What to do When Your Home is Damaged by a Natural Disaster

Having your home damaged by a natural disaster is devastating enough; you don’t need the stress from the insurance claims process to bog you down even further. Here are a few tips from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners on how to manage the homeowners insurance claims process in the most efficient manner possible.

Right after the disaster

natural-disaster-webYour first instinct is to go into recovery mode, and for most people, this entails beginning to clean up. However, you will want to hold off on that until you have a thorough and accurate account of the damage for your insurance provider when you make the claim. Document your losses in the same manner you did for your home inventory. Take photos or video from wide- and close-range and make a list of the damages. It may help to take out your home inventory at this point to compare conditions. If possible, save any damaged items for your insurance agent to review.

After you are done documenting the damage, you will need to arrange for temporary repairs to avoid further damage to your home or belongings. This includes covering a hole in your roof, for example. Don’t fret about this step too much, as it is just a short-term solution.

“Your insurance company will typically reimburse the cost of these repairs as part of your claim, assuming the loss was because of a covered cause of loss. Your company may also reimburse you if you need to find temporary lodging or store your possessions, so keep all of your receipts,” the NAIC website reads.

Beginning the claims process

Most insurance companies have a time requirement for filing a claim, so be sure to notify your agent as soon as possible. Usually after a major disaster, insurance companies send response teams to the impacted area to help you figure out what damages are covered and expedite the claims process. Sometimes, these representatives can even cut you a check toward the claim to start your recovery process sooner. If your insurance company doesn’t have a team in the area, the state insurance department can help you get in contact with your company.

Once you get a hold of a representative, you will need to have your policy information, current contact information, list of losses and home inventory handy when you are reporting your losses. Remember that if your car sustained damage while inside the garage or under a carport, it is covered by your auto insurance, not homeowners, so you will complete the same process for filing a claim with that company as well. Also be aware that certain coverage — for flooding or earthquakes, for example — are not covered under the homeowners policy, so make prior arrangements for this extra coverage if necessary in your area.

After the claim is filed

The next step in the process is for a claims adjuster to come to your home to assess the damage. Sent by the insurance company, this comes at no cost to you.

“Public adjusters offer the same services, but you would be responsible for any related fees,” the NAIC noted.

The insurance adjuster will walk through your home to see any damaged items and note the temporary repairs you made to make the home safe. The adjuster will likely also want to look at the outside of your home, your roof and your basement, if applicable.

Your claims settlement is determined after the adjuster’s completed assessment is reported back to the insurance company. Many claims payments come in stages. The first check will likely be an emergency advance, and then any further payments for the contents of your home and personal property will be made to you.

“However, if there is a mortgage on your home, the payment for structural damage may be payable to you and your mortgage lender,” added the NAIC. “Lenders may put that money into an escrow account and pay for repairs as the work is completed.”

home-repair-webChoosing your contractor

Unfortunately, there are people in the world who purposefully take advantage of victims of natural disasters. Scammers utilize the chaos and confusion to price gouge the innocent. Therefore, make sure to check all licensing and references before hiring someone to help you with the repairs to your home. Also, always insist on a written estimate before any work is done, and never sign any contracts until an adjuster has surveyed the damage. You might even want to show the adjuster the estimate before making anything official. Even then, do not pay a contractor the full amount upfront. This is true in any case, not just a natural disaster.

“A contractor should expect to be paid a portion when the contract is signed and the remainder once the work is completed,” the NAIC said.

The easiest way to handle a natural disaster is by being prepared. No one wants to “expect” a fire or a tornado to happen, but that is the whole reason you have homeowners insurance in the first place. Remember what you can expect, as mentioned above, and if you feel as though your claim is not being handled appropriately, let your state insurance department know immediately.


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