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After Sandy: Tips on filing home insurance claims

Insurers will be dealing with a crush of claims in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted billions of dollars in damages. Once homeowners can assess the extent of their losses, many will have to brace for another ordeal: navigating the insurance claims process.

Handling the details when it comes time to file can help ensure receiving an adequate payout. Here are some tips to weather the process:

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 Maintain an inventory of household items. Receiving a fair payout for damage to one’s home and belongings begins by making a list of what you own, particularly the more expensive items, including what they cost, even if it’s only an estimate.

Taking photos or shooting video while you describe the items and how much you paid for them works too. And, if possible, take digital photos and video, which you can store online on websites like Flickr and Picasa. That way, you can access them in the event your computer is damaged.

If you have receipts saved for your more valuable items, take photos of those, as well.

 Understand scope of your coverage. Knowing what your insurance policy covers and what it does not is essential to getting through the claims process quicker.

When it comes to hurricanes and other major weather-related damage, it’s important to remember that standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. And if you have not purchased that separately, you will not be able to get reimbursed for damages caused by flooding.

In addition, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and 15 other states let insurers include deductibles in their homeowners insurance policies in the event of a hurricane. Such deductibles vary from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of the home.

 Quickly document damage and make only temporary repairs. After the storm, once it’s safe to move about, it’s important to take photos of the damage right away. Comparing these photos to the ones taken before the storm can be used to establish the ­value of items that are damaged or ­destroyed.

If holes have been torn in your roof or windows are broken, cover them quickly to prevent further damage, but don’t make any permanent repairs. But take photographs or videos of the damage before you start working.

 Be prepared to negotiate. Once insurance adjusters look over the damage, they will determine the size of your payout. If that figure seems too low, ask the adjuster to show you the contract language and justify the proposed amount.

If you’re still dissatisfied, get a second or even third opinion on the cost of repairs from independent contractors.

Another option to help bolster your case for a better settlement is to hire a public insurance adjuster. They are experts on the insurance claims process and can assess the damage to a home and help build the case on behalf of the homeowner.

Accredited adjusters can be found
at the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters’ website, ­
www.napia.com
.

Alex Veiga writes
for the Associated Press.
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