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Tips for homeowner's claims

Prevent additional damage

Whether you had a break-in where a couple of items were stolen or large fire, the potential for additional damage exists. The standard homeowner's policy requires that the insured take reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property and/or protect the property from further damage.

If there is a burst pipe, you would need to turn off the water. If a fire, you would need to board up your home to discourage vandalism. Check with your insurance professional, but most homeowner's insurance policies will pay for reasonable repairs made solely to protect the insured property from further damage assuming the initial cause of loss is covered.

Report the claim right away

If you have a theft claim, you are required by the homeowner's policy (which is considered a contract) to contact the police and file a report. You should document the officer you spoke with as well as the case number as this will be needed when filing a claim with your insurance company.

There is also a requirement written into many home policies that you are required to "promptly" report a claim, or the company can deny coverage. That said, if you had a minor claim on a Friday night, the company would not deny your claim if reported on Monday. It is good to know that most insurance companies have 24-hour claims reporting and typically adjusters on staff ready to respond to a large loss, such as a fire.

As you could be emotionally rattled, it is a good idea to add your company's contact information into your phone and make a note of your policy number before a loss.

Take pictures

They say a picture is worth 1000 words and in claims, this is certainly true. Documenting the damage with photos right after it happens can help visualize for your company's claims adjuster the extent of damage.

Provide a list of damaged property to the insurance company

This may not seem daunting if say your new television was stolen. It is one item and if newer, you may even be able to find the receipt. What if your entire home was destroyed? Could you remember it all? Chances are without some sort of guide, it would be extremely difficult.

This is why it is a good idea to document what you own beforehand with an inventory list, complete with item description, serial number, date of purchase, and cost. The more detailed the information, the easier it will be for you and the insurance adjuster. It can be as basic as a notebook that includes receipts (though it is not recommended that you keep this at your home unless in a fireproof safe), or with photos and a spreadsheet backed up in several locations. There are also many apps available, but again, make sure the info can be exported and backed-up in some form.

Be Available

Adjusting a claim, regardless of its size, does take time and requires cooperation from both sides. The easier it is to keep the lines of communication open, the faster a claim can be settled. Make sure that you share with the claim's adjuster the best phone numbers where you can be reached.

No one likes claims, but if you understand the process, the whole process can go smoothly.

Problems With a Claim

The insurance company is supposed to help you, and, as a consumer, you have the right to a fair and expedient claims settlement and customer service. But if you have problems communicating with your claims adjuster or don't understand something, speak to your insurance representative or agent. You could also inquire whether the insurance company has an ombudsman or claims service supervisor. Usually, issues can usually be resolved if you run into trouble during a claim and you speak up.

If you feel like things are being neglected or are taking too long, contact your state commissioner's office to find out what you can do. Calling your state commissioner before you hire a lawyer may save you money and rectify any claim issues. You can even have them help you file a complaint with the insurance company.

If you aren't happy with the service at the end of your claim, you might want to speak to an agent about changing insurance companies to one with high service ratings for claims.

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