A fire destroys your home and personal belongings. You don’t want your homeowners’ insurance company to deny your claim. Here are some important tips for working with your homeowners’ insurance carrier.
1) REQUEST AN ADVANCE ON YOUR FIRE INSURANCE CLAIM
Due to difficult situations, you might have left behind toiletries and clothing if you had to go. Some of these items may have been destroyed in the fire. Fear not. Call your insurance company and request a check be delivered to your lodging. So you can buy necessities without waiting for your final insurance coverage.
Take care of yourself, but not too much. Buying frivolous items will not be reimbursed by the insurance company. For example, if you need slacks and a dress shirt for work, don’t go to the priciest store in town.
Remember that this advance will be subtracted from your overall insurance payout, so don’t go excessive.
- KEEP A LIST OF EVERYTHING YOU’VE LOST
You’ll need to prepare a list of everything you’ve lost in the fire, which will require everyone’s time and consideration. Make this list as quickly as possible, so you remember to mention everything lost when you file your fire insurance claim.
Don’t toss anything away. Keep the things on your list until the insurance adjuster sees the damage. If you discard them, your insurer may refuse to compensate you.
- FILE A CLAIM IMMEDIATELY AND PRESSURE THE INSURER TO RESPOND.
Fire insurance claims must be filed as quickly as possible, so call your homeowners’ insurance agent immediately. The insurance company requires a “proof of loss claim” is required by the insurance company, ” which lists all of the things lost and their worth. Your early intervention is critical if the fire affects many other homeowners. A delay in filing a claim could mean waiting for the adjuster to reach you. Include the following details in your claim:
Contents damage description
A cop report
Dealing with insurance companies requires numerous phone calls, emails, letters, and documentation. Keep track of all documents and correspondence, including post office receipts. Note the date and time of every phone call and an in-person meeting with your insurance company. The binder or file organizer will help you organize different sorts of correspondence, invoices, and insurance papers into separate sections.
Always keep originals of everything. If your insurance company needs a document copy, save the original. The more prepared you are, the better prepared you’ll be if your insurer starts playing, “he said, she said.”
Since you’re following the policy’s requirements, your insurance company should respond immediately to your fire insurance claim. Most jurisdictions mandate insurance firms to respond to claims within a certain time frame.
If there are no concerns with your fire insurance claim, they must pay you within 30 days. If your insurer is slow to respond, write them and tell them you’ll send a copy to the state’s insurance department. The corporation will not want to make a mistake or delay if they know they are being watched.
- PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY FROM DAMAGE
Most insurance providers will expect you to maintain your property, so protect your stuff from additional damage. Of course, this is unneeded if the item is lost. If only a portion of your home is affected, take proactive steps to prevent further damage. Insurance firms call this “damage mitigation,” which simply means reducing harm. Damages can be reduced by:
Protecting the walls and roof from the elements
Construction of a fence to deter looters
All embers smolder
Moving potentially damaged property (for example, moving the unharmed television out from underneath the hole in the ceiling)
- TRACK YOUR LIVING COSTS
Your insurance policy includes a “loss of use” clause that reimburses you for living expenses while you’re away from your damaged house. However, you are only entitled to the difference between what you paid while displaced and what you paid during home. For example, if your monthly living expenditures are $3,000, but you have to add $1,000 for hotel stays, restaurant meals, laundry, and extra petrol for your car, your insurance company will only reimburse you the $1,000.
Some people choose to stay with family or friends in a motel in many cases. Your insurance company may pay your hosts for extra expenses, so ask your host to categorize them. Note that your insurance provider may wish to negotiate this fee with you. Remind the employer that staying with family saves them money on hotel and meal bills.
6) MAINTAIN RECEIPTS AND PAPERWORK FOR ALL REPAIRS.
You can restore or even rebuild your home after a fire. Actual cash value policies reimburse you for the cost of restoring your home and goods to their pre-fire fair market value.
Replacement policies pay the cost of rebuilding the home and its contents, regardless of the worth of the items lost. Replacement coverage does not require you to rebuild on the same lot. You can rebuild anywhere. So, if it’s the same value as your old lot, it’s covered. Of course, if you move to a more costly area, you’ll have to pay the difference. To invest the money in something unrelated, like a business or education fund, the “replacement” policy becomes an “actual cash value” policy, paying out around 15% less.
The insurance carrier will require a fair market value or replacement cost estimate of damaged property. Insurance companies will send their adjusters, so keep in mind that they work for the insurance company, not you. You don’t have to take their numbers, and you can employ your independent estimator or contractor.
You pay the estimator or contractor, so they will look out for your interests. A buyer would have paid for your house and possessions right before the fire; therefore, don’t accept any amount from the insurance company.
