Filing a homeowners insurance claim can be a daunting task. To get you through the process with minimal stress, we’ve provided the following step-by-step guide.
Before You Start
- Remember, no matter how well-intentioned, your insurance company is a for-profit business. Enter into your insurance claim process with good will, but be prepared to negotiate.
- Save all of your receipts for expenses incurred by evacuation. You may be able to receive a partial reimbursement for hotels, meals, etc.
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the claim, even if you don’t yet know the full extent of the damage. Whether you’ve lost your home or you simply need to clean up ash and make repairs, starting now will make the process go more smoothly.
- Go over your policy closely to get a good understanding about what is and isn’t covered. Most insurance policies provide reimbursement for carpeting, mold, paint, wall and insulation repairs, and rewiring and electric work.
- Once you can return home, document the damage with photos and videos. Don’t begin any repairs or remove any damaged items until you have completed this step. Don’t throw away any damaged items; typically, your adjuster will need to see them.
- Start a claim diary. Keep a notebook with contact information of the people you deal with at your insurance company and all of your claim numbers. Make an entry every time you have any contact with the company, noting the date, time and issues discussed.
- Big insurance companies often send representatives to handle large-scale disasters. There will probably be a catastrophe claim number for the North Bay Wildfires (although it may be more specific, like for the Tubbs Fire). Identify this claim number; using it in correspondence with your insurer may expedite your claim.
If Your Home is Repairable
- You may need to make immediate repairs to protect your property and return home.
- Once you’ve documented the damage, secure your home against further loss. For example, cover open areas with tarps to prevent water incursion. Insurance companies may not pay for damage done to your home after the initial event.
- Be sure to hire only licensed contractors and companies to do repair work. Unfortunately, many scam artists are ready and willing to take advantage of victims of a natural disaster.
- Do not sign any contracts before the adjuster has assessed your home.
- Make sure to keep receipts for any work you do; these costs should be reimbursed by your insurance company.
- Now is not the time to make big investments. Anything paid out by insurance will come out of your final settlement, so don’t overspend before you know the final cost of repairing your home.
If You’ve Lost Your Home
- Start considering whether you’ll want to rebuild or sell. In either case, you can begin to investigate costs and look for temporary/permanent housing.
- Ask your insurance company to clarify exactly what they’ll cover in terms of temporary housing costs.
- Again, keep all evacuation-related receipts. Insurance companies are much more likely to cover documented expenses.
Before the Adjuster Comes
Once you’ve filed a claim, the insurance company will send an adjuster to assess the damage to your home. Before the adjuster comes:
- Make a list of everything you want to show the adjuster, from broken windows and missing shingles to cracks in your foundation.
- Make sure your adjuster inspects your electrical system. If that isn’t a service they provide, get an independent inspection (your insurance company should pay for this).
- Consider hiring a public adjuster to assist you with your claim. Despite the name, public adjusters are actually private agents hired by insurance policy holders to make sure they get the full benefits of their policies.
Before You Agree to a Settlement
- If your home is repairable or you’ll be rebuilding, get at least three written bids from licensed contractors. The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis. This will help you decide if the settlement is fair and whether or not you’ll need to negotiate.
- If you think cleaning or repairing an item will be a waste of time, insist on a fair replacement value settlement for that item.
- Don’t feel pressured to agree to a settlement amount. If you feel like you haven’t been offered a fair amount, enter into negotiation.
The Repair/Rebuilding Process
- Always get a written estimate of the cost before beginning repairs.
- Do not begin large repairs until the adjuster has seen your written estimates.
- Before repairs begin, check the licenses and references of the workers you’re hiring.
- If the contractor comes across any damage that wasn’t discovered by the adjuster in the original evaluation, contact your insurance company. If you’re faced with unreasonable resistance, consult an insurance claim attorney.