HOUSTON - Have you looked at your homeowner's or rental insurance policies lately? KPRC 2 Investigates has found simple mistakes can cost you thousands of dollars if you have a claim after a storm.
Experts say now is the time for you to take another look at your renter's or homeowner's insurance policy.
"I think a lot of people were surprised about what their policy covered and didn't cover," said Audrey Selden, a senior associate commissioner for consumer protection at the Texas Department of Insurance.
Selden says tough lessons are learned after every major hurricane and Hurricane Ike was no different.
"Many of the things that we saw were literally that the person had not purchased enough insurance," Selden said.
One of the biggest issues -- getting enough money to replace your home.
Homeowners are used to seeing things like appraised value or market value, but Selden says when it comes to insurance, you need to look at replacement value.
"That means if I had to rebuild my home today, how much would it cost -- material, labor and the like," Selden explained. "Don't be fooled by the appraised value or your market value of the home. You're talking about starting from square one and rebuilding."
The next step is making sure your policy is "weather proof." Check the section on windstorm protection to look for specific coverage.
Some along the coast have to purchase a different policy from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. You'll have to purchase a separate flood policy. Even then, you need specific flood protection.
"One of the things we saw through Ike was while some consumers had flood coverage, maybe they didn't have flood contents coverage," said Selden. "So, it's very important that as you do your insurance checkup now, that you look over your homeowner's contents coverage, windstorm and flood, both for the structure and contents of your home."
To replace the things inside your home or apartment, you need to know everything in it.
Selden believes the best way to take a good inventory is to make a detailed list of all of the items in your home.
She suggests taking a home video outside and inside -- everything from your game systems to appliances, furniture to clothing.
"Can you imagine -- you have your master list there and you're checking to see what got destroyed or ruined or what didn't?" Selden explained. "As opposed to sitting there in a very dramatic time and trying to remember every single detail about the things that you do have, that you've now lost."
Also, Selden suggests keeping receipts of any big ticket items you buy so you can prove their worth.
Remember, Selden says, you can request to see or make changes to your homeowner's or renter's policy at any time.
Insurance Tips: Before And After Storm
Being ready for a tropical storm or hurricane means more than protecting your property and gathering emergency supplies. The Texas Department of Insurance urges coastal residents to gather and review their insurance policies in case they need to make a claim after a storm.
The following tips can help make the claims process a little easier and speed recovery, officials said.
- Review your coverage: Check the limits of your policies, including coverage for contents and buildings. Your limits may be too low if replacement costs have risen because of new additions, improvements or inflation.
- Know what your policy covers: Homeowners, farm and ranch, renters, windstorm and condominium policies do not cover damage from rising waters. For more information about flood insurance, call the National Flood Insurance Program at (800) 427-4661 or visit its Web site at www.fema.gov/business/nfip. If you live in a coastal county, you may also need a windstorm policy from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). For more information, call TWIA at (800) 788-8247 or visit its Web site at www.twia.org. Check your auto policy to see if you have comprehensive coverage other than collision. Comprehensive coverage pays if a storm, fire, or flood damages your car.
- Keep an inventory: Make a list of the items you own. Photograph or videotape each room and the exterior of your home. List item serial numbers when available.
- Safeguard your records: Keep insurance policies and your inventory in a safe deposit box or other secure spot. Accurate records speed up claims processing and can help prove tax-deductible, uninsured losses.
- Protect your property: If a hurricane or severe storm warning is issued, and you have time, take appropriate precautions. Secure windows, move your car into a garage or other shelter, secure boats and trailers, move loose items such as lawn furniture and lawn equipment indoors or under cover.
- After the storm: Check your house and car for damage. Contact your insurance company promptly to report damage and follow up with a written claim to protect your rights. Your homeowners and renters policies will pay for debris removal and temporary living expenses. Make necessary repairs to protect your home and property from further damage. Cover broken windows and holes to keep rain out. However, do not make permanent repairs before a claims adjuster inspects the damage. Keep a record of your repair expenses and save all receipts. Photograph the damage. Try to be present when the adjuster inspects your damage.
- Resolving your claim: Your insurance company must acknowledge that it has begun an investigation within 15 days of receiving your claim. The company may request additional information to settle your claim. Once it has that information, the company must accept or reject your claim within 15 business days or tell you why it needs more time. If the Commissioner of Insurance designates the event as a major catastrophe, the claim handling deadlines are extended for an additional 15 days. Once a settlement is reached, the company has five business days to mail you a check. If you do not receive your payment promptly, call your agent. If you have questions about your claim, call TDI at 1-800-252-3439 or visit our Web site at www.tdi.state.tx.us.
- Work with reputable contractors: Ask contractors for references and verify them. Contact your Better Business Bureau, local police, or Chamber of Commerce for information. Insist on an itemized contract in writing and pay only as work is completed. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act prohibits price gouging once the governor has declared an area a disaster area. Call the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hot Line at (800) 337-3928 if you suspect price gouging or any other deceptive business practice.
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