Florida’s proximity to the ocean, and near surrounding of the ocean, is both a benefit as well as a negative. As a benefit, it means that Floridians can enjoy thousands of miles of shoreline. And we know that living near water is good for you – it promotes a feeling of peace and calm, and the active nature of those who live near the beach or the water means better health and life satisfaction. On the negative side, Florida, especially southern Florida, is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. And this means property damage claims.
For this reason, Florida homeowners need to have property insurance as well as flood insurance. Property insurance enables homeowners to recover more quickly from structural damage that is brought about from natural disasters. The payment that comes from the insurance claim will help you to repair, rebuild, and replace the damaged property so that you can get back to your life.
As such, a property damage claim is a report with supporting evidence that you submit to your insurance company if your property has been damaged.
The most common property damage claims in Southern Florida
Property damage claims come in many shapes and sizes.
- Exterior wind damage – Common in heavy storms, winds can easily pick up an object and hurl it through the air. And, what goes up must come down, which means that the object may at some point make its trajectory straight into your home. Wind damage represents about 25% of losses nationwide and is the absolute most common type of damage in the south. Exterior wind damage can be avoided or lessened when windows are properly covered and secured before a major storm. As an additional precaution, be sure to safely tie down or otherwise secure outdoor furniture, planters, and any other object that can turn into a projectile. Be sure to maintain your landscaping too, as any dead limbs or trees must be trimmed regularly. Finally, homeowners should make regular inspections of their roof to make sure it is not damaged.
- Water damage – In Florida, water damage is usually attributed to rain, flooding, interior plumbing accidents or malfunctions, and melting ice (though ice is far less common in Florida). Freezing damage is primarily caused by snow, and thankfully, as it hasn’t snowed since Tampa received under half an inch of snow in 1977, we can expect that we are safe from that for some time to come. Regardless, most home insurance policies provide sufficient coverage against these various types of water damage. Flooding, on the other hand, is a common cause of water damage in Florida. And, flooding normally comes from a hurricane or tropical storm, heavy, rapid rainfall, and clogged or inefficient drainage systems. Plumbing failures are also fairly common causes of water damage. Leaky faucets and water lines that have come loose from an ice maker, dishwasher, or washing machine, are generally to blame. Water that leaks inside the home can cause serious and extensive water damage, in particular, if it goes unnoticed for a long period.
- Theft and vandalism – Serious weather situations often cause a great opportunity for theft or vandalism. Those who evacuate are subject to thieves who have remained in the area during the storm and have sought out the many empty houses as ways to gain valuables and cash that they wouldn’t otherwise have such easy access to. Theft and vandalism claims account for approximately six percent of property damage claims. Though your homeowner’s insurance policy will likely cover certain items within the home, you should check your policy regularly to know exactly what is covered and what is not. Further, it is advisable that homeowners conduct an inventory of their valuables on a regular basis. Photographing (or even better, conducting a video inventory) of the contents of your home and personal property will create a record of the materials in your home which can be shared with your insurance company if needed. Regardless of where you live, homeowners are advised to secure their home by investing in a security system. Further, make sure always to lock doors and windows. Do not leave the garage door open, even when you are home as this provides an opportunity for thieves to canvass what you have by making passes in front of your home. Additionally, exercise caution about posting on social media when you are traveling and away from home. Today’s digitally-savvy criminals will learn that your home is unoccupied by following your social media pages, and that makes your home a perfect target.
- Fire damage – A house fire is one of the worst home insurance claims. It’s not just a matter of replacing your roof or siding. In many cases, a fire can cause 100% devastation meaning that all possessions have been lost. And even if some of your home is salvageable, during the repair and rebuild process, it will likely require you to move out, live for a temporary period of time in a rental, and to rebuild a room if not the whole house. To avoid a house fire and the damage and destruction that often comes with it, you will want to have your chimney checked out and regularly cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. Empty out your lint filter between every load of laundry, and never leave anything cooking in your kitchen unattended. Further, be alert for fire risks around your home, such as space heaters, overloaded or damaged extension cords, and negligent smoking behaviors.
- Service line breakages – You may have no idea what this one means. And truthfully, that’s because most of us don’t spend any time at all thinking about the integrity and durability of our in-ground pipes (such as those for water and gas). This said, if you experience a water or gas pipe break, you won’t be able to think of much else until it is repaired. With the extreme damage that can come from hurricanes, it doesn’t take much for a tree to uproot, bringing up a service line with it. To prevent this type of claim, have regular sewer scoping conducted to ensure the line stays clean. Be on the lookout for any water seepage in your yard as this is an indication that there is a problem with your water lines. It is always wise to communicate with your insurance agent to ensure you’re properly covered in the event of disaster, as service line repairs are financially extensive.
