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What Should You Do Once You’ve Identified Water Damage?

Visual signs of water damage, such as stains or wet patches on your ceiling or walls, are often easy to spot. However, water damage is often not apparent at first.

A sharp increase in your water bill, a loss of water pressure, or nasty odors are often the first indication that you might have an underlying problem.

Regardless of whether there are visual signs of water damage or only indications that you might have a water damage issue, you need to mitigate the damage without delay. 

Avner Gat, Inc. has over 17 years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California. We specialize in water damage claims.

In this section, we cover the following topics:

  • What to do once you identify water damage
  • How to decide if you should file an insurance claim
  • When to engage a public adjuster
  • How to open a water damage claim
Close-up of a stain on a water-damaged ceiling

What to Do Once You Identify Water Damage

Whether there are visual signs of water damage or red flags, such as a significant and unexpected increase in your water bill, your top priority is to mitigate any water damage. 

This involves taking fast and reasonable actions to prevent additional damage. As a homeowner, your insurance company expects you to mitigate losses after a covered event as a condition of your coverage.

Failure to do so might compromise your water damage claim.

For example, you risk not receiving the total compensation for your loss, or your insurer might not cover additional losses if you did not mitigate early damage.

Your insurer might even reject your claim by arguing that they cannot differentiate between the original damage and subsequent damage caused by your failure to take corrective actions.

For example, things you might do if a pipe bursts to mitigate water damage include:

  • Shut off the water right away
  • Move items such as furniture that might get damaged out of the way
  • Remove and dry wet items from the affected area
  • Use a wet vacuum to extract water if it is safe to do so
  • Open windows to dehumidify and help dry the area
  • Place a tarp or bucket under any leaks
  • Use towels to dry the floor or cabinets

If red flags are pointing toward water damage or you are unsure what might be causing water damage, seek professional help – contact a leak detection company followed by a plumber.

Step 1. Call a Leak Detection Company

The early signs of a plumbing problem, such as a slab leak, often go unnoticed. Pipes are typically hidden behind walls, in the ceiling, or underground. It can be challenging to determine the cause and location of a water leak that might cause significant damage to your home.

Leak detection specialists use specially designed equipment to locate plumbing problems in your ceiling, walls, or under your floor. Since the process is non-invasive, they do not need to dig or damage your property to find a leak.

Professional water leak detector

Leak detection methods include:

  • Thermal imaging (track heat signatures) – Run hot water through a piping system and examine thermal images to find the location of a damaged pipe leaking hot water.
  • Ultrasonic method – An ultrasonic device submits a signal along a pipe, and a sensor picks up where the signal is distorted, indicating the position of the leak.
  • Acoustic detection (most popular method) – Use equipment to listen for telltale signs of a leak, such as the hissing sound water makes under high pressure when escaping from a damaged pipe.

In addition to the above, many leak detection companies use video equipment inserted in pipes, such as via the toilet drain, to locate problems like cracks.

In some cases, such as a leaking A/C, it’s best to call an A/C specialist. Typical causes of a leaking A/C unit include:

  • Defective drip pans 
  • Clogged air filters
  • Faulty condensate pumps 
  • Clogged condensate drain lines 
  • Frozen evaporator coils

Step 2. Call a Plumber

Plumber fixing white sink pipe

Leak detection specialists are technically highly specialized plumbers equipped with the right tools to find hidden leaks. A plumber will typically refer you to a leak detection company if the cause of a leak is not apparent.

Once a leak detection company identifies the cause of a leak, a plumber can do the necessary repairs to stop the leak. In addition, plumbers play an important role in identifying the extent of water damage. This is crucial for conducting repairs and filing a claim for water damage caused by a covered event.

Questions to Ask Your Plumber Before You Hire Them

Are you licensed?

Only hire a licensed plumber with the required skills to complete the job.

Are you insured (also known as bonding)?

The plumber must carry insurance that protects you from damages or injuries sustained during installation or repair work.

When can you start and complete the job?

Ask the plumber how long the job will take to complete. If you require them to complete it within a specific timeframe, ensure they understand and agree before hiring them.

Can you give me a written quote or estimate?

Any legitimate plumber should be willing to provide you with a written quote or estimate that includes a breakdown of their costs.

If possible, try to obtain two or three quotes before hiring a plumber. However, remember that the lowest quote is not necessarily the best option and might cost you more in the long term.

How long have you been in business?

Plumbers with many years of experience are more likely to have the necessary expertise needed to complete the job to your satisfaction.

What are your specialties? 

Do they specialize in the type of plumbing work you require or have they completed similar jobs in the past?

Hiring a plumber with broad or general experience might not be the best option if you have a plumbing problem that requires specialized knowledge.

Can you provide me with references?

