As the last of Hurricane Harvey’s rains pelt an already waterlogged Houston and its surrounding communities, homeowners are no doubt taking the first steps in filing insurance claims on their damaged homes and property. Exactly how homeowners should navigate this claims process is information that’s more pertinent now than ever, so we’ve reached out to experts to find out five solid tips you should keep in mind as you begin the claims process.
Your Insurance Agent Should Be Your First Call
Lisa Lindsay has been in the insurance industry for more than three decades and she’s the executive director of Private Risk Management Association, a collaborative group that aims to raise awareness and educates agents and brokers about the evolving insurance industry landscape.
Lindsay says that your insurance agent is your primary source for understanding what the road ahead will look like.
“I would say that the biggest thing that I believe that agents need to do is to help their clients understand the process and set expectations,” she said.
Because their role is to guide you through the process and provide support, Lindsay and other experts with whom we have spoken to said you should call your insurance agent first to start the claim. Not only will this help you get the claim processed quicker, but you’ll also find that your agent will be a sounding board for your questions as well as a source of important information about what your policy covers and doesn’t cover.
“Their job is to help you move through the claims process in the best way possible and make sure your best interests are at hand,” Lindsay said. “It’s really about being an advocate and a coach and getting the claim reported in a timely manner.”
Have All the Necessary Policy Information Ready
Sean Stout, an insurance agent with Brightway Insurance in Jacksonville, Florida, knows how stressful post-hurricane claims can be. He helped clients process their claims in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the 2016 storm that caused extensive damage along Florida’s coast. Homeowners can help move the process along quicker, Stout said, if they have the following pieces of information ready to go when they start the claims process:
- Your insurance agent’s phone number
- Your insurance company’s phone number
- Your policy number (or numbers)
- Your homeowners’ policy documents
Stout says that if, for some reason, you can reach your agent, then your insurance company’s claims number should be listed on your policy’s declaration page.
File Your Claim as Soon as Possible
Waiting to file a claim on the damage your house sustained in a storm can cause problems down the road if the insurance company believes that you didn’t act as quickly as you should have.
“If you do everything in your absolute power and show that you called remediation companies, then you’ll have met the duties under your policy,” Lindsay said. “If you simply don’t do anything, then, I would say, your claim is probably not going to go as smoothly as somebody else’s.”
With that in mind, Stout says that it’s imperative you file your claim as soon as you know that your home has sustained damage.
“You should never wait. Call your agent immediately,” Stout said. “A lot of homeowners think they can wait to do it, but it’s best to contact your agent right away because they’ll help guide you in the right direction.”
On top of that, he said, contractors will be incredibly busy with appraisals and repairs, so the earlier you can call them, the better.
Be Proactive About Contacting Contractors
Amid all the heartbreak, stress and anxiety of seeing your home destroyed by flood, wind or other natural causes, you may have a tendency to put off calling contractors in the hopes that your insurance will help you with your search. While some insurance companies might recommend a contractor to you, Lindsay said, it’s your responsibility to get estimates.
“Don’t delay on calling a contractor. Don’t wait for someone else to call you and tell you to make those calls,” Lindsay said. “In a devastating time like what we’re seeing with Hurricane Harvey, it’s not going to be easy to bring in a repairman or water mediation company depending on how high the water is in your neighborhood. You have to take charge and start making those calls.”
Stout added that contractors will be experiencing heavy call loads and that the sooner you can get into their rotation for estimates, the better. Once you have the estimate for the repair costs, Lindsay says you can take that number to your insurance agent or insurance company. The company will take a look at the quote from the contractor and compare it to the estimate your field adjustor calculated and then decide if the contractor quote was too high or just right.
“The insurance company will either go ahead and authorize the repairs to take place or,” Lindsay said, “sometimes the insurance company will think the contractor’s estimate is too high and they’ll try and negotiate. Often times there’s an opportunity to go back and forth until both parties land in a place where they feel comfortable.”
Keep Track of Your Home’s Contents
Another great tip Lindsay gave us was this: Start writing down all the contents of your home you believe were damaged in the storm or flooding. There’s a good chance that your insurance policy will pay for some of the value of those items, but unless you have a clear list of what you lost, you can’t have access to those reimbursements. If you haven’t already done it, take a video of each room and then use that video as a reference point.
“When you’re faced with having to fill out the paperwork for processing the claim you can refer back to that video,” she said. “In a situation like Harvey, people aren’t going to remember everything they own. It’s super helpful to have a video that can help with documentation.”
Final Thoughts About Tips for Filing Homeowners’ Insurance Claims
The experts with whom we spoke agreed that a quick response is the key. Call your insurance agent as soon as you know there’s damage to your home. Once the claims process is under way, make calls to contractors and get estimates that you can pass along to your insurance company. If you have any questions during the process, call your agent. If they don’t have answers for you, they can find them. Finally, keep track of all those valuables in your home. If you don’t have a video of what you own, it’s a good idea to take one now, just in case.
We’ll close with this: know your insurance policy inside and out. Be clear on what’s covered and what’s not, as well as what your deductibles are for wind, flood, and hurricane damage.