People in five states were killed from the storms and several coastal communities in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas had their homes completely destroyed.
When disaster strikes, everyone is concerned for the safety of their family and friends – and their home becomes secondary until after the damage occurs. But once the hurricane or natural disaster passes, people quickly realize their lives have been upended and it may take years to rebuild their homes.
While it’s difficult to plan for these once-in-a-lifetime events, here are several actions you can take to help ensure that you are able to keep your home and can begin making repairs:
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) advises people with a homeowner’s or flood insurance policy to file your insurance claim immediately before applying for disaster assistance. According to FEMA, the faster you file, the faster your recovery can begin.
Aid may also be available from the federal government. FEMA may provide housing assistance, including rent for temporary housing while disaster-caused repairs are made to your primary residence, or home replacement occurs.
Homeowners should also immediately contact their mortgage servicing company to report any damage and, if needed, request a forbearance or other delay in making their upcoming mortgage payments.
Right after a natural disaster occurs, HLP’s HomeownerConnect.org website and mobile app is an easy way for homeowners to reach servicers with their requests for assistance following any natural disaster. Once the homeowner files information on HomeownerConnect.org, HLP will immediately forward the information to the homeowner’s mortgage servicing company.
The HomeownerConnect.org mobile app allows homeowners to submit documents and upload photos of damaged property directly to their mortgage company. Homeowners using the site may update contact data and/or request assistance in less than five minutes on average.
Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, more than 5,000 homeowners in Texas and Florida that had mortgage loans with more than 20 mortgage companies filed their requests for help via HomeownerConnect.org. By using this portal, mortgage companies quickly discovered that they could eliminate wait times on the telephone and serve customers faster by using HomeownerConnect.org.
US Bank is a great example. The company says more than 50 percent of its requests from homeowners for an emergency forbearance affected by last year’s hurricanes came via HLP’s HomeownerConnect.org.
If homeowners need any assistance filing their request with their mortgage company, an internet “chat” counselor is available on the HomeownerConnect.org website to provide assistance and answer any questions. These are nonprofit housing counselors who understand the importance of filing an immediate request for help. People who may be unfamiliar with filing documents online will receive the help they need from these counselors.
All of us need to be prepared to handle these major events, especially since they seem to occur more regularly now than in the past. Knowing how to file for assistance could help you save money on mortgage payments and get the help needed to repair your home as quickly as possible.
Mark Cole is Chief Executive Officer of HLP, a nonprofit mortgage technology company based in Baltimore. HLP’s web portal is a one-stop technology solution to help homeowners nationwide ensure that critical documents from distressed homeowners reach mortgage companies. To find out more about HLP’s services, visit www.hlp.org.