Margot Brandenburg

Margot is founder of MyStrongHome (MSH) & brings 15+ years of experience in mission-driven business and non-traditional finance. She was formerly Senior Associate Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, serves as Board Chair of a Community Development Finance Institution in Brooklyn and is co-author of the book The Power of Impact Investing. She is based in New York City.

What role does MyStrongHome play in building resilient communities?

MyStrongHome helps homeowners upgrade their homes to the FORTIFIED standard of IBHS. Going FORTIFIED helps most homeowners lower their insurance premiums, and we can use those future premium savings to pay for the upfront cost of the work. We also offer additional, low-cost financing for those who need it. We make it easy and affordable to go FORTIFIED, which is good for homeowners and their communities.

We believe that community displacement is among the many dangers faced by homeowners in storm-prone areas, and that by going FORTIFIED, homeowners are more likely to be able to stay in their homes or return to them more quickly, after an extreme weather event. Stronger homes lead to stronger, more resilient communities.

Why should property owners care about resilient construction?

There are several reasons. Firstly, from a safety perspective, a roof is a home’s first line of defense against hurricanes, and most other extreme weather events. Replacing a damaged roof, or upgrading an aging one with a FORTIFIED standard roof means that a home is less likely to be damaged by a storm. Accordingly, the home owner is less likely to incur major hassle and expense down the line, both in terms of damage to the house itself and damage to personal belongings as a result of leaks and other problems.

Furthermore, research suggests that a FORTIFIED designation increases home resale value. It helps homeowners protect, and build the value, of their largest asset.

Results show that switching from a conventional construction standard to a FORTIFIED designation increases the value of a home by nearly 7%.

– Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research (ACIIR)

What has the process been like for homeowners going FORTIFIED?

Going FORTIFIED is not hard, but it does involve a number of steps. MSH manages the process for the homeowner, because on any given day most people face a lot of competing demands for their time.  To get started, a homeowner can register on our website or call our 800 number. We explain to them how the program works, and – if they want to proceed – we order an estimate for their home from one of our carefully vetted contractors. If we have their current insurance information, we can tell them exactly how much they will save by going FORTIFIED. We then tell them how much we can finance, and what their out of pocket cost would be after savings. If they want to move forward, we send them a contract to Docusign and we schedule construction. The inspection and certificate usually take an additional 1-2 weeks.

Why does MyStrongHome advocate FORTIFIED standards and not other requirements?

FORTIFIED has emerged as the standard for resilient construction. It has been extensively tested – we have visited the research facility! – and its benefits have been carefully quantified. That means insurers know how much they can afford to lower premiums once a home has been FORTIFIED, and the homeowner knows exactly what their return on investment will be. For that reason, it also provides the greatest peace of mind.

For every $1 spent on FORTIFIED construction, approximately $4 is saved in disaster recovery expenses.

– National Institute of Building Science (NIBS)

What are homeowners saying about FORTIFIED?

Our homeowners report they are extremely satisfied with both MSH and FORTIFIED. We FORTIFIED a home in Charleston last week, and the homeowner asked us to mail her 30 brochures so she can distribute them at her church. She said her home has not looked so good in years, and she is saving $800/year on her homeowners insurance.

What needs to happen to make homeowners want/ask for resilient construction?

That’s the million-dollar question, in my book. One of the biggest challenges we face is that many people do not know they can make their home more resilient…or that doing so can be affordable. And many people do not understand the benefits. When we tell people we can get them a new roof and lower their insurance premiums, they often do not understand how that’s possible (See video below.)

It’s a chicken-and-egg issue, and the more people that go FORTIFIED, the more their neighbors and friends are likely to hear about it.  I think an investment in education and outreach will pay long-term dividends.