Common Mistakes Made By Policyholders Following a Property Loss
Losing a property, home or business is shockingly overwhelming. Even though it may have been 'just a building,' essentially a material item, it was yours. In that place you may have created and built a family or a business, and collected many memories there. To watch it be destroyed by a natural disaster such as a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or earthquake is life-shattering. In the midst of struggling to rebuild, file paperwork, contact customers and distributors and keep yourself together mentally, there are some important tasks that can be easily forgotten that could cost you in your settlement.
- Not filing quick enough
Rules and restrictions apply when filing a property insurance claim. Do not wait too long to file as some policies have a strict timeline, as our Disaster Checklist explains. It is your responsibility to contact the insurance company in a timely manner to report the loss. You will want to take action to confirm that the type of loss is covered by your insurance and to put the claim on record; the sooner you report the damage, the better.
However, you do not want to rush the actual process of the claim once the claim is opened. Being too eager to move the claims process along can be unfavorable for the policyholder, causing you to miss details in an effort to settle as fast as possible versus settling as smart as possible.
Licensed public adjuster and Director of Consulting Operations, Greg Raab, gives the following advice, "Understanding your contractual obligations as the policyholder, such as reporting and documenting your claim in a timely manner and mitigating your damages are vital to the proper settlement of your claim."
- Not being organized
Being unorganized during an insurance claim can be costly. It is of utmost importance to be extremely thorough and organized. For example, not taking the time to accurately inventory your damaged possessions or keep a paper trail of every person you have spoken to can wreak havoc on your claim.
One of the most important phases of the insurance claim is to accurately identify and evaluate all personal property that had been damaged or lost during the disaster. This is a very tedious, detailed process that if not done thoroughly can be detrimental. The insurance company owes you either the Actual Cash Value (ACV) or the Replacement Cost for your property based on what your policy states, but regardless, proper documentation is required. Therefore, leaving items out of your claim is only going to hurt your settlement in the long run. Keep in mind that the small items, such as office supplies for a business or hygienic products for a homeowner, can add up to a significant monetary value.
As a policyholder, you need to dedicate time to document every phone call, meeting and interaction you have with the people involved in your claim, including: contractors, public adjusters, the insurance company's representatives, etc. After each meeting, send a follow-up e-mail noting bullet points of what was discussed and asking them to confirm that your understanding of the conversation was correct. If problems arise during the course of your claim, this documentation will serve as support for your position.
Lastly, being organized also involves checking references and credentials; which can an easy step to bypass and ignore, but is one that you will wish you did not forget if you find yourself scammed by parties posing as contractors, public adjusters/attorneys, FEMA workers, or charitable organizations. Taking the time to check that all parties are accredited can save difficulty in the long run. There are many websites and methods to find out someone's standing in their industry such as the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies, NAPIA and more.
- Not having a disaster team of experts in place
The motto to surviving a property loss claim is to "expect the unexpected." Although this step would be much more helpful if it was setup before disaster struck, it is certainly attainable and just as important to do after the fact. A disaster team, or a response team, is a group of individuals that will assist you in filing your claim that work for you, not your insurance company. This team could include your own public adjuster, contractor, engineer, and attorney. A lead spokesperson should be assigned and should be an individual who is knowledgeable in the insurance claims process. This experience is crucial, since sometimes the smallest comment can make a big difference in your settlement.
Solely relying on the insurance company's resources puts you at a distinct disadvantage. The insurance company and their representatives are working with an eye on their bottom line, not on yours. Just as the insurance company has their team, you should have yours for your own protection as well to ensure that you get the settlement you are entitled to under the terms of your policy.
- Not understanding your policy's language
The insurance claim process can be daunting for someone who is not familiar with the nuances and the language used within your insurance policy. If you have not worked in the insurance industry or with resolving claims, chances are fairly low that you totally understand your policy's inclusions and exclusions. If this is true, it is beneficial to enlist the services of a public adjuster who has years of experience in navigating the fine print of insurance policies. They will advocate on your behalf, mediate between you and your insurance company, and ultimately get you a full and fair settlement.
The property claims process is a detail-oriented, time consuming but necessary venture following a property loss. Do not make the mistakes that others have in the past by being disorganized or trying to do it all on their own. Being aware of these common mistakes can help lead you to a better, faster recovery.