I Think I Have a Claim. What Should I Do?

Hopefully you’ll never be in a situation where you have to make a claim on your homeowners policy.

But here in North Texas it’s pretty common. The most common type of claim is a wind/hail claim caused by tornadoes and hail damage.

There are two types of claims you might need to file.

So let’s first talk about the catastrophic claims process.

Catastrophic Claims

The great news is if it’s a big event such as a major tornado or wildfire the good insurance companies are very proactive in their response.

They’ll declare catastrophes and mobilize all their people to set up emergency response units close to the disaster as soon as possible.

For example, in the last major tornado disaster over the Christmas holiday of 2015, one of the insurance companies I represent sent agents out with lists of the homes the company insured that were in the path of the destruction, but we hadn’t heard from yet.

They had support staff staged in a local business parking lot and were actively helping people find living arrangements, supplies, food, you name it. However, no matter how fast the response time is, you’ll still need to contact your insurance company or agent as soon as possible.

It doesn’t matter if it’s three in the morning; if you’ve got your agents cell number, call them.

I promise you they will understand the late call!

If not, call their office and leave a message or use the 1-800 number that most insurance companies make available now and report the loss immediately.

They will be able to direct you to your next steps.

Hopefully, this goes without saying, but if your house is destroyed DO NOT attempt to go back in and retrieve anything!

No object or picture is worth risking your life.

The next thing that happens in these major claims is that an adjuster will contact you to open a claim, and at that point, you can start discussing what you need immediately and begin to catalog what was lost.

One side note that’s very important in total losses: it’s very difficult to remember everything you’ve lost in the midst of the tragedy.

A very simple insurance practice is to make a list of all your personal property.

You can make this as detailed as you want, but I would suggest at least listing all the electronics, furniture, appliances, essentially any of your big purchases.

Better yet, as you accumulate these things keep the receipts with the list.

Don’t keep the list at your house; get a safety deposit box at the bank and keep this list with your other valuables. Occasionally, people will ask me how insurance companies pay out total losses.

Again that depends. In some cases where a catastrophe is declared, they might max out your dwelling, your separate structures, your personal property and your loss of use.

In that case, they will cut you a big check (minus your deductible), and you’ll be asked to sign an agreement that the insurance company has fulfilled their obligation to you.

It’s important to note, if you do not feel the amount of money is adequate, don’t take the money and don’t sign the agreement!

But if your agent has done their job properly, the payout is usually adequate to cover everything lost. Other times, they might just max out one section or just portions of several limits, depending on the severity of the damage.

A Minor Claim

Now if it’s a minor claim such as hail damage to your roof or a fire that has partially damaged your home, a good first step is to call your insurance agent.

You can discuss with them the extent of the damage, and most of them can even give you a referral for a roofer or a general contractor who can come out and give you their professional opinion on the extent of the damages.

The reason why you might want to get an estimate on the scope and scale of the damages before calling to make a claim is two-fold.

First, they’ll tell you if the scope and cost of the damage is worth turning a claim in, i.e., below your deductible level.

Second, you can have someone there with you if you find you need a professional to talk to the adjuster as he or she is inspecting the damage.