Most people buy home insurance with the intent of never filing a claim. When a claim occurs, not knowing what to do increases an already stressful situation. Let me share the knowledge I’ve gained from 46 years of handling claims.
First rule: Make sure everyone who lives in your home is safe. That can range from getting people out of a damaged structure to making sure they have food, water clothing and a new place to stay while the dwelling is being repaired.
Do not hesitate to call 911. These are trained people who not only can dispatch aid, but can help you to deal with a difficult situation.
If everyone is safe and the proper authorities have been notified, your next step should be to protect the property. This could be as simple as turning off a main water line or calling a restoration company to secure the property.
Restoration companies specialize in handling insured claims and not only can secure property, but provide services like cleaning, contents removal and structural repair.
Do nothing that would put you in danger. Remember that all insurance companies recommend any attempt by you to prevent further damage.
Now is the time to report your claim. One of the first questions your insurance agent will ask is whether anyone has been injured. If that is the case, who are they and are they receiving medical care?
An agent then will want to know whether the dwelling is uninhabitable. If it is not habitable, your home policy should provide additional living expenses. This coverage provides for any additional cost you may incur if you cannot live in your home.
When a home is uninhabitable, insurance companies understand the need to react quickly and take steps to find a temporary location for you to live and advance money for clothes and necessities.
Years ago, it was often difficult when a land line was the only way to maintain open communications with a family who had lost their house. Today, with cell phones, email and text messaging, contact has never been more convenient.
When reporting your claim, make sure you provide all contact numbers that you have. It also would be prudent to contact your insurance agent to make sure he or she has current contact points before the claim occurs.
If you can live in your home, finding a contractor to repair the damage would be your next step. Insurance companies may recommend restoration companies to you, but the final decision on who will repair your home is yours.
This does not mean the insurance company will have to accept your contractor’s pricing. A reputable contractor will work with your insurance company in determining what needs to be repaired and what is covered under your policy. Insurance companies monitor construction costs in your area and know the going price of materials and labor.
Remember: you have a deductible, so you will have to pay part of the claim. You may not want to submit a small claim because of the effect it may have on your policy. Your insurance agent should be able to discuss the pros and cons of submitting a claim.
Taking photos of all damage and providing them to your insurance company makes claims handling easier. I also recommend that, before filing a claim, you take photos of all rooms in your home and store them in a safe location. Proof of loss – whether it is photos, receipts or inspection of the property – is a common practice by all insurance companies.
While you may want your life to return to normal as quickly a possible, delays may occur. When you have a concern, call your insurance agent, the individual who is best able to explain your coverage and help move the process along.
Bob Hollick is a State Farm Insurance agent based in Washington. His column appears every other Friday in the Observer-Reporter.