Residents or business owners who sign up for flood insurance today won't be covered for Hurricane Irma.
"People can sign up for flood insurance anytime, any day, but coverage doesn't begin for 30 days," said Tim Shaw, president of Tim Shaw Insurance-Acentria in Fort Myers, Florida. "It's the waiting period. The federal government imposed that."
After the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, Shaw said his phone has been lighting up with customers wanting flood insurance.
"If we didn't have Harvey, we probably wouldn't have the interest we've got. ... Unfortunately it takes catastrophic loss or catastrophic events, like in Houston, to get some people's attention that this could happen to them as well," Shaw said.
A few months ago, he recommended a homeowner living on the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers buy flood insurance, giving him a quote. The customer didn't listen then, but after Harvey, he called Shaw's agency to purchase the policy, though it won't be in effect in time for Irma.
Residents who don't already have homeowners or renters insurance are likely out of luck too.
"With the storm out there, now all insurance companies shut their doors," Shaw said. "They say, 'No more new business until these storms pass.'"
Often renters insurance doesn't include coverage for floods, so a separate policy would be needed, Shaw explained.
In most cases, property owners are in a flood plain, they are required to pay for flood insurance every year until their mortgage is paid off. Then it becomes the owner's choice.
"We offer flood insurance to everybody," Shaw said. "We have a lot of clients that they come to us and say, 'Well I was told by my Realtor, my mortgage company that I don't need it or that it's not required.' Our answer to that is all of Florida is pretty much in a flood zone."
As Irma gained strength Tuesday, the trade group Florida Realtors called on state residents to urge Congress to extend the National Flood Insurance Program, which sells flood insurance to Americans. It's set to expire Sept. 30.
Nearly 40 percent of all the program's policies are in Florida, equating to about 1.8 million homes and businesses in the Sunshine State, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
If the program lapses, the program won't be able to issue new policies or renew existing ones. The last time this happened about 40,000 home sales a month were put on hold, according to the National Association of Realtors.
"Without flood insurance, our communities are unprotected and at risk, with devastating consequences to people and their lives, homes and businesses," said Florida Realtors President Maria Wells, a broker-owner with Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart, in a statement.
Here are a few tips for owners if their property is flooded:
- Call your insurance agent to file a claim. An adjuster will review the damage and submit an estimate to the insurance company for approval.
- Whether you have flood insurance or not, hire a water remediation company to dry out the home or business, which can help stop mold from growing and causing more damage.
If a federal emergency has been declared, property owners may be eligible to receive relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can be especially beneficial to those without flood insurance.
"When there are thousands of homes damaged, like we have in Houston, it's just going to be chaos," Shaw said. "There's just no easy answer to anything."