We at Community Assisting Recovery extend our condolences for your loss. Unfortunately, we understand that loss better than anyone. CARe has been helping disaster survivors navigate the insurance claims process since the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and all of our volunteers have lost homes in previous disasters.

What To Do After Loss

If you are in the first days or weeks after losing your home in disaster, there are a few things you should know and do immediately:

  1. Obtain a copy of your insurance policy from your insurer. It consists of three parts, the Declarations page (2-4 pages) the Endorsements (5-15 pages) and the booklet (20-50 pages).
  2. Don’t sign anything. You need time to understand and evaluate what the real replacement and rebuilding costs will be. Your insurer can make partial payments toward the loss, which you can use to rebuild -- without you having to agree to the total amount. Take your time.
  3. Trust but verify the amount they are offering to pay for your loss. Homeowners should document their loss in each category, regardless of what the insurance company offers.
    • Dwelling: You will want to hire a specialized contractor who can produce an “independent scope of loss.” Your insurer will have its own experts tell you what your home would cost to replace. Yet as with any valuation, numbers are subject to interpretation -- and errors. You can negotiate more effectively if you have your own scope to compare to theirs.
    • Other Structures: Fences, outbuildings, sheds, pools, detached garages. The contractor you hire for the above, should include this in their evaluation of your loss.
    • Personal Property: Everything in your house that you would take with you if you moved. You’ll need to make your own inventory of this loss.
    • Loss of Use or Additional Living Expenses: Keep every receipt so you can prove you used the money they already gave you. If they didn’t give you money up front, you will need receipts to get money from them.
  4. Don’t hire professionals right away. Realize that the decision to hire a public adjuster or lawyer is massive. He or she will take a percentage of your claim payout as compensation. You don’t know how hard he or she will work to negotiate. You don’t know if he or she will be more effective than you would be. And on top of that, you will still have to complete much of the work yourself, such as the personal property inventory. Give yourselves a few months to move through the process before making a big decision, unless you see warning signs that things are going wrong. It can be the right decision for some people, but be aware of the implications of that decision.