How To Navigate The Home Insurance Claims Process
What to Do:
If the damage to your Morristown, NJ home or property is extensive, contact your insurance company immediately to file the claim. It is also a good idea to take the following steps:
- Take pictures of the damage as soon as possible: You will need to document the damage that your home or property suffered quickly and accurately. Take plenty of pictures, and even walk through your home with a camcorder to paint an complete picture.
- Take all the costs into account: When you value the claim, include cost of materials, labor, and the value of items that you lost. Add in any money that you have to spend on alternate living arrangements, income you lost from missing work, money you spent on a rental car, and any other additional expenses.
- Prevent further damage, but notify the insurance company first: If you are able to prevent further damage with temporary repairs by you or a contractor, then you should talk to the insurance company about what you should do. Do not take any action without advice from your insurance company!
- Be Thorough: The home insurance claim process reviews the extent and cause of the damage to your home or property. Make sure you are thorough when you describe the damage and the cause, but only stick to facts! You do not need to add your opinion! Additionally, be thorough by paying attention to deadlines, filling out all the necessary forms, and being in touch with the insurance company. Do not let a simple oversight jeopardize your home insurance claim!
- Try to be present for any inspections of the damage: Whether the insurance adjuster visits your home or sends an independent inspector, it may be in your best interest to be there as well. You can answer any questions, and prevent an outside party from jumping to conclusions. If you are unable to be present, request a copy of any report as soon as possible.
- Don’t get forced into a settlement! Do not be talked into a home insurance claim settlement or agreement just because you are sick of the process. Be patient, be firm, and get the home insurance check you deserve.
- Know your rights under the home insurance policy! Read through your policy, and make sure your company does what it is supposed to do. Whether you are owed alternate living arrangements, or the company is responsible for any damage inspection, be aware of what rights you have and exercise them.
- Make sure your claim is filed properly: Get a claim number, a contact name and a phone number for your insurance claims adjuster.
- Document EVERYTHING! As you go through the process of filing a home insurance claim, you will be in frequent communication with the company. It is important that you keep every document that you exchange with the company, and take detailed notes of any conversation that you have. You need to be diligent in recording and documenting the process.
- Stay on top of the insurance company: Your insurance claims adjuster can have multiple cases and may not be as responsive as you need them to be. While this is not a sign that the company is intentionally delaying your claim, it is something that you should prevent. Make sure you stay in regular contact with the company through the home insurance claim process.
- Work with the company, but don’t get pushed around: If you feel like you are owed for losses that you can prove occurred, do not accept short payment from the company. You can always dispute an insurance settlement if you can prove you are owed more damages.
As you navigate the home insurance claim process, you need to keep in mind that it is a business transaction and treat it as such. No matter how well you know your agent or how long you have been with the company, the dollar signs on the bottom line are the most important thing to recovering from damage to your home. Be prepared, be professional, and be assertive when you need to be.
The home insurance claims adjuster will review the damage and your policy to determine what is covered, and how much the company will pay. You will need to work with this person by getting them all the appropriate documents or evidence they require. You will be asked questions about how the damage happened, and what condition the home was in prior to the incident.
FAQ’s about Property Damage Insurance Claims:
Q: What should my first steps be?
If your home has been damaged or destroyed, you are likely to feel overwhelmed by the loss and by the repair, replace and recovery process that lies ahead. If your property was insured, that insurance policy is the best vehicle to get you back home. If this is your first experience with a large insurance claim, recognize that it’s basically a business negotiation.
When it comes to insurance lingo, laws and construction estimating…you’re not on a level playing field with the experienced insurance company. But although you may be unfamiliar with your policy and the process in general, there are laws and rules that give you rights. Use them to negotiate and recover the full benefits you’re entitled to under the policy you paid for.
Do your best to read your policy over and over until you have a basic understanding of what’s in it. If you don’t have a complete and current copy, ask for one (in writing) and make sure you and the company adjuster are working off the same document. There’s math involved in figuring out how much you’re entitled to for dwelling replacement , debris removal, trees and building code compliance. If you rely only on the company adjuster to calculate your losses, you may leave money on the table. UP offers many publications to help you read and understand your policy but if you can’t do it on your own, (and many can’t), consider filing a Request for Assistance with the State Department of insurance and/or hiring an experienced and reputable policyholder lawyer or public adjuster to help you.
Q: How long will it take for my insurance claim to be settled?
Most people find it takes at least 18-24 months to repair/rebuild/replace their home and possessions after a large loss.
Q: Is there anything I need to do before my lot gets cleared?
Photograph recognizable items before they are taken away, particularly items your insurer removes for cleaning/salvage. Your insurer may bring in a company to clean and store items. Their fees usually get deducted from your insurance benefits for contents. Disagreements often arise over whether damaged items are salvageable and can be cleaned or whether it makes more sense to replace them. Examine the items your insurer or cleaning company deem salvageable. If you feel they really can’t be cleaned, or that cleaning and storage costs will exceed the cost to replace them, work it out with the adjuster.
Q: How can I get a fair claim settlement?
If you’re like most people, your home is your biggest asset. Insurance companies often read their policies with a bias that is too much in their own favor. Don’t accept an insurance company’s calculation of what they owe on your claim without getting other opinions.
Q: My adjuster seems friendly. Can I trust him/her?
Trust but verify. Insurance companies are profit-making businesses, and their employees are not social workers. Your adjuster may be friendly, but he or she is not your friend. Remember: settling a large insurance claim is a business negotiation. The more you understand the process, the better you’ll do. Insurance companies naturally try to limit their payouts. There is a lot of confusing wording and legalese in insurance contracts that helps them do that, but there are laws to protect you and keep the claim process fair.
Q: What are the most common post-disaster insurance problems?
- Not having enough coverage (“underinsured”)
- Confusion over what’s covered and what’s not
- “Lowball” estimates and settlement offers
- The adjuster assigned to the claim is unpleasant or hard to work with
- Differences of opinion over scopes and values of losses
Q: Does everyone have problems with their insurance company?
NO. Many claims go relatively smoothly and we hope your does. But every large loss insurance claim is time-consuming.
Q: My home is only partially damaged, but it will look weird if half the vinyl siding is old and half is new. The insurance company is telling me they don’t owe for matching. Is that true?
Generally speaking, the insurer owes to restore your property to its pre-loss condition subject to the dollar limits of your coverage. The appearance of your home after repairs have been made should be “uniform and consistent.” If you didn’t have two different colors of siding on your house before the loss, you don’t have to have them after the loss. Insurance should to put you back where you were before the loss.