We pay hundreds of dollars for homeowner insurance. Seldom do homeowners read their insurance policy, so we don’t really understand what we're paying for. Not until we have a home emergency do we discover what our homeowner policy covers, excludes or caps (mine was a mold cap). Managing a home insurance claim is challenging, especially when you have limited knowledge vs insurance company experts. With time, effort and guidance from us, you can successfully manage your home insurance claim.
This website brings together everything I discovered about insurance claims when my house flooded. It also includes things I wish I'd known as I fought the insurance company to get coverage for everything I lost.
Table of Contents
- First Steps After a Home Emergency
- Your Home Insurance Claim & Talking to Your Insurance Company
- Deciding Where You Should Stay
- Choosing Your Restoration Strategy
- Handling Special Requirements Such As Mold Remediation
- Removing Damaged Building Materials & Personal Contents
- Restoring Your House Better than Before!
- Fight & Win Your Home Insurance Claim
First Steps After a Home Emergency
- Safety is Your Top Priority – You've just experienced a major home emergency so what do you do? First locate all your family members and make sure they're okay. Review key safety rules to stay clear of downed electrical wires and wear protective rubber boots when walking through water.
- Notify Your Insurance Company – Next you want to call your insurance company's 24-hour hotline or your local agent, whichever is easiest. It's important to alert them to your emergency so they can help you with resources as soon as possible, to manage your home insurance claim. This should be a short phone call (keep reading to learn more below). Questions to ask:
- Does my homeowner policy cover this type of accident?
- What steps do I need to take to file a claim? How much time do I have to do this?
- How long will it take to process the claim?
- Do I need to obtain estimates for repairs to my house?
- Take Photos of the Damage – You can't take too many photos. Walk through each room in your house and take one or more photos of each wall. Where there's more damage, take photos from different angles and don't forget close-ups.
- Protect Your Property – Where possible, try to stop further damage from happening. With my flooded house, I called a neighbor and had them turn off the main water shutoff valve. You may need to place a tarp over your roof or board up broken windows.
- Start a Daily Log of Claim Activities – Things will get complicated, so it's best to write down all your activities as they happen. This includes dates, times, contact names and contact information such as titles, phone numbers, and emails for everyone you speak to, along with a short description of what they tell you. When possible, ask people to follow-up with a confirmation email so you have written documentation. You'll also want to set up a filing system to save all receipts, estimates and other documentation you collect along the way.
Your Home Insurance Claim & Talking to Your Insurance Company
Their priority is company profitability so they are looking for ways to deny and/or minimize what they will cover. That's why YOU must take the lead in managing your claim from beginning to end.
- Prepare for Insurance Company Talk – Your insurance company will assign a rep to your claim. They'll call you for a more in-depth discussion and you'll be more comfortable if you've written up notes. Here are examples of questions and what I did wrong, yes … why this website.
- Do you know what caused the problem? I foolishly told them the cause because of my experience running a handyman business. That was the wrong thing to do … as I'm not an expert and neither are you!
- Who was your builder (they knew my house was new)? Again I might have gone too far, explaining how I gutted my house and replaced all the finishes. I gave them the name of my handyman, along with his contact information.
- When did I occupy my house? As there are limits to coverage for unoccupied homes. To quell this line of questioning, I offered to send a timeline which shared way too much information.
- Talking to Your Claims Rep – Listen and take notes. Give short answers without volunteering too much information, as anything you say might be used against you in the future. This lesson I learned much later in the claims process. It's important!
- Schedule and Meet the Insurance Adjuster – For most home insurance claims, an adjuster will come to your home to inspect the damage. While you might be tempted to start cleaning up right away, you want the adjuster to see all the damage done. It will factor into how much money you get for repairs and cleaning.
Deciding Where You Should Stay
You're struggling with a major disaster, I get it. You're probably overwhelmed by the work in front of you to restore your house and replace personal contents damaged by your home emergency. In this environment, it's hard to grapple with where to live while you put the pieces of your life back together.
