In the aftermath of a house fire, what once was normal is now chaos, and everything demands your immediate attention. One of the things you don’t want falling through the cracks is documenting your loss. Making sure you have abundant documentation of your damages and recovery efforts is critical in negotiating a full and fair settlement for your homeowners insurance claim.
Pictures Tell a Powerful Story
Create a photo journal of your loss, documenting the full extent of your damages and recovery efforts. If possible, gather images from the day of your fire. Ask your neighbors if they took any pictures. If the media showed up, request copies of any images or video that they took, including anything they didn’t publish or broadcast. Save the receipts if you’re charged for the copies.
Take pictures of the outside of your home. Start at the front door and move around your property. Get images of boarded doors and windows, tarps on the roof, fire-damaged walls, fencing/security, etc. Include any damages to your lawn or landscaping, too. While coverage for plants and trees often is limited, damage to them can speak to the scale of your fire.
Before you re-enter your fire-damaged home, make sure you have checked with your local utility and fire officials, and they have declared the site is safe to enter. Fire sites are extremely toxic and dangerous. Wear appropriate protective clothing, boots, gloves, hat/hard hat, N95 mask, etc. Do not enter areas declared unsafe: they most assuredly are unsafe.
Never move or remove anything from your fire-damaged site until your insurance carrier has told you, in writing, that they have concluded their investigation of your loss. You still can, and should, take pictures of everything you can.
Document Interior Damage Like a Pro
Our public adjusters recommend you repeat the same process for taking photographs from room to room, so you’re sure you know what you’re looking at later.
- Start at the doorway, and take a picture of the whole room.
- Move as close to the center of the room as you’re able. Using the door as your guide, take pictures from right to left, first of the ceiling, then the walls, then the floor. If the area is too large for the camera to see, shoot it in segments, ensuring the borders have a generous overlap.
- Take individual pictures of any lights, ceiling fans, windows, custom treatments, and equipment in use — water pumps, fans, air scrubbers, etc.
- Shoot the closet doors and inside the closet(s).
- End with a shot from where you started, pointed out the door.
- When you’ve photographed the whole room, the pictures will include a summary view of your damaged personal property, left exactly as you found it.
For areas declared unsafe, take whatever pictures you can from a safe distance. Include any signs, caution tape, etc., that shows the area is too damaged to enter.
Be sure you can tell what’s in your pictures. Use a light source, if necessary. Wait to shoot windows until the sun isn’t shining in or on them. If you need to zoom in on damage, include something like a ruler, pen, or your finger to show scale.
What About Your Valuables?
Your homeowners insurance policy requires you to take reasonable steps to prevent additional damage and secure your property following a loss. Not much secures your valuables better than getting them out of your fire-damaged home, but you must do this in accordance with the provisions in your policy.
Communicate openly with your insurance carrier about what is in your home that you need to retrieve. They, too, have a vested interest in helping protect your property, especially any insured valuables that could be recovered. You should be able to work together to create a safe way to get these items, even if it means waiting until the debris is being removed.
In the event you cannot work with your carrier to retrieve your valuables, be sure you are working with a licensed professional who understands the impact removing items from your fire-damaged site can have on your homeowners insurance claim. Document the entire retrieval, ideally with video, unedited. If you have questions or need help, reach out to one of our public adjusters any time.
Debris Removal Yields Details
When disaster strikes, it’s human nature to rally our every resource and clean up the mess. Debris Removal, however, is a critical stage in your homeowners insurance claim process. Once everything is removed, so is much of the evidence of your damages. Use the Debris Removal stage to its fullest by getting detailed documentation of your damaged personal property as it’s being removed from your fire-damaged home.
The method our public adjusters prefer is to first take pictures of the damaged items in place. Then, during Debris Removal, put each item on a table and:
- Take enough pictures to show all of the visible damage.
- Note any information the photos don’t convey.
- Sort the items by whether they should be discarded or salvaged.
- Reach agreement with the insurer about the disposition of the items.
- Use this documentation to prove the full personal property inventory.
After Debris Removal and During Construction
Keep documenting throughout your claim. When Debris Removal is concluded, take photos of what remains. Again, apply a method that will help identify what is in the pictures.
Take more photographs during construction, as many as you can. If your contractor discovers additional damage, make sure to get pictures of it, alert your insurer, and have your contractor write an additional repair estimate for your insurer’s approval. Make sure the additional work needed is not done before you reach agreement with your insurer about the cost and coverage.
Documentation is Your Foundation
Taking 100s of photographs and writing descriptions about your damages and loss may seem a little over the top — especially when insurers invest billions persuading you they are the ones that keep mayhem away.
Don’t be fooled. It’s your property, your policy, and your responsibility to prove your damages. Lay a solid foundation by collecting abundant documentation throughout your claim.
Our free Fire Loss Claim Kit can help you document your damages, organize your claim documents, and provide you guidance through the different stages of your fire damage insurance claim. Follow the link below to download your copy today.