How to Deal with Insurance Adjusters

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When you decide to file an insurance claim, you'll have to work with an insurance adjuster from your homeowners insurance company. The insurance adjuster evaluates your property, collects evidence on the extent of the damage and rules on your claim.

However, it's important to remember 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.

Preparing for the insurance adjuster's visit

When you experience property damage from any peril that's covered by your home insurance, here are the steps you might expect to take:

  • Call your insurance provider. They can answer questions and may ask you to gather information about your home before the adjuster arrives.
  • File a report. Depending on what happened to your home, you may also need to file a report with your local fire department or sheriff's office. Request copies of the reports to give to your insurance company. These documents provide a complete account of your loss and support your insurance claim.
  • Meet the insurance adjuster. 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 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:

  • A statement describing the loss
  • An inventory of lost or damaged personal property
  • Specifications for damaged structures
  • Receipts for additional living expenses if you can't live in your home

Dealing with the insurance adjuster can be easier if you have an itemized inventory, keep a log of your meetings with the adjuster and understand your policy limits. And while it's important to remain honest about your claim, you should avoid suggesting you're to blame.

Keep an itemized list of your lost or damaged property

When your insurance company asks about your property damage, hand them an itemized list of your personal property.

This home inventory shows what you own and how much it's worth, and gives the adjuster an idea 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 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, document your 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.

Be 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 they are true. Making false statements to the adjuster will negatively 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

Your claim might be denied if you aren't sure what your policy covers, especially when discussing your property damage with the adjuster.

For instance, let's say your property suffers heavy rainfall and high winds one night. During the 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 cover claims for this type of water damage.

However, a typical homeowners policy doesn't protect against water damage that a flood causes. If you tell the adjuster about the rain damage and you say your home was "flooded" from the storm, this statement could invalidate your coverage.

Avoid suggesting you're to blame

While it's important to be honest with your claims adjuster, you should avoid statements that suggest you're to blame for your property damage. Since your policy does not compensate you for property losses that were caused by your own negligence, your adjuster will listen for statements that suggest you caused the damage.

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

You should avoid giving a recorded statement to the adjuster. However, your policy might require you to submit to an examination under oath. If this is the case, make sure you don't contradict yourself or suggest you're to blame for the incident. You may even consider preparing for the statement with a public adjuster, a knowledgeable professional who 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 your home is completely destroyed in a fire. Fortunately, you have an insurance policy that pays to rebuild your home, up to $250,000. If you hire a public adjuster to help you through the process, that person may collect between $25,000 and $37,500 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 only take on large claims. So if you're planning to make a claim on a small loss, such as a series of broken windows, you might not be able to hire 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 help 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 dissatisfied if they offer a small payout or reject the claim altogether. But you still have recourse if you're unhappy with the outcome.

  • Review the payout documents. Don't sign offers from your insurer unless you're satisfied with your compensation.
  • Contact the company. Call your insurance agent or a customer service representative, and request an itemized list showing how your estimate was calculated.
  • Request a reexamination. You can also ask the insurance adjuster to reexamine your property and its damage.

A reexamination could be useful if you have new evidence you think the adjuster should consider, such as documents that show your damaged property's worth.

For example, if you find receipts for your damaged washing machine — including its make, model and retail cost — you could ask the adjuster to take a second look.

What if the estimate is still too low?

If you believe your insurance adjuster's estimate is still too low, you can file an appeal with your state's insurance commissioner. You'll have to show that your insurance provider is acting in bad faith or refusing to honestly appraise your property loss.

The state's insurance commissioner will recommend your next course of action and may contact 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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