If you live in an area susceptible to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or other natural disasters, chances are you’re going to need to file a homeowners insurance claim at some point.
Filing a disaster claim requires that you provide a lot of information to your homeowners insurance company in a timely manner. Remember, everyone else in your neighborhood whose home was damaged by that natural disaster is filing a claim, too — so don’t wait.
How to file a claim after a natural disaster
1. Prepare to file a claim and contact your insurance company.
2. Fill out your claims forms and send them to your insurer.
3. Prepare for the insurance adjuster and get an estimate.
4. Start the claim settlement process.
5. Review your policy while your home is being repaired.
Step 1: Prepare to file a claim and contact your insurer
After the storm has cleared and you’ve returned home to assess everything, the first thing you’re going to want to do is document all the damage.
In the wake of a weather catastrophe, it’ll be tempting to throw out ruined or damaged items – don’t do this. Leave everything in place so that there can be no mistakes about how much was lost or damaged when the insurance inspector comes by to assess everything.
Contact your insurance company immediately
You can typically contact your insurer via phone, email, or through a smartphone app. When you contact them you’ll want to find out:
Whether the damage is covered by your policy
How long you have to file the claim
Whether your claim exceeds your policy’s deductible, which is the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance kicks in
How long it will take for the claim to be processed
Whether or not you’ll need to obtain estimates from local contractors, roofing companies, appraisers and so on
Make temporary repairs
If possible, make temporary repairs to damaged parts of your home to avoid further damage. Hold on to your receipts so you can be reimbursed by your carrier, and don’t pay too much for a temporary repair job. Since the costs to repair technically go toward your policy limits, you’ll want to make sure you have enough insurance money left for the permanent repairs later on.
Hold on to your receipts
Your policy’s loss-of-use coverage reimburses you for temporary living expenses if a hurricane or tornado sacks your home and you need to relocate to a hotel or temporary housing for an extended period of time.
But your hotel invoice isn’t the only thing you’ll want to put in your records. Since you may not have a kitchen to cook in while you’re in housing limbo, you’ll presumably be eating out more. Keep those restaurant receipts and keep records of all expenses while you’re living away from your home.
Step 2: Fill out your claim forms
After you speak to your insurance company and file your claim, they’ll give you a claim reference number. Make sure you hold onto that — having your reference number on hand makes it easier for insurers to find your claim.
Your insurance company will send you the necessary forms where you typically provide the following information:
Your personal information
Details of the loss or damage
Descriptions of damaged and claimed property along with its value
By law, the claim forms must be sent to you within a specified time period. After completion, return the forms as quickly as possible to avoid delays.
Step 3: Meet with the insurance adjuster and get an estimate
After you send in your forms and your claims have been processed by your insurance company, they’ll most likely send an insurance adjuster, or inspector, to your home to inspect the damage and determine if the company is liable to cover your claim.
You’ll want to supply the adjuster with a list of everything you own that was damaged and copies of any receipts you still have from damaged items — having a home inventory will also expedite this part of the claims process. Once the adjuster finishes inspecting your home, you’ll receive a claim settlement estimate.
Beware that after natural disasters, insurance companies claim departments are in high demand and personnel is limited. There’s also some bureaucracy involved, as states often work with insurers to make sure that everyone who filed a claim in the wake of a hurricane or flood is getting a visit from an adjuster before a certain date. While this is good for you, the policyholder, it can create some havoc in the property and casualty industry and doesn’t always lead to the best results.
With such a limited amount of time and ostensibly overworked personnel, it's common for the damage estimates to be inaccurate.
If the first inspection isn’t complete or it feels incomplete, schedule a second visit. The first check you receive is often an advance, so if you happen to find additional damage that wasn’t accounted for, you can reopen your claim and file an additional amount. Most policies stipulate that you have a year to file your claim after a disaster.
Step 4: Start the claim settlement process
There are two types of reimbursement provisions that determine how much you get paid for a covered loss:
Replacement cost value policy. Pays for the damaged item as if it were new. So if your $1,500 TV is damaged in the storm, you’d get $1,500 from the company.
Actual cash value policy. Pays out the depreciated cost of an item. So if your $1,500 TV is seven years old and is only worth $200 today, you’ll get $200 from the company.
You may receive multiple checks from your insurance company. For example, you may get one check one for the repairs to the structure of your home, one for additional living expenses if your home is uninhabitable, and one for personal property.
Repairs to your home
You’ll choose the contractor or repair company — but your mortgage lender may also get a say.
Your insurer will most likely put your dwelling coverage check in an escrow account and may only release the funds after inspecting the finished job.
If you have a standard homeowners insurance policy, your home should be repaired back to its condition before the loss.
Replacement of your belongings
If your belongings are insured at their replacement cost, you’ll pay out of pocket for new items and then your insurer will reimburse you. Some insurers may help you find vendors that can help you replace your stuff or even offer to replace items themselves.
If you decide not to replace certain items, you’ll get a check for their actual cash value.
Step 5: Review your policy while your home is repaired
While your repairs are in progress, take the time to go over your homeowners insurance policy and evaluate your level of coverage for the specific claim you filed and ensure that everything matches up and you’re adequately covered.
Damage estimates for natural disasters are notoriously low before the storm, and that miscalculation can often rear its head into actual damage costs after a natural disaster.
If your home was recently damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster, talk to a licensed representative at Policygenius before you file a claim. We can walk you through how to make this misfortune as painless as possible and get you on your way to getting the coverage and repairs you need.