6 things to know before you deal with a home insurance claims adjuster

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Things to know before you deal with a claims adjuster
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With an active hurricane season ongoing, many homeowners may soon find themselves picking up the pieces due to storm damage. That means they’re likely going to be dealing with their home insurance company and, more specifically, a claims adjuster. Here’s what you should know about that process.

Home affected by storm damage? Here’s what to know about claims adjusters

Claims adjusters are professionally trained to come out to your home or property and assess damages for the insurance company.

1. There are two kinds of claims adjusters

The first thing to know is that there are two kinds of claims adjusters: In the event of a major accident or natural disaster, it is common for public adjusters — likely independent adjusters — to contact you. The other kind of adjuster is usually referred to as a staff adjuster. They work for the insurance company. (It is commonplace today for insurance companies to hire independent adjusters as well, but for the purposes of our discussion, we’ll call them staff adjusters).

The good thing about public adjusters, if you can call it that, is that they typically won’t be looking out for the interests of the insurance company. The downside is that unlike an insurance company-enlisted claims adjuster, they aren’t free.

That means it behooves you to do your homework before you hire a public claims adjuster. If you do decide to go with a public adjuster, be sure to check references and their qualifications. Some resources that can help you with vetting are the Better Business Bureau, your state insurance department and the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters.

2. What percentage does a public claims adjuster charge?

The fee that public claims adjusters charge will vary from one state to the next. Typically, they will charge anywhere from 10-20% of your settlement. For a $25,000 loss, an adjuster may charge as much as 20%; for a loss over $100,000, they may charge as little as 10%.

If you go with the staff claims adjuster sent by the insurance company, it is fairly common to dispute their findings, so don’t lose any sleep over this.

Before the adjuster arrives, some insurers may send you a proof of loss form to fill out. Don’t lose this form! It will be crucial for you to itemize your losses.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, many people are so traumatized from the event that they totally tune out when a claims adjuster shows up. But it’s important that you be as engaged as possible. Your complete recovery — financial and emotional — depends on it.

3. Here’s what a home insurance claims adjuster does

The claims adjuster will be looking for structural damage to your main residence, but you may have to call to his or her attention other losses like damage to a shed or car port. No matter what, don’t discard anything until the claims adjuster has recorded it.

The claims adjuster will often will use a program like Xactimate to come up with their damage figures.

It’s always a good idea to ask where the insurance adjuster is from. Here is what one insurance expert told Insure.com: “The insurance company will bring in out-of-state adjusters who are probably not licensed in your state,” Ron Reitz, president of Quality Claims Management Corp. in San Diego, told the site. He went on to say: “They’re not as familiar with local building codes. What we saw from wildfires in Southern California was that out-of-state adjusters can’t comprehend that it will cost $800,000 or $1 million to rebuild someone’s house. They can’t comprehend local building values if they are accustomed to handling total losses of $200,000.”

4. Gather your receipts

Along with insurance paperwork, keep all your documents related to the contents of your home and any work you’ve had done on it. You will likely need to submit them to your insurer.

5. Make a list of everything

Independent of what the claims adjuster does —and ideally before they get to your home — meticulously record damages as you see them. Don’t forget to check your air conditioner, furnace and any dormant appliances. While many insurers will allow you to create a ledger of things you remember, it’s best to photograph or make a video of your items.
 
Not only will itemizing your possessions give you a good idea of what’s in your home, but it will provide a tremendous leg up in the insurance process. Here’s a good idea of what you need to record:
  • Description of the item
  • Date of purchase
  • Estimate of repair or replacement

6. What to do if you can’t reach an agreement

If you’ve done everything the insurance company has asked you to do, you may be surprised when they come back with a figure much lower than you were expecting. In many cases, this is because insurers will claim that they’re giving you a market value for your home, rather than considering the state it was in before disaster struck.

Take heart! If you and the insurance company can’t get on the same page, here’s what you can do: Escalate the issue by going beyond your insurance agent and asking to speak with or meet the company’s claims department manager.

If that doesn’t work, check to see if your policy allows for an independent appraisal after a loss. It likely does, and this is a good thing. Inform your insurance company that you would like to proceed with an independent appraiser. The terms of your policy stipulate that they will do likewise. What this does is make a neutral third party have the binding decision when it comes to your claim. While there’s a chance it won’t work out in your favor, it’s worth it if you think the insurance company is shortchanging you on the proposed settlement.

There are many reputable insurance mediation services out there but, as always, do your homework.

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer. You can reach Craig at [email protected]
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