After the double whammy of an earthquake and Hurricane Irene on the East Coast at the end of August, several of my family and friends are finding themselves with damage to their homes and the daunting task of figuring out how to navigate the red tape of their insurance policy in order to get a claim paid. Whether you are dealing with post-Irene and earthquake damage now or are simply a homeowner who might someday have a claim, here are some steps to take to make sure your insurance company will help you out sooner rather than later:
1. Be proactive. Call your insurance company as soon as possible after the damage is done. Your claim can’t be filed if your insurer doesn’t know about your loss, so go ahead and make the call even if you haven’t cataloged all the damage yet. It will get the ball rolling and help you start a paper trail with your insurer. Also, it’s a good idea to keep a record of every conversation with the company — both phone calls and emails.
2. Photograph the damage. Even before you meet with your claims adjuster, you’ll want to do some basic repair like putting tarps over damaged roofs or windows so that the damage to your home is not made worse. However, before you make even these basic repairs, you need to take pictures of the damage so your insurance company will know the extent of the problem right after the storm.
3. Take inventory. This type of situation is exactly why it’s smart to keep an inventory of your home (and another electronic one online). After a loss, you can use your inventory to determine exactly how much you have lost. Be sure to hold onto all damaged items until the adjuster has had a chance to see them.
If you are one of those individuals who never got around to making an inventory, the Insurance Information Institute’s Know Your Stuff Home Inventory application helps you go through each room in your house to determine what you have (or had).
4. Start making appointments. Even before you get the go ahead from your insurance company, you can start meeting with contractors to get estimates for repair. (Beware scam artists, however, as there’s nothing like a major disaster to get them to come out of the woodwork.) Though it’s perfectly all right to entertain some contractors’ bids, do not make any commitments without your insurer’s approval.
You will also want to make sure you meet with your claims adjuster face-to-face. This can be tricky when dealing with the aftermath of widespread loss, as it could be weeks before your adjuster can meet with you. But it is important to be there in person so you can explain the extent of the damage.
5. Stay organized. Once you are given the green light to get your home repaired, make sure that you keep detailed records of everything. It will be much easier to fill out the necessary paperwork for reimbursement if you keep your receipts for every associated expense, from contractors to materials to alternative living expenses.
Rebuilding after a major disaster can seem like an uphill battle. Following these steps will help you get your insurance claim — and you back on track sooner.