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How much can I clean up and start repairing after a disaster before someone from my home insurance company sees the damage?

You have to strike a balance, which can be a bit tricky. On the one hand, you want to resist the urge to clean up everything right away. Whether a fire gutted the kitchen, a tornado tore off a section of roof or a water pipe burst in the basement, you're going to have a major mess on your hands.

But don't haul away all the debris and damaged household stuff before an adjuster from your home insurance company has paid a visit. The adjuster needs to inspect the damage and take photos. If you get carried away cleaning up and discarding destroyed belongings, you may have difficulty proving how much you lost in the disaster. Make sure the adjuster has recorded all the damage and you get the all-clear signal before you start clearing away junk.

On the other hand, you shouldn't take an entirely passive stance and let your home just sit there. The insurance policy requires you to prevent further property damage. That means securing the home as best you can to prevent break-ins and covering openings to prevent further damage from the elements. Depending on the damage, you may need to board up windows, or put tarps over holes in the roof or walls. Keep receipts of any materials you purchase. You can submit these to the insurance company for reimbursement when you file a claim.

Depending on the extent of the disaster, it might take a while for the insurance adjuster to get to your home. If a large area was affected, your home might sit for several weeks before the insurance company representative can inspect the property.

If you can't get to your home because emergency personnel have blocked off the neighborhood, get a letter from a city or county agency documenting that fact. You can then show this to your insurance company to prove you did the best you could to protect your home.

For more, see "Don't try this at home: Easy ways to mess up your home insurance claims."


Last updated: Dec. 26, 2011
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