One of the best ways to establish if a plumber is capable or has a good reputation is to call some of their previous clients. Reputable plumbers often have a list of references available that they are willing to share. You can also go online to check public reviews on Google and Yelp.

Do you offer a guarantee?

Reputable plumbers will have no problem giving you a written guarantee if they are confident they have the skills to fix your plumbing problem(s).

Document the Process

Once you identify water damage in your home, it is easy to take corrective action and forget to document the damage. By the time you decide to file an insurance claim, it might be too late to retrace your steps and the events leading up to the water damage.

Unfortunately, this can make it more difficult and time-consuming to obtain a full settlement from your insurance company. For example, you could forget to include certain things in your claim. Therefore, you might not have sufficient evidence to support your version of the events and what you did to mitigate water damage.

Taking photos from when you’ve identified water damage to hiring a leak detection company and plumber can support your claim. Remember to keep the invoice from any professional you hired to assist you.

It will provide a detailed record of what happened in chronological order.

California Department of Insurance

Here are some additional tips and advice from the California Department of Insurance:

  • Never ignore indications of an obvious water problem in your home.
  • Homeowners should immediately attempt to find and stop leaks at the source.
  • When water leaks into your property, moisture can collect, allowing mold to develop. Mold can cause further damage to your property and can potentially cause health problems.
  • If sudden water damage occurs to your property, dry all wet areas and provide proper air circulation to aid the drying process.
  • If you notice water damage indicating leakage over time, mold may have already developed. In this case, attempting to clean up the mold may spread the spores, causing more property damage or health problems.

How to Decide Whether You Should File an Insurance Claim

Before filing an insurance claim for water damage you need to consider the following:

Your Insurance Coverage

Most homeowners insurance policies typically cover water damage for a covered event if the cause is sudden and accidental.

However, not all homeowners insurance policies provide the same coverage.

Always check your policy to familiarize yourself with the extent of your water damage coverage, as specific requirements and limits can differ from policy to policy.

For example, standard homeowners insurance policies will not cover flood damage – you need a separate flood-specific insurance policy.

Submitting an insurance claim for an event for which you do not have coverage typically wastes your time and resources and might even cause your insurance carrier to consider you a high risk.

Your Deductible

Filing a claim for a covered event makes no sense if it is a small claim or does not exceed your deductible. In such cases, you are better off paying out of your pocket.

Homeowners’ insurance rates often increase between 7% and 10% for a first claim as your insurance company typically moves you to a higher risk bracket.

Based on the above information, think twice before filing an insurance claim for minimal water damage. It might be cheaper to pay for damages out of your own pocket.

When to Hire a Public Adjuster

When you file an insurance claim for a covered event, your insurance company appoints an adjuster to manage your claim. Your insurer covers the costs of the adjuster and expects them to look after their best interests and mitigate their liability.

A public adjuster looks after YOUR interests and deals directly with your insurance company’s adjuster on your behalf.

As a rule of thumb, small and straightforward insurance claims are usually filed and managed by the homeowner.

However, water damage claims are often complex. If you have a large or complicated water damage claim, we recommend you call a public adjuster, especially if you receive a lowball settlement offer from your insurer.

Note that a public adjuster can only help you if you suffered damages caused by a covered event. You need to know what caused the water damage and the extent of the damage (as explained by the plumber).

Pros of Using a Public Adjuster

The advantages of hiring a public adjuster include the following:

– Looks After YOUR Best Interests

Insurance adjusters typically have years of experience dealing with water damage claims and act on behalf of your insurance company.

By hiring a public adjuster, you level the playing field by having someone on your side who can fight for what you are entitled to receive.

– Makes the Claim Process Less Stressful

Managing a large or complicated insurance claim on your own can be very stressful. It forces you to do something you are typically not familiar with and takes you out of your comfort zone.

Hiring a reputable, experienced public adjuster to manage your claim can save you a lot of headaches.

– Help You Fight a Bad Settlement Offer

You do not have to accept the first settlement offer you receive from your insurance company. If you have received a low settlement offer, a public adjuster can help to secure a better offer for you.

– Saves You Time

Managing a large insurance claim on your own can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Filling in paperwork, attending meetings, and dealing with contractors can feel like a full-time job.

Hiring a public adjuster to manage the process can free up a lot of time!

– Cheaper Than Hiring an Attorney

Homeowners often think hiring an attorney is the best solution when an insurance claim does not go according to plan. However, it is an expensive option and typically only necessary if litigation is unavoidable.

Most attorneys charge a contingency fee of 33 to 40 percent of the settlement amount. It is significantly higher than what a public adjuster charges. In addition, it is not uncommon for an attorney to solicit the services of a public adjuster.

– Negotiates on Your Behalf

Negotiating with insurance adjusters can be very difficult. They know the ins and outs of water damage and often have a counter-argument ready before you even start negotiating.

