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I started pondering that question early this morning when I discovered that my newly repaired kitchen skylight had sprung a leak. The cost of fixing it will be nominal compared to what folks will have to spend to repair the siding on a house, a roof hit by a tree, or a car submerged in water. But whatever damages you may have sustained, the claims process is fairly similar. Here are the steps to take, as well as some commonsense guidelines to follow as you evaluate the damage and start to deal with it.
1. Do no harm. One of the few Irene-related deaths so far involved someone who fell off a ladder. Don’t become a statistic by going out on the roof or wading through knee-high water in your basement (where you could get shocked by electrical current). Instead call for emergency help from your police or fire department.
3. Document losses. Take pictures and make notes briefly describing what happened. If phone lines are jammed and you can’t reach a live person right away, it will help refresh your memory when you finally get through. You’ll also be happy to have these notes if the company disputes whether a particular loss is covered. Most homeowners policies don’t cover floods, and damage caused by a hurricane is often flood related, says Scott Spencer, senior vice president, worldwide appraisal and loss prevention manager at Chubb Personal Insurance in Whitehouse Station, N.J.
4. Minimize damage. For most people this will mean starting to dry things out, says Spencer. Spread wet items on absorbent paper towels or on wire racks if you have them. Unpack the contents of cartons that got wet. Use box fans to promote circulation and combat mildew. If you have lost power, keep the refrigerator door closed to reduce the chance that food will spoil.
5. Arrange for repairs. The sequence of events—whether you contact your insurance company first, or immediately find someone to fix the damage–will obviously depend on whether you’re dealing with an emergency. Your insurer may be able to offer a referral for tree removal, carpet cleaning or painting restoration, for example. But you can also get names from the maven on your block or rely on tradespeople who you have worked with before. Exercise the same precautions you would with any other home repair: check licenses, if any; deal with a reputable service provider and pay by check or credit card.
6. Keep receipts. Most companies won’t require you to show what you initially paid for items that have been damaged. But they do want to know what you spent as a result of the loss. So if your policy covers evacuation expenses, like hotel, transportation, meals and clothing expenses, keep detailed records of what you shelled out. And remember, they expect you to be reasonable, just as you’re hoping they will be in processing your claim. So don’t make this an excuse to splurge.