When a natural disaster causes widespread devastation in a region, don’t expect a quick fix. Many homeowners in the Northeast, for example, continue to deal with claims from Superstorm Sandy, and it happened almost a year ago. Even so, time is of the essence when it comes to filing insurance claims. Delays can make it more difficult for adjusters to evaluate damage, increasing the chance that some claims could be denied.
However, your claim could be denied or consigned to limbo with even a small misstep. Here’s how you can boost your chance of success:
Contact your carrier as soon as possible
It will help if you have some familiarity with your policy when you talk to the claims specialist. Most carriers allow you to file claims online, and many have applications for mobile phones and tablets. Even if you had to evacuate and haven’t been back to the home to check the damage, get in touch with your carrier to start the claims process if you live in the affected area.
This will allow you to establish with your provider that you have had to spend time in a hotel, which could help you receive reimbursement for your expenses. Standard home insurance policies typically include loss of use coverage, which helps pay for living expenses if you have to relocate because of a covered peril. Be sure to keep your receipts.
Get your hands on your home inventory
Disasters such as Sandy are why you make a record of everything in your house, with photos, serial numbers and receipts whenever possible. Your inventory will help you document the possessions you lost in the storm. This will speed up the claims process and keep you from overlooking things that might have been damaged.
The storm also demonstrates the wisdom of keeping several copies of this record, including an online version and one that you keep offsite. If you don’t have a home inventory, you’ll have to create one from memory, and there could be deadline pressure to get it done. It won’t be as easy, but you can still get coverage from your policy.
Document the damage your home has suffered
Take photos to show your provider everything that occurred. Be sure to pinpoint structural problems. Don’t start repairs – even temporary ones – until you’ve finished taking pictures.
Get an adjuster onsite
Once an adjuster evaluates the wrecked property, you can start makeshift repairs. Use plastic or something else that’s water resistant to cover holes in your roof, walls, windows or doors. Now is also the time to get rid of damaged furniture and other items.
Seek a repair estimate from a licensed, reputable contractor
This will help you when the adjuster comes back with the provider’s initial settlement offer. Be prepared to negotiate. Along these lines, be sure to make notes of every conversation you have with your provider. Get the company representatives’ names, phone numbers and other information you deem necessary.
If you’re still not happy with your settlement, consider hiring a public adjuster, who will assess the damage and help build a case on your behalf. However, public adjusters will charge you 10% to 15% of the settlement you get.
One sobering note: Standard homeowners policies typically do not cover flooding; you needed a separate flood insurance policy for that. However, homeowners insurance may cover water damage caused by rain if your roof or windows are damaged. So be prepared to make this distinction in your claim.
You should also keep in mind that disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or the flooding in Colorado can bring out the worst in some people. Scam artists likely will circulate through stricken neighborhoods and offer to start repairs immediately. You could be the victim of shoddy work, overcharges, or some other scheme.
Be patient. You didn’t build your house and acquire your stuff overnight. It could take some time to get back on your feet.