HomeHome InsuranceHow To Make Insurance Claims After A Hurricane – Forbes Advisor

How To Make Insurance Claims After A Hurricane – Forbes Advisor

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Violent winds, torrential downpours and severe storm surges make hurricanes dangerous to you and your possessions. If your house didn’t make it out of a storm unharmed, you’re likely anxious to restore your home to its original condition.

Hurricane claims can be a lengthy process, so following the proper steps can help you get your home and your belongings repaired or replaced more quickly.

How to File an Insurance Claim After a Hurricane

Here’s how to file a hurricane damage claim with your home insurance  company.

Notify your homeowners insurance company

You should contact your insurance agent or company immediately. Your insurance company can start creating a game plan for repairs that complies with your home insurance policy. They can also start to work on the process of reimbursing you for storm damage to your house and possession.

You’ll want to ask your insurance company:

  • What documents do I need to complete my claim?
  • Is there a deadline for when I need to file my claim?
  • How long will it take to process my claim?
  • Should I start cleaning up?
  • Can I (or should I) complete any repairs?
  • What is my deductible?
  • Do I need to acquire estimates for repairs?

Start a hurricane insurance claim log

It’s vital to keep records of receipts, photos, videos and all communication with your insurance company. Jot down dates, names and conversation details with all parties involved in the claim process. If you need to recall specific claim details, you’ll have the information easily accessible.

Document the damage for your hurricane claim

Take photos and videos of all damages to your property. You’ll need to provide this information to the insurance adjuster to justify your settlement. You’ll want to:

  • Photograph each damaged item
  • Describe the type of damage
  • List the estimated value
  • Note the approximate purchase date

If you created a home inventory  of your belongings before the hurricane, it can help you speed up the claim process and maximize your settlement. That’s because you will already have a list of everything you own with estimated values or receipts that you can use when assessing the damage. This will make filling out a hurricane insurance claim form easier.

Some insurance companies provide a home inventory app to streamline the process. If this feature isn’t available, you can complete a written list of the items in your home accompanied by photos and videos.

Review your homeowners insurance policy

Next, read your home insurance policy, which states your coverages and limits. Reviewing the policy details can help you understand what you’ll be compensated for when you file a home insurance claim and what your maximum payout will be.

Here’s what to look for in your home insurance coverage.

Dwelling coverage

Your policy’s dwelling coverage is what will help pay to repair or replace your home if it gets damaged in a hurricane, as long as the type of damage isn’t listed as an exclusion in your policy.

Your dwelling coverage policy limit is the maximum amount your insurer will pay if your dwelling is damaged or destroyed due to a problem covered by your policy, minus your deductible. A deductible is the amount subtracted from your home insurance claim check.

Other structures coverage

Other structures coverage, or “coverage B,” is the portion of the policy that covers structures not connected to your home, such as a garage and shed. The limit on this coverage is usually 10% of your dwelling coverage amount, but can vary by insurance company.

Personal property coverage

Typically 50% to 70% of dwelling coverage, personal property coverage reimburses you for repairing or replacing items damaged in your home.

Additional living expenses

Additional living expenses coverage limits are usually a percentage of your dwelling insurance. This coverage provides funds for extra costs to live away from your home if it’s uninhabitable. These costs can include meals and hotel expenses.

Hurricane deductibles

Check your policy to see if you have a hurricane deductible. This is a separate deductible to your homeowners policy and is only in states with shorelines. It’s often a percentage of your home’s insured value. It’s often 1% to 5%, but may reach 10% of your home’s value if you live in a high-risk area, such as along the coast. That means that if your hurricane deductible is 5% and your home’s value is $400,000, the hurricane deductible would be $20,000, which is likely much higher than your standard home insurance deductible.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow a hurricane deductible or named storm deductible, including:

What to Do After Filing a Hurricane Insurance Claim

Filing your hurricane insurance claim is only the beginning of the claims process. Understanding what to expect after contacting your insurer will help you navigate the rest of the process.

