What You Need to Know Before Making Major Insurance Claims
Floods, fires, and other emergencies may drive you to the “big claims” department. Here’s what you should do to make sure that you get paid.
We were just four days away from the end of our vacation in L.A. when a defective pipe burst under the master bathroom sink. Our home in Atlanta was drenched with water. Since my parents were at the house the day before with no problems, we figured the water probably ran for about 24 hours.
As brand-new homeowners with no idea what to do, we knew only one thing: we needed help. Luckily, we had knowledgeable people to consult.
BUT FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DON’T KNOW ANYONE WHO HAS DEALT WITH INSURANCE CLAIMS IN THE PAST, I’M HERE TO HELP YOU!
So what do you do when you have a major insurance claim?
Call Your Insurance Company and Notify Them of What Happened
The customer service representative we dealt with provided a claim number immediately. He scheduled an appointment for a claims adjuster to come to the house. I checked my policy to see what would and wouldn’t be covered. While that was incredibly confusing, my sister-in-law works in insurance and reassured us that we had a good policy. I had only considered cost when I signed up for the insurance just a few months prior. I did not consider not how comprehensive the policy was.
Secure the Home
My sister called the fire department. They helped to turn off power and water to the house in an effort to prevent further damage. She and my dad took our valuables and gathered extra clothes and items we would need when we returned from our trip.
We called ServPro before the claims adjuster visited. ServPro came immediately to pull up the damaged floors, take down drenched walls, and run dehumidifiers to dry everything out.
I would highly recommend waiting until the claims adjuster arrives to call for damage control. We would have had to take financial responsibility for ServPro’s cost if the insurance company had denied it.
Document Your Losses
I began a spreadsheet with all our personal property as I had remembered it. Since we had just moved in, I had a general sense of what I had put where. But it was still incredibly difficult. For weeks afterward, I would say, what about this item? Where was that? The insurance company provided a link to an online system where I could input personal property. Because our policy allowed for the replacement value of a damaged or destroyed item, I researched those costs to show the adjuster.
Arrange for Alternative Housing
Our policy also allowed for “loss of use.” This means that the insurance company would pay for us to stay elsewhere while the house was undergoing renovation. We decided that with a baby coming, we would prefer to stay with family, rather than at an extended-stay hotel.
Regardless of where you stay, the insurance company is still required to pay rent or hotel rates, meaning that they pay my parents rent on our behalf.
Hire a Public Adjuster
What we did not know is that we could have hired a professional who would advocate for us. These are individuals who know how to read insurance policies, and who work to support your interests. The report that our claims adjuster provided was very confusing. But we went line by line along with our contractor to make sure that everything was in-line with what should be in there.
Having a public adjuster would have helped take much of the stress off of us. You can also visit an insurance company website and find out what some of the big claims are that get filed under your zip code.
Don’t Start Renovations Without Approval by the Insurance Company
As we went back and forth with the insurance company, we did not allow our contractor to begin work. This is because we were told it would be more difficult for items to be covered by insurance if there was not full agreement ahead of time. For example, we needed to make sure that the insurance company allocated enough funding for underlayment and electrical wire replacement.
Pay Attention to Who Will Get Paid
The insurance company makes payments out both to the mortgage company and to the homeowners for building damages. We had to sign the checks over to the mortgage company, which will then disperse checks directly to our contractor.
When you choose a contractor, make sure that you trust them, and remember that you do not have to use only those that the insurance company recommends.
Any personal property losses (including spoiled food and items that have to be packed and moved to storage) would be reimbursed in a check made directly to the homeowners.
It’s hard to know what to do in this kind of situation. As new homeowners with a baby on the way, dealing with a large insurance claim and needing to move out was not how I envisioned spending this summer. Still, I have learned more about insurance than I ever thought I would.