Other common types of property damage, particularly in Southern Florida, include that from falling trees, termites, falling objects, toxic mold, sinkholes, lightning, smoke, and mildew.
How to file a property damage claim
Homeowners file property damage claims for many reasons, including theft and vandalism, damage from a fire, hurricane, or another natural disaster. They also file one if an injury occurs on their property. Before filing a claim, you should thoroughly read your insurance policy to find out what exclusions, limits, and add-on provisions, such as additional coverage for big-ticket personal items, may be included in your policy.
The more information you have, the more likely that your property damage claim will bring you the desired outcome. If your property has been damaged from theft or vandalism, make sure to call the police right away. Even some home damage from natural occurrences will require a police report, so make sure you know what your insurance company will expect. Regardless of the type of damage incurred, you will want to take photos and get all of your information together so that there are no questions about your claim. Part of your documentation should include receipts and notes of who you talked to including the date, time, and details of those discussions. You will find that you will be talking to many different people throughout the claim process, so make sure that each of those conversations is properly documented and includes pertinent details. Be sure also to know if there is a time limit for when you can file your property damage claim.
The benefit of a public adjuster during the property damage claim process
When you see the term ‘adjuster’ you may automatically think of an insurance adjuster. But a public adjuster plays a very different role as they are hired to represent you and not the insurance company. The insurance adjuster represents your insurance company and is assigned to evaluate and assess your property either via phone or an-person. He or she will assess any pre-existing damage and will ask you a series of questions about the routine maintenance you have done around the home and the safety measures you’ve implemented to increase safety and reduce the risk of injury, theft, or destruction to your property. In many cases, they are looking for evidence of negligence that will indicate that the insurance claim can be paid at a lesser degree.
In some instances, you will find that you are not in agreement with the adjuster’s final determination. If this happens, your insurance company’s payout will probably be significantly lower than you had hoped, and may not be enough to cover the repairs or damages that you believe you incurred. When this happens, a homeowners’ best option may be to hire a public adjuster who can independently assess the cost of the damage and represent you when you appeal.
Public adjusters are paid in a variety of ways, but in most situations, they receive a portion of your payout if your appeal is successful. A report from several years ago that was issued by the Florida State Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability indicated that when leveraging a public adjuster, policyholders received 574% higher compensation for non-hurricane claims and 747% higher compensation for hurricane-related claims.
What you need to know about hurricane-related property damage insurance claims
There are some things you need to know if you live in a hurricane-prone area such as Miami, Key West, Cape Hatteras (North Carolina), Tampa, or New Orleans.
- Your basic homeowner’s policy will not cover hurricane damage. Homeowners must purchase a separate hurricane policy so that their home can be insured against tropical storms and hurricanes. A typical homeowner’s insurance policy will only provide protection from water damage from the usual rain showers and standard thunderstorms. If you experience hurricane damage to your home and you do not have the proper hurricane insurance, then the damage to your home will not be covered.
- Your homeowner’s and hurricane insurance will not cover flood damage. You must purchase incremental flood insurance-specific coverage to take care of flood damage. Keep in mind too that adding flood insurance will have a 30-day waiting period, so be sure to add that coverage long before hurricane season strikes (June 1 of each year).
- You will need proper documentation of the state of your property and the presence of your possessions. Create a home inventory or video-inventory and keep it in a safe place in the event you need it for a property damage claim.
- Your car insurance policy will cover flood damage. If your vehicles are damaged due to hurricane-related flooding, your vehicles will be protected as long as you have comprehensive coverage. Your insurance company will either pay to repair or replace your vehicles after you have covered the deductible.
- You should reassess your insurance coverage annually. It is always a good idea to connect with your insurance agent to conduct an overall review of your insurance policies and coverage amounts. If you have conducted home improvement projects or renovations, this can change the value of your home, and you will want to ensure that your home insurance policy reflects that higher value.
- Check to see if you qualify for any government assistance programs. State and federal governments often provide special assistance programs to residents impacted after hurricanes. In many cases, FEMA and other agencies work to provide temporary shelter, clothing, food, water, and other necessary supplies for impacted families. In extreme cases, even food assistance can be made available for a short period until they are able to return to work.
The bottom line is that if you live in Southern Florida, you need to be prepared for what can happen during hurricane season. The more time you take to prepare and ensure you have the property insurance coverage, the better off you will be.
If your home or business has been damaged and you need help negotiating with your insurance company, let Bulldog Adjusters help. We’re one of the fastest-growing public adjusting firms in the United States and we fight to make get you the highest possible settlement on your claim. Reach out to learn more about how we can help!