How to Deal with Your Insurance Company after a Disaster Claim
Dealing with a disaster in your home is overwhelming. When your home is damaged due to water, fire, mold or trauma, you may be stuck wondering how you should proceed, with a million questions running through your head, including:
- Who can help me fix this damage?
- Should I call my insurance company?
- Does my insurance cover this disaster?
- Do I need to take pictures?
- Will my insurance cover the cost to rebuild or repair the damage?
First and foremost, you should know that there are specific companies that can help you through the entire process – disaster relief companies, whose job it is not only to clean up the damage but also to gather evidence, to work with the insurance, to fight to get your claims money, and some can even help you rebuild.
STEPS OF THE PROCESS
Dealing with a disaster – and the insurance company – is a process. There is a certain order that should be followed before you can proceed to the next step, evidence that must be gathered, people you will encounter, and so on. Here is an overview of what you will experience in a disaster insurance claim.
Step 1: Respond to Emergencies
If you experience a disaster in your home, the first thing you must do is respond to any emergencies. This may include:
- Making sure all home occupants are accounted for and safe.
- Calling the fire department if your home is on fire.
- Turning off the water (from the source or the main supply) if a pipe burst and is flooding your home.
- Heading to the top floor or roof if you’re experiencing flooding from a river and cannot safely escape.
- Calling the police or 911 if you are in danger or if a crime has been committed.
- Leaving the home if it is not safe to be there.
Your first thoughts may go to your home and your possessions, but those things can wait. Respond to all emergencies first.
Step 2: Assess the Damage
After the emergency is under control, it’s time to step back and assess the overall situation – but safety is still your main concern. DO NOT reenter your home if it is not safe to do so; find a place to stay and return when it is safe to handle this step.
When assessing the damage, you just want to get a general idea of what happened and what has been damaged. The disaster relief company and your insurance will do a more thorough assessment of damages later on. However, some initial observations will help you better communicate what happened to the disaster relief company.
- What kind of disaster occurred – fire, water, mold, trauma? Sometimes it’s more than one.
- Where is the majority of the damage located?
- Is your home exposed to the elements (broken windows, holes in the roof, etc)?
A quick assessment will help you understand what you are dealing with and better communicate it to the disaster relief company in the next step.
When assessing the damage you can take photographs which are helpful in proving your disaster and getting your claims money – but the disaster relief team will be taking plenty of photos of the damage and cleaning process as well, so if you don’t have a camera or phone handy, that is okay too.
When assessing the damage DO NOT begin cleanup. One mistake homeowners make is that they often start to clean up the disaster – for example, they may vacuum up the pooling water, thinking that they are helping the situation. However, the insurance company needs detailed and documented proof of the disaster itself, so cleaning up without documenting the proper evidence can hurt your claim (or even get it denied).
Step 3: Call a Local Damage/Disaster Company
Homeowners typically call their insurance right away when a disaster happens. While it is important to call the insurance in a timely manner, there are a few good reasons why calling your local damage or disaster company first makes more sense.
For one, in some cases you may decide not to go through your insurance – and how would you know that until you have someone assess the damage? Some insurances have high deductibles, and if the damage is under that amount it makes sense to avoid a claim on your record. If you’ve filed claims in the past, you may also be worried about your rate going up or even worse – getting your policy canceled. Once again, your disaster relief company can assess the damage and advise you on whether you should go forward with insurance.
Another reason to call a disaster relief company first is that they will pretty much handle everything for you. After you get the initial assessment and advice on if you should use your insurance, pretty much the only thing you will have to do is call in the claim. From there, the disaster relief company will clean up the disaster, gather evidence, get estimates, deal with the insurance adjuster, negotiate to get you the most claims money, and help you rebuild, restore or upgrade your home afterward. Calling the disaster relief company first is an ideal way to take the stress off of yourself in this difficult situation.
A final, and perhaps the most important, reason to call your local damage/disaster company first is that the insurance company will try to pressure you to use their ‘preferred provider.’ By law, it is your right to choose your own disaster relief company! However, the insurance will try to pressure you to choose one of their selected providers and it’s typically not in your best interest to go with them. Here’s why:
- The insurance company wants you to use that provider because they have special pricing arrangements with that provider.
- Because of that, the ‘preferred provider’ of disaster relief services is splitting their interests – they are not just working for you – they are actually working for the insurance company!
