Filing A Homeowners Insurance Claim After A Natural Disaster
Kevin Graham8-minute read
February 24, 2023
Natural disasters can do a tremendous amount of damage in a short period of time, and during this time, the safety of your family and friends is paramount. When everything is over, you’re left to figure out how to put everything back together, including your home if it was affected.
If your home sustained damage due to a massive storm, forest fire, earthquake or other cruel event that Mother Nature has thrown your way, one of the most common ways to afford repairs is through your homeowners insurance. However, there are a number of questions at play:
How do I evaluate the damage? Should I file a claim? What should I expect during the claims process? This post aims to answer those questions.
Evaluating The Damage
When you get back to your home, the first thing to do is to try to evaluate the type of damage that was done. You’re not a trained insurance adjuster or home inspector, so you may not know exactly how much it will cost to fix whatever damage was done, but you can at least give it the eyeball test.
If it’s safe to do so, take pictures in all areas where there’s damage as well as detailed notes regarding whatever may have happened.
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Make Temporary Repairs
Whether or not you plan to file a claim, you should make any temporary repairs that are necessary in order to prevent the further damage until permanent repairs can be made. If you do file a claim later on, your insurance company will want to see that you’ve taken steps to mitigate the damage.
The steps you take are going to be dependent on the type of damage done to your home, but they may include:
- Preventing the spread of mold by removing wet carpeting and drywall
- Boarding up the exposed holes
- Putting up temporary fencing to mark off and keep people from going into hazardous areas
Keep all receipts. If you do decide to go through with the claims process, your insurance company may reimburse you for the cost of temporary repairs. However, don’t make any permanent repairs because your insurance company will need to know what damage was done.
Should You File A Claim?
There are a couple of things to consider when determining if you should file a claim with your insurance company. The first is whether or not the damage that was done is actually covered under your policy. After that, you have to decide whether it’s high enough above your deductible to be worth it. Let’s briefly go over both of these.
Before you think about filing a claim, you should know what’s covered under your homeowners insurance policy. If the particular damage you have isn’t covered, it’s time to look at other resources. Typically, there are numerous sources of assistance that are available in a declared disaster area.
If you’re unsure about what your policy covers, be sure to contact your insurance provider.
Flooding isn’t typically covered within regular insurance policies. If you live in an area that’s considered a flood zone, lenders and mortgage investors like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA may require that you carry flood insurance in order to protect their investment.
They have to make sure your home can be repaired to a standard that’s at least as good as it was before. People that live in forested areas may need to carry fire insurance for the same reason.
Unfortunately, many people who live outside areas that are typically considered flood or forest fire zones don’t carry extra coverage, and disasters tend to affect areas that don’t get hit as hard by regular weather events.
If you’re in that situation, it’s best to look to disaster assistance next if you can’t afford the repairs.
Does Filing A Claim Make Sense For You?
It’s important to realize that once you file a claim with your homeowners insurance, your rates may go up.
This isn’t to say you should never use your insurance. If that were the case, there would be no point in carrying it. However, you should decide if it’s worth it for you to file a claim.
You can figure this out by looking at your deductible — the amount of money the insurance company requires that you pay before your coverage kicks in.
If it’s only a few hundred dollars above the cost of your deductible, it may not be prudent for you to file a claim. You’ll have to make the decision based on your financial situation about how much you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket.
Of course, this relies on having accurate estimate of the damage to your home and how much it will cost to repair. If you’re really not sure, based on your own evaluation, where the repair estimate will be in relation to your deductible, it may be helpful to have someone come out to give you an itemized estimate on the repair cost.
Your insurance company may be able to provide you an estimate for free or with a fee. Contact your provider for information. If they won’t get involved until you file a claim, you may be able to find an independent contractor to do the estimate.
When hiring a contractor to compile an estimate, there are a few things you should look for:
- Is the contractor licensed and insured? Look for reviews and have the contractor provide you references as well.
- Make sure they provide an itemized list of everything that needs to be done and the cost of the work. When they get in there, there’s always the chance they will discover new problems, but the list should be as comprehensive as they can reasonably make it without diving in and doing the work.
- You may or may not have to pay for a contractor to do an estimate. However, never pay them up front to complete any work.
Once you have an accurate estimate of how much the work will cost, you can decide whether it’s worth it for you to file a claim.
The Claims Process
If you’ve decided it’s time to file a claim, what can you expect? We’ll go over the process and what you can do to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
Contact Your Carrier
The first thing you should do if you’re looking to file a claim is contact your insurance carrier. You can contact your mortgage servicer and they should be able to help you find the information regarding your insurance carrier if you are unsure about that information.
If you are a Rocket Mortgage client, you can find that information by signing into your Rocket Account.
Your insurance company will send an adjuster out to get their estimate of how much it will cost to repair the damage, which will determine how much they pay.
If you have a dispute with the insurance company over the amount, you can hire an independent public insurance adjuster to give their estimate. It’s worth noting that this may only be worth it if you have a significant dispute over the amount.
Public adjusters often get paid by taking a percentage of the settlement amount. You don’t want to get in a situation where you receive a slightly bigger settlement, but end up with less money for repairs.
The insurance adjuster will then fill you in on the next steps that are specific to your carrier.
Contact Your Lender
If you have a mortgage, your lender is listed on your homeowners insurance policy, and you’ll need your lender to endorse any checks sent by the carrier to give to the contractors for repair.
Depending on the amount of your claim, your lender may require that inspections be done when the work is completed so they can make sure the work being done is up to the previous standards. If the claim amount is high enough, your lender may require one or more inspections while the work is going on as well.
Checks for different parts of the job are released as the inspections are completed. Work with your contractor to define timelines for the project when they’re hired. Your insurance company may be able to recommend a contractor as well.
If you’re a Rocket Mortgage client looking to file an insurance claim, you can get in touch with our Insurance Loss team at (866) 947-8425.
If you can’t live in your home while it’s being worked on and you’re filing an insurance claim, there’s a good chance you’ll have to relocate. Some people even choose to settle with the insurance company and relocate permanently.
Let’s go over your options and what you need to think about if you find yourself in this situation.
The type of lodging you look for may depend on how long you expect to be out of your home. This can change, but you should have a decent timeline from your contractor when you hire them. Try to pin that down as much as possible.
If you’re only going to be out of your home for a short time, it may make sense to look at an extended stay hotel or a short-term rental agreement for an apartment. If you’re going to need longer-term arrangements, you may be able to get a better deal by signing a longer-term lease.
In any case, shop around to avoid landlords taking advantage of the situation and price gouging.
Make sure to keep any receipts or bills you get, as your insurance company may reimburse your costs.
If paying for a hotel causes a short-term cash flow problem, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a temporary hotel assistance program that may be helpful. The Red Cross also provides numerous natural disaster assistance services, including temporary shelter.
Homeowners insurance is intended to help get you back into your home and move forward with your life. However, you don’t necessarily have to move forward in your current location.
For anyone who has a home that’s going to take a long time to repair, or decides to start over in another area, you do have the option of settling with the insurance company.
Under this option, you’ll still have them carry out the estimate with the insurance adjuster as a starting point in your negotiations with your carrier.
However, instead of applying that money toward a repair, you can use it to pay off your current mortgage and toward the purchase of the new home of roughly the same value. You can get a more valuable home if you want, but you’ll pay the difference.
If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to be sure that you have enough money to pay off your current mortgage.
For more info on mortgages, loan types and home buying, visit the Rocket Mortgage Learning Center.