What to Do After Home Takes Damage

What to Do After Your Home Takes Damage: The Step by Step Guide

(Step one: Don’t panic.)

Steps to take after damage occurs

As a homeowner, you’ve probably already taken countless steps to help keep your personal space protected, including putting the right home insurance coverage in place. But no matter how rock-solid your homeowners policy is, you still can’t prevent disasters from striking. Fortunately, there are a handful of simple steps to follow after your home takes damage that can help get life back on track. Here’s a handy go-to guide of action steps to take following some of the most common home damage.

What to Do When Your Home Takes Damage

Whether it’s from a natural disaster like a hurricane or from a human act like burglary or vandalism, sadly your home is vulnerable to many different types of attacks. The good news is your homeowners insurance is there to help you, and below are the steps to take, based on the type of damage that affects your home.

Most Common Types of Home Damage

Homes are up against all kinds of threats on a daily basis. Mother Nature isn’t the only thing that can cause major damage or destruction. Check out this list of the most common types of home damage reported annually, and what to do following each kind.

The most common types of home damage include:

  • Wind and hail damage: The top homeowners insurance claims are consistently from wind and hail damage. In fact, wind and hail damage make up a whopping 35% of all homeowners claims. 
  • Water damage: The second most common homeowners claims stem from water damage. As much as 29% of all homeowners claims, in fact. 
  • Fire and lightning damage: Perhaps surprisingly, 23% of homeowners damage claims are due to fire and lightning. If the storm was severe enough to cause you to evacuate your home, be sure to start by having the local fire department inspect your property to be sure it’s safe for reentry before getting started on the other action steps.
  • Theft/vandalism damage: About 3% of homeowners claims are filed due to break-ins. When criminals are after your stuff, they don’t tend to respect your property on their way in. Still, there are those individuals who aren’t even interested in robbing a home, but just causing senseless property destruction. 
  • Other property damage: Finally, 7% of homeowners insurance claims stem from the category known as “other property damage.” This can include trees falling on your property, rogue drivers tearing through your wall, wild animals like deer jumping through your windows, and more. 

What Steps to Take After Experiencing Wind, Hail, Theft or General Property Damage

For these common types of damage, you'll take the following standard action steps, starting with taking note of any damage, making temporary repairs, etc., up to the point of filing insurance claims.

  • Step One—Don't panic: Just breathe and begin the rest of the steps.
  • Step Two—Take inventory of any structural damage: Take note of any damaged/destroyed personal property, as well as any damage/destruction to your home’s structure and detached structures like sheds and garages. List all damage, from minor to extreme. You may want to get a professional inspection of your plumbing and electrical systems, too, if the damage is really severe or affects several areas of the home.
  • Step Three—Make temporary repairs: If necessary to prevent further damage to your home or belongings, make temporary repairs. Be sure to save any receipts to submit along with your insurance claims. Save larger repairs for after you have the damage professionally assessed, since any of your personal repairs will be factored into your insurance policy’s limit.
  • Step Four—Follow your insurance company’s instructions: When filing a claim for wind and hail damage, your homeowners insurance company will send you a proof of loss form to complete yourself or send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage. If an adjuster visits, you’ll want to give them a list of damaged/destroyed property to speed the process along. Don’t clean out or throw away any damaged/destroyed items before the adjuster visits. It can also help to further document your damaged/destroyed property by taking pictures or video to include with your inventory list.
  • Step Five—Get professional estimates: After identifying any damage, you’ll want to get professional estimates for repairs. Having itemized estimates from licensed contractors to send to your insurance company will speed along the claims and reimbursement process.
  • Step Six—Make copies of all important documents: You’ll be giving a lot of important paperwork to your insurance company, but you’ll want to keep copies for yourself, too, for after your claims process. Keep a folder of copies of all receipts, estimates, inventory lists, etc. to help the process run as smoothly as possible.
  • Step Seven—File insurance claims: Many homeowners policies require you to file a claim within one year following a disaster, but depending on your specific insurance company, the requirements and process for filing claims may differ. Some insurance companies expect you to file within 30 days. Your independent insurance agent can help you with the claims process and answer any questions you may have. Additionally, you may need to file auto insurance claims if your vehicle was also damaged.

Having a plan of action following home damage can not only help get the ball rolling towards getting reimbursement from your homeowners insurance company, but can also help to relieve stress and keep you occupied.

Steps to Take After Fire and Lightning Damage

In many cases fire damage leads to the need to evacuate the home. Evacuation requires two different steps before you can take the normal steps listed above. If fire and lightning displaces you from your home, you'll take the following action steps. 

