You did not see it coming, but disaster struck. Your home has suffered major damage, and you need to make a homeowners insurance claim. After all the years of paying your home insurance premiums, you expect to be covered for all of your losses. But will you? Here are three tips for getting the most out of your homeowners insurance claim.

First, know your coverage, limits and deductibles. Understanding your policy will help you in organizing and filing your claim. For instance, if your home was damaged by water, your policy may exclude coverage. (Homeowners insurance policies do not coverage flood damage; a separate flood policy is necessary.) Your policy’s limits and deductibles will also determine how much of your repair costs that you will need to pay out-of-pocket. This may be important in deciding which repairs are essential, and which can wait for a future time. Before replacing any damaged personal items, you will also want to know whether your home insurance premiums are paid toward actual cash value or replacement costs for personal property. Actual cash value will often not be enough to cover the costs of a new replacement item.

Second, document all of your damage. Include both the interior and exterior of the home. Before cleaning up or starting any repairs, take plenty of photos of the damage to your home and property. Do not forget to document any damage to personal property, including furniture, clothing and electronic devices. If you make any repairs before filing your homeowners insurance claim, keep all of the receipts. After filing your claim, your insurance company will send an adjuster to your home to provide an estimate of the damage. Often, this can be quite some time after your clean-up and repairs have begun. Make sure to give copies of all the photos and other records to the adjuster so he or she will make the most accurate assessment of the damage.

Third, if you dispute your insurance company’s estimate, know your rights under your policy. Typically, there is a dispute or appeal procedure, and many times, this includes your right to submit a second estimate by a public adjuster than you hire yourself. Unlike the insurance adjuster sent by your company, a public adjuster works exclusively for you. Your insurance company’s dispute procedures will detail how differences between the two adjusters’ estimates will be resolved. As your advocate, the public adjuster will work with you through the entire claim process to ensure that you get your full entitlement under your policy. Public adjusters often work for claim services firms, but may also be self-employed. A national association of public adjusters sets the industry’s ethical standards and professional guidelines.

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