- Since they work with the insurance company, they will try to keep prices down (or else they won’t be a preferred provider anymore and will lose valuable referral business).
- Keeping prices down means that using the preferred provider may impact the quality of the work you get and the amount of money you get in your insurance claim.
You have a right to do research and choose the disaster relief company that YOU think is best. To find a disaster relief company, you can search Google for ‘restoration company’ and then your location (city or county). You can also search for your specific disaster – for example ‘water damage company’ and then your location.
So what are you looking for when you choose a disaster relief company?
- A company that provides 24/7 support so you can get help right away.
- A company with a fast response time and can get to you soon.
- A company with certified and trained staff.
- A company with a good reputation.
- A company that is local, who knows about and is involved in your community. For this reason, locally-owned family businesses can typically provide better service over national or franchised businesses.
- A company with values you can relate to.
Step 4: Call Your Insurance
Your disaster relief team should be at your location fast – for example, New Life Restoration serves a 100-mile radius from our office and we strive to be at your home within 90 minutes, depending on how far away you live and the drive time. Therefore, it makes sense to call the disaster relief team and get an idea on the extent of the damage first before calling your insurance.
When calling your insurance, the first question many homeowners have is, “Am I covered for this?” It is hard to give a straight answer to this question because insurance policies vary widely. Many policies cover you for water damage originating inside the home (for example, a burst pipe) or accidental fires, but many don’t cover you for flooding (water damage from an outside source, like a river), mold, or for wear and tear problems (for example, if you have not maintained your roof). What you are covered for depends on the details of your policy. If you have a good insurance agent, they should understand your policy and be able to tell you if you are covered. Whether you are covered will also depend on the source and cause of the damage, which is determined by the insurance adjuster.
Other things to know about dealing with the insurance company:
- You shouldn’t wait too long to call the insurance company. After you speak with the disaster company, it’s time to give the insurance a call too. If you wait too long, your claim could be denied.
- The insurance may reimburse you if you are displaced from your home. If you are out of a bathroom, your home is ‘unlivable’ and you are typically covered for lodging and living expenses. If you are out of a kitchen, you may be reimbursed for food if you have to eat out. If this applies to you, ask about this during your phone call and make sure you save receipts.
- The insurance process can be lengthy. While many claims are resolved within two to six weeks, it can sometimes take longer than that. This is why you want a good disaster relief company working on your side.
- Once again you DO NOT have to go with the insurance’s ‘preferred provider’ for disaster relief services, even though they will try to pressure you into it.
- Your insurance will most likely go up after placing a claim. It may take six months to a year, but inevitably your rates will increase.
A final thing homeowners wonder about insurance is how much of their disaster will be covered. This will be determined based on the evidence, estimates, pricing and depreciation of items. In one respect, you could say that many insurance policies will cover all of the damage. HOWEVER, that is not the same thing as being reimbursed 100 percent.
For example, if your kitchen cabinets burn down in a fire, the insurance will cover them, but they will negotiate a cost based on how much the cabinets are worth and how long you’ve had them (depreciation) – meaning that although you are covered, you will not get 100 percent of the cabinet cost to completely replace them (you may get 50 percent or 75 percent instead).
This is the most important reason why you want to choose your own disaster relief company and not rely on the insurance company’s ‘preferred provider.’ The right disaster relief company (like New Life Restoration!) will be your advocate during the claims process and help you recover as much of your insurance money as possible.
Step 5: Begin Disaster Cleanup
For example, if you have broken windows then they will be boarded up and if there is a hole in the roof then it will be tarped. This prevents further damage, including theft or water damage from rain. In cases of water damage, it is also important to begin the drying process right away. Mold can grow within 72 hours of water damage and this will most likely not be covered by insurance, so cleaning up water will be a top concern for the disaster relief team.
Some homeowners think that they could save some money by performing their own cleanup. This is an incorrect – and potentially costly – assumption. There is a scientific procedure for cleaning up disasters like water, fire, mold and trauma. Improper cleanup can cause the damage to spread and more costly cleanup to be required later on. Choose a disaster relief company you trust and allow them to carry out the proper procedures to clean up and restore your home.
Step 6: Gather Necessary Evidence
Once again, this is a step for the disaster relief company. At New Life Restoration, we’ve worked on countless disasters of all types, so we know the kind of specific evidence that insurance companies are looking for – the evidence that can help you get more out of your insurance claim.
