Fallen tree limbs, pipes that have burst, or even roof collapse/cave-ins, the winter storm that hit Texas has certainly left behind major damage. In the event that your home has been damaged from the recent storm, do you know you have the responsibility as a homeowner to prevent further damage? What steps should you take to start your insurance claim? Here are some steps and what you MUST know about insurance claims.
Immediate Actions to Take When Property Is Damaged
If you have pipes that have burst, the first thing you must do is to turn the water off to your home using the main shut-off valve. If you cannot locate the shut-off valve, contact your water service provider to turn off the water.
If water is pouring in, you will need to shut off the circuit breaker to your home to prevent the arching of electrical circuits. If the breaker box is wet, you will need to call your utility company or the fire department to help.
Mitigate Further Damage
You must do what you can to mitigate further damage. In the agreement with your insurance company, you have the responsibility as a homeowner to prevent further damage. Do not put yourself in harm's way, but immediately do what you can to demonstrate an attempt to stop further damage. Document everything you do and take photos.
If water damage to your home is to ceilings, walls, or flooring, you must get any standing water removed immediately and demo all materials as soon as possible. Do not wait for the insurance adjuster. Keep all receipts and document everything.
For Pipes That Have Burst, Contact a Plumber
Find a plumber to repair your pipes. The plumber should not only repair the obvious ruptured pipe but should use a pressure test to locate any other damage to pipes, appliances, and systems in your home.
Find a Reputable Contractor
Ideally, you want to find a contractor local to Texas. There will be many out-of-state contractors heading to Texas. If you do choose a contractor that is not local, you will want to ensure that they are IICRC certified.
If filing with your insurance company, they may suggest a contractor or request that you get 3 bids. You do not have to do this. Insurance companies cannot require you to get a certain number of estimates. Keep in mind that the insurance company will pay your area’s best contractor the exact same amount as it pays for the worst.
The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) regulates the insurance industry in the State of Texas and works to protect consumers and that the laws regarding insurance are executed. According to Section 29 of the TDI Consumer Bill of Rights, "you have the right to have your home repaired by the repair person of your choice."
Don't be afraid to ask a potential contractor for references. These are invaluable in determining how they have handled previous projects.
Ask questions. You can find out a lot about a contractor's knowledge and your ability to communicate with them by asking questions. Here are a few questions you might ask:
Have you performed work in the area?
How long have you used your crew?
How long have you been in business?
How experienced is your crew?
How can I reach out during the process?
Read through your home insurance policy carefully to see exactly what is covered, excluded, and confirm your deductible. Making sure you have a copy of the official policy on RECORD is critical for protecting yourself. Knowing how your insurance policy works and how the insurance company will tell you it works is key.
Before you make a claim for check carefully for exclusions. Some examples:
Every policy is different, which is why it’s important to review it carefully before making a claim. Typically, the declaration page in your policy will list the different types of coverage:
Coverage A – Damage to the home
Coverage B – Damage to other structures (garage, decks, swimming pools)
Coverage C – Loss or damage to the contents of your home
Coverage D – Loss in the event the home becomes uninhabitable
Coverage E – Personal liability to third parties
Coverage F – Medical payments to third parties.
Figuring out what your policy covers – and what it doesn’t – can be difficult.
The Home Insurance Adjuster
After you've made a claim, you will have an appointment set up with an insurance adjuster to determine the extent of the damage. The adjuster is a paid employee or independent contractor for the insurance company. They work for the insurance company, not for you. The adjuster's goal is the protect the insurance company from a financial standpoint.
They want to evaluate your claim and determine how much money the insurance company is required to pay as quickly as possible, for the least money possible.
Negotiating With a Home Insurance Adjuster
When you buy a home insurance policy you are entering into a mutual contract. This agreement means the insurance company must legally cover certain types of damage.
If the initial payout offer seems low, you certainly do not have to accept the offer and can choose to negotiate. You can ask for further justification of the low amount; ask them to itemize the damages and provide the facts behind their numbers.
The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) regulates the insurance industry in the State of Texas and works to protect consumers and laws regarding insurance are executed. According to Section 29 of the TDI Consumer Bill of Rights:
"You have the right to reject a settlement amount, including any unfair valuation offered by the insurance company. If you reject a settlement offer your options include continuing to negotiate with the insurer or pursuing legal remedies, such as mediation. arbitration, or filing a Iawsuit."
If you feel you're being treated unfairly, you can also file a complaint on the TDI website.
If the company is refusing to cover damages that are in your policy, intentionally stalling, or failing to thoroughly investigate your claim you might choose to hire a public insurance adjuster or an attorney to represent you. (See more below)
Tips for Negotiating
Don't settle your claim too quickly.
What you say can hurt you. Be careful what you say, especially in a recorded statement.
Avoid recorded statements.
Ask them to itemize the damages and provide information behind their numbers.
Avoid signing any documents until you have reviewed and fully understand everything it contains.
Get your settlement in writing; an adjuster might promise one thing during negotiations, then go back to a previous offer in the final settlement.
According to section 34 of the TDI Consumer Bill of Rights, you do not have to provide federal income tax records and you do have to provide any information that does not relate to your claim.
Consider hiring a public adjuster or an attorney if negotiations are stalled or you believe your insurance company is not acting in good faith.
Consider Hiring a Public Adjuster
If you are concerned about the complications of your policy and claim process, you may want to hire a public adjuster.
Public adjusters are insurance professionals who represent you in the claim process - similar to how the insurance company's adjuster represents and works for them. A public adjuster’s goal is to assess your property damage, analyze your specific insurance policy, and then negotiate with your insurance company to reach a fair settlement.
Some tasks of a public adjuster include:
Quantifying the damages and monetary value of your claim.
Preparing detailed estimates of the needed repairs.
Help the policy owner to make and present the claim.
Negotiate with the insurance company on the owner's behalf.
Handling damage to your home may be daunting, but preparation and knowledge will help you get the best payoff possible.
Selz Contracting will unapologetically not be the lowest bid you receive. What you will get is a fair price, proper documentation/photographs that are crucial for insurance claims, expert construction quality that adheres to professional practices, and peace of mind that the job is done right.
The team at Selz Contracting is here to help with any questions you may about your insurance claim, freeze damage, or other contracting needs in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth and surrounding areas. Check out OUR PROMISE TO YOU.