You might stay with family/friends for a few days. Once you realize the restoration of your home will take months, it's time to find a long-term place to live. The challenge is finding a place to stay that's furnished. Here are the options I researched south of Orlando, Florida.
- Checked out two local hotels that were four miles from my house.
- Researched AirBnB rentals in my development. This seemed like the best option as it would be easy to meet contractors at my house. Costs were slightly higher than hotel rates but worth it to get a full kitchen.
- Negotiated a monthly house rental with the owner for less than AirBnB. This was the perfect solution until the Christmas holidays when Disney traffic drives up rental rates near my house. I've also seen people looking for rentals on NextDoor, so get creative and you'll find a place that works.
How do you cover unexpected living expenses due to “loss of use”? Here's how “Alternative Living Expenses (ALE)” worked with my insurance company. You have to pay out of pocket first (use credit card float). Once you've paid, send receipts to your insurance rep right away. They should send a check to reimburse you within a few days. Start calling if you don't get a check within one week.
Save time by requesting all your receipts electronically. This will allow you to email receipts to your insurance company and more easily archive all paperwork for your home insurance claim. Ask for confirmation that they received your receipts and when a reimbursement check will be mailed. You should also save the receipts in a folder for future reference.
Choosing Your Restoration Strategy
This step is critical for homeowners dealing with a major disaster such as a house fire or flood like mine. Managing the restoration of a flooded 2,200 square foot house is entirely different than repairing an attic HVAC leak and the ceiling in the hallway below.
When I owned my handyman business, I provided an estimate for the ceiling leak and the homeowner had their HVAC company tackle the air handler. The claim involved only two contractors and was small enough that the homeowner was able to gather and submit the required documentation to their insurance company.
More than a dozen contractors and vendors (new cabinets, flooring and furniture) were involved in my flooded house so a different strategy was needed. Here are the choices I considered and trust me, I didn't always make the right decision!
- Manage the claim personally! With my handyman business, I had lots of experience with restoration but maybe not this big. I also had relationships with key contractors who had installed the now flooded flooring, cabinets, appliances and more.
- Hire a remodeler to handle the restoration. Restoration contractors can handle everything except personal belongings, giving you time to deal with the insurance company. The downside is you give up control. Personally, I found most (men) arrogant, abrasive and unwilling to listen to me so be careful when going this route.
- Hire a public adjuster. Knowing little about the home insurance claim process and with limited connections because I had just relocated to Florida, this seemed like a good option. I'd learned about adjusters through my business and knew their cost would be offset by the higher settlements they got from insurance companies.
My strategy evolved over time. I hired a public adjuster (recommended by a friend) but after little action on his part for a month, I fired him. I'd already started demolition to determine how much mold would be an issue. Tom, my drywall guy, made test cuts in prep for mold testing.
Talking to prospective restoration contractors was frustrating. Many were macho guys who wouldn't listen and couldn't comprehend that a woman knew what the job entailed. So I talked to Ryan, a family friend familiar with homeowner claims. He offered to help me with the insurance process, and by then I knew I could partner with Tom, owner of TNT Drywall, to tackle all aspects of the restoration … and that strategy got the job done (six months).
Handling Special Requirements Such As Mold Remediation
Major home emergencies often require dealing with mold, smoke and/or water problems in addition to restoring damaged building materials. Most of my experience is related to water problems and specifically wood rot, as it's the number one job (60 to 100 jobs per year) done by my handyman business in southern New Hampshire.
My experience with mold remediation is based on my flooded house plus a few projects where I've helped friends in Florida where the humidity makes mold a huge problem. In the future I will work with my mold team to get first-hand experience with smoke remediation. For now you should take the ideas here as a starting point in your journey, as each home emergency is unique.
Here are the steps I used to handle my mold emergency.
- Inspected my house for mold. This involved removing countertops and cabinets and yes, the mold was there on the walls and backs of my cabinets (photo above).
