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Ron Lieber

Getting the most from your insurance after a storm

There is a sort of honeymoon period after a big storm, when insurance executives appear on the local news offering reassuring words. That period is about to end.

When this many people have extensive damage to their most significant asset, billions of dollars are at stake for the companies that have the power to make them whole. So there is no reason for policyholders to be anything but wary until their own check clears.

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Here are the some things to watch out for:

INDEPENDENT ADJUSTERS Many people with damaged homes have started to meet with representatives to estimate repair costs. They may have introduced themselves as ‘‘independent adjusters,’’ but this is a misnomer. They represent the insurance company and are not neutral.

“These guys have a lot of work to do, and it’s a thankless job,’’ said Matthew Tennenbaum, who used to be an independent adjuster but now works for policyholders as a ‘‘public’’ adjuster in Cherry Hill, N.J. But Tennenbaum worries about their thoroughness.

“They’re going to see 10 properties a day and they’re quickly writing estimates,’’ he said.

The good news here is that these are not the people who make the final call on your claim. But many policyholders assume that their word is the final word.

WIND VERSUS FLOOD Homeowner’s insurance generally does not cover floods.

People without coverage but lots of damage from the storm surge might do one of a couple of things. A few stubborn ones will sue, arguing that if the wind drove the storm surge then it’s not really a flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency may also offer some assistance.

Others may try to prove that wind damage, which is generally covered, was responsible for the loss.

REPLACE AND REPAIR After most storms of this size, prices rise. There may be a shortage of building materials, for instance, or the higher-quality materials may get more expensive.

Your policy may call on your insurance company to pay for materials equivalent to what you need to replace, or it may merely require similar ones. But make sure its estimates reflect the new market price.

BUILDING CODES If you live in an old house, any major repairs will have to comply with newer local building codes. Homeowner’s insurance policies may include riders known as ‘‘law and ordinance’’ coverage that will cover the extra cost of doing so.

But recovering the money may not always be easy. Tennenbaum said that insurance companies often make you wait to collect until you’ve already spent the money, and then they demand proof that the local code enforcement office insisted on every course of action.

PUBLIC ADJUSTERS If you have a large claim, sorting it out and making repairs will be at least a part-time job for many more months. Hiring an experienced, licensed public adjuster can help, but the firms usually charge you 10 percent or so of your eventual payout. That means the adjuster needs to do 10 percent better than you for it to be worth it.

Ron Lieber writes for The New York Times.
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