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The Pros and Cons of Using a Public Adjuster
Managing wildfire damage is one of the most challenging tasks that a homeowner can encounter. At a time when you may have been left without shelter, you are also expected to begin a complex insurance claims process. In this article, we are going to detail our insurance claim tips for wildfire survivors. We hope these will relieve some of the burden and frustration, allowing you to focus on your family’s health and safety.
Coverages for Wildfires
In cases of wildfire damage, determining your coverage limits is the first step on the path towards financial recovery. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most wildfire damage will be covered by a standard insurance policy. In the event of a fire, your insurance company should pay to rebuild or repair your home and attached structures, remediate smoke damage, and remove any mold that has developed because of fire suppression efforts.
Below, we explore some specific coverage types:
What qualifies as personal property? This category will include items in your home, such as furniture, clothing, and appliances, that are not considered part of the ‘structure’ of the building.
Structural or dwelling coverage
This coverage includes the primary ‘structure’ of your home and interior systems, such as those for electricity and plumbing. Structural coverage should also encompass attached structures, such as garages, decks, rental units, or a porch.
Additional living expenses
If your home sustains severe damage, it may be uninhabitable. In this case, you will need to secure a hotel or rental while your home is being repaired. Insurers should cover these expenses, provided they are ‘reasonable’.
Increased transportation and dining costs
In addition to direct rental costs for temporary housing, some policies allow you to recover the difference between your pre-loss and post-loss transportation and dining expenses. This means that if you typically walked to work, but you were forced to rent a property with a substantial commute, you can seek compensation for the difference in your transportation expenses.
The extreme heat generated from wildfires can damage roof structures, siding, windows, insulation, HVAC systems, windows, and even concrete foundations. (Even if your home was never directly on fire, you may still need to file a claim for thermal damage.)
Unlike house fires, wildfires often cause significant damage to your landscaping as the blaze travels. Your insurance policy should detail specific coverage amounts for landscaping. The limit is usually a set amount of money per plant/tree.
As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to mitigate damage whenever possible. Your insurance company will reimburse you for all reasonable costs to protect your property, as long as you save itemized receipts for any materials/labor you pay for.
Fire department charges
After responding to a disaster call, the fire department will send a bill. Many policies will provide partial compensation for these charges.
Managing Inventory & Expenses
Due to the high volume of claims that immediately follow natural disasters, insurance providers may try to drag their feet on providing your settlement. It can take weeks, months, or even years to recover from significant wildfire damage. While you are awaiting your finalized settlement offer, keep a thorough log of all your expenses. This includes activities such as restaurant meals, hotel bills, house repairs, replacement technology purchases, and other extra costs.
To expedite the process, we recommend keeping detailed records and creating a thorough inventory. Your insurance provider will need an account of your home and your belongings immediately before the loss. (If photographs and videos are available, they can help validate your inventory.)
Beware of Scams
At Avner Gat Inc., we have witnessed many natural disasters and observed their impact on homeowners. Unfortunately, scammers often use times of crisis to search for vulnerable victims. We have heard reports of these bad actors impersonating a variety of professionals, including contractors, public adjusters, attorneys, FEMA inspectors, government workers, and even claiming to represent charitable organizations.
Remember: reputable professionals do not solicit disaster victims. If you were contacted by someone offering their services (particularly in the first few days after the fire), this could signal that something is wrong. While some offers of aid are entirely legitimate, but it is essential to be cautious before disclosing personal information. Never give someone your Social Security number, driver license, or insurance policy details without verifying their credentials.
Where to Get Help
After a wildfire, you may need immediate help. Unfortunately, some government agencies will expect you to file with your insurance company before dispersing aid. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may not offer financial assistance to eligible individuals until they have first collected all available insurance proceeds. This is a significant bureaucratic delay that is unnecessarily burdensome for homeowners who simply desire a return to normalcy.
Considering hiring a licensed public adjuster?
At Avner Gat Inc., we will not take new clients for wildfire insurance claims in the first two weeks after the fire. While there are some exceptions, the truth is, most total loss wildfire cases do not need additional representation. The damage is clear and indisputable, as is the language in your insurance policy.
We want to do everything in our power to help our community. We feel it is our responsibility to answer all the questions that come our way, without asking for anything in return. Our adjusters are always happy to give advice and consultations to those who are suffering from the wildfires. We will even recommend estimators, contractors, and restoration professionals.
We hope that this article has helped you understand your wildfire insurance claim! If you have recently suffered a loss due to a wildfire, do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your situation. Our team will be happy to help interpret the intricacies of your policy and develop a claim strategy that suits your needs.