Damage to your home is a traumatic event that throws your life into an upheaval. Insurance is supposed to make at least part of the recovery go smoothly, but that isn’t always the case. Here are some tips and things to be aware of as part of the property damage insurance claims process.
Your policy likely has a time window in which your claim has to be reported. Admittedly, if a storm leveled a tree which then fell through your roof, calling the insurance company might not be the first thing on your mind. However, it can’t be too far down the to-do list.
If you bought your policy through a local insurance agent, now is the time to make them earn their commission. Paperwork needs to be filed, with items like your policy number and the type of claim being filed included alongside the basics such as your name and address.
Secure your property
The homeowner is typically responsible for clearing debris and then securing the property to prevent additional damages. It’s possible your policy might cover this work, but you would have had to purchase the additional coverage. In the event of a natural disaster, your local government might provide assistance for debris removal.
As part of this process, take photos. Conflicts can arise with an insurance adjuster over which items were salvageable and which ones need to be replaced. Photographic evidence can be your ally.
Reread your insurance policies
In the midst of this chaos, reading your insurance policy is probably the last thing you want to do. However, now is a good time to review all of your coverages and to ensure that you and the insurance company adjuster are working from the same starting point.
A particular area to be familiar with is Alternative Living Expenses (ALE), which outlines what your coverages will be in the event your home is damaged so badly you can’t move right back in.
Hire your own adjuster
If this is your first experience dealing with a large insurance claim, now is the time to reiterate a basic point—your insurance company is a business and the adjuster represents their interests. The adjuster might be a perfectly nice and honest person, but the nature of their job requires them to shade their estimates in favor of their employer.
Unless this is a specific area of expertise for you, don’t try and negotiate on your own. Property damage claims require a combination of mathematical analytics and an eye for legal detail. You have the right to hire your own adjuster to represent your interests and make this a fair negotiation.
Above all, arm yourself with plenty of patience. The insurance company may try to pressure you into a quick settlement. Don’t bite—after a traumatic event, it can take time to remember everything you lost and quick settlements rarely work well for anyone but the insurer.
It’s normal for the whole recovery process—from insurance to rebuilding—to take up to 2 years, and your interests are best served by letting the process run its course.