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Insurance Guide 2017: Expert tips for filing claims ... and fixing your house

March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: youngvet/Getty Images)
Mike Nixon has seen so many insurance claims related to water problems resulting from broken lines to icemakers that he hasn’t hooked up his own icemaker.  

The trend in homeowners’ claims seems to be more water-type losses, such as leaky faucets and broken lines to icemakers that cause damage to the floor (and to the floors below), said Nixon, who is vice president of insurance operations for Armed Forces Insurance.

Some tips from Nixon and other experts on filing such claims, and how those tips can be used as best practices for other types of mishaps.

PREVENT WHEN POSSIBLE

Wet: There are some things you can do to try to avoid or mitigate damage – check your roof for signs of wear, for instance, before any leaks develop.  

Dry: Clear your yard of debris that could become window-shattering missiles during high winds. Too difficult? Then do something that doesn’t require any heavy lifting: Put down the cellphone when you’re driving.  

Auto insurance rates are rising nationwide, Nixon said, in part because of distracted drivers. Another car tip: Keep good service records.


ACT FAST

Wet: If there’s any type of water damage, it’s best to contact your insurance company immediately. “A lot of times, an insurance company will want to send someone out to take action so there’s not an issue of mold,” Nixon said. 

Dry: Document your losses with photos and/or video, complete with descriptions, immediately – even before you begin cleanup. 

TAKE NEEDED STEPS ... BUT DON'T OVER-REACH

Wet: Don’t hire anyone to do major repairs without contacting the insurance company. It’s one of the biggest mistakes seen by insurance officials, said Catherine Reese-Woodard, executive director of claims operations for USAA. 

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the problem. If your roof is damaged and leaking, get someone to tarp it right away. Make sure you document damage and keep receipts. If you’re not sure who to hire for the job, your insurer may be a good resource for temporary repairs.

Dry: Regardless of the claim, making repairs prior to filing may not cost you your coverage, “but it doesn’t give us a chance to investigate it and make sure they get the best repairs possible,” Reese-Woodard said. “We inspect it or an appraiser inspects it. A repair shop doesn’t always have the same level of rigor that we do.”


AVOID SCAMS

Wet: Bringing in someone to fix those soggy floors? Even if your insurance company doesn’t have anyone local in its network, it may be able to offer some guidelines. USAA, for instance, provides members with questions to ask, such as whether the contractor is licensed and bonded, and how long they’ve been operating. They’ll also review the company’s estimate.

Dry: Scam artists can crop up at any time, but frequently appear after events that affect a swath of people. One example: Eager workers may descend on a neighborhood after a hailstorm.

“One argument we get is that they must have had roof damage because their neighbor did,” Nixon said. That doesn’t mean your roof was damaged. 

FILE FAST … IF YOU FILE

Wet or dry: Don’t wait too long to file a claim. Check with your insurer to see if there’s a time limit. On the other hand, if the damage is less than your deductible, or just a little more, you may not want to file a claim. 

“If your deductible is $500, you’re better off not filing if the loss is $510,” Nixon said. 

If you already know who’s going to do the work, get the company to take a look at the damage, and provide an estimate before you decide whether to file a claim. If you don’t have a preferred company, the insurance company will have a list of referrals, and can negotiate if needed.  

Those rules don’t apply to water damage, where mold and other concerns make it more likely the insurance company will want to send someone out immediately.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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