Homeowners: 5 Things To Do After A Property Loss

Tobias Patch
40 articles

Last updated on September 17, 2023
Published on September 05, 2022
Reading time: 7 minutes

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You can feel overwhelmed and stressed after a property loss, but the first steps are easy.

Take a deep breath. You’ll have time for all the details later. Here are the 5 things you want to do immediately after a property loss.

1. Make Emergency & Precautionary Repairs

The first thing you should be thinking after a property loss is this: Stop it from getting worse!

This feeling should come naturally to you, and you should act on it.

Insurance policies often require you to stop losses from getting worse. These provisions put a duty on the owner (you!) to “mitigate their damages.”

You’re not expected to be Superman, or to spend money you don’t have. Instead, you’re expected to be reasonable, and you can recover your costs from the insurance company.

Here are some example “Emergency Repairs” in a great circular published by a state insurance agency:

  • Board up windows
  • Patch holes in walls or roof
  • Get a roof tarp installed
  • Cover furnishings with heavy-duty plastic or tarps, or move them elsewhere
  • If there is water in your property, try to get it out, and ventilate the property for drying
  • Clean and dry wet furniture, bedding, rugs, and carpet, as soon as possible
  • Try to prevent metal objects (appliances, drapery rods, etc.) from rusting by drying and rubbing or spraying with oil
  • Have a professional check electrical equipment before use
  • Take small valuables (jewelry, silverware, art, etc.) to a safe place

Insurance Policies are usually quite liberal with these Emergency Repairs or Precautionary Repairs.

Here are 2 example provisions in a single insurance policy (written by PURE). Note that there are two different areas providing coverage, underscoring how liberal policies typically in providing these types of coverage.

Precautionary Repairs

We will pay the reasonable expenses incurred by you for the necessary repairs made solely to protect covered property that is damaged by a covered peril, from further damage.

Property Removal

We will pay the reasonable expenses you incur to move contents from a residence…to protect the contents from damage covered from a loss.

From one homeowners policy, for example:

Getting emergency services or undertaking mitigation efforts is a great instinct after a property loss.

This will stop your losses from getting worse, will make you feel better, will put you in motion toward recovery…and you’re covered for these expenses, above and beyond the cost of your losses. Remember, of course: document your costs and work!

PURE Insurance Policy

2. Give Written Notice of the Claim

The next item on your list is to give Notice of Your Claim. This is a key moment that you want to get right, and you want to have clear evidence of delivering this. Let’s dig in!

What is a “Notice of Claim?”

Insurance professionals often refer to this as the “FNOL” or “First Notice of Loss.” Quite simply stated, this is the first moment when the insurance carrier learns that the loss occurred. And after a loss, it’s your obligation to tell them that you had a loss.

How long do I have to file a Notice of Claim?

This is a very tricky question! Before getting nuanced, keep in mind that we list this as the second thing to do after a property loss, right after making emergency repairs. In other words: File your Notice of Claim as soon as possible.

How long you actually have to file an insurance claim is more complicated.

Most insurance policies have some time-period requirement (e.g. 30 days, 60 days, etc.). However, many state insurance laws also dictate a time period. These time periods can conflict, and you’ll find yourself in a legal battle over which one rules.

Additionally, some losses can be “hidden” or unknown, and most time periods start calculating when you “knew or should have known” of the loss.

There is a great discussion of this question by Eric Dick of the Dick Law Firm here: How Long Do I Have To File A Homeowners Insurance Claim?

How am I supposed to file my insurance claim?

Don’t be intimidated — filing an insurance claim is really simple. You really have a lot of options here with the most important thing being that you acquire a Claim Number. Here are a few ways you can File Your Claim:

  • Use brelly: Hey, we make it pretty easy. Try the Claim Manager for free and we’ll line you up to build the best claim possible.
  • Contact your broker: Someone sold you the insurance and that person/company is your insurance broker. You can contact your broker and they will submit your insurance claim.
  • Submit to the insurance company directly: Many insurance companies have online claim submission portals or email addresses. You can find this on their website. You can also find instructions on how to submit a claim within the policy documents.

Is there a specific form to use? What goes into my claim?

The short answer is “no.” There really isn’t much structure in filing an insurance claim. There is no policy or state-mandated form to use. And there really isn’t anything that must be included.

In fact, less is more. You’ll have time to document your losses later. Avoid the urge to explain your situation, to think out-loud, or to drop other information in your claim. Be matter of fact.

Filing a claim is a very simple, liberal situation. Notify the insurance company of the loss. Get a claim number. Keep record of your email, online submission, letter, etc.

Why is it in important to file my claim?

Filing your insurance claim is a super important step. This starts the clock for the insurance company to process your claim and get you paid. You want to get to get to the other side of this loss event…and so you want to get that clock started right away!

3. Get Your Losses Tabulated, Estimated, and Documented

THIS — proving your losses – is what makes or breaks your insurance claim.

Being great at documenting and proving your losses will make your claim process faster, it’ll ensure you get every penny you deserve, and it’ll help you avoid a prolonged journey to get made whole.

Don’t Rely on the Insurance Adjuster — This is your job!

