DEAR MR. MYERS: We suffered major damage to our Texas home when Hurricane Harvey hit in late August. We have already called our insurance agent, but it will be several days before an adjuster can visit, because so many homes here were damaged and our insurer is swamped with claims. Is there anything we can do to expedite the claims process?
ANSWER: Sure. There are several steps that homeowners can take to speed up the insurance-claims process, whether the loss was caused by a natural disaster, a fire or some other type of calamity.
For starters, make sure that you have taken reasonable steps to make temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage. Save the receipts for what you spend so that the insurer can reimburse you when the claim eventually is settled.
Also remember to save any receipts for alternative accommodations that you may need, such as a hotel rental and restaurant meals, if you have been displaced by the damage and can’t move back in until the home is permanently repaired. The typical policy, known as an HO-3, covers the cost of additional (but reasonable) temporary living expenses if a home is rendered uninhabitable by a hurricane, fire or other major incident.
Compile a list of any structural damage you can spot, such as cracks in the walls or missing roof tiles, that you want to make sure the adjuster also sees. Many insurers even will reimburse a policyholder for the cost of having a home inspected by a professional.
Get written bids from at least three licensed contractors for the needed repairs. The nonprofit Insurance Information Institute says each bid should include line-by-line details of the materials that would be used, their prices and labor costs.
Perhaps the toughest and most time-consuming task, though, is to prepare a complete inventory of personal possessions that were damaged or destroyed. After all, you and your family likely have acquired lots of stuff over the years, and it’s nearly impossible to remember all of it.
Do your best to compile the most complete list that you can. Give a copy to the adjuster when he or she arrives, as well as any receipts or credit-card statements that indicate how much you paid.
You’ll have to work from memory if you no longer have any records. Don’t throw out any damaged items until the adjuster has visited – keeping them can help to establish the repair or replacement cost.
Your insurer can offer even more tips to help speed your claim and maximize your eventual reimbursement check. The Insurance Information Institute offers a terrific free booklet, “Settling Insurance Claims After a Disaster,” which you can view or download for free on iii.org.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Despite some breathless reports to the contrary, the billions of dollars that the insurance industry will have to pay out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey poses no threat to its financial solvency. Early estimates suggest that private-sector insurers may have to pay anywhere from $2 billion to as much as $30 billion to affected homeowners, but that’s a far cry from the record $709 billion that the Insurance Information Institute says those companies held in surplus cash at the end of this year’s first quarter.
DEAR MR. MYERS: I serve on our homeowners association’s board of directors. We often turn to our HOA’s professional management company for advice on legal matters, but a fellow director recently raised concerns that the management firm does not have a licensed real estate attorney on its staff. Is this a problem?
ANSWER: Yes. Board directors never should act on legal advice from an unlicensed individual, even if the person is a high-level executive at a professional management company. Doing so breaches their so-called duty of care to all the residents of the complex, which subjects the entire HOA and each individual director to financial liability if a future lawsuit proves successful.
In short, let the management firm manage, and leave the legal issues to a licensed real estate lawyer.
DEAR MR. MYERS: Our dishwasher is finally pooping out after 12 years of use, so we need to buy a new one. Is this a good time to buy it, or should we wait until the Black Friday sales in November?
ANSWER: New models of dishwashers, ranges and most other major appliances come out in September and October, so retailers start slashing prices on last year’s models around Labor Day to clear floor space. One exception: refrigerators, which usually go on sale in May, before the new lines are introduced in June.
There are many other good home-related deals this month. Home-improvement stores need to clear space for winter equipment, so it’s common to find discounts of 30 percent or more on lawnmowers. Ditto for outdoor barbecue grills and other summer-related items as the weather begins to cool in most parts of the country. The longer you wait, the better deals you can get – but the selection will be increasingly limited.
Discounts on patio furniture can reach a staggering 90 percent this time of year, notes bargain-hunting website DealNews.com.
There also are good Labor Day sales on 32-inch and 55-inch high-definition televisions, said DealNews.com editor Donna Doyle, but you’ll likely find even better bargains on TVs during November’s Black Friday events.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.