As I write this, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the state of Florida. With landfall still five days out, it is unsettling to see certain areas of local stores here in Sarasota completely empty. It's the usual suspects: the bread aisle, the bottled water section, and the battery displays plus a few others that I probably missed. Gas stations are sporadically running out of fuel as well.
My takeaway from this is that it is never too early to start preparing for a natural disaster. Waiting until the last minute can end badly, and this is especially true when protecting your tangible assets. Unlike a loaf a bread, an appraisal report for a valuable pieces of art, antique furniture, or glass isn't something that you can just grab off the shelf. It requires finding a reputable appraiser, getting them in front of your item or items, and allowing them the necessary time to do any research required and prepare the report.
What can you do, though, in the immediate term? First and foremost, document everything of note either via video or individual photos. Second, put in a call to your insurance agent to see what is or isn't going to be covered in case there is damage to your possessions. Most homeowner's policies require a separate policy, often known as a fine arts rider, for valuable items to be covered. Lastly, do what you can to protect any items of note if you suspect a strong risk of damage to your house. If flooding might be an issue, get valuable pieces of furniture to the highest level possible. Pack smaller delicate items like glass in diaper wraps and then put into sturdy plastic tubs. Art work can be crated or, if small, stored in water-tight containers. Water is typically the biggest foe of artwork.
Once the threat of natural disaster has passed, plan for the future... something my wife and I are going to be doing, by the way. We have a large generator but suddenly discovered that the generator panel that came with the house is only wired only for smaller circuits. So, even with a powerful generator, we will be able to make coffee but not run the all-important AC. That we only noticed this three years after moving in is a prime example of complacency on our part. Once Irma is past we will have an electrician come and upgrade the panel but in the meantime will be sipping our coffee in the heat and humidity if the power goes out.
Drawing parallels from this, if you find yourself with valuable items that need appraising for insurance coverage but have a threat looming, first do what you can to physically protect your items. Then, when storm has passed, proceed methodically and get the coverage you need. It will give you considerable peace of mind and also potentially protect your financial bottom line.
Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association, the Sarasota County Aging Network (board member), and is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP).