Documenting Damage for Home Insurance Claims

By: Robinson & Henry, Attorneys At Law
PublishedMar 28, 2024
5 minute read

Damage to your home caused by bad weather or unexpected disaster is overwhelming. Once you learn the extent of the damage, you may have to find temporary housing and begin to determine the financial impact this situation will have on your life. You’ll also have to contact your insurance company to begin the claims process when likely all you want to do is rest. 

Don’t panic: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in order for you to safely return home, and it’s going to take time. While I cannot snap my fingers to make the process go faster, I can offer you some guidance on how to document the extent of the damage for your insurance provider so that it leads to a favorable payout that helps you return home sooner. 

Early notification is crucial for an efficient claims process, and your insurance company should have a hotline specifically for processing policyholder claims. So once you’re out of harm’s way, call your insurance company.

Call Your Insurance Company 

Early notification is crucial for an efficient claims process, and your insurance company should have a hotline specifically for processing policyholder claims. So once you’re out of harm’s way, call your insurance company. 

When you make this call, expect to schedule a property visit from a company claims adjuster to assess the damage. The sooner the claims adjuster pays your property a visit, the better. This is one reason insurance policies have notice requirements, or time limits, in which you must report an incident. In Colorado, the notice requirement is typically within one year of the disaster. You should be able to find the notice requirement within the documents for your policy. 

When you call to report your claim, give the agent:
  • Your name
  • Your policy number
  • A brief description of the damage

You should ask for the agent’s name, title, the claim number and contact information. You will need this information for your follow-up communications after the call. 

When answering questions about the damage and potential causes of damage, do not speculate. Just tell them what you observe. Many policies exclude causes of loss most people think should be covered. This may include things like “wear and tear”, “cosmetic” damage, water leaks that have persisted over a certain period of time, failure to properly heat your property, or the actions and inactions of contractors. Just keep it to what you see, not what you think happened.  

Following Up

After the call, be sure to follow up with an email to the adjuster, confirming that you have reported the claim and reiterating what was discussed on the call. By doing this, you are creating a virtual paper trail. If it becomes apparent that your insurance company has been acting in bad faith down the line, you will be grateful to have this record of events. 

Meeting with the Claims Adjuster

Meeting with a claims adjuster can be nerve-wracking. After all, it’s your home and possessions that are on the line! But taking a few steps before this visit will make the encounter go much smoother. 

Document Damage with Precision

Document any and all damage to your house and belongings with precision. Doing so will provide vital evidence, which will go a long way in supporting your claim. Key ways to document damage include: 

  • Take Pictures and Videos: You will want to capture anywhere damage has occurred, inside and outside your home.. Make sure the date is set correctly on your device – insurance companies corroborate claims by looking at the time stamps. 
  • Prepare a Detailed Inventory: Make a list of all damaged or destroyed items. For each item, include the brand and model, as well as a description and its estimated value. If you kept receipts or other proof of purchase, include them. 

Failing to document the damage properly can significantly impact your claim’s success. I see this happen all the time. It’s much harder to create an accurate home inventory after the fact. 

Know Your Property’s Worth

Many homeowners fail to update their policies after purchasing high-value items and making significant home improvements. Consequently, the insurance payout might not cover all of the losses. Don’t underestimate the value of your property and possessions. 

At the same time, you don’t want to get caught misrepresenting or exaggerating the value of your property. If your insurance company catches you doing this, you could face allegations of committing insurance fraud, which could result in a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the charge. C.R.S. 18-5-211

Read Your Insurance Policy Carefully

If you have never taken the time to sit down and read your insurance policy cover-to-cover, be sure to do that before meeting with your claims adjuster. I get that it’s not exactly a beach read, but it’s important to know exactly what losses are eligible for coverage and which ones are not. 

Insurance policies are typically set up in one of two ways: 
  1. Named peril: Your policy will specifically list the disastrous events that are covered. Anything not listed is not covered. 
  2. Open peril: Disasterous events not covered are labeled exclusions. Anything not labeled an exclusion is covered. 

Next, you will want to figure out what type of policy you purchased. Was it a bare-bones package? A comprehensive one? Something in between?

Here are the most common types of homeowner insurance policies:
  • HO-1 (Basic): Covers specific perils like fire or theft, but not water damage.
  • HO-2 (Board): More coverage than HO-1, including dwelling, personal liability, and some water damage.
  • HO-3 (Most Common): Covers most things except exclusions, with separate coverage for house structure and belongings (open-peril policy).
  • HO-5 (Comprehensive): Highest coverage, pays replacement costs, ideal for rebuilding.
  • HO-6 (Condo): Specific coverage for condominiums.
  • HO-7 (Mobile Home): Covers mobile homes.
  • HO-8 (Older Homes): This policy applies to homes over 40 years old and covers specific perils listed in the policy.

Read your policy carefully. I see homeowners too often misinterpret their policy’s limitations and exclusions. And as you can see, home insurance can be extremely variable. 

Should I Take the Check?

After you hand over your carefully compiled documentation, the claims adjuster will pay you a visit to review the damage. Your insurance company will offer you an initial repair sum based on the adjuster’s assessment. You don’t have to accept this immediate settlement.

Depending on your circumstances, you can and should ask for separate reimbursement checks that cover:
  • Home structure
  • Personal items
  • Living expenses during renovations

And remember: You can always reopen the claim if you uncover more damage related to the incident later. 

Adjusting Your Claim for Maximum Benefit

Most insurance companies ask policyholders to file a claim within a year of the disastrous event. Insurance companies are motivated to process claims quickly in order to maximize their own savings. If you’ve gone through the claims process and received a settlement only to discover more damage later, you can and should report these findings to your insurance company. 

The Colorado Supreme Court recently issued a new rule giving homeowners more consumer protections around the amount of time they have to report property damage to an insurance company. 

Do not mistake this as a reason to hold off filing your claim. It’s going to take time to understand all the ramifications of this ruling and how insurance companies will handle it. But for now, this new rule may be helpful if some time has passed and you need to adjust your claim. 

When to Phone a Friend (Expert)

Delayed reporting, incomplete evidence, or underestimating your property’s value can result in denied claims or reduced payouts. While sometimes inevitable, if you have found yourself in a complex or high-stakes situation with your insurance adjuster, it’s wise not to go about it alone. 

Consider calling any of the following experts, depending on your circumstances:
  • Public Adjusters: These professionals specialize in documenting and negotiating insurance claims on behalf of the policyholder. Public adjusters can be especially helpful for large losses, claims that are disputed or complicated, or when you need help understanding your policy benefits and/or how to document the damage.
  • Contractors: They can help you produce accurate estimates for the cost of repairs that you can provide to your insurance company. Find out if your insurance company will cover this cost and if you can choose a third party. 
  • Bad Faith Attorneys: If you suspect your insurance company is acting in bad faith, you may need to skip straight to an attorney. My team can take your insurance company to court and fight for double the amount of your total benefits, plus damages, attorney fees and costs. 

Contact a Bad Faith Attorney Today

If you are dealing with property damage and suspect your insurance company is acting in bad faith, you have options. Give Robinson & Henry a call at 303-688-0944 to begin your case assessment.

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