1. Contact your insurance company to report the claim as soon as possible to notify them of the type of loss you’ve suffered. In fact, they may require you to contact them within a certain amount of time after a loss has occurred. Your policy will detail this information, including whether that notification must be in writing. The following is a list of information to include in your claim.
o Date of loss
o Type of loss or damage
o Location of damage
o Any related injuries
o Others involved
o Condition of the home
o Description of damaged contents
o Whether or not temporary repairs are necessary
o A police/fire report
2. Make a written request to your insurance carrier for an advance on your fire insurance claim to get living essentials you need for shelter, clothing, food, travel, etc. (this amount will be deducted from the total you receive from your insurance claim).
3. Find temporary housing.
4. Secure your property – if only a part of your property was damaged then you need to mitigate damages.
5. Businesses that have business interruption coverage should prepare books and records.
6. Review your policy for coverage to determine how much and what type of coverage you have, what is covered, what is excluded and determine how your claim must be filed and any deadlines that might apply. Much of this information can be found on the declaration’s page of the policy which is usually located at the very beginning of the policy. If you can’t locate your policy, contact your broker or insurance company immediately to obtain a copy.
7. Photograph and/or video damage
8. Make a list of all the items you lost.
9. Get repair/replacement estimates.
10. Gather and keep all receipts for your temporary living expenses.
11. Continue paying your insurance premiums and mortgage
12. Smoke damage is a covered peril in most homeowners policies. Your insurance company will most likely pay for cleaning smoke and ash, but disputes often arise over cleaning versus replacing items that have been exposed to smoke.
13. If you or a resident of your home has health sensitivities such as allergies or asthma, alert your adjuster right away. Mold and soot inside your home, if not eliminated, can irritate people with respiratory problems. After a partial loss, you can (and should) seek payment from your insurer for mold, smoke, soot and odor mitigation.
Your adjuster may tell you that it is sufficient for you to wipe surfaces yourself, and that a deep cleaning is not necessary. The cleaning/drying process can be expensive when it’s done right, so insurance companies have developed ways to control their payouts for this work. You must stand firm and reject shortcuts and improper cleaning.
It is also very important to have the entire HVAC system of your home cleaned out. You can access some parts of the system and clean by hand, but a professional should do the rest.
14. Thoroughly inspect the following areas:
- Roof: Your roof should be inspected for damage from burning embers. If heat was extreme, the roof structure may be compromised. Wood under the roofing material may be water stained and moldy. A roofing expert can verify damage.
-Structural Steel, Iron: Steel and iron structures may transfer heat and destabilize a foundation or retaining wall.
-Stucco, Siding and Concrete: Stucco may spall and crack due to dehydration and baking. Siding may melt after exposure to heat and mold may be present underneath. Heat may also damage an anchored foundation or footing and may require testing as well as concrete core sampling. Structural engineers may do x-ray testing and other miscellaneous forensic work.
-Windows: Window frames may melt, blister or discolor due to heat. Glass can experience warping and discoloration and may lose some of its transparent clarity. Warped windows can lead to moisture problems and/or a mold problem.
-Plumbing and Heating Systems: Pipes, solder/connectors and ducts should be checked for damage.
-Interior Walls/Framing: A contractor conducting a thorough inspection of your home’s interior may need to open up walls to check for damage to the framing, or to uncover potentially dangerous mold. It’s better to uncover damage sooner rather than later. Be politely assertive in claim negotiations to make sure your home is restored to a “uniform and consistent” appearance as opposed to a “patchwork quilt” of unmatched new and old materials. Read more information below about “matching.”
15. Fires that damage but do not completely destroy a home create special insurance claim issues. These claims are often called “partial losses” because the home has only been partially destroyed. Things to watch out for with partial losses include:
• Hidden damage (water, smoke, ash, mold, air quality, ducts)
• Inadequate or improper cleaning and repair methods
• Delays: Particularly after disasters, partial losses can be low priority for overworked insurance adjusters
• Disputes over “matching” and line of sight: Repairs should return your property to a “uniform and consistent appearance” even if that means replacing undamaged items such as roof tiles or carpeting.
16. What your insurance company should do. Once you’ve notified your insurance company of your loss and provided the information needed to start the claim, your insurer will generally assign the case to a claims representative who will analyze your policy to determine what type of policy you have, your policy limits, what is covered, what is excluded, your deductibles and any other information that might be needed.
17. Payment process. Payment processes will differ depending on the type of loss you have. For a small loss, your insurer may simply write you a check. For a larger loss, your insurer may advance some of the costs needed to rebuild or repair your home throughout the process. It’s important to ask your claims adjuster how the payment process will occur in your situation, and more importantly, to get that in writing.
• A note of caution: Cash checks from your insurance company carefully. Make sure that you are not signing away any rights by cashing the check. If the check has a notation that it is ‘payment in full’ (when it isn’t) or that by cashing the check, the policyholder waives any rights, don’t cash it until you understand the consequences.
18. Time line. While the time line for every claim differs depending on the nature of the claim, most claims can generally be completed within a few months. In extreme cases, the process could take several months. It’s important to keep in close contact with your claims representative to make sure that your claim doesn’t fall through the cracks and that you’ll be able to get back into your home as soon as possible.
19. Replacement Cost Value (RCV) vs. Actual Cash Value (ACV) – the difference between the two comes down to one word called depreciation. RCV policies, typically give you replacement cash value. If you have an ACV policy, depreciation is deducted from age of building components ie. Roofs, siding, gutters, HVAC, etc. as they older they get they are deteriorating from age and thus lose value a.k.a. depreciate.and you get the actual cash value when the claim is settled.
20. Consider hiring a public adjuster – This is a licensed insurance claims adjuster who works exclusively to represent the policyholder’s interests, YOU…NOT the insurance company. Public Adjusters negotiate with the insurance company for you and are compensated on the gross recovery of the claim settlement. Some people fear doing this because of the extra cost—you typically pay a public adjuster ten percent of what the insurance company ultimately pays you. This can be worth it, though, if the adjuster succeeds in getting you significantly more than you would have otherwise received.
In any property loss situation, there are basic steps to follow to make the insurance recovery process go more smoothly. Document everything that was damaged or destroyed, file a timely claim, learn and assert your rights to full and fair payment, and get help if and when you need it.
We hope you find these tips are helpful and although they can’t restore your property damage overnight, they can help you feel like you are doing everything you can during this difficult time.
If you feel your insurance company is failing to do the right thing, delaying or underpaying your claim, or has denied your fire claim, consult with a Texas Licensed Public Insurance Adjuster or attorney.
If you have questions about how a knowledgeable Public Adjuster who exclusively represents the policyholder, NOT the insurance company in insurance claims can help you, please do not hesitate to contact Insurance Claim Recovery Support we are happy to speak with you. We will help review your insurance policy and assess your claim at no charge. Call Insurance Claim Recovery Support at 512-904-9900 for a free consultation today.