Negotiating with an expert about a topic you know less about is usually not a clever idea.

An experienced public adjuster deals with insurance companies or their adjusters daily. Your public adjuster is in a much stronger position to negotiate a fair settlement offer than you are.

– Faster Claim Resolution

Working with an efficient public adjuster can speed up the claim settlement process. A good public adjuster knows what to do and how to do it right the first time.

– Likelihood of a Higher Settlement Offer

One of the main advantages of using a public adjuster is the likelihood of a higher settlement offer. They understand the fine print in your insurance policy and they have the skills, knowledge, and experience to negotiate with insurance adjusters.

– No Upfront Payment Is Required

Public adjusters usually don’t require a retainer. They only have to be paid once you receive payment from your insurance company and if you don’t get paid, they don’t get paid.

Seven Tips for Hiring a Public Adjuster

Asking the following questions can help you choose the right public adjuster:

#1. Is the public adjuster allowed to operate in your state? 

Different states have different requirements for public adjusters. However, if you are in California, ensure you only hire a licensed public adjuster.

#2. How many years of experience do they have?

As in most professions, experience is often invaluable. A newly licensed public adjuster should be able to manage your insurance claim on your behalf, but if you have a large or complex insurance claim, it’s advisable to deal with a public adjuster or public adjuster company that has experience in dealing with similar claims.

#3. Can they provide you with references?

All public adjusters try to create a good, professional impression. Many of them will provide you with references or point you toward their reviews. We recommend you read them and learn about your future public adjuster.

At Avner Gat, Inc. we are proud to share our testimonials with new clients.

#4. Where are they located?

Some public adjusters accept jobs outside their area and then find it difficult to service those claims. Make sure your public adjuster can give you the service you deserve.

Avner Gat, Inc. covers Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange County, and San Diego County.

#5. Who will work on your claim?

When looking for a public adjuster or public adjuster company, establish who will work on your claim. You should feel comfortable that the person you are dealing with can meet your expectations.

#6. Is the public adjuster putting pressure on you?

Do not be rushed into deciding who to hire before you are ready to. A public adjuster who pressures you to hire them is a red flag. Take your time to make the right decision and ask all the questions you want.

#7. Have you already collected some money on your claim?

If you have already received some money from your insurance company before hiring the public adjuster, ask if that will affect their fee.

How to File a Water Damage Claim

Your first step in filing a water damage claim should be to examine your insurance policy to determine if the cause is a covered event. Familiarize yourself with your limits, deductibles, and responsibilities, such as filing your claim within the prescribed period.

Next, prepare your claim. If you have a large or complex one, we suggest you call a public adjuster before submitting the required documents, such as a proof of loss form, to ensure you do it correctly. You do not want to forget to include any pertinent information.

We advise you to keep track of all expenses. Some expenses you may incur after suffering significant water damage might consist of boarding up the structure and the cost of a hotel or temporary relocation if your home is unsafe.

Your insurance provider will assign your claim to a representative and send an adjuster to evaluate your loss. If you’ve retained a public adjuster, they can deal with the insurance company’s adjuster.

Lastly, your provider will send you a settlement offer detailing your policy limits, deductible, and a plan for obtaining repair estimates. If you agree to their terms, repairs and estimates might  begin immediately.

Questions for Your Insurance Company

A large water damage claim might leave you bewildered and unsure of the process and what questions to ask your insurer.

Here are some typical questions you might want to ask. Remember to document the responses via email so you have your own record.

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim

What documents do I need to complete?

Where can I access these documents?

Are there any time constraints?

How do I submit an inventory of items that have been damaged or destroyed?

What if I accidentally forget to include any items?

When will an insurance adjuster be appointed?

How will I be kept up to date on the status of my claim?

Who can I contact if I have any questions, queries, or concerns?

If Your Home Isn’t Safe to Live In

Can I get an advance to pay for Additional Living Expenses?

What can I do to protect my home?

Settlement Agreement and Payments

How long will it take before I receive a settlement amount?

When can I expect the first check, and how much will it be?

When will the remaining checks be issued?

Is there anything I can do to help settle my claim faster?

Cleaning up and Repairs

When can I start cleaning up?

Can I hire a cleaning or remediation company, and how will they be paid?

Can I do certain repairs myself?

When can I start hiring contractors?

How will contractors be paid?

Do I need to get approval before hiring a contractor?

What if I am not satisfied with the work done by a contractor?

That’s a Wrap

We hope after reading this section, you have a better understanding of:

  • What to do once you have identified water damage
  • How to decide if you should file an insurance claim
  • When to engage a public adjuster
  • How to open a water damage claim.

With over 17+ years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California, Avner Gat, Inc. protects homeowners from the games and fine print that insurance companies are known for.

Call us at (818) 917-5256 to find out how we can assist you.