A flood is never fun to deal with. When it comes to insurance claims, the worst type of claim you can have is a flood claim. Flooding causes a devastating amount of damage, compounded by the fact that you have limited coverage and it can take months to settle a claim. The following is a breakdown based upon my experience on what to expect during a typical flood claim.
How bad is the water itself?
The flood water is typically category 3 water, also referred to as “black water.” Category 3 water can include all kinds of contaminants such as gasoline, oils, sewage, other chemicals and harmful bacteria, salt (if you are on or near the ocean), etc. It is important that you not come in contact with this water or rebuild your home without first cleaning and treating all affected areas of the property that is not being removed or disposed of.
If flood waters touch it, is it damaged? Yes and no.
Any building components that absorbs water, building materials that cannot be cleaned, and electrical components are usually not salvageable. With respect to contents, simply put, don’t even attempt to clean category 3 water from clothing or soft goods because there are oils and chemicals that may never come out.
When should I start tearing out and disposing of things?
Do not remove anything from the home until you have taken an adequate number of photographs. When you believe that enough photos have been taken, take some more. This is the single most important task relating to contents coverage. First, take photographs of each room attempting to capture as much of the room as possible as is. Next take pictures of each item in each room where it sits, as well as an up close of the water line or visible water damage. Also make sure to open cabinets and photograph inside.
After you take photographs, be conservative when disposing of what you believe to be non-salvageable items. However, it is important to remove all non-salvageable contents, drywall, carpeting, insulation, etc., from the home as soon as you can once the flood water recedes. Leaving these items increases the risk of mold developing in the house. This can cause a HUGE problem as it can spread quickly and mold is not typically covered under a flood policy.
I cannot emphasize enough the impact of taking photos after a flood. The difference here is not just a few dollars. You risk full denial of contents if you don’t have photographs, including paper towels, toiletries, and socks. On these types of items, lay the items out and take close-up photos of each item. Considering the more expensive items like furniture, electronics, and appliances, be sure to take pictures including the brand, model number, and serial number. If there isn’t a brand, make sure the photo depicts the quality and any special features. These details will be the difference between the insurance adjuster accounting for a $400 washing machine or a $2,000 washing machine. Pictures are everything in a flood claim!
What is covered under my flood policy?
There are a lot of variables when it comes to the structure coverage – base flood elevation, the year the house was built or last renovated, flood zones, primary residency, basements, coinsurance, just to name a few. Assuming your house is properly insured, is your primary residence, has a slab foundation, does not have a basement, and is above the base flood elevation, you are basically covered for any structural item inside the exterior walls of the home.
It is necessary to purchase both building and contents coverage. The contents policy will cover most items inside the home or garage or any other anchored, fully enclosed building on the property, up to the contents policy limit. These do not include a swimming pool, fence, deck, barbeque grill, or trampoline.
Detached garages are covered, but only up to 10% of your structure policy limit and also falls within the structure limit of the policy, not in addition to. There is an exclusion of coverage if the detached garage includes an apartment above the garage, a bedroom in the back of the garage, or any other area that is used as living space. Flood policies also do not cover sheds or guest houses, unless separately insured.
Will my additional living expenses be covered?
Flood policies generally do not cover the costs of temporary living during the time that the property is uninhabitable. This can be the source of the most financial stress for most flood victims.
What can I expect from my adjuster meeting?
Assuming you get an experienced flood adjuster, they should inform you that they do not actually have any paying authority, but rather will make recommendations based on findings. A flood adjuster is the artist that will be painting the picture on what should be approved on the claim. If he is good at painting that picture, the claim should be approved based on those findings. A seasoned adjuster will typically have a certain way to conduct inspections. They will typically lead you room-by-room explaining what they are recommending and why (taking measurements, pictures, and thorough notes). You more than likely will not agree with everything they want to salvage, so be sure to take good notes on the items you are in disagreement.
What things will the adjuster disagree with?
These are the “hot topic” items. Items that typically get the most resistance from insurance adjusters include countertops, tile flooring, bathtubs, toilets, faucets, brick walls, wiring, windows, A/C units, hardwood furniture, and other expensive content items. Ask your insurance adjuster specifically about each of these items during your inspection and take notes.
How do I resolve these issues?
Assuming pictures have been taken of everything, resolving any issues could be much easier. However, it is important to hire an expert to document the areas you are disputing. Hiring a public adjuster to manage the entire claim for you is usually the best option.
How do I prepare my contents inventory?
On average, you can budget roughly 5 minutes per item to write up a thorough contents inventory. For each item, the adjuster will need the following information: location (room), description, brand/make, model number, serial number, age, condition, quantity, replacement price, and price verification (link to website to purchase item, original receipt, etc.). It is also a good idea to note which picture corresponds with each item on the inventory so that the insurance adjuster can easily find items.
Take the time to account for each and every item correctly and with as much detail as possible to insure the contents portion of the claim is paid quickly and undisputed. Remember that you are disposing of many of the non-salvageable contents once you have taken your pictures, therefore it is necessary to gather as much information as possible on each item. There is no going back once it is thrown into the pile on the curb.
Do I sign the proof of loss if I disagree with the adjuster?
Most seasoned flood adjusters or public adjusters will advise you to sign the proof of loss even if you are in disagreement because you are under a strict time limit to do so. You WILL NOT get paid until the signed proof of loss is submitted. Sign the proof of loss to receive payment on what the insurance adjuster has agreed (the undisputed amount). Then proceed by reopening the claim to request supplemental payment on the issues remaining in dispute.
How long will it be before I get my check?
Request an advance payment concerning both your building and contents coverages. Assuming there are no coverage issues to be determined, the adjuster should be able to get you an advance payment quickly.
Use the advance payments wisely because you most likely will not see another payment for months. Typically budget 3-4 months for the initial claim amount to be issued. Reopening the claim for supplementing the differences could add another few months. This is a normal flood claim and unfortunately there is nothing you can do to expedite the process.
I repaired my property, but what if it floods again?
There is coverage on everything which was replaced considering proof of replacement can be provided. If you had 3 feet of flood water in your home, the adjuster will not assume that you replaced the drywall, you will be required to provide proof. Therefore, it is important to keep good records of all receipts, as well as date-stamped photographs while repair and reconstruction is underway (in case you go back with items that are very similar to what you had originally). Store these documents in a safe place (or other location) so that the next incident doesn’t destroy these records).
Keep your head up.
Handling a flood claim is very stressful and the financial impact can be crippling if the claim is not managed properly. Keep your head up! Have a plan, stay organized, and surround yourself with good people who can guide you through this tragedy.
Click here for a copy of the National Flood Insurance Program Dwelling Form Standard Insurance Policy, October 2015.
— by Roy Young, PA