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Extreme weather impacts everyone - even the affluent

Extreme weather impacts everyone - even the affluent
17-06-22 / Tau kaVodloza

Extreme weather impacts everyone - even the affluent

Johannesburg - High-value properties in suburbs with expansive views are often more vulnerable to veld fires as well as flash floods. 

So, says Tarina Vlok, MD at Elite Risk, a specialist high net worth insurer and subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure, whose comments are especially relevant given the recent Helderberg blaze from the weekend, as well as the intense cold front that the Western Cape is currently experiencing.

"With the increase in disasters like veldfires and flooding, it is important for South Africa's affluent to ensure that the risks relating to these properties – whether primary or holiday residences – are managed where possible," says Vlok, who discusses the issue below.  

Extreme weather impacts everyone... even the affluent 

If you have seen the view from Erinvale, Spanish Farms or Silverboomkloof Road in Somerset West, you would know that the views of the Helderberg mountains, the sea and the surrounding areas are simply magnificent. This is probably why many properties in higher situated areas are more expensive than those with less expansive views.

But, says Tarina Vlok, MD at Elite Risk, a specialist high net worth insurer and subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure, this also makes these areas vulnerable to veld fires, which is a regular occurrence in the mountains of the Western Cape. 

"Add to that the fact that many Erinvale Golf Estate houses have thatched roofs, and the fire risk increases by a huge margin," says Vlok. 

Her comments come off the back of recent blaze that engulfed the Helderberg Mountains and gutted several high-valued properties in the area, with some homeowners at the Erinvale Golf Estate being evacuated. 

"When it comes to storms and flooding, especially like the significant cold front impacting the Western Cape at the moment, these properties can be exposed to flash floods caused by masses of water coming down the mountain," says Vlok. "With the increase in frequency and severity of natural disasters like veldfires and flooding, it is important for South Africa's wealthy to ensure that the risks relating to these properties – where primary or holiday residences - are managed where possible."

She says one of the ways to manage risk is to transfer it to an insurer. However, insurers may also have requirements to mitigate the fire risk, like requiring clearing of the veld around a thatched roof house.

"There are things that homeowners can do to ensure their properties remain as safe as possible."

She says the most common error high-net worth individuals make is underinsuring their high-value properties to save on the monthly premium. 

"This often causes a significant gap between the value of the damaged or lost possessions and the sum insured on the client's policy. When it comes to disasters, it is simply not worth it to be left out of pocket just to save a few Rands."

She says some specialist insurers offer property valuations by a panel of professional valuers, which can help mitigate the risk of underinsurance and partial claims settlements. 

"Another error we have seen, is not disclosing the correct roof or wall construction of homes, which may be because of an oversight or to save on the monthly premium," says Vlok, adding that some constructions carry a higher risk than others and therefore attract a higher premium. 

This is why it is super important not to omit important information to your insurer. 

"If the insurer feels that the construction was material to the loss, the claim can at worst be rejected. If not, the claims amount could be reduced by the percentage of premium that has been short paid for the particular risk."

Vlok says that the most common losses reported at this time year, especially with increased and heavy rainfall, include roof leaks with resultant damages. 

"We often see that these damages are as a result of perished waterproofing or gutters which are not kept clear of debris. To avoid this, we always encourage clients to have their roofs maintained regularly, but especially before the rainy season. Ensure that gutters are cleared and that all storm-water drainage systems are free of roots and other plant materials. Ensure that your perimeter walls are not damaged by plant roots, which grow more proficiently during rainy seasons. Most insurance policies do not cover damages as a result of gradual causes, wear and tear."

Below are Vlok's top tips for South Africa's wealthy to protect their assets against weather-related risks:

For fire:

  • When there is a If there is time, take your valuable documentation and some personal essentials that can only be replaced with massive effort. Don't waste time taking items that can be replaced, especially with insurance in place.

If there is no fire yet, but you know that you are living in an area that can be prone to fires:

  • Keep your property clear of debris. This weekend's fire started on Lourensford Farm pine plantation, and was fuelled by mixed vegetation, unseasonably high temperatures and dry weather. It is therefore also important to clear your property of foreign vegetation if possible.
  • Have spark arrestors (ember-proof screens) installed in chimneys.

For flood:

  • If there is a flash flood, get your family to safety, same as for fire. Never underestimate the power of raging flood waters.
  • Maintain your roof regularly before the rainy season.
  • Ensure your waterproofing is sound. Waterproofing has a short lifespan and must be maintained regularly to remain effective. Pay particular attention to skylights, verandas and areas where you may have done extensions or alterations.
  • Clear your gutters, drains and downspouts regularly. We have seen damages caused by a single plastic bag in a gutter.
  • Ensure your windows are sealed correctly and properly.
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