Guide to Dealing with a Homeowners Insurance Claim
Yes, that is my house above. I had the unfortunate luck of dealing with a Homeowners insurance claim a few months ago. We had a tree fall onto our house during a bad storm. Not a hurricane, just a bad storm.
It wasn’t fun but I learned a LOT about what you need to do and how to get paid and cover your butt. With Hurricanes hitting the East coast all the time I thought I would document what I learned to help those that might be affected.
So here it is… my Guide to Dealing with a Homeowners Insurance Claim!
NOTE – I am NOT an insurance agent or a lawyer or anyone who is an expert. Just a person who has lived through this and I am sharing what I learned.
BEFORE THE CLAIM:
Store your insurance policy and agent information off site. Keep a copy in Dropbox or send one to a family member. You can even take a picture of the dec page on your phone. If your house is completely destroyed you NEED that information.
It is really important you have proof of what you own. Just saying I have a $10k diamond ring doesn’t prove it. BEFORE you have a claim, take stock. Document the expensive stuff and take pictures. Video is good too. Just a simple scroll through the house will show what you have and help you prove it.
The more documentation, the better especially if your home is completely destroyed. Remember to shoot in the closets too, open drawers and all other cubbies. Sometimes the expensive items are hidden.
I have made it a habit of walking through the house and doing a video before every hurricane hits. That way I have an updated inventory. Old video may not include a new purchase!
Also check out Hurricane Preparedness Tips & Tricks!
BASICS OF A CLAIM:
As I understand it, most claims work in the following order…|
1. File the claim – contact your agent or company
2. An adjuster will be assigned and he will come out to assess the damage
3. The adjuster does a report and files it with the company
4. The insurance company reviews the report
5. Larger claims will require approval
6. Insurance company cuts check for claim – minus deductible
7. Mails check to insured
Our timeline was over a month for us to get a check – five weeks to be exact. A friends claim took 7 months due to issues. Normally claims are usually paid quicker during a hurricane because they bring in more adjusters. This really depends on the size of the claim and how many claims the company is dealing with at that time. Being persistent and thorough goes a long way to ensure you get your claim resolved fast.
BIG ISSUE TO WATCH FOR!!!
The insurance company may put the mortgage holder as a payee on any large check. It will show…
Owner 1 AND
Owner 2 AND
Because the checks are issued with “AND”, you will have to get the mortgage company to endorse and approve the check BEFORE you can deposit it. Trust me when I say, they WILL kick the check back if you don’t!
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE A CLAIM:
Hopefully you never have a homeowners claim. They aren’t fun. If you do here are some tips to help guide you in the right direction.
SECURE THE HOUSE AND YOUR FAMILY:
Of course make sure everyone is safe first. Try to secure the house as well. Cover any openings with tarps and do as much as possible to protect against future damage.
From what I understand most insurance companies are fine with removing debris to protect your house and your family before the adjuster arrives. Of course this will vary by company and if at ALL possible I would get approval first. Your local agent should be able to guide you here. If possible leave it though so the adjuster can see it.
We had a tree ON our house – actually right above our bed and a few feet from where my son sleeps. We weren’t going to leave it there. We had it removed the next day. Of course we got verbal approval from the insurance company first.
The tree company we used had a emergency service that was fantastic. They even billed us for the tree so we could wait for the insurance company to pay out. You might want to search for companies that offer that service. Most companies are aware that insurance claims can take a while to pay out.
FILE THE CLAIM:
Most insurance companies have website where you can create a claim. If not, they may have a 24 hour number. Ours didn’t have the number but did have the website. Our claim was a Midnight on Sat night – I filed at 6am on Sunday morning. Couldn’t talk to a human until 9am on Monday. Most likely you will need to upload pictures of the damage so have a few ready to upload if you make an online claim. I would also contact your local agent. If you have one of the big ones (Nationwide, State Farm, etc) they will likely take care of most of this for you. Get ready to be patient, in most cases these processes move SLOW!
Write down everything, when it happened, who you talked too and all the details you can remember. Get a notebook and just keep it handy. IF you end up going to court, you will need this. Also take photos of EVERYTHING that is damaged. Get many angles and inside too.
GET READY FOR THE ADJUSTER:
The adjuster will be assigned and will contact you by phone (normally). He will set up a time to come out and review the damage. This was a lot more involved than I thought it would be. Our guy was thorough – during a hurricane claim they may not be as in-depth but here is what he did…
- Photos of outside the house
- Measurements of house – roof – entire damaged area inside and out
- Photos of INSIDE the house
- Photos in inside cabinets
- Recorded statement of events and questions
Yes, he took photos of inside our cabinets to prove there was no water damage. Also there was a very long list of questions. I wasn’t to thrilled to answer some because they were financial questions that really didn’t seem to apply. I was told I could refuse to answer those so I did. We still got paid.
Overall this process took about 2 hours. I have a feeling in a hurricane situation, the amount of time spent will be much less.
WAIT FOR THE CHECK:
Once the adjuster has done the report it will be submitted to the company for approval. The internal person could approve the claim or they could have to get it approved by someone higher. In the case of a hurricane – the adjuster may be the one delivering the check. This process seems to vary by company.
This is a good time to start getting quotes from contractors. Ask for references from friends and family. MAKE SURE THEY ARE LICENSED AND INSURED. Get several quotes if possible. Most companies don’t require quotes before they will pay the claim but it is smart to have a really good idea what it is actually going to cost to fix the damage.
The check will be the amount the company is going to pay for the damages – minus the deductible. Hopefully it will be enough to cover the damage. If not, you may need to submit the quotes you got to get more.
As I said above – watch who the check is made out to. If there is an AND you will need both (or all) parties to endorse/sign the check. Now start fixing your house and getting back to normal!
Hopefully this Ultimate Guide to Dealing with a Homeowners Insurance Claim helps make the process a little easier.
If you have any more tips or a story to share we would love to hear it. Leave it in the comments!