5. Don't let your insurance company replace your Pottery Barn stuff with Wal-Mart stuff.
The values of particular items are often disputed in home insurance claims. If you've bought expensive items, your insurance company may say it can replace them with very similar items from Wal-Mart or Target.
"We battle back and forth," Reitz says. The insured is entitled to be paid for what he had -- not a knockoff version of it.
6. Many condo owners have no idea that they need their own home insurance policies.
They think that the condo association's policy covers their property. However, the association's policy covers only common areas, typically up to the walls of the condo. If you want your own space and belongings protected, you need an HO-6 home insurance policy. Otherwise, all your belongings, furniture, appliances and cabinets are uninsured.
Without an HO-6, you also may have no liability protection if you're sued for something that happens within your condo, like a slip-and-fall injury.
7. If you're forced to evacuate, don't sleep at a shelter.
Your home insurance covers your "additional living expenses" if there's a mandatory evacuation, including hotels and food -- even additional transportation costs.
"Why sleep on a cot when you could go to a hotel?" Reitz asks. "You don't realize you have that coverage until you have a loss."
8. After a widespread disaster, insurance companies will bring in company adjusters from out of state who aren't familiar with local costs.
Adjusters from outside your area may not have a handle on how much electricians, plumbers or other workers charge, or how much it costs to rebuild a house. Often they will rely on a software program called Xactimate, which isn't very exact if you don't account for local costs.
"The insurance company will bring in out-of-state adjusters who are probably not licensed in the state," observes Reitz. "They're not as familiar with local building codes. What we saw from the 2007 fires in Southern California was that out-of-state adjusters can't comprehend that it will cost $800,000 or $1 million to rebuild someone's house. They can't comprehend local building values."
9. People regularly settle for less than the total cost of their damages because they are exhausted.
Especially near the end of a complicated claim, such as a total home loss, homeowners just want the process to be over.
Even if your policy entitles you to "replacement cost" of your belongings, home insurance companies will initially issue checks for your belongings' actual cash value. Then, once you've replace the items, you must submit your receipts to get the difference between the initial checks and what you actually paid for replacements.
"In reality, most people don't go back and submit receipts because they're so frustrated with the claim, they're done with it. They'll settle for less and close the claim and rebuild for less, and the insurance company knows this," Reitz says.
Hiring a public claims adjuster can put you on an even playing field with your insurance company. Your insurer may assign three adjusters to work on your claim: one for "additional living expenses," one for your personal property and one for the building portion of your claim. A public adjuster will be able to explain the process and work on your behalf handling the countless meetings, e-mails, phone calls and paper documents that flow for a large claim.
The insured can get on with daily life and leave the insurance adjusting to a professional, Reitz says.
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