- Learn about the problem if you have no experience. I read numerous articles to get familiar with concepts and terminology before I started calling companies.
- Try do-it-yourself testing to confirm there's a problem. There are inexpensive mold test kits so I placed five of them around the house.
- Pick your mold testing company. Find someone who really knows their business, which isn't guaranteed with every mold remediation team.
- Schedule mold remediation steps from beginning to end, challenging over year-end and holidays.
- Mold testing done first to document the protocol to follow for types and levels of mold found.
- Mold remediation to remove mold and clean all surfaces.
- HVAC cleaning to clean air handler and ductwork contaminated with mold.
- Mold testing done to verify that mold removal was successful.
Removing Damaged Building Materials & Personal Contents
Before you can rebuild a house, you have to remove all the damaged building materials. Fixtures need to be removed in a specific and logical order. For example, to check for mold we had to remove the countertops first and then the cabinets.
The real challenge you'll face here is financial. Some actions need to be taken quickly, before you get any money from the insurance company. If you have an emergency fund, congratulations as that will make this less stressful.
Here are the most important steps to take to protect your property.
- Remove personal items that are difficult to replace. For me it was artwork that hadn't been hung yet so I quickly took them to a local frame store for restoration (read: How to Fix Water Damaged Art). If your home will be vacant for any length of time, you may also want to remove valuables such as jewelry or cash.
- Remove items vulnerable to further damage. If high humidity remains an issue, you may need to remove antiques that will expand and crack. For my flooded house, I should have removed all personal contents as soon as mold was found.
Smoke damage may also need to be cleaned quickly as “The way that smoke interacts with surfaces may also mean that surfaces can continue to discolor or weaken for days or weeks after the fire is out. If smoke is not quickly eliminated and cleaned from a building, you may find that it takes even more time and money later to repair the damage.” according to SmokeGuard.com.
- Remove items identified by the insurance company for replacement. For my flooded house, this included all the doors and trim, base (not top) cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms, baseboard and more. What they didn't include was … drywall.
- Mold testing will identify more items to be removed. My mold protocol stated that drywall should be removed up to four feet, including furring strips behind the drywall and fiberglass insulation.
- The next challenge is removing things before the insurance company approves replacing an item. For me this was my brand new tile floor because I've seen tile buckle in other homes. When the baseboard wasn't removed to dry things out, I knew there was a chance water had seeped under the tile and I didn't want to worry about problems for the next ten years.
- The final challenge is converting your estimate to the industry software package your insurance company uses. My company used Xactimate, so we built that estimate to support the contractor estimates.
Restoring Your House Better than Before!
You will find yourself getting tired as you get to the home stretch, putting your house back together. By now you understand that the home insurance claim process isn't a straight line. Success in this step depends on good planning, similar to any building or remodeling project. The added complication … your home furnishings and other personal contents.
Ordering Building Materials and Furniture
Managing any construction project is a juggling act. You build a schedule so the drywall materials arrive a day before the installers are scheduled (unloading drywall above). A tight timeline requires coordinating so materials and contractors arrive together. They start and you confirm what's needed for the next step in the timeline. In fact most good remodelers tell homeowners they want all materials on site before they start work.
To give you an idea of how early you want to start ordering things for your home insurance claim, here are my major items. The flood occurred in September (month #1). Mold remediation was completed in December (month #4) and I was able to move back into my home in March (month #7). Ongoing dialog until final checks continued into May (month #9).
