Filing a homeowner’s insurance  claim and completing the claims process can be a confusing and sometimes intimidating process.
If you have suffered major property damage arising from an insurable peril such as fire, theft or injury, your first concern should be the safety and security of the members of your household, which may involve emergency medical care and involvement of government authorities and the police.
Your next order of business is contacting your insurance company to inform them of the situation and initiate the home insurance claims process, which typically begins with a barrage of detailed questions about the cause and amount of damage to your home and/or personal belongings.
In most cases you will be assigned a claims adjuster or other insurance company representative. If the damage is substantial, the adjuster will typically visit your home to conduct an inspection of the damage.
Remember that he or she works for the insurance company and is not really employed to represent you or to look out for your best interests. And, while most insurance company adjusters are professional and cooperative to work with, you may want to consider having your own representation to ensure that the terms of your claim are in your best interest and that you are fully compensated for your losses.
So what professionals are available to assist you through the home insurance claims process and when should you consider enlisting their services?
Three Types of Homeowner’s Insurance Adjusters
As pointed out, the first type of adjuster is one who works full time as an employee of the insurance company and is licensed through your state’s insurance department. Always be polite and cooperate fully with your insurer’s adjuster.
This does not mean you have to agree with everything he or she says, but you should never act unprofessionally or direct your frustration or anger toward the claims adjuster as this will not help your case or speed the process in the least.
The second type of adjuster works as an independent contractor, also licensed by your state insurance department, and provides his or her services to insurance companies, charging a fee paid by the company.
Since the independent adjuster is paid by your insurer, you can not assume he or she has your best interests in mind, although some people do feel that an independent adjuster will tend to be more impartial than a company-employed adjuster, which is the reason some insurers use their services.
In other cases an insurer may use the services of independent adjusters to provide service in areas where they do not have enough cases to justify employing their own or in cases when a large number of cases are filed in a given area all at one time, such as following a natural disaster affecting many policyholders.
The third type of adjuster is called a public insurance adjuster, who works for consumers as an independent contractor, helping to ensure that the terms of a claim are in your best interested as the insured. You will want to consider carefully whether or not you need a public adjuster since they typically charge a percentage of your claims payment, which means you will not receive the full amount.
Public adjusters’ fees can typically be as much as 15% of the total claim, so unless you feel that the difference between what you will receive from your insurance company with or without the assistance of a public adjuster will be more than the fee it makes no sense to hire one. You may want to seriously consider hiring a public adjuster if there is doubt as to whether or not your claim may be rejected by your insurance company.
Before hiring a public adjuster, be sure he or she is licensed to provide such services in your state, check references and understand the rate structure to know how much you will be paying.
Public adjusters are not allowed to offer legal advice, since he or she is not an attorney, or to be involved in repairs or home rebuilding, since that would be an obvious conflict of interest. See counsel only from a reputable attorney who is knowledgeable in homeowner’s claims if you have need of legal advice at any point during the claims process.
Preparing for Inspection by the Adjuster
There are a few things you need to do prior to an inspection by the adjuster. If required by your insurance company, complete the “proof of loss” form, which details items that have been damaged, stolen, lost or destroyed as a result of an insurable peril.
Even if your insurer does not require you to complete such a form, you should take the time to prepare a detailed list and provide the adjuster a copy at the time of the inspection.
Also, it is best to leave everything untouched until after the inspection has been completed. Unless you absolutely need to make temporary repairs to prevent further damage or loss, leave things alone. Never discard broken or damaged property before the inspection and take your own videos and photographs if possible.
This can be important in case your documentation and the adjusters are not exactly the same; if you have no documentation you will be unlikely to prove that the adjuster’s documentation may be in error.
If your claim involves damage to your home, try and arrange for your contractor or builder to be on site during the inspection. This allows for discussion between your contractor and the adjuster regarding needed repairs, materials to be used and any technical details about the repairs to be made.
Involvement of Appraisers
If your claim is substantial, both you and your insurance company will hire appraisers to estimate damages and the required repairs. A third appraiser is selected to independently “referee” the appraisals of the other two.
You are responsible for paying all of your own appraiser’s expenses and half of the third party appraiser’s expenses. Your insurer is responsible for its own appraiser’s expenses and half of the third party appraiser’s expenses.