How to Deal with Insurance Adjusters

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When you decide to file an insurance claim, you'll have to work with the insurance adjuster that your homeowners insurance provider sends to examine your property. The insurance adjuster's job is to evaluate your property, collect evidence on the extent of the damage and then to rule on your claim.

However, it's important to remember that the adjuster doesn't advocate for you. The adjuster is paid to calculate the lowest possible compensation on your insurer's behalf. You can prepare for the adjuster's inspection by compiling an itemized list of your belongings, understanding your policy's exclusions, keeping meticulous notes of your meeting and using thoughtful language when describing your property loss.

How to deal with an insurance adjuster after a house fire (or any other claim situation)

When you experience property damage from a house fire or any other peril that's covered by your home insurance, you should call your insurance provider immediately. Your insurer can answer questions you have about dealing with the adjuster they'll send. For instance, your provider may ask you to gather information about your home's construction before the adjuster arrives.

If you experience a house fire, your homeowners policy would also likely require you to make a report with your local fire department or sheriff's office. Be sure to request copies of any reports that the fire department or sheriff's office makes about your loss. Having these documents as evidence of the damage to your property could help present the insurance company with a more complete account of your loss.

After you communicate with your provider, an insurance adjuster will come to your property to collect information about the extent of your loss. The adjuster's findings determine the compensation you'll receive. You don't need to be present during this investigation, but it could be a good idea to attend to make sure that the adjuster doesn't miss any damaged areas of your home.

What to do after an insurance adjuster visits your property

When the adjuster's visit is over, you'll be required to submit any information related to your claim within a time limit defined by your policy. You might have to send in an account of the loss, an inventory of lost or damaged personal property, specifications for damaged structures, and receipts for additional living expenses if you have to leave your house. Fortunately, this step of dealing with your provider's insurance adjuster can be easier if you:

Have an itemized list of your lost or damaged property

You'll be asked to provide information about your property's damage. This information will be more complete if you have an itemized list of your property. An itemized list should show what you own and how much it's worth. Your itemized list provides the adjuster with an overview of what needs to be replaced after you suffer a loss.

Insurers are obligated to replace your items or provide you with a similar replacement. So, you can increase the likelihood of getting fully compensated for your loss if you can provide an adjuster with detailed information about your assets.

Keep a log of any meetings with the adjuster

When you're assigned an insurance adjuster, you should document any interactions in a journal or spreadsheet. Log the date and time of your conversations, along with a brief explanation of what was said.

If you can, acquire paper or electronic copies of any reports or statements your adjuster makes. This will help you stay organized throughout the duration of your case.

Remain honest about your loss

Whether you have to provide an account to your insurance adjuster during their visit or after, you should always be honest. If you have to sign any statements, review them to verify that they are true before signing.

Making untrue statements to the adjuster will adversely affect your claim. Your homeowners policy prevents you from receiving any compensation if you mislead your adjuster. Even worse, you might also face a lawsuit for committing insurance fraud.

Understand your policy's exclusions

You could have a negative impact on your claim if you aren't sure what your policy covers, especially when discussing your property's damage with the adjuster.

Let's say that your property suffers heavy rainfall and high winds one night. During this storm, a strong gust shatters the windows on the front of your home, and rain soaks everything. Presuming you took precautions before the storm — such as closing your windows — your policy would safeguard your property from this type of water damage.

However, a typical homeowners policy doesn't protect against water damage that a flood causes. If you were giving the adjuster an account of the rain damage and you said that your home was "flooded" from the storm, this statement could invalidate your coverage.

Avoid suggesting you're to blame

While it's important that you not mislead your case's adjuster, you should take care to avoid making statements that suggest you're to blame for your property's damage. Since your policy does not compensate property losses that were caused by your own negligence, your adjuster will be alert for anything you say that damage yourself.

For instance, if a storm caused a tree to fall through your roof, you shouldn't tell the adjuster that you suspected the tree was rotting and you'd been meaning to cut it down for months. This type of statements suggests that your property suffered damage because of your inaction.

You should avoid giving a recorded statement to the adjuster; however, your policy might contain language that compels you to submit to an examination under oath. If this is the case, take great care that you don't contradict yourself or suggest that you're to blame for the incident. You may even consider preparing for the statement with a public adjuster — a knowledgeable professional that can guide you through the claims process.

What are a public adjuster's fees?

A public insurance adjuster charges you a percentage of your insurance payout once your case is finished. This person can negotiate with your provider's adjuster over your property's damage to resolve your claim. You probably won't have to pay a public adjuster unless you're compensated by your insurer. However, a public adjuster might collect a service fee of 10%-15% of your claim's payout after your case is settled.

For example, say that your home were completely destroyed by a fire. Fortunately, you have an insurance policy that would compensate you for the cost of your lost home if it were successful — protection worth $250,000. If you hire a public adjuster to help you through the process, that person would collect $25,000 from your claim. This might not leave enough for you to completely cover the cost of rebuilding.

Due to their fee model, public adjusters typically consent to take on only large claims. This means that if you're planning to make a claim on a small loss, like a series of broken windows, you might not be able to hire help in the form of a public adjuster.

If you can't or don't want to hire a public adjuster, consider speaking to a customer service representative from your insurer. This person could make dealing with the adjuster clearer by helping you understand your policy's requirements for filing claims.

How to dispute insurance claims and payouts

When an adjuster rules on your claim, you might be unsatisfied with the result. Your claim could be rejected outright, or the adjuster might offer insufficient compensation for your home's damage. If you're unhappy with the outcome of the adjuster's investigation, you still have recourse.

Because any offers from your insurer that you sign are final, it's important that you don't formally agree to anything until you're satisfied with your compensation. Instead, you should contact your insurance agent or a customer service representative within the company. From there, you can request an itemized list showing how your estimate was calculated. You may also be allowed to request that the adjuster conduct a reexamination of your property and its damage.

This could be useful if you have new evidence that you think the adjuster should consider, like documents that show your damaged property's worth. For example, if you uncovered receipts that identify your damaged oven's make, model and retail cost, you could request that the adjuster take a second look.

What if the estimate is still too low?

If you believe that your insurance adjuster's estimate is too low, you can appeal to your state's insurance commissioner. This office is a regulatory body that could help you if think that your insurance provider is acting in bad faith or refusing to honestly appraise your property loss.

The state's insurance commissioner will make a recommendation to you about what your course of action should be. The department has the power to interact with your insurance provider to encourage a resolution. The commissioner's office could rule that your complaint isn't justified — in which case your only option would be hiring a lawyer and pursuing litigation.

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