Meet with the insurance adjuster

Insurance companies usually send an adjuster to assess the damages to your property. When the adjuster comes to your home, you will want to provide documentation of all damages to your property and your home inventory. The more information you can provide, the better you’ll be able to support your case.

Also, make sure to keep all damaged items before discarding them.

Assess whether you need to hire a public adjuster.

While your insurance company provides an adjuster at no cost, you may consider hiring a public adjuster with no association with your insurer. You might want to hire a public adjuster if:

  • You have a large claim with extensive property damage.
  • You lack confidence in the insurance company’s adjuster’s evaluation of your claim.
  • Your claim is complex, and you need guidance navigating the claims process.
  • You feel the adjuster hired by the insurance company gave a low estimate of damages.

Hiring a public adjuster comes at a cost. Public adjusters usually charge a percentage of your settlement, which can range between 3% and 30%. The percentage amount usually depends on the claim’s size. For example, if your claim settlement is $100,000 and the adjuster charges 15%, you’ll pay $15,000.

Get repair and replacement estimates

You may need to make minor repairs—that your insurance company allows— to protect your home and belongings from additional damage. For example, if your front windows are shattered, you may need to board them to protect what’s inside from thieves. Make sure to save all receipts for temporary repairs. This way, your insurance company can reimburse you for the cost.

As for the major repairs, insurance companies will typically recommend contractors. While you’re not required to use contractors the insurer recommends, it may help streamline the claims process since the insurer already has experience working with them. Either way, it’s best to gather multiple estimates to compare costs.

Each estimate should include a line-by-line breakdown of the cost and materials required for the project.

Collecting your claim payment

Big natural disasters like hurricanes can significantly strain insurance companies due to an influx of claims. In some cases, state officials may require insurance adjusters to visit everyone who has filed a claim by a specific date.

Since the insurers are under pressure to get estimates, you may only receive a rough estimate initially. If the adjuster cannot complete the estimate on the first go around, request a second appointment to complete the assessment and formalize the estimated amount.

Some insurance companies may offer an on-the-spot settlement, while others may provide payment through several checks. It’s up to you if you want to accept the on-the-spot offer.

You’ll typically receive two separate checks if you expect a settlement for your home and personal possessions.

If you have a mortgage, your lender has equal rights to your settlement check. The lender may oversee the repair process since they have a significant financial interest in your property. Lenders usually take the claim checks and deposit them into an escrow account until the project is complete. Your lender will usually inspect repairs to ensure they are adequate before releasing the funds to the contractor.

Reach out to your lender if you have any questions or concerns about the settlement process after a disaster.

Waiting period

Depending on the severity of the hurricane and the laws that govern your state, you could wait anywhere between a few weeks to several months before you receive your complete settlement.

This is because devastated communities take a considerable toll on insurance companies and significantly slow the claims process. States typically place time parameters around how long a claim can take after a storm. For example, in Florida, insurance companies have 14 days to respond to a claim and 90 days to deny, pay the claim in full or make a partial settlement payment.

What to Look Out for When Filing a Hurricane Insurance Claim

Watch out for fraudulent contractors

After a severe storm wreaks havoc on a community, fraudsters often prey on hurricane victims desperate for help. Crooks may act as professional contractors, make false promises and then take the cash and run, which puts you in a terrible predicament.

Here are tips to avoid contractor scams.

Shop around

Get multiple quotes from different contractors. Don’t let any contractor pressure you into a contract.

Find a contractor that has a license and insurance

Check if your state requires contractors to have a license. If it does, make sure to verify the contractor’s credentials and verify the contractor has proof of an active general liability insurance policy.

Research and ask for referrals

Read online reviews of your contractor, if available, and check consumer advocacy groups like the Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor is in good standing. Ask for referrals from former customers.

Review contract

Make sure to get a contract in hand before beginning any work. The contract should outline all terms and conditions of the work agreed upon. Review the contract to verify all information, such as cost, schedules and other explanations, are defined in detail. While some states may not require a written agreement, having a contract is best to protect yourself from potential fraud.

