What to Do After Experiencing Severe Storm Damage
Most often when natural events happen to cause damage, insurance policyholders are guided in the recovery process by the insurance company adjuster and the contractor(s) who perform repairs. There is little information shared with the policyholder about the claims process and sometimes the claim is not covered even though the damage is legitimate and the policy was active at the time of the loss.
Per the Insurance Information Institute, “in 2020, 6 percent of insured homes had a claim, according to ISO. Property damage, including theft, accounted for 97.7 percent of homeowners insurance claims in 2020 (latest data available). Changes in the percentage of each type of homeowners loss from one year to another are partially influenced by large fluctuations in the number and severity of weather-related events such as hurricanes and winter storms.”
The past few years have been unprecedented in the number of catastrophic events taking place. To date, There have been 953 reported tornadoes in the United States in 2022, of which 738 have been confirmed. Most recently, an EF-2 hurricane struck in Goshen, Ohio causing major damage to the homes and businesses in this small town. (See photo insert to the left.) As we are experiencing so many events, we thought it appropriate so share some tips to help policyholders as they enter the claims process post loss.
Conduct an initial damage assessment – walk the extent of your property to include your fence line. Document everything you can about your home or business and take photos (or video) of any visible damage. Insurance policies require the policyholder to provide the details of the loss and to provide an accurate representation of the associated costs for repairs. If you rely solely on the insurance adjuster for the documentation, your claim may be underpaid for anything missed during their evaluation.
Protect your property from further damage – your insurance policy requires the mitigation against worsening of damage. That can take many forms. In the case of water damage, it may be as simple as wiping a spill of water from the floor. Or it could require you to hire a property restoration vendor to perform water extraction and drying services. With weather events, the building is affected by high winds which can tear off or lift roof coverings. This can allow water to enter the building – either at the time of the loss or at some later point during a rain storm. Mitigation against future losses in a wind scenario involves securing a tarp or impenetrable cover to the affected areas on the exterior. Tarping can be performed by the property owner or by a local contractor for hire.
Hire a professional to assist you in your claim process – you may be surprised this step is recommended prior to filing the claim. If your damage is significant, i.e. affecting 25% or more of your property, you are best served having a professional involved with your recovery process from the beginning. Public insurance adjusters (“PA”) and attorneys are the only professionals who are legally allowed to negotiate an insurance loss. The PA or attorney will review the insurance policy contract and advise you on areas of coverage as well as develop a plan for facilitating your full recovery. Many policyholders start off working with their contractor but remember – insurance company adjusters will speak with your contractor, but that communication is voluntary. If the adjuster decides to cut off all contact, your contractor has no ability to compel engagement. PA’s and attorneys can legally enforce the state statutes that protect the consumer.
Select the right contractor for the job – too often a contractor is selected based on whomever shows up first to offer assistance. Many policyholders are under too much stress to evaluate the services being offered and they don’t feel they have the time to research the vendor. That is exactly the opposite situation! If you have executed Steps 1 through 3, you have the time to ask questions, check the contractor’s Better Business profile, and to look for the reviews of prior customers. Local contractors will have a number of clients already looking to contract for services. You may also ask the advice of your hired professional as often the PA or attorney will have relationships where the contractor will extend themselves based on a prior working history.
File the insurance claim – once the claim is filed, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to inspect the property, issue payment for damages and to manage the claim on their end to its conclusion. The adjuster will work with your hired team to do this.
I do not recommend filing the insurance claim first for a very good reason. Being first in queue with the insurance company does not benefit you in a speedy recovery unless you have an obvious 100% total loss. The insurance company triages who is sent to inspect the property. The most experienced adjusters on staff are assigned to the total loss buildings as those adjusters are most knowledgeable to write the damages estimate. Most often, the walls of the building are still standing and the roof is still intact – in whole or in part. So the buildings that are intact are assigned to inspectors with less experience. An initial payment is made but it is usually not representative of the total repair cost.
Save all receipts following the storm – these will be used later to reimburse your out-of-pocket costs for meals taken away from your home in the event your kitchen is not usable. They are also used for any housing costs with a hotel or an Airbnb property. Most times the policyholder seeks the approval of insurance prior to taking action. This is only required if you need the insurance funds to pre-pay the associated expense(s).
Most importantly, do not go it alone! Your best recovery will come from a focused strategy in cooperation between your insurance adjuster, your hired professional and your elected contractor.
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