Our final part concludes this look into Insurance Tips when dealing with your property.
6. Don’t Wait – When buying a policy, make sure to ask about time limits to report a claim, and then abide by them! If you wait too long, you may not be eligible for benefits—especially if waiting has made the problem worse. David Baxter works for a residential and commercial restoration company in Florida, and he remembers a customer with water damage who waited almost a month to do anything about it.
7. Document Everything – Senen Garcia, a lawyer in Coconut Grove, Fla., represents homeowners against insurance companies that fail to pay out on valid claims. He’s seen many denied claims because people don’t keep good enough records. “Homeowners must document everything that occurs during a loss, do as much as possible to mitigate [the loss]—and document such mitigation,” Garcia says. In addition to saving receipts, contracts and appraisals, document phone calls by writing down who you spoke to and when. And be sure to stow it in a secure place! Don’t want to invest in a safe? Consider keeping digital copies online using a program like Dropbox.
8. Jewelry – When David Cohen lost his wife’s rings, he was relieved that his homeowner’s policy covered jewelry—but it was only up to a maximum of $3,000. “My wife gave me her rings to hold,” he says. “So I promptly put them in my jacket pocket … and then forgot about the rings when I took the jacket to the cleaners. As you can imagine, they were gone.” Within three weeks, the Cohens received a check from their insurance company, but they were still out a good deal of money because his wife’s engagement ring was worth $6,000 alone. The lesson? When signing up for homeowner’s insurance, note the limits on jewelry. “Most people don’t realize that things like wedding rings aren’t usually covered by the basic limits in their policies,” Derrick says. “You can get an appraisal at your jeweler, and then consider buying a supplemental policy to cover it.”
9. When To File – A large section of Richard Clayman’s wooden backyard fence came down in a storm. “I didn’t think there was any way my homeowner’s policy would cover it—and my neighbors assured me that it wouldn’t,” he says. But he called his insurance company, just in case. “The agent asked how high (the fence was), what kind of wood it was and how much of it needed replacing. Next thing you know, I get a $700 check in the mail!” Theresa Roma has a similar story: A bad windstorm took roof shingles off her house, and she almost didn’t file a claim because it didn’t feel worthwhile. In the end, she received over $25,000 for a new roof. The obvious mishaps aside (fire, major flood, etc.), it can be beneficial to file a claim when in doubt, but Derrick cautions restraint. “Don’t file a bunch of frivolous claims,” she says. “The claims history for your property is also what determines your rates, so it’s better not to cry wolf, unless you have a real claim.” The repercussion if you file needlessly? A possible uptick in your premium.
10. Good Maintenance Helps – Insurance companies would rather pay as little as possible to repair damage, so they prize early detection and prevention. Deacon Hayes and his wife paid for a routine checkup on their air conditioner because they live in Arizona and wanted to make sure that the system was ready for summer. “The specialist told us that the unit was on its last legs because of a hail storm,” Hayes recalls. Thanks to his diligence, Hayes’s insurance policy ended up paying for a new $4,000 A/C unit. One very important thing to keep an eye on is your water bill. If you notice an unusual spike or trend upward (and it’s not just because it’s 100 degrees outside, and you’re watering your lawn more), you could have a leak somewhere. Finding the source early could save you from dealing with a bigger headache when a major pipe bursts.