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Preparing your shelter from the storm

One of the agents in our Lower Keys office also happens to be a preparedness expert. Here, Matt Blalock shares one in a series of columns he’s written this season for the News-Barometer, a newspaper based on Big Pine Key, just a few miles from our office on Ramrod.

One part of my annual hurricane preparedness ritual is to take a cursory look my house. Depending on the storm’s track, there’s a good chance I’ll be “sheltering in place,” especially in the event of a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane.

I’ve been a licensed real estate practitioner in South Florida since 1994 and over the years, I’ve had to suggest to many a homeowner certain improvements that would help sell their home.

The mention of anything cosmetic — landscaping, painting or even upgrading a kitchen — is usually met with excitement and consideration, yet many homeowners bristle at the idea of replacing a rotted door or fixing a broken window lock.

The importance of securing our property to the best of our ability is our responsibility; just ask the underwriter of your homeowner’s insurance policy.

There are a few easy steps we can take to help ensure that our insurance policy performs as promised.

By doing an annual inspection of your property you’ll catch those needed minor repairs that left undone could become major repairs with the help of a lot of wind and rain.

A word of caution: If you’re not comfortable in conducting any of these tasks, contact a local handyman or contractor for assistance, the early investment will pay off later.

Start with the roof and work down your home’s structure. Try to spot compromises in your roof, be it metal, shingle or tile. Pay close attention to anywhere the roofing material meets against skylights or the flashing.

Check the exterior doors, framework and thresholds. If you can, replace worn or missing weather stripping.

Lubricate and operate the plumbing check valves where they enter your home, and be sure you can turn the water supply line on and off outside your home.

Have an electrician verify the integrity of your main line switch panel and the electrical service breaker panel to your home every couple of years at minimum.

That last “tidbit” comes from personal experience prior to my real estate career; I worked for Florida Power & Light. One major issue we found with residential electrical services that failed was homeowners neglecting to have the connections in the breaker panels, mainline switch panels and at the electric meter box maintained.

Aluminum wire and connections have a tendency to heat up, expand and contract. Over time those connections become loose and create hotspots that eventually fail, or worse, burn up.

One of the most prevalent questions I get from prospective buyers in the Keys is, “What kind of storm shutters do I need?”

I remember two types of storm protection from growing up in South Florida during the 1960s — the metal clamshell-type shutters and plywood. Today, we have many more options.

While there is plenty of plywood sold in the days before a hurricane strike, our building codes are far more complicated and require we follow certain guidelines when we install permanent storm shutters.

First and foremost, any type of storm shutter you have installed on your home must meet current Miami-Dade County code. It is important to save the Miami-Dade County approval stickers as well as any documentation that comes with your storm shutter system.

Many Keys residents are choosing to replace their old windows with impact resistant or “hurricane glass,” and they may be the best choice for those folks who are not here all year or travel during the summer months.

Let’s face it, they are the easiest “no worries” upgrade a homeowner can do.

Hurricane-rated windows are always “deployed” so they eliminate the worry, especially for part-time residents. Otherwise, you should think about deploying your storm shutters when you leave your home during hurricane season or have someone who will close them for you when a storm approaches.

The final step in securing your home is to clean up the property outside. If you have a propane tank serving your home or a generator, be sure to secure it.

Also be sure not to overlook what’s stored in the garage, downstairs storage or in out buildings on your property. Paint, weed killers, fuel, oil, all ends up in the ground water after a flood and eventually those same chemicals make it to the reef.

Now really is the time to sort through all those old containers and arrange to get rid of what you’re not using by taking it over to the county’s household hazardous waste and e-waste dropoff sites.

Lastly, prior to tropical storm or hurricane, I digitally photograph every room in my home as well as the exterior of my property with the storm shutters drawn, and I include the date and time stamp on each photo.

I save them to a memory stick as well as e-mail them to a relative out of state, so in the event I need them, they’re stored in a couple of places. Those photographs, along with the receipts I’ve kept for the items in the pictures, are to substantiate any claim I need to make to my insurance company.

— Matthew Blalock, P.A., is a full-time real estate agent with American Caribbean Real Estate-Lower Keys on Ramrod Key, and publishes his books under the pen name Matt Lawrence. Since publishing “What To Do til The Cavalry Comes: A Family Guide to Preparedness in 21st Century America” he has been an invited speaker before members of Congress, and provided preparedness segments for The Weather Channel, NBC, MSNBC and Fox News.

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