Choose a contractor with care. Choose someone who is not just competent at building but also knows how insurance companies work. Before you begin any work, make sure you and the insurance company agree on the scope of work.
7) PAY YOUR INSURANCE PREMIUMS.
Many people make the mistake of stopping paying their insurance payments after a fire. Mistake number one. Your homeowners’ insurance covers your pets as well as your home. Devastated by the domestic chaos, Spot may chew up your pricey sofa. But if you quit paying your premiums, Spot’s puppy aggression will not be covered.
Remember to tell your insurance agent where you’ll be staying so they can add it to your liability policy. In the event of a total loss, you can also ask that the portion of the policy that covers the structure of your home be reduced. Adjust after your new home is built.
8) NOT UNTIL YOU SAY SO
Insurance companies close fire claims quickly, especially in big disasters. The longer your claim is open, the more likely you will uncover something new. Your initial insurance claim may be incomplete due to the stress and confusion of the situation. Wait a few months before agreeing to close your claim. This is your power.
Insurers will try to close a claim by noting your check. “Acceptance of this money closes your claim,” for example. You need not accept. Then send them a note thanking them for the payment but insisting that the claim is not closed.
9) DO NOT FEAR LOSING INSURANCE COVERAGE
Many people fear that submitting fire insurance claims may cause their homeowners’ insurance company to do the same. No. Your rate won’t go up, and you won’t lose coverage if you only file legitimate claims after real disasters, aren’t a “habitual claimant,” and don’t commit fraud.
GET LEGAL HELP
If you need to report a fire to your insurance company, do so immediately. You may have to file various paperwork and answer questions from claims adjusters and investigators. If you feel you are not being adequately reimbursed, you should contact a local insurance attorney. You can hire an insurance attorney right from the get-go to help you make the insurance claim.
Insurance Claim Tips For Partial Loss Fires
Q: A fire damaged my home. What do I need to know?
A: Fires that damage but do not completely destroy a home create special insurance claim issues. These claims are often called “partial losses” because the home has only been partially destroyed. Things to watch out for with partial losses include:
Hidden damage (water, smoke, ash, mold, air quality, ducts)
Inadequate or improper cleaning and repair methods
Delays: Particularly after disasters, partial losses can be low priority for overworked insurance adjusters
Disputes over “matching” and line of sight: Repairs should return your property to a “uniform and consistent appearance” even if that means replacing undamaged items such as roof tiles or carpeting.
In any property loss situation, there are basic steps to follow to make the insurance recovery process go more smoothly. Document everything that was damaged or destroyed, file a timely claim, learn the lingo, assert your rights to full and fair payment, and get help if and when you need it. Visit UP’s Claim Tips Library for more detailed information.
Q: My neighbor’s home burned down but mine seems undamaged– what should I do?
A: Even if there is no obvious damage to your home, it may have been impacted by extreme heat, smoke or fire retardant, so you still need to have it thoroughly inspected by an experienced and qualified professional.
Q: Who should inspect the damage?
A: Licensed, experienced professionals. Contractors and Structural Engineers are qualified to evaluate damage (and the structural integrity of your roof/ remaining beams, etc.) and estimate the cost of repairs. A Certified Industrial Hygenist is qualified to test the air quality. It is rarely sufficient to have a serious loss inspected/evaluated only by the adjuster assigned by your insurer. It is almost always necessary to have qualified professionals in addition to the adjuster’s inspection. If your insurer refuses to conduct or pay for proper inspections, ask again in writing, politely remind them of their legal duty to thoroughly investigate all damage, including hidden damage. If a dispute arises, it’s worth finding and paying for your own inspection by an independent reputable specialist.
Q: What does a “thorough inspection” include?
A: A thorough inspection will cover the following areas:
Roof: Your roof should be inspected for damage from burning embers. If heat was extreme, the roof structure may be compromised. Wood under the roofing material may be water stained and moldy. A roofing expert can verify damage.
Structural Steel, Iron: Steel and iron structures may transfer heat and destabilize a foundation or retaining wall.
Stucco, Siding and Concrete: Stucco may spall and crack due to dehydration and baking. Siding may melt after exposure to heat and mold may be present underneath. Heat may also damage an anchored foundation or footing and may require testing as well as concrete core sampling. Structural engineers may do x-ray testing and other miscellaneous forensic work.
Windows: Window frames may melt, blister or discolor due to heat. Glass can experience warping and discoloration and may lose some of its transparent clarity. Warped windows can lead to moisture problems and/or a mold problem.
Plumbing and Heating Systems: Pipes, solder/connectors and ducts should be checked for damage.
Interior Walls/Framing: A contractor conducting a thorough inspection of your home’s interior may need to open up walls to check for damage to the framing, or to uncover potentially dangerous mold. It’s better to uncover damage sooner rather than later. Be politely assertive in claim negotiations to make sure your home is restored to a “uniform and consistent” appearance as opposed to a “patchwork quilt” of unmatched new and old materials. Read more information below about “matching.”
Q: My insurer does not want to pay to match the new siding to the old siding on my home’s exterior walls. What can I do?
A: Keep in mind that in most states and under most policies, you are entitled to be paid for the cost of restoring your home back to a “uniform and consistent” appearance, both on the exterior and interior. If you have only a partial loss and your insurer won’t pay to match paint colors, roof tile materials, carpeting, or any other visible materials, check to make sure there is a clear and unambiguous exclusion in your policy (and verify whether that exclusion is legal) before you accept it. Get help from your state insurance department or a qualified claim or legal professional before you take no for an answer.
Q: A family member has asthma. How do I make sure that my house is thoroughly cleaned, so her condition won’t be aggravated?
A: If you or a resident of your home has health sensitivities such as allergies or asthma, alert your adjuster right away. Mold and soot inside your home, if not eliminated, can irritate people with respiratory problems. After a partial loss, you can (and should) seek payment from your insurer for mold, smoke, soot and odor mitigation.
Your adjuster may tell you that it is sufficient for you to wipe surfaces yourself, and that a deep cleaning is not necessary. The cleaning/drying process can be expensive when it’s done right, so insurance companies have developed ways to control their payouts for this work. You must stand firm and reject shortcuts and improper cleaning.
It is also very important to have the entire HVAC system of your home cleaned out. You can access some parts of the system and clean by hand, but a professional should do the rest. Read more about mold, smoke and ash “remediation” (removal) below.
Q: Will my insurance policy pay for cleaning up mold?
A: Maybe. In recent years, insurance companies have added mold damage exclusions to most property policies. Exclusions in your policy may or may not apply, depending on the damage and the exact wording in your specific insurance contract.
NOTE: Even if your policy has a mold exclusion, it probably covers cleanup, fans and other drying methods. If your insurer refuses to pay for cleaning and drying which in turn causes mold to develop, the entire damage may be covered, despite the mold exclusion.
Keep in mind that fire suppression efforts may have caused mold to develop inside your home’s walls, and/or leave the structure of your home exposed to weather. Wet drywall is notorious for developing mold. Drywall, as well as the underlying wood, on both the interior and exterior of the house, needs to be inspected, dried and properly repaired. If your home was subjected to water damage during or after fire suppression, read UP’s mold claim tips ASAP.
Q: Will my insurance policy pay for cleaning smoke and ash?
A: Smoke damage is a covered peril in most homeowners policies. It will (temporarily or permanently) damage porous materials such as fabrics, rugs, curtains and unfinished wood. Some items can be cleaned, others need to be replaced. Marble and tile may experience discoloration. Your insurance company will most likely pay for cleaning smoke and ash, but disputes often arise over cleaning versus replacing items that have been exposed to smoke. For example, suppose your insurance adjuster insists that cleaning your drapes is sufficient. The scenario below presents two possible outcomes:
Scenario A: You take the drapes to a reputable cleaner who insists there’s no point in cleaning them, or you get them professionally cleaned but they still have an odor. In this case, replace the drapes and get reimbursed by your insurer.
Scenario B: A reputable cleaner does a good job and the drapes clean up just fine. In this case, repairing or cleaning can be acceptable and appropriate.
Q: My yard is a mess. Will my insurance pay for damaged plants and trees?
A: Extreme heat and smoke will kill most plants and may contaminate soil, making replanting difficult. Damaged plants may not die right away. Keep your claim open for at least six months and file supplemental claims if necessary. Coverage for the cost of landscaping replacement is typically a set amount or a percentage of your dwelling coverage amount. Make sure you do your own math to calculate the maximum amount you can recover. Landscaping losses often exceed coverage limits – mature trees can be valued as high as $5,000 yet many policies contain a $500 per tree limit.
If you live on a hillside, loss of foliage from a fire can lead to landslides and/or mudslides in rainy conditions. It is important to quickly replant your property with native trees and grasses to stabilize the landscape. Sandbags can provide temporary landscape protection until your new plants have a chance to mature.
Q: I don’t have enough insurance to cover all the damage, what can I do?
A: Remember that unreimbursed losses can offset your tax obligations when you claim them as a casualty loss deduction. Read about your options in the “Underinsurance Help” section of our Claim Tips Library.