A fire and subsequent fire damage in your home or business can leave you with devastating loss and damage. Due to the complexity of dealing with a fire it’s important to familiarize yourself with the claims process and how to properly file a fire insurance claim. Losing your home, or business and belongings to a fire is already a stressful experience. The last thing you want is difficulty with your insurance company. Here are some tips to follow when dealing with fire insurance claims.
Make a List of Everything You’ve Lost
It’s important that you make a list of everything you lost in the fire. Even though this is a time consuming and tedious process, it’s a vital one so be sure to do it thoroughly. Try to begin making this list as soon as possible so that you will have a complete list to send to your insurance company. It’s also important that you don’t throw anything away. It’s possible if you throw something away, the insurance company may refuse to compensate you.
File Your Claim Right Away
Insurance policies require policyholders to file a fire insurance claim as soon as possible after the fire occurs. With this in mind, it’s important you call your insurance company as soon as you’re able to. Remember, the quicker you make your claim the quicker you will receive a settlement. The following is a list of information you’ll need to include in your claim:
- Date of loss
- Type of loss/damage
- Location of damage
- Any related injuries
- Others involved
- Condition of the home
- Description of damaged contents
- Any necessary temporary repairs
- A police report
Be sure to keep track of all of the documents and communications you have with your insurance comapny including emails, phone calls, and in person conversations. It’s also important to keep original copies of invoices, bills, permits, and contracts for repairs.
Secure Your Property to Reduce Damage
You will be required by your insurance company to take reasonable care of your property in the interim (unless it is a total loss). If only a section of your home or business has been damaged, be sure to take proactive measures in preventing further damage. This is called “mitigating damage”. Some ways to mitigate damages include:
- Covering holes in the walls and roof
- Boarding up or building a fence
- Smoldering all embers
- Moving property that’s at risk of further damage
Keep Track of Your Living Expenses
Your insurance policy will include a clause called “loss of use,” which is referring to reimbursement you’ll receive for living expenses if you’re displaced from your home. You will only be entitled to the difference between what it costs you while displaced and what it was costing you in your home. Try not to be frivolous with these expenses since your insurance company may try to negotiate the amount with you. Keep detailed records of your expenses for hotels, meals, and any other expenses your incur as a direct result of being displaced.
Get Repair Estimates
Filing fire insurance claims enables you to repair or rebuild your damaged property. Typically, you will receive the amount that it will take to return your home or business to its pre-fire fair marketing value. If you have a “replacement” policy you are entitled to the amount it would take to replace the home and its contents, regardless of the value of what you lost. With this type of policy you can choose where you want to rebuild your home as long as it’s the same value as your old lot.
In order to estimate the fair market value or cost of replacement of the damaged property prior to the fire, insurance companies will send out their own adjusters. Bearing this in mind it’s important to remember that they’ll make decisions in the insurance company’s best interest, not yours. You are not required to accept the numbers that they offer you, and it advisable to hire an independent estimator or contractor who will be looking out for your best interest. Don’t accept any amount from the insurance company unless you’re certain it’s what a buyer would have paid for your home and its contents prior to the fire.
Keep Paying Your Insurance Premiums
Many people make the mistake of stopping their insurance premiums once they’ve filed fire insurance claims. This is a huge mistake and can quickly become a costly one. To reduce your premiums, you can ask that the section of the policy that covers the structure of your home be cut back, just be sure to adjust this after your new home is built.
Hire a Public Adjuster
We recommend hiring an independent estimator or contractor, especially if you’re unable to reach an acceptable settlement. The public adjuster will negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf to ensure you get a fair settlement. In fact, they are often successful in getting more money than you would have gotten dealing with your insurance company yourself.