Key Steps you Can Take Before and After Disaster Strikes to Aid Property Damage claims

While no home or business owner may ever be completely prepared for property damage claims from fire damage, fire and water damage, flood damage, or having to file a roof wind damage claim, mold claim, sinkhole claim, vandalism or theft claims of a tropical storm, hurricane, fire, flood, theft, or vandalism, this checklist can be used before and after disaster.

Plan now to protect your assets and validate the insurance claim process you make with your insurance provider.

Check your insurance policy for limits, exclusions, and valuation of contents.  Realize that under-coverage is one of the most common mistakes homeowners make.  Even those homeowners who are especially careful with ensuring their homes are properly covered may fall short in terms of contents coverage.

  • Don’t make the mistake of trying to keep your premium cost down by understating the real value of your home and contents.
    • Do you have Actual Cash Value, or Replacement Cost Coverage?
    • ACV (Actual Cash Value) provides the cost to repair or replace an item of property at the time of the loss, less depreciation.  Depreciation is typically based upon the age and condition of the item.  Contents of your home are typically covered at ACV, which can provide a nasty surprise when replacing items.   Depreciation amounts are subjective—there is no uniform or legally binding schedule or set standard for how much insurers can depreciate the value of your personal property.
    • RCC (Replacement Cost Coverage) provides the cost to replace property with new or like kind and quality—at current prices.  RCC is usually an optional coverage that must be purchased, and the extra premium may prove well worth the investment in replacing contents.  Keep in mind that if the cost of replacing your dwelling is in fact more than the policy value, you are under-insured, and it is the homeowner’s responsibility to purchase the coverage they need.  Do realize you will not receive more than the value listed in the policy, even if at “Replacement Cost,” if you haven’t purchased enough insurance.

Keep Insurance Protection Current Against Your Needs

  • You may want to do an annual check-up with your insurance agent to ensure your coverage and limits are adequate to protect you.
    • A certified appraiser can provide a snapshot of the actual replacement value of your home.  And depending on any special purchases, such as jewelry, musical instruments, art, collectibles, etc. you may find you need an umbrella policy to cover them separately.

Take extensive photographs BEFORE the disaster, and keep them somewhere safe.

  • How extensive should the photos be?  Try this exercise.  Open one closet.  Begin calculating the actual cost if you were to replace every single item in that closet.
  • Most people realize that they far underestimate the replacement cost of their home contents; especially should they lose everything in a disaster.
  • Photographs are essential in proving the extent of your losses.  What’s more, a solid photographic record can document the overall value of your possessions:  were they by and large thrift item purchases, or expensive brand-label items?

Backup key information off-site

  • Certainly homeowners will want to make sure that if their photographic record is digital, that there exists a back-up somewhere safe.  But don’t forget about tax, banking, insurance, and ownership records as well.
    • Businesses add to this list customer database and other client-critical records and communications systems.  Backing them up frequently in a secure off-line location is critical.  Being able to retrieve sales history, client profiles, financial records, and more can make or break your public relations effort after a disaster.

Protect your property from being damaged further.

  • Filing an insurance claim does not mean your responsibility for protecting your property ends.  You may need to remove damaged items, wet drywall and carpeting, covering broken windows with boards or damaged roof areas with tarp, etc.
    • You might even consider putting up temporary fencing to keep others from getting hurt on your property—they might file a lawsuit against you for negligence.

Document all damage done

  • Before you begin any kind of cleanup activities, make sure to document damage.  Photograph the “before and after” debris pile.
    • Don’t estimate any costs to repair damage, instead get replacement cost estimates from contractors and/or repair companies.

Hire your own expert to evaluate your situation

  • The insurance adjuster sent by your carrier to evaluate the damages is working exclusively for the insurance company, not for you.  What a lot of homeowners don’t realize, however, is that even if they hire their own insurance adjuster, that adjuster has no more clout with the insurance company the homeowner themselves.  To make sure you have someone on your side who knows insurance inside and out, you may wish to hire attorney for an insurance claim immediately.
    • Many attorneys work hand-in-hand with public adjusters, and some, like Bernheim Dolinsky Kelley, have a team of adjusters on call and ready to work.

Keep a log of all activities and expenses

  • Expenses will have to be submitted to your carrier, and the more detailed your record of expenses is, the better case you’ll be able to build for reimbursing you.
    • Keep records of not just property replacement and repairs, but also time lost, miles driven, cash out of pocket, etc.

Beware of potential vendors pressuring you to sign contracts

  • Until you have an agreed upon repair/replacement figure from your insurance company, you should avoid hiring a contractor or signing documents with any business agreeing to repair or replace damage items.
    • Knowing what the insurance company is offering gives you a scope of the amount you’ll have to spend on reconstruction—or whether it’s time to hire an attorney to represent your interests in achieving a fair settlement amount.