Many households share one common fear: house fires. Aside from the danger associated with them, house fires put your personal belongings at serious risk. People without homeowners insurance can pay thousands of dollars just to replace the items lost in a fire, not to mention the damages done to the structure of the home itself.
Fortunately, if you’ve obtained a homeowners insurance policy before the incident occurs, you’ll be in much better shape. Paying for repairs after a fire or other disaster strikes out of pocket can cost an arm and a leg. If you have an adequate amount of home insurance coverage and are keeping up with your premium payments, any damage that was caused by a fire in your home should be covered.
Following these steps will make the claims process as painless as possible. Though you’ll want your home repaired and items replaced as soon as possible, patience is required if you want to maintain a positive relationship with your insurance company.
Before You File a Claim:
When you were evacuating your home during a fire, you probably didn’t have time to grab much, if anything at all. You can ask for an advance payment from your homeowner's insurance company to cover some essentials, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and other hygiene products, and even clothes that you’d wear to work. Fortunately, your home insurer wants to be convenient so you won’t need to file a claim before you buy these items. Instead, ask your insurer for an advance in the form of a check or wire transfer. Make sure you save your receipts and don’t spend above your (and your insurer’s) means, as you’ll need to pay the difference. In other words, when you’re buying a replacement suit to wear to work, head to Macy’s, not to Gucci.
Mitigate the Damages
As a homeowner with an insurance policy, it’s your duty to make sure that no extra harm comes upon the home. Do what you can to keep this bad situation from getting any worse. After the fire is extinguished, assess the damages and take steps to protect your home and belongings from an incident resulting from this destruction. If there’s a hole in the exterior wall, for example, board it up to keep vandals or thieves out. If your roof experiences damage from a fire, lay a tarp over the exposed section to prevent rain from creating water damage. Stay on top of things to make sure no new issues arise as a result of the fire damage.
Filing the Claim:
Call Your Insurer
Make your claim as soon as possible. Calling your insurer directly is the most proactive, effective way to do this. The insurance agent will ask you about details regarding the accident and its aftermath so the insurance company can get an accurate report. After you speak with an agent, you’ll be asked to submit a proof of loss claim, which details the items lost from the fire, along with their values. This might sound obvious, but the sooner you file the claim, the higher priority your claim will be and the faster the damages will be fixed. Once the claim is initially made, your insurer will bring on a claims representative, who will take a look at your policy, what it entails, your deductibles and any other useful information. Your claims representative will send you a detailed letter documenting this information. This process should take less than 30 days.
After filing the claim, if you feel that your insurance company is taking their time in responding to your initial claim, don’t be afraid to call or write to them. If there’s no question about whether or not you’ll receive coverage from the damages to your home, your repairs should be started in a relatively timely manner. If you’re still feeling tossed aside, you might need to send a letter to your state’s Department of Insurance. This letter can even be a copy of the same email or letter you sent to your insurer. If your insurer is taking too long, the Department of Insurance will reach out to them. This should light a fire under your insurance company, figuratively speaking.
Come to a Settlement
If you disagree with your insurer’s analysis of your policy, you are entitled to respond to their initial statement. Just because your home insurer is the one covering the damages doesn’t mean you have no say. Try to come to an agreement on this claim. Once the settlement is reached, the claims representative will either make the payments immediately or decide to investigate further to make sure no fraud is occurring. If the representative wants to go with the latter step, your insurer will send an investigator to look at the damages on your home. If no fraud is detected, the cost estimates to repair or replace features of your home will be put in place by your insurance company.
Track Your Living Expenses
If you were forced to relocate from your home to either a friend’s house or a hotel, you might be making various out-of-pocket expenses that you otherwise wouldn’t have made. If your hotel room doesn’t have a kitchen, you might be getting takeout meals more frequently. If you normally pay $300 per week for groceries but spend $450 one week for primarily takeout meals, you should be reimbursed $150 that week from your insurance company. This comes from the loss of use clause, which entitles you to additional living expenses that you are making while living away from home during the claims and repair process. Under this clause, your insurer will most likely pay your motel or hotel bill. However, as with shopping for essentials on your insurer’s dollar, be reasonable with your spending and lodging choices.
Get a Repair Estimate
This is where the type of homeowners insurance you have comes into play. If you have an “actual cash value” policy, you will be reimbursed the amount of money these damages items are worth at the time of the fire. If you lose an outdated piece of technology, like an old TV or computer, you’ll receive the amount of cash the item is worth in the present, not what you bought it for. “Actual cash value” policies take objects’ depreciation into account. On the other hand, if you have a “replacement cost” policy, you will be reimbursed the amount of money it would take to replace the object. If you lose a laptop that you bought in 2011 with this sort of policy, you will receive the cost it takes to buy a brand new laptop, not the amount the exact laptop is worth in present day.
It’s Not Over Yet
When you filed the initial claim, you might have overlooked other damages. For that reason, leave the claim open with your insurer for a few months after the repairs have been completed. That way, if you come across an issue that emerged from the fire damage, you won’t need to pay a second deductible. Your insurance company will want to close the claim as soon as possible for this reason, but don’t hesitate to keep it open just in case.
This sounds like a long process. Unfortunately, it may take a few months to file a claim and receive repairs on your home following a fire; this seems like a long time, especially if you’ve been relocated from your home. However, your insurance company wants to make it as seamless and efficient as possible. If you work with your insurance company cooperatively yet assertively, you will make this process much easier on yourself and them.