How to File a Home Insurance Claim
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 there were no problems when my parents were at the house the day, 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.
So how do you file a home insurance claim when disaster strikes?
1. Call Your Home 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 homeowners’ insurance 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 hadn’t considered how comprehensive the policy was.
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2. 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.
3. 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. That said, 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.
4. 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. In our case, this meant that the company paid my parents rent on our behalf.
5. 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.
“Public adjusters work on behalf of the homeowner, getting them the best possible settlement for a homeowners insurance claim,” says Frank Aubley, a public adjuster for more than 25 years.
“Bear in mind, however, that the insurance companies have their own adjusters who usually have the insurance company’s best interest at heart, sometimes paying out as little as possible for claims,” Aubley adds.
Using the insurance company’s adjuster may be to your detriment, so be wary if they offer it.
“While it does not cost a homeowner any out-of-pocket expense to hire a public adjuster, the fees work on a percentage of the claim, which is typically about 25 percent,” Aubley says.
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 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.
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6. 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.
7. Pay Attention to Who Will Get Paid
The insurance company makes payments to both the mortgage company and the homeowners for building damages. We had to sign the checks over to the mortgage company, which would then disperse checks directly to our contractor.
When you choose a contractor, make sure that you trust the person.
Remember that you don’t 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 learned more about home insurance than I ever thought I would.
Rules for Filing a Successful Home Insurance Claim
If you’re a new homeowner, you may not be aware of what you should do before you file a claim. Stacey Giulianti, co-founder and chief legal officer of Florida Peninsula Insurance, gives us his top tips.
While every carrier has its own requirements — and each policyholder should sit down and discuss this with their agent at least annually — there are a few important rules for making a successful property claim.
1. Don’t Wait
File the claim as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more you prejudice the insurance company’s rights to investigate the loss.
2. Mitigate Your Damages
After you take photos, wipe up the water, dry your clothing, or board up the windows as soon as you can.
Don’t let additional damage occur if you have the power to prevent it.
This does not mean performing all the repairs necessary. That will only prevent the carrier’s proper adjustment of the claim. Rather, take steps to stop further damage, photograph everything, and save everything.
3. Trust Your Insurance Company
Provide full access to the company’s team. Insurance companies sell more policies when their customers are happy and satisfied. They have strong incentives to ensure that you are taken care of during the claims process, and adjusters are trained to find the damage and report it to the company, so you can get reimbursed quickly.
If a contractor later finds additional, hidden damage, or if local pricing changes, have no fear; reasonable occurrences like that will most likely be paid for by the carrier.
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How to Prepare in Advance
John Bodrozic of HomeZada — a digital home platform that manages information during the entire homeowner lifecycle, including buying, owning, and selling a home — also has a few tips to make sure that you’re prepared for an emergency.
Make a List
Keep an itemized list of all your personal property. This should include items such as furniture, electronics, houseware, decorative items, small appliances, clothing, tools, and so on. This should include an estimated purchase amount, the date purchased, and a digital photo.
Add up the value of all these items and compare them with the amount of personal property or contents coverage in your home insurance policy to make sure you are properly insured. It may seem like a lot of work, but well worth it to have the documentation if something goes wrong.
Keep Your Information Safe
Store information about your home inventory in a safe place away from your home. If your home burns down and your records burn with it, it does you no good. There are lots of great home inventory products like HomeZada that help you save this information in the cloud, which means you can access it whenever needed, and from any mobile, tablet, laptop, or desktop device.
Additional reporting by Kelly Meehan Brown.