Homeowner’s Insurance – What to Do If Your House Burns Down
Fire is such a powerful, frightening, and destructive force. And few disasters can be more horrifying than a house fire.
There is much to be done when you have just lost your home to a fire but how do you stay focused when you are looking at the smoldering rubble of what was your home?
First Steps, First
The most important first step is to follow the directions of the authorities to ensure your safety. Don’t try to enter the area until you are told when (or if) it is safe to do so.
The next step is to contact your family members and let them know what has happened. Reassure them that you’re OK and share the most pertinent information necessary (like how to reach you).
Contact Your Insurance Agent
Now it’s time to call your insurance agent to begin your major claim process.
Having a plan of action to follow can help you stay focused on immediate concerns while you are grappling with the emotional and physical losses. These are some of the steps you will want to discuss with your insurance agent.
• File Your Claim Immediately: contact your agent as soon as possible to start the claim process. You will be asked to submit a “proof of loss claim” that itemizes your losses and values.
• Secure the Property: most homeowner’s policies require that you take reasonable steps to secure your property following a fire.
o If the structure resumes smoldering, contact the fire department to douse the flare-ups and ensure the fire truly is extinguished.
o Board up the structure to prevent vandalism and consider erecting a portable chain-link fence to keep looters out.
o Keep an eye on the property and be alert to new problems or any appearance of something that’s been disturbed.
• An Advance: you may need basics like a toothbrush and clothing right away and won’t want to wait until the claim has been filed and approved to purchase them. Ask your agent about an advance against the claim that can cover replacement necessities. (Be sure to save receipts for your replacement purchases.)
• Track Your Living Expenses: a “loss of use” clause in your policy entitles you to reimbursement for many (but not necessarily all) expenses you incur while you are unable to live in your home.
• Estimates: first, you will need an estimate of prior market value (or the cost of replacing damaged items or parts). Your insurance company’s adjustors will prepare an estimate that you are not obligated to accept unless you are satisfied that it is a fair estimate. You may want to hire an independent estimator to prepare an estimate.
Ultimately, be sure that you and your insurance company agree on the scope of work to be done.
• Pay Your Premiums: don’t stop paying your premiums just because your home and belongings are gone. Your insurance can help cover cost of repairing accidental damage at your temporary location. Talk with your agent about modifying parts of your existing policy that can temporarily reduce your premiums.
• Signing Off on Your Claim: insurance companies usually want to close claims as soon as possible, but you may discover additional losses that you didn’t think of at the time of the disaster. Wait a few months before allowing your claim to be closed.