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If your home is damaged in a fire or a natural disaster, you’ll need to file a homeowners insurance claim.

When you’re already in a stressful situation, it’s important to avoid making costly mistakes while dealing with your insurer. Here are eight mistakes to avoid after experiencing property damage.

Don’t be too quick to clean up

Your first impulse may be to start cleanup and repairs immediately.

Clay Morrison, President of Morrison & Morrison, observes that in the wake of a fire, tornado or hurricane, “people end up with a pile of water-soaked or burned junk and they’re miserable. So their first instinct is to clean up.”

The problem, however, is that an insurance adjuster needs to come out, inspect everything and take photos. If you clean up too much or haul away large amounts of debris and household items, you’ll likely jeopardize your chance to prove the extent of the damage to your property.

  • Filing an insurance claim after a disaster can be stressful, but acting on impulse to clean up without photos or evidence of damage may make the process more lengthy & expensive.
  • In general, these steps can help you manage the claim and obtain a better result: stay involved in the process, work with your adjuster, provide documentation, and mitigate your damages.
  • If the process is too overwhelming, consider hiring a public adjuster.

Prevent further property damage

Even though you don’t want to clean up too much after a loss, you shouldn’t let the property languish before a claims adjuster surveys your damage. Depending on the type of incident and how many policyholders were impacted, that could take a few days, but it could also take as long as 60 days.

But don’t sit and let rain pour in

Following a loss, policyholders are required to mitigate or prevent further property damage. This requirement is found in the conditions section of insurance policies, notes Anita Taff of Taff Claim Services Inc.

Put a tarp over your home or board up the property if that is feasible. If you can’t gain access to your residence because authorities won’t allow it, obtain a letter from the fire department or another city agency documenting the fact. Show an insurer the letter to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to protect your home.



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Protect receipts and photos

One big mistake homeowners make is failing to take before and after photos of their properties. Each year, take inventory of your belongings by writing down everything you have and taking photos and videos of all the contents in your home, suggests the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, a group of property-loss experts that works exclusively for property owners. Be sure to store these images in a safe place outside your home.

Also, never give an insurance adjuster original photos and receipts. Supply copies or duplicates and then request a written confirmation that your insurer received the documents. This way, you’ll always have backup photos in case the insurer loses your documentation.

Find a witness to the cause

Many frustrated homeowners have tried to get insurance claims processed on the strength of nothing more than their word. It might stand to reason that if your roof has been ripped off, the passing tornado caused it. However the burden of proving the cause of damage still falls on the property owner.

Having a witness who can testify on your behalf can go a long way toward maximizing your insurance claims. “If a neighbor or someone who doesn’t live in your home can tell an insurer, ‘I saw a tornado hit that house,’ that’s going to be very important to the claims process,” says Morrison.

Stick to the facts

Avoid exaggerating your damage. Even if you think your insurance premiums are too high or you felt mistreated by your insurer in the past, don’t try to make up for it by padding your claim. Those actions are disasters in the making.

“A good public adjuster will say, ‘Our job is to get you every benefit and everything you’re entitled to, but no more, and no less.’” Aside from being unethical, a false or padded claim can be denied and your coverage could be canceled, Taff says.

Don’t let a contractor negotiate your insurance claim

Some policyholders allow contractors to negotiate homeowner insurance claims directly with insurers. This takes you out of the loop and leaves you with no clear idea about the exact repair costs or terms proposed by either side.

It is important to stay in charge of your claims process, says Ron Reitz, a public claims adjuster and president of Quality Claims Management Corporation. 

“Generally, when you have a loss, you need to hire emergency services to help with something,” he says. “Whether it is removing flooding or drying out your property or bringing in temporary power, a lot of times, these guys will have you sign a contract that gives them 100 percent of your insurance proceeds. They also will ask to negotiate your claim with the insurance company. Those are both big no-nos.”

A better strategy: Do the negotiating yourself or hire a public adjuster. Here’s how to hire a public insurance adjuster after a disaster.

Don’t sign a release on your insurance claim

Reitz warns that people whose homes have been damaged by flood, fire, or natural disasters may be too overwhelmed and distracted to pay close attention to documents they are asked to sign by their insurers. That’s always a mistake. He advises you never to sign a release on your home insurance claim.

“Generally [the documents] say, ‘You accept this as a final settlement and release us from any and all claims related to this loss,’” he says. “You are not required to sign a release as part of the claims process. They owe you the money. Let’s just say you accepted $1,500 and you think [the damage] is minor. Then they start making repairs and say there is $8,000 in additional damages. If you signed a release, you just took away your right to go after the additional amount.”

Be cautious when cashing insurance checks

Reitz also says you should be very careful about cashing insurance checks marked “full and final settlement.” You don’t want to cut yourself off from claims payments to which you’re entitled.

In some states, such as California, it is illegal for an insurance company even to issue such a check, he notes.

“Before you cash such a check, [speak] to your insurance company,” he says. “Say, ‘I am not accepting this as the full and final payment, but I am accepting it as the undisputed amount.’ Let’s say you have a $500,000 claim and they give you $50,000. You definitely want to use the $50,000 and then go back for the $450,000.

Final thoughts

Filing a car insurance claim can be a hassle, but it’s important to get through it smoothly to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Notify your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident. Delaying the report could lead to complications or even denial of your claim. Be truthful and accurate

Frequently asked questions

How to talk to home insurance claims adjusters

Before speaking with the adjuster, thoroughly review your insurance policy to understand your coverage and rights. During discussions with the adjuster, document important information. 

Taking notes or recording conversations can be a reference in case of misunderstandings. It’s crucial to be honest when communicating with the adjuster. Provide accurate information and avoid exaggerating or downplaying the extent of the damage.

What to do when homeowners insurance denies a claim?

Carefully read and understand the reasons provided by the insurance company for denying your claim. This will help you identify any potential issues or discrepancies. Collect as much evidence and documentation as possible to support your claim. This may include photographs, receipts, repair estimates, or any other relevant information that can demonstrate the validity of your claim.

File a formal appeal with your insurance company. Include all the evidence you have gathered and clearly explain why you believe the denial was incorrect. If you’re facing challenges in navigating the appeals process or need expert assistance, you may want to consider hiring a public adjuster. These professionals can help you prepare and present your case effectively.

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Shivani Gite
Contributing Writer


Shivani Gite is a personal finance and insurance writer with a degree in journalism and mass communication. She is passionate about making insurance topics easy to understand for people and helping them make better financial decisions.