What Happens Step by Step When You Make a Fire Insurance Claim

With the holiday season comes a higher risk of house fires. The season invites a lot more risks to your home, from candles to Christmas trees to unattended cooking during busy parties and family gatherings.

Given the increased risks around the holiday season, it can help to know what happens should you have to file a home insurance claim.

1) You Have to Contact Your Insurance Company Quickly

Time is of the essence in the wake of a fire. Soot damage can get worse over time, and even a small kitchen fire can result in extensive soot and smoke damage. Call the insurance company quickly after a loss. They may even be able to provide a cash advance on your claim to help with immediate expenses.

You will also have to inform the insurance company in writing that you want to file your claim. While small losses such as wind or hail damage may not be worth filing a claim over, fires tend to be expensive enough to decide to file the claim.

2) You Can Take Your Own Documentation of the Damage

It may be helpful in the future if you take photos or videos of the damage to your home yourself. Once the fire department has told you that it is safe to do so, you can go into your home and take photos or video of the damage. You should specifically focus on:

  • Structural damage where the fire has affected the house itself;
  • Lost and damaged personal belongings;
  • Other types of damage related to the fire, such as water damage from fire fighting efforts and soot damage.

Taking your own photos can help later in the process if you feel that the insurer has underestimated the costs to repair or replace everything.

3) The Insurance Company Will Assign an Insurance Adjuster

The insurance process will start to speed up when the insurance company assigns an insurance adjuster to your file. An insurance adjuster’s job is to estimate the cost of repairs to your home and the cost of lost personal belongings. They recommend how much the insurer should pay.

However, this does not mean that they represent you or have your best interests at heart. Some work independently and are contracted out by insurance companies, while some are in-house employees with the insurance company.

4) You Can Hire Someone to Help with Your Claim

While the adjuster works for the insurance company, you can also hire someone to help look out for your best interests in the claims process. This often makes sense in large claims, especially those involving a total loss. You can choose to work with an insurance lawyer or a public adjuster.

The two professionals can help with many of the same things, with some differences. Public adjusting involves helping you communicate with the insurance company, estimating the cost of repairing and replacing belongings, and helping to negotiate with the insurer regarding your offer.

An insurance lawyer can also assist with any of these, as well as help you understand the complex legal language used in insurance policies and deal with complicated claims that involve third-party liability or legal disputes.

5) You Will Submit a Schedule of Loss

Part of the insurance claims process is sending the insurance adjuster a Schedule of Loss. This is a complete list of all of the belongings you lost in the fire. While the insurance adjuster will make their own assessment of structural damage, sometimes with the help of a contractor or another professional, they need you to sign off on a list of all the non-restorable personal belongings you have lost. This includes clothing, electronics, furniture, art, media, and more.

This can be a difficult list to compose, and you do not have to submit it right away. It is important that you take the time you need to talk to your family and confirm the belongings you lost in a fire. Ensuring accuracy of this list should be your main priority. 

6) The Insurance Company Will Provide an Offer That You Can Negotiate

Once you have signed off on a finalized Schedule of Loss and the adjuster has assessed structural damage to your home, the insurer will make you an offer. The initial offer is usually negotiable; you do not have to accept it right away.

Some homeowners will feel pressure to accept the first offer in order to get access to cash sooner. If you have financial constraints, requesting a cash advance from the insurer against your final settlement can alleviate some of the pressure.

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