  • Step One—Have the fire department inspect your residence: Before reentering your home, have authorities inspect it to be sure it’s safe. Damage caused by natural disasters can leave a home’s structural elements unstable, making it extremely dangerous to reenter the building .
  • Step Two—Have the fire department inspect utilities: Beyond just investigating the structural integrity of your home after a natural disaster, have the fire department also inspect electrical utilities and systems to be sure they are safe for continued use, or that they get disconnected until they can be repaired.
  • Step Three—Take inventory of any structural damage: Take note of any damaged/destroyed personal property, as well as any damage/destruction to your home’s structure and detached structures like sheds and garages. List all damage, from minor to extreme. 
  • Step Four—Make temporary repairs: If necessary to prevent further damage to your home or belongings, make temporary repairs. Be sure to save any receipts to submit along with your insurance claims. Save larger repairs for after you have the damage professionally assessed, since any of your personal repairs will be factored into your insurance policy’s limit.
  • Step Five—Follow your insurance company’s instructions: Your homeowners insurance company will send you a proof of loss form to complete yourself or send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage. If an adjuster visits, you’ll want to give them a list of damaged/destroyed property to speed the process along. Don’t clean out or throw away any damaged/destroyed items before the adjuster visits. It can also help to further document your damaged/destroyed property by taking pictures or video to include with your inventory list.
  • Step Six—Get professional estimates: After identifying any damage, you’ll want to get professional estimates for repairs. Having itemized estimates from licensed contractors to send to your insurance company will speed along the claims and reimbursement process.
  • Step Seven—Make copies of all important documents: You’ll be giving a lot of important paperwork to your insurance company, but you’ll want to keep copies for yourself, too, for after your claims process. Keep a folder of copies of all receipts, estimates, inventory lists, etc. to help the process run as smoothly as possible.
  • Step Eight—File insurance claims: Many homeowners policies require you to file a claim within one year following a disaster, but depending on your specific insurance company, the requirements and process for filing claims may differ. Some insurance companies expect you to file within 30 days. Additionally, you may need to file auto insurance claims if your vehicle was also damaged.

What to Do If You Experience Water Damage

The process you’ll take following water damage depends on the source of the water. If the water damage stems from a busted/frozen pipe or a broken appliance, you’ll follow the same action steps listed above for general property damage. However, if the water damage is due to a flood, you'll take slightly different steps.

It's important to know that when it comes to home damage caused by floods, your homeowners insurance doesn’t provide coverage. So the main difference between filing other claims and a flood claim is that you'll be filing your insurance claims with your flood insurance company. To prepare to file a flood claim you'll want to: 

  • Step One—Start the claims process with your insurance: Get in touch with your independent insurance agent or your flood insurance company to start the claims process. You'll want to have the following information prepared:
    • Insurance company name
    • Policy number
    • Personal contact number
  • Step Two—Document the damage: Take note of any damaged/destroyed personal property, as well as any damage/destruction to your home’s structure and detached structures like sheds and garages. It's best to use a photo or video camera to document damage. You'll also want to take note of the flood levels, such as "up to my knees." List all damage, from minor to extreme, and for any specific personal property, try to note the date purchased and value of the item.
  • Step Three—Complete and submit a proof of loss form: Your insurance company will provide you with a proof of loss form that you'll use to list all damage and the cost of each item destroyed/damaged. The proof of loss form must include the specific details set forth in the standard flood insurance policy. FEMA requires that your proof of loss form be filed within 60 days of a flood. 

If you have comprehensive car coverage, you may also need to file an auto insurance claim if your vehicle was damaged by the flood. Depending on your auto insurance company, the process for filing a claim, as well as what’s required from you, may vary.

If you’re unsatisfied with the reimbursement estimates the insurance adjuster provides and aren’t able to reach an agreement with them, you can dispute their findings and send your proof of loss form, along with the payment amount you’re requesting, directly to the insurance claim examiner. The insurer will then review your claim and accept it or issue a denial.

If you dispute your insurer’s denial, you may submit an amended proof of loss form back to the claim examiner and try again to receive the amount you’re requesting, submit a formal appeal to FEMA, or file a lawsuit against your insurer. Lawsuits must be filed within one year of the original denial.

Fortunately, the guidelines for what to do after many types of home damage are quite similar. If you’re still unsure of any aspect of the damage assessment or claims filing processes, don’t hesitate to contact your independent insurance agent. They’ll be able to help you with any questions you may have, and also be able to double-check your insurance policies for you.

Benefits of an Independent Insurance Agent

Independent insurance agents have access to multiple insurance companies, ultimately finding you the best coverage, accessibility and competitive pricing while working for you. Find an independent insurance agent in your community here.

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TrustedChoice.com Article | Reviewed by Paul Martin

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