If your house has been damaged by Hurricane Irene -- or any other disaster, for that matter -- someone known as a claims adjuster will be paying you a visit after you've filed a claim with your home insurance company. If you've got separate flood insurance or wind insurance policies, adjusters for those companies will come calling as well.
Cleaning up and recovering from damage to your home can be nerve-racking. Preparing for the arrival of insurance adjusters can add to the anxiety.
Courtesy of the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports and the Insurance Information Institute, here are some tips to help you ease the process of dealing with an insurance claims adjuster:
• Ask the adjuster for his or her credentials. If you're not happy with the adjuster or any other expert the insurer provides, demand a new one. Claims adjusters are supposed to be professionally trained and licensed.
• Find out whether the adjuster is an employee of the insurance company or is an independent adjuster hired by the insurer. If you've got an independent adjuster, find out which in-house adjuster that person is reporting to. Also, ask whether the independent adjuster is authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company.
• Be at home when the adjuster visits and make sure he or she sees everything. Ask for a copy of the adjuster's report and review it for mistakes. Request a copy of your claims file; you're entitled to it.
• Copy everything you give the adjuster and ask for a receipt. If the adjuster advises you to start repairs, get that permission in writing.
• Take note of your adjuster's behavior. Is he or she rude? Did the adjuster fail to show up at all?
• Be aware that more than one adjuster may be assigned to you. For example, you may have a claims professional assess structural damage and a contents specialist to help with the loss of personal property. Additionally, if you have a flood insurance policy or separate coverage for wind damage through a state-run insurance pool, even more claims adjusters will visit you.
• Complete a "proof of loss" form (provided by your insurer) and locate any inventory you have of your belongings (TVs, clothing, furniture). Also, keep a detailed list of everything that was damaged. "You want to make sure that you have documented your loss as soon as possible," says Ashley Hunter, a former claims supervisor at State Farm. "The more information you have, the faster you will be able to receive your payment."
• Take photos or video of debris, destroyed items and property damage. Generally, you should not throw away any damaged items until the claims adjuster has visited.
• Remember that the first claims check you receive often is an advance, not a final settlement. You may be offered a settlement check from the adjuster on the initial visit. If so, you can accept it immediately. If other damage is discovered within the time period cited in your insurance policy, the claim can be reopened. Most states allow at least one year from the date of the disaster to file or reopen a claim.
• Try to be patient. Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, says insurers handle hundreds if not thousands of claims after a disaster. "Policyholders who have been most severely impacted have immediate financial and safety concerns that must be tended to, particularly if a home was destroyed by the hurricane or if there is a family member with special needs. Insurers give these cases priority review," Salvatore says.