After a house fire, the first hours and days are critical. By hiring the right professionals immediately and understanding your coverage, you can get back to your home ASAP. While you personally have probably never experienced such a loss, expect that the insurance professionals have and will honor the policies you have paid on for years. Prepare your documentation, organize your information and work with your insurance company for the quickest, smoothest and best settlement. Here are some tips and terms to help you navigate unfamiliar waters.
Be Safe and Start the Clean-Up Process
Contact professional fire and smoke damage restoration experts in your area. Ask your local insurance agent for recommendations. Again, they have been through this before and your time and energy will be better used elsewhere.
First Things First: Getting an Advance
If you were forced to evacuate your home, you might not have grabbed basic such as work clothes or the kids’ backpacks. Your homeowners’ policy will cover the cost to replace these items, so you don’t have to file a claim and wait to have it approved before heading to a department store. Instead, ask your company for an advance against your eventual claim. Consider an electronic transfer or having a representative of the company bring a check to you wherever you’re staying– even a hotel or a friend’s house. Be reasonable and SAVE RECEIPTS.
However, don’t go crazy at the mall! Check your policy — even if you have “replacement” coverage for the house itself, you may have only “actual cash value” for the personal items that were in your home. Your agent (or anyone at the 1-800 phone line) will be able to determine your coverage.
Next, Secure Your (Their) Property
Every policy requires you to take reasonable steps to minimize the harm to your property (since the insurance company is the one at risk.) In legalese, this is known as your duty to “mitigate damages.” Common-sense steps such as boarding up the property to prevent vandalism will be covered when you make your claim. Communicate with your claims adjustor for their expectations (and document all costs.)
Now Notify Them Right Away
Get the ball rolling! All policies require homeowners to report their loss as soon as is reasonably possible. Call the agent, write an email, or use the phone app. Consider this just step one- don’t wait for the final costs to come in before you notify them. Later, you’ll be asked to submit a “proof of loss claim,” in which you itemize your losses and list the value. If you delay notifying your company, you may find yourself far down on the list when it comes time for the company to send an adjuster. Keep copies of everything and…
Get a Three-Ring Binder
When you deal with an insurance company over a major claim, you need to be organized. Contact names and titles, emails, and letters can be crucial pieces of evidence if you and the company later disagree. Take notes during every phone call, and organize your communication in one section of the binder. Use other sections to store estimates, invoices, bills, permits, and contracts for repairs. Never part with an original document; make a copy. If you aren’t in an office environment, take a photo with your phone and download it later.
How Will We Get By While Displaced?
Your policy will include a “loss of use” clause, which entitles you to reimbursement for living expenses while you’re out of your home. However, you’re entitled only to additional living expenses — that is, the difference between what it costs you to live on a daily basis at home and what it costs now.
Considering Living With Friends or Family?
Many evacuees stay with friends or family, often on an extended basis. Even though you probably aren’t paying rent to your hosts, your insurance company might reimburse them. Ask your hosts to itemize the value of the room; use Airbnb or Craigslist to help you estimate. Be reasonable and specific, and be prepared to negotiate with your insurance company over this one. Document the alternative costs of hotels and restaurants.
Add Pressure to Be Sure Insurance Company Acts Promptly
Fortunately, insurance companies are required to handle claims in a timely manner. If there’s no dispute over your coverage, you’re entitled to payment within a state mandated time frame. If you haven’t heard from your company and you feel that it’s unnecessarily dragging its heels, write to it (and consider sending a copy to your state’s Department of Insurance).
Finally, It’s Not Over Until You Say So
Your insurance company will want to close your claim as soon as possible; the longer it’s open, the greater the chance that you’ll file a claim for additional losses. Consider waiting at least a month before allowing your claim to be closed to capture last minute things.
Don’t be surprised if you receive a check from the insurance company saying that you’re accepting the payment “in full release of” your claim. Don’t believe it, and don’t let it stand. Cross-out that language (and initial it), then send a letter to the company, politely thanking them for the check and telling them that you do not consider the matter to be closed.
Smoke Damage Cleanup in Calvert County
Fire damage restoration professionals understand how devastating a fire can be for a family and can integrate well with insurance companies. Contact a restoration professional at regionalpropertygroup as soon as possible after a fire. At Regional Property Group, an expert team will save any property they can while making sure that smoke odors do not linger long after the fire, and insurance claims, have been dealt with.
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