If you live in the northeastern quadrant of the United States, you and your homeowners insurance may already be under siege from Superstorm Sandy, a freak late-season storm the likes of which has rarely been seen in these parts.
Naturally, safety is the top priority whenever nature threatens. But once Sandy moves on, a few tips regarding the homeowners insurance claims process can save you needless days of post-storm rage, confusion -- and possibly additional financial loss.
Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute, or III, says customer frustration often starts with that first phone call.
"You know when people call and are placed on hold, where it says your call will be handled in the order received? Claims aren't processed that way in a catastrophic event," she explains.
"When there is a catastrophic event, claims are handled by the severity of damage, meaning those with the most severe damage are seen first, not by how soon you call in," she says. "Those with the most severe damage are the most in need to see somebody promptly and get back on their feet. When there's an event where there are hundreds or thousands of claims, you give priority to those people."
Why is your adjuster taking so long to show up? It may not be by choice.
"They are not allowed to go in until emergency management and government officials tell them that it's safe to do so," McChristian says. "The insurance companies are already stationed as close as they can safely be to where they expect the damage to be. All the insurers are poised to go in to wherever they need to be."
Once you are out of the storm, here's the safest -- and least costly -- route to recovery, according to III and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.
1. Safety first. Avoid life-threatening safety hazards. If you lost power, do not attempt to turn on lights until you are sure it's safe to do so. Avoid wires and outlets, and, if possible, turn off your main breaker switch with a piece of wood or heavy rubber. If you smell gas, turn off the main line, open windows, or evacuate. If your car has been submerged, let it dry thoroughly before attempting to start it.
2. Make an inventory. Before you start the cleanup process, list the damage to your home and document it with video or photos. Save remnants of damaged or destroyed property for your insurance adjuster.
3. Make "reasonable" repairs. "If a window blew out, you want to take reasonable steps to protect that window and your possessions from further damage, so it's important to take those steps so the damage doesn't increase," McChristian says. "Be sure to save the receipts for any temporary repairs because that is part of the insurance settlement, and you can get reimbursed for those repairs. The key word is 'reasonable.'"
4. Filing a claim. Contact your insurance agent or company hotline to expedite your homeowners insurance claim. Keep a record of everyone you talk to about your claim, including dates and details of your conversation.
5. Avoid "storm chasers." When disasters strike, unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors and outright con artists swoop in to bilk money from the gullible. "Beware of storm chasers," says McChristian. "Use your insurance company. You're not alone; you have an insurance company who really has your back in these situations, and many times they have approved contractors they can hook you up with who understand the insurance repair business and go through the process correctly."
Make a claim: Claims numbers for major home insurers
|American Family||800-MyAmFam (800-692-6326)|
|Liberty Mutual||800-2Claims (800-225-2467)|
|State Farm||800-SFClaim (800-732-5246)|
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