After filing your claim, the insurance company will assign a “claims adjuster.” This is an employee of the insurance company. This insurance company employee will call you, come to your property, inspect the losses, prepare an estimate of the damages, and provide you with a report.

This is great information for you…but you should not rely on the claims adjuster to determine your losses.

Scoping, tabulating, and documenting your losses is your duty and burden. Cooperate at all times with the claim adjuster, but you should be on your own independent path to get your losses clearly demonstrated. And you should start on that ASAP.

Quick Tips On Documenting Your Losses

There is a lot of advice out there on how to document your property damages and losses. You’ll find a lot of common advice like “take photos,” and “keep good records,” and “include receipts.”

Remember that you are juggling a few different categories of losses:

  1. Emergency Services & Repairs: Costs you incurred to stop losses from getting worse.
  2. Loss of Use: Cost you incurred because you can’t use your property.
  3. Contents Loss: Contents that are damaged or lost;
  4. Property Loss: Costs of repairing, replacing property that was damaged;
  5. Admin: Some admin costs associated with the claim investigation.

8 Different Ways To Document Your Losses

Proving and documenting the losses in each of these categories is it’s own effort and art! Here are8 Different Ways To Document Your Losses:

  1. News, weather, police reports: You want evidence of the event, which may include news, weather reports, police reports, and more.
  2. Keep and organize receipts from actual expenses you incurred, and don’t forget to include emergency services and the costs associated with the claims process.
  3. Research: Do research on the cost of living for comparable property like yours, and do research on your contents to find retail prices, warranty periods, useful lives, etc.
  4. Inventory Your Contents: Put together a list of all your content. Consider using this publication by the IRS: 584 for Contents, and 584-B for Business Losses.
  5. Estimate Damage Repairs: Get comprehensive damage estimates from contractors.
  6. Keep a journal: We love this recommendation from Paul Zeniewicz of the PZ Law Firm to “keep a written journal/timeline of your claim.” As they mention, you’ll speak to so many people during the claims process, and a journal/timeline will make it less confusing and improve your claim.
  7. Pictures, Video, and Media: Love this comment from Reynolds Restoration Services: “Say it with pictures.” This is such great advice. Take photos and videos to cover all aspects of the losses.
  8. Do Interviews: Take video interviews of yourself, and anyone else connected to the loss or the claim.

4. Create & Deliver Your “Proof of Loss”

You may start hearing the phrase “proof of loss.” This is a technical and fairly regulated document, but do not be intimidated. It’s extremely straightforward, and can be a huge help in getting your claim paid. To dig really deep on this topic, consult our “Proof of Loss: Ultimate Guide.”

What Is A Proof Of Loss Form?

Let’s start with the basics.

FEMA’s “Proof of Loss” form is available online. It’s a good, clean example of what a Proof of Loss form looks like.

A Proof of Loss document is a one-page form document summarizing components of the insurance claim. The form identifies:

  • The Policy
  • The Policyholder (you!)
  • The type of loss incurred (i.e., wind, hurricane, hail, flood, theft, etc.)
  • The value of the loss
  • The amount of money claimed under the insurance policy

That’s basically it!

The thing that makes the “Proof of Loss” form so differentiated from all the other documentation exchanged during an insurance claim is that it’s signed by the homeowner under oath, and before a Notary Public!

Accordingly, this document serves to sum up the entire claim in a single page, and to have the homeowner “swear” that they are telling the truth and appropriately representing their losses to the insurance company.

How Do I Create and Deliver My Proof Of Loss?

You can get a Proof Of Loss Form just about anywhere. Your insurance company will quickly provide you with a copy.

There are a few traps.

For example, you may be not be familiar with how to calculate depreciation and or to figure out things like the “actual cash value” or “replacement cost value” of the loss. You’ll want to use a tool like Brolly, or enlist help from expert estimators, adjusters, or attorneys.

You may feel nervous because of the requirement that you “swear to” the contents of the form. Don’t be too worried. You want to do your best and not make misrepresentations. While there are situations when the insurance company can yell “gotcha!” because of a tiny error, in the vast majority of those situations there are plenty of protections to get around the mistake.

When you form is filled out, signed, and notarized, then you’ll want to deliver it to your insurance broker or carrier. Remember, just like with the First Notice of Loss, you need to carefully keep record of your deliver and confirmation of receipt.

5. Followup On Your Claim In Writing and Watch The Clock

The next step sound simple, but it’s super important. Once you get through these 4 steps, the insurance company is “on the clock” to pay you.

Insurance policies may have clauses that promise payment within a certain time period, but notwithstanding this, state laws are very strict about how long an insurance company has to pay up!

Followup with your carrier or broker on anything that comes up along the way, and watch the clock.

Once the short payment period is up, if the insurance company hasn’t paid you, you’re entitled to a penalty by law. And you should be aggressive in demanding and getting it.

Tobias Patch
40 articles
About the author
Tobias is a seasoned contractor, adjuster, and technology zealot. In prior lives he worked for both insurance companies and policyholders, so he understands claims and the rebuilding process from all possible angles. His obsession with finding a better way to handle claims led him to found Brelly, where he serves as the CEO.