|House Feature||Ordered From||Month||Other Information|
|Base cabinets||ProSource Orlando||2||Order early & ask about sales|
|Flooring tile||ProSource Orlando||2||Order early & ask about sales|
|New furniture||2 furniture stores||5||4 month lead time, plus 2 months due to pandemic delays for sofa from China|
|Craft room bookcases||Original manufacturer||5||2 month lead time – delivered 2 weeks before pandemic lock-down|
|Drywall||Drywall installer||5||Delivered the day before installation|
|Mattresses||Department store||6||Arrived for my sisters visit, 2 weeks before pandemic lock-down|
|Doors, trim & baseboard||Door company||6||Ordered 2 weeks before installation & too late to upgrade doors|
If you're managing the restoration yourself, take the time to find the best contractors possible. It's also a good idea to have a backup contractor as I would have fired my painter early if there had been someone else to turn to. This was a huge challenge for me as I had just moved to Florida. I was also just learning how little quality there was in Florida construction compared to the northeast. For example, painters don't paint door tops and bottoms … because no one can see this omission. A small inspection mirror fixes this problem.
These tips will help you get the best work from those involved in restoring your house. Most contractors are honest, making much of this unnecessary. Other contractors are just sloppy and even when you micro-manage them, you probably won't be happy with their work. Most of my contractors got an A, the electricians a C because they took too long and the painter was an F for many reasons.
- Make sure all contracts include details on schedule (start and projected number of days to complete), work hours, clean up rules and materials being used. The attention to detail here will provide insight into workmanship. This also makes expectations clear up front and helps minimize or eliminate conflict.
- Tape work rules on a wall where all contractors can see them. For example, tell them your expectations for cleaning up at the end of each work day (painters didn't).
- Talk to contractors at the end of the day, to learn about issues you can help resolve. Confirm their schedule in case you have to slip the start date of the next contractor.
- Check workmanship every day if you can. Don't be shy about telling contractors what you're not happy about. They might not care/listen (here's the email I sent to my painter) but you'll have a checklist of things to monitor until they're done.
Wishing everyone much success restoring your house better than before. With enough energy and perseverance you should also succeed at getting compensated properly by your insurance company. This website is meant to help you achieve success with your home insurance claim!
Fight & Win Your Home Insurance Claim
We Don't Know What's in a Home Insurance Policy!
Even if you read your homeowner insurance policy (mine is 72 pages), you won't really understand what it says. They're legal contracts full of loopholes giving your insurance company many ways to manipulate the home insurance claim process. I got help reviewing the hidden caps like $10,000 for mold coverage.
Their demand letter arrived via snail mail. It was probably triggered by a six month checkpoint on the claim once they knew I wasn't going to accept their bully tactics. The letter quoted the policy which gave them a right to demand arbitration … and the clock started when the letter was received.
Following the insurance claim process at this point benefits the insurance company and puts you at a severe disadvantage. They start by hiding the fact that you're entering into arbitration which cannot be appealed. This is done by calling it an insurance appraisal process which means nothing to a homeowner. Their goal is to prevent you from taking your insurance claim to court … to save them time and money – lots of money!
- A homeowner has 20 days to hire their own appraiser? I immediately explained this timeline was ridiculous. I said I'd never heard of this process and in the same package, they'd given me several documents totaling more than 60 pages to review.
- For this response, I was given an additional 20 days to hire an appraiser … and I had to follow up to get this in writing.
- The appraisal process requires both appraisers to inspect the house, plus a third umpire if the two appraisers can't reach an agreement.
- This was happening while the country was locked down due to the pandemic. I explained numerous times that I would let no one in my house and never did!
- Talking to their appraiser who was technical was easy for me but might be challenging if you're not comfortable with home construction terminology. Here are some of the questions and supporting documentation I provided:
- Questioned 31 linear feet of cabinets in my kitchen. I explained the kitchen was part of the great room with 11 linear feet of cabinets for a home office (upper right above). Then I walked around the room and gave her measurements for each set of cabinets (green above).
- Wanted details on cabinets and flooring to justify higher value than what's standard for this builder that I'd installed after closing on the house. Explained when and where upgraded building materials were purchased and followed up with invoices.
- Challenged scope of upgrades installed after I closed on the house (four months before the flood). Provided PDF with more than 20 photos showing scope of the demo (my kids helping me remove flooring the day after closing … cabinets already gone).