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Floodwaters can be a destructive force, whether it’s a few inches or several feet. Repairing, replacing, and rebuilding flood-damaged property can be very expensive, and most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover this kind of damage. This is why it’s so important to have adequate flood insurance.
Here’s what you need to know about the flood claims process so you can get your home and routine back to normal.
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How to file a flood insurance claim
It’s important to work quickly after the flood to file your flood insurance claim, but your safety is more important than documenting any damage. Wait until it’s completely safe to return to your home before worrying about documentation and cleanup.
Here are the five steps you’ll follow to file a flood insurance claim once it’s safe to do so:
It’s important to immediately report your loss to your flood insurance provider. The sooner you can notify your insurer, the sooner it will assign you an insurance adjuster to help you through the claims process.
You can either notify your insurance agent or start a claim via your insurer’s website or mobile app.
When you call your insurer, you’ll need to provide the following information:
Your policy number
Contact information where you can be reached
The name of your mortgage company
Your insurer may also be able to provide you with an advance payment on your insurance payout. Your insurance company will deduct it from your final claim payment, but having money available at the beginning of your flood recovery can help make the process of getting back on your feet much easier.
2. Photograph the damage and begin cleanup
Once it’s safe to re-enter your home, it’s time to take photographs and videos of your damaged home and property. Start by documenting any structural damage to your home and floodwater lines on the inside and outside of the building.
If your electrical, water, or HVAC systems sustained any damage, contact repair services right away. Make sure you consult your insurance adjuster or insurer before signing an agreement with a contractor.
When photographing your appliances, take pictures of the make, model, and serial number of each one. You’ll also want to keep samples of any damaged carpet, flooring, curtains, or other materials, in addition to photographs.
You can also start to clean up your property. Throw away the damaged contents of your home that could pose a health threat, such as perishable food items and any clothing, pillows, linens, or other items that can’t be cleaned.
For a full list of how to safely clean up after a flood, check out this guide from FloodSafety.com.
3. Plan a visit with an adjuster
The insurance adjuster assigned to you will get in touch with you soon after you file your claim — generally within a day or two. The adjuster will schedule a time to inspect your property and documentation.
On the day of the inspection, ask the insurance adjuster to provide their company ID or Flood Control Number (FCN) card and other official identification. Scams are common after widespread natural disasters, so it’s important to make sure you know who you’re working with.
The adjuster’s visit should include these steps:
An explanation of the flood claims process
A property inspection, including additional photos and measurements
An explanation of advance payments
Information about how to present your loss to your insurance company
Information about your policy coverage
Anything else you need to take care of
An explanation of what happens next
4. File a claim with proof of loss statement
After their visit, your insurance adjuster will complete a written estimate of the value of your lost property. This document is called the proof of loss statement. This is your sworn statement of the amount of money you’re claiming from the insurance company, along with the supporting documentation.
Your claim can’t be filed until you have submitted your proof of loss statement, and insurers generally require you to submit this statement within 60 days of the event that caused the flood.
However, signing and submitting the proof of loss statement doesn’t prevent you from requesting additional money later if you find further damage or disagree with the estimate.
Your insurance company can deny your claim or offer you a smaller amount than you request if it disagrees with your assessment of the damage. This is why it’s so important to document the damage as thoroughly as possible — it reduces the likelihood of denial and gives you the evidence you need if you have to appeal a claims decision.
5. Receive a payout
Most flood insurance claims are settled within 30 to 60 days of filing the claim. Your insurer will make a claim payment based on the specific coverage your policy offers and the documentation you provide regarding the cost to make you whole. This is why part of the process includes consulting with general contractors to get estimates for repairs.
Though you can generally expect a payout within 30 to 60 days of filing your claim, most repairs will take longer than that, especially if you’re in an area hit by a natural disaster. When many homes and neighborhoods have experienced flooding, the local repair companies are overwhelmed with work.
That’s why it’s important that you get at least three estimates in writing for major repairs. Also, ask to see contractors’ licenses and references to be sure you’re getting a legitimate work crew rather than an unlicensed or unqualified one.
What to do if your claim gets denied
If your insurer denies your claim, you have the right to appeal it, but you’ll have to work quickly. You must make your appeal within 60 days of when you receive the denial letter from your insurance company.
Before you start the appeals process, call your insurance adjuster and insurance agent first. They can help you better understand why your insurer denied your claim, and you may be able to request additional funding with better documentation. Calling your insurer before starting an appeal may allow you to come to a quicker resolution.
Similarly, if your insurer didn’t deny your claim but doesn’t agree with how much your loss is worth, you can hire an appraiser. However, if you hire an appraiser, you can’t file an appeal.
Lastly, if contacting your insurance company doesn’t resolve the issue, you can file an appeal with FEMA if you have NFIP insurance. There’s no fee to file this appeal, and FEMA will work with you to gather the necessary information and review the claim.
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Flood insurance claim FAQs
Dealing with insurance after a flood has damaged your home can feel overwhelming. Below, you’ll find answers to some of the most common questions policyholders have about flood insurance claims.
Can you appeal a denial of a flood insurance claim?
Yes, you have the right to appeal a denial of a flood insurance claim. You must appeal directly to FEMA within 60 days of receiving the insurer’s written denial.
How quickly should you report a flood insurance claim?
You must file the proof of loss document within 60 days of the flood. Since it takes some time to gather the necessary information and evidence for the proof of loss statement, you should report your claim as soon as you can so you’ll have enough time to gather the necessary documentation.
What documents do you need to file a flood insurance claim?
When you first file the claim with your insurer, you’ll need to provide your insurance policy number, your contact information, and the name of your mortgage lender.
Then, the insurance adjuster will need evidence of the damage to your home, including:
Photographs of the damaged items
A list of lost and damaged items, including date of purchase, approximate value, and receipts, if possible
The adjuster will