For example, something straightforward like pictures is actually more complicated than you’d think. In cases of water damage, the insurance company wants a variety of photos documenting the entire process. This includes before photos that show standing water, soaked carpets, etc.; during photos that show the damage being cleaned up, such as a picture of the carpet lifted up with the padding in place, a picture of the padding removed, and so on; and after photos which show what things look like after everything is removed and cleaned.
Depending on your disaster, you may need additional evidence too. This may include:
- Official reports from the police, fire department or first responder.
- Plumber’s reports.
- Scientific data such as moisture readings, atmospheric readings, and dehumidifier readings.
- An inventory of damaged items which may be very basic, but in some cases (like fires) may require detailed information.
Once again, having the right disaster relief team on your side is crucial to your ability to gather the right evidence needed to satisfy the insurance company and get you the most claims money possible.
Step 7: Meet with Insurance Adjuster
The insurance adjuster is a representative from the insurance company who will investigate your claim. There is no set time when they will arrive – it will depend on their workload and could be anywhere between 48 hours to two weeks after you place your claim.
- A visit to your home to inspect the damage and/or cleanup.
- An inspection to determine the cause/source of the damage – and whether you are covered for that in your policy.
- An interview with the claimant (homeowner) or other witnesses.
- Additional research as needed, such as looking a police reports and other documents.
Step 8: Claims Negotiation
In the end, your insurance adjuster will recommend a certain amount that the insurance company should pay – and the disaster relief team will also gather evidence and estimates to recommend how much should be paid. The final amount you get is typically negotiated, where the two parties meet somewhere in the middle.
Claims negotiation is an important part of the process and another step where you really want a disaster relief company that you can trust to be your advocate. As you know, the insurance adjuster is working for the insurance company, and as such they tend to try to low ball the estimate on how much your claim is worth. You need someone on the other end (the disaster relief team) to give higher (more realistic) estimates and to fight for what you deserve.
You typically won’t get that if you choose the insurance company’s preferred provider. Remember, that preferred provider is also working for the insurance company! They need to keep the prices low so they will continue to get referral business and make money. A preferred provider will, therefore, be a weaker negotiator because they are not fighting for you and you alone.
Step 9: Receive Claim Money
After negotiation, there will be a final agreement on the amount of claim money you are entitled to. You will then receive a check and can proceed with repairing, rebuilding or even upgrading your home.
How the claims money is received will vary by insurance companies. Some scenarios include:
- When a homeowner has a mortgage over $10,000, the check is often made out to the customer AND the mortgage company (which can be a hassle to cash).
- If the homeowner owns their house outright, the insurance company will often send the check right to them.
- Some insurance companies also pay disaster relief companies directly for the emergency services, and then pay a separate check for repairs.
Step 10: Repair, Rebuild – or Upgrade
After you receive your insurance money, it’s time to repair, rebuild or restore your home. If you chose the right disaster relief company, they will have advocated to get you the most insurance money possible. However, even with that, it will not be easy to replace everything. Because depreciation is factored in, you typically will not get full replacement value for the items you lost in the disaster. This means you will likely have to contribute some of your own money even to restore your home back to ‘normal.’
During the repair/rebuild stage, many other disaster relief companies will step aside. Their job is to simply provide emergency cleanup, and after that, you’re on your own.
That is one of the benefits of choosing New Life Restoration. Not only do we offer disaster relief services, we are also staffed with residential and commercial painting contractors, a restoration team, designers and project managers – we even have a remodeling showroom where you can speak to designers and pick out materials like flooring, cabinets and countertops. New Life Restoration’s extended services mean that we can continue to work with you throughout the restoration process to help put your home – and life – back together again.
Many homeowners who experience disasters choose to turn their negative experience into a positive by upgrading their home (not just restoring it). Yes, you can use insurance money (and likely some money from your own pocket) to replace like for like. But this is also the perfect time to pay a little extra and get the upgrades you’ve always been dreaming of.
5 BEST PRACTICES FOR DEALING WITH INSURANCE ON DISASTER CLAIMS
So far we’ve provided a detailed overview of all the steps in dealing with insurance after a home disaster such as water, fire, mold or trauma. Now we’ll take a minute to boil it down to our top five tips for navigating the process.
