What Should I do if My Home has been Damaged by a Storm?
If a storm damages your home, making sure your insurance claim is handled properly can mean the difference between repairing your home properly or facing financial disaster. After a storm strikes, you can improve your chances of getting money from the insurance company quickly if you follow certain steps:
Call your insurance company. Questions to ask them include:
- What do I need to do to make a claim?
- Will the insurance company send an adjuster to my home or will they first send me a claim form, sometimes called a “proof of loss” form, to complete?
TIP: Even if the adjuster comes first, the more information you can provide – descriptions of damaged items, photographs, dates of purchases, replacement costs, etc. – the faster your claim can be processed.
Inventory your possessions and property.
- Take pictures or video of the storm damage.
- Collect brand names and model numbers for appliances and electronics.
TIP: If you have receipts, credit card statements, or cancelled checks that prove the value of damaged items, collect them and give them to your insurance company when you file a claim.
Check for damage.
Prepare a list of damages for the insurance adjuster. Remember that some storm damage, such as hail damage, can sometimes be difficult for the average person to detect.
TIP: Even if you do not believe your home has been damaged, if a significant storm has hit your area, consider hiring a licensed public adjuster to inspect your property. Experts can oftentimes alert you to damage invisible to the untrained eye and thereby prevent future damage to your home.
Gather your policies.
Prepare to file your insurance claim by gathering copies of your policy, or track down your policy numbers. Ask your insurer what to do next. If there was a widespread disaster, the insurance company might establish special procedures.
Questions on Storm Damage to Your Home
Is it okay to stay in my home?
Your first concern should be the safety of you and your family. Don’t enter your home unless you’re certain it’s safe. If you have any doubt, talk with a licensed public adjuster, reputable contractor, structural engineer, or other expert.
Should I make temporary repairs after the storm? Will that jeopardize my claim?
Yes, you should make temporary repairs to your home to prevent further damage, such as covering any roof damage that has occurred as a result of the storm. Keep your receipts for temporary repairs because your insurance company will likely reimburse you for them. Again, call your insurance company immediately after the storm and get advice about what to do next. If your home is uninhabitable, find out what living expenses (generally referred to as ALE) the insurance company will pay for.
I have standing water in my home. Is that covered?
Most standard homeowner’s polices cover storms including hail, tornado and wind damage, but usually don't cover flood damage, which includes runoff and seepage. Standard homeowner’s policies do cover some other kinds of water damage. Damage caused by rain that enters the home through a broken window or hole in the roof caused by a listed peril (such as hail or wind) is covered. Check with your agent or your insurance company if you have questions. Many homeowners don't realize their insurance won't cover flood damage until it's too late.
You can protect your property by purchasing flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as long as your community participates in the program. The NFIP recommends buying flood insurance even in areas with low or moderate flood risks. Flood insurance can be purchased from private insurance companies and agents that participate in the program. Coverage is available for homeowners, renters and businesses. There is usually a 30-day waiting period before flood coverage becomes effective.
More information about flood insurance, including cost, is available from participating insurance companies and agents, or on NFIP’s web site https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.
Several contractors have come to my door since the storm offering their services. How do I choose one?
You should be extremely cautious when hiring contractors to repair storm damage. Take your time in choosing a contractor and follow these tips:
- Get estimates from several licensed, bonded contractors.
- Check the credentials of contractors with your local Better Business Bureau.
- Ask your neighbors what they're paying for similar work.
- Inspect contractors' licenses and proof of liability insurance.
- Get a contract in writing.
- Make sure the contractor follows local building codes and inspection procedures.
TIP: Any permanent repairs should wait until the insurance company's adjuster has inspected the property and the insurance company has fully paid your claim.
Can I get multiple bids or inspections?
Absolutely. It is wise to get at least three estimates from reputable contractors who have experience working with insurance claims and repairing storm damage.
How long do I have to file an insurance claim after a storm hits?
While the time you have to file an insurance claim varies, most insurance policies limit your time to file a claim to within 12-24 months after the storm. Contact your insurance agent to see how long you have to file a claim.
Can I trust my insurance agent to represent my best interests?
No matter how much you like your insurance agent personally, remember, your insurance agent works for the insurance company, which is in business to make money. To ensure you receive proper payment for your claim, get estimates from at least three reputable contractors not referred by your insurance company. Contractors referred by your insurance company may have an incentive to save your insurance company money.
My insurance company denied my storm damage claim. Is there anything I can do?
You can request a re-inspection after your storm claim has been denied. To increase your chances of having your damage claim approved, consider having a licensed public adjuster or reputable contractor present for the re-inspection. These experts can often help you get your claim approved even if it has been previously denied. You can also contact an experienced attorney who is familiar with the tactics used by insurance companies to deny valid claims and who can help you get your claim properly paid.