Bring the home insurance company into the fold

Before you begin repairs, have an adjuster review the damages. If you start work before the adjuster has time to check the damages, your claim could get denied, which means you’re on the hook for payment.

Use a check or credit card for payments

Avoid cash payments; use checks or credit instead. Wait to make a final payment until you’re satisfied with the work and all repairs are up to code.

Finding More Damage After the Hurricane Claim

If you receive your final settlement payment and notice more hurricane damage, you can “reopen” your claim with your insurer.

Each state has different laws governing reopened claims, so check the rules and regulations of your state to know your rights as a policyholder. For example, Florida residents have up to three years after a hurricane’s landfall to reopen a claim.

What To Do if You Are Unsatisfied With the Settlement Offer

If you’re unsatisfied with the settlement offer, speak with the insurers’ claim department manager. Be ready to provide all supporting documentation of your claim proving the total loss amount. If the settlement is still unresolved to your satisfaction, you have the right to enlist the help of an independent appraiser to assess the damages.

If you decide to go in this direction, your insurance company will hire an independent appraiser to select a mediator to manage the claim. The parties involved will make the final decision about the claim. You’re responsible to your appraisers and any shared cost of the process.

What Is Usually Covered by Homeowners Insurance After a Hurricane?

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers damage to your house from any problem except those listed as exclusions in the policy. Here are common hurricane-related problems covered by a standard home insurance policy:

  • Water damage from storms (such as wind-driven rain) that gets in through a damaged roof or broken window is typically covered by a homeowners insurance policy.
  • Damage from wind, in most states. Note that in some coastal states, wind-related damage is partially or completely excluded in some homeowners insurance policies.

What Is Not Usually Covered by Homeowners Insurance After a Hurricane?

Here are common exclusions in a standard homeowners insurance policy:

  • Corrosion or rot
  • Damages resulting from animals or insects
  • Earth movement, such as mudslides
  • Government action, including expenses resulting from government requests to demolish, rebuild, renovate or repair a property
  • Intentional property damage
  • Neglect or poor maintenance
  • Power surges or outages
  • Release of pollutants
  • War
  • Wear and tear
  • Water damages resulting from flooding; instead, you can buy a separate flood insurance policy

Looking for Homeowners Insurance?

Compare rates from participating carriers in your area via Policygenius.com

Insurance Claims After a Hurricane FAQ

What happens if a tree falls on my home during a hurricane?

Your homeowners insurance policy will cover damage from fallen trees and branches, as long as the cause of the problem is covered by your policy. Let’s say hurricane winds knock a large tree branch down and it lands on your roof, you can file a homeowners insurance claim.

Will home insurance pay if my car is damaged in a hurricane?

No, homeowners insurance will not cover damage to vehicles. Damage to your car from falling objects, hail and floods is covered by comprehensive car insurance. For example, if a hurricane causes a tree to land on your car or your car is damaged by flood water, you can file a comprehensive insurance claim.

How can I get windstorm damage insurance?

You can get windstorm insurance in the following ways:

  • As an endorsement on your homeowners insurance policy
  • By buying a separate windstorm policy through the private market
  • By buying a Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan. Typically, FAIR plans are purchased when you can’t find insurance on the private market.

How long should you wait to file a claim after a hurricane?

Contact your home insurance agent or company immediately after a hurricane passes and you identify storm damage. Even if you’re unsure of all damages, your insurance agent can help get the claims process underway and provide guidance for what repairs should be made right away to prevent additional damage. For example, if some shingles on your roof flew off during the storm, the insurance agent may recommend a tarp to prevent any additional flooding, which could damage more of the home.

How much damage is needed to file an insurance claim after a hurricane?

You may not want to submit a home insurance claim if you determine the cost to repair damages to your home or property is less than your deductible, or very close to your deductible amount.

For example, let’s say your hurricane deductible is 10% of the insured value of your home ($300,000). If your home has hurricane damage and a contractor estimates it will cost $20,000 to repair, you may want to forgo submitting a claim since you would have to pay up to $30,000 before the insurance company would begin paying expenses.

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