How to Get a Fair Insurance Settlement
Natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and floods have been making headlines. We've seen hundreds of homes go up in flames in southern California; thousands of homes battered by hurricanes and tornados in Texas and the south; and thousands more submerged by the mighty Mississippi and other swollen rivers. These catastrophes play themselves out over and over. The locations may change but the story is the same: heartbreaking devastation.
While wildfires, catastrophic storms, and floods cause widespread damage, the nation's homes are regularly damaged by less ominous forces: baseballs that break windows; stovetop fires cause smoke damage ; burst pipes damage walls, flooring, and furnishings. Other regular homeowners insurance claims include fire, theft, vandalism, mold, hail damage, water damage, and more. Throughout the nation, homeowners regularly file insurance claims, even in the absence of catastrophe.
No matter what has damaged your home, if it's covered by your insurance policy, you can rest easy knowing that it will be taken care of - or can you? Insurance companies are businesses that need to make a profit in order to survive. Part of that profit comes from premiums and another part comes from minimizing insurance losses.
One way to minimize insurance losses is to limit what they will cover. For example, life insurance companies will likely deny a life insurance policy to a 98-year-old smoker with emphysema. After all, that would be an unnecessary risk and a bad investment, unlikely to turn a profit.
Another way to minimize insurance losses is to underestimate the damage or overlook potential losses. For example, if your house has been burglarized, the insurance company may undervalue your possessions or fail to prompt you to list everything stolen. In fact, it's your responsibility to document the losses, not the adjuster's.
If you need to file an insurance claim, keep in mind that although the adjuster is a nice enough person, he is also an insurance company representative who needs to minimize company losses.
You have several options to ensure that your interests are protected. First, perform a thorough home inventory. You should do this before your home is damaged if possible. Go room through room and document everything. Take extensive notes, photos, and video. During your inventory, note valuable items such as artwork, jewelry, furs, and coin collections. These often have low insurance limits. If you have such valuables, purchase an insurance rider to make sure that you are adequately insured.
Next, get organized because you will have tons of paperwork associated with your claim. Use an expandable folder to keep track of everything including receipts, repair estimates, documentation, notes, and forms.
Do your homework and read your insurance policy. Look up terms that you don't understand. In addition, visit your states office of insurance and learn about the regulations in your state. You may have specific rights that aren't spelled out in the policy.
Be assertive and proactive. When the adjuster visits your home, point out the damage and ask him to look for hidden damage. Make sure the adjuster does a thorough inspection. If possible, have a third party contractor, like a roof inspector (if you need roof repairs), present. The contractor will be able to point out damage that the insurance adjuster may not have noted otherwise.
Depending on the scale of your home's damage, you may want to hire a public insurance adjuster to represent your interests. In addition, you might consider a "do-it-yourself" insurance claims kit to better arm yourself for the insurance claims battle ahead.
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Mark Decherd's Dryout Inc. was incorporated in 1997 with a mission to serve waterlogged customers in south Florida. We specialize in water damage, mold remediation, and flood work. As we worked to dry out Florida residences and businesses, we soon found that our efforts alone were not enough. As a result, we developed a nationwide network of affiliates. Now, customers can get service anywhere in the country!
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