- Call the Disaster Relief Company First
Benefits of calling the disaster relief team first include the ability to assess the damage and decide if you should go through the insurance, and the peace of mind you get from having a connection that will be with you every step of the way.
However, the most important benefit is that you can avoid blindly choosing the insurance company’s ‘preferred provider’ and instead choose the company that YOU think will best represent your interests. There are many potential problems with choosing the preferred provider, all stemming from the fact that they too work for the insurance company. Do your research, make a wise choice, and call your disaster relief company first.
- Begin Processing Your Disaster Right Away
When you experience a disaster, you may be tempted to step away from the situation for a while to avoid the stress. However, you must act right away to prevent further damage and to avoid the risk of your insurance company not covering the claim.
A good disaster relief company should provide speedy services. New Life Restoration is available 24/7 and aims to be at your home within 90 minutes (depending on travel distance and time). If you call right away you can get to the next step – calling the insurance company – within hours.
- Evidence Is Key
The key to winning the most in your insurance claim is the evidence you provide. The right evidence will allow you to provide proof of the source of the damage, the extent of the damage, and the cost of repairs. Once again, you want an experienced team like New Life Restoration who knows how to document evidence of your disaster. The most valuable evidence is pictures. You can never have enough pictures, and companies like New Life Restoration understand the importance of documenting the entire cleanup process with pictures the insurance company is looking for.
- Be Aggressive.
You can’t be passive when dealing with insurance. The insurance company is looking out for their best interests, trying to offer you the lowest amount possible for your claim. When dealing with insurance, you want a disaster relief company who can act aggressively and be your advocate. The insurance company is looking out for their best interests – who’s looking out for yours? It should be an experienced disaster relief company that you can trust to gather the necessary evidence and defend your claims.
- Be Patient.
Dealing with insurance is a game of ‘hurry up and wait.’ It can be a long and frustrating process, but you have to follow all the steps and remain patient if you want the best possible results. Your disaster relief team should keep you updated every step of the way, but your patience is also important to the process.
TIPS FOR PREPARING FOR A DISASTER-RELATED INSURANCE CLAIM
Dealing with an insurance company on a disaster-related claim can be overwhelming. If you haven’t had to file a claim yet – or if you have but you would like to be more prepared if there is a next time – there are a few steps you can follow.
- Research & Choose a Disaster Relief Company NOW
There are many reasons why you don’t want to default to the insurance company’s ‘preferred provider.’ However, in the case of a disaster emergency, you may not feel like you have the proper time to research and choose the right company. You can solve this problem by taking some time to research and choose your disaster relief team now – when you are not in a stressful situation and have the time you need to review companies in your area.
- Review Your Insurance Policy
Many people get insurance because they have to but they don’t really consider all the details in the policy and the things they may want to or need to be covered for. Before disaster strikes, review your policy to know exactly what coverage is included. The policy itself can be difficult to understand, but if you have a knowledgeable agent you can sit down and get the information you need. When evaluating your insurance policy, you may consider adding on extras that may be needed in the future. For example, most policies do not include flooding from external sources, so if you live in an area that is prone to flooding, you may consider adding this extra coverage.
- Keep Records
A final thing you can do is to keep records of the items in your home in case you need them in the future. Saving receipts (especially for your most expensive purchases) will allow you to document the exact price and the exact time you bought the item (used in assessing depreciation value). Because your paper records may be lost in a fire or flood, you should also consider keeping digital files. There are apps out today that allow you to capture receipts simply by taking a picture of them with your phone. This will ensure that your records are preserved in the worst case scenario.
NEW LIFE RESTORATION
New Life Restoration is a disaster relief company that can take you through every step of the insurance claims process and advocate to get you the most money possible. We are a family company that provides not only concrete services (like cleanup and repair) but also the kind of mental and emotional support you need in a time of a home emergency. We are not a preferred provider, which means we work for YOU and ONLY YOU when handling your disaster and insurance claim.
Because we have been through countless disasters, we are experts in the process. When you choose New Life Restoration we will handle most of the steps – but to give you an idea of what you can expect in a disaster, we’ve provided this guide for homeowners dealing with insurance claims.
If you have experienced a disaster, including fire damage, water damage, mold or trauma, you can rely on our quick 24/7 services. We offer an approximate 100-mile radius service area from our office, serving residents in Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County with a 90 minute response time in many cases. For your disaster relief needs, call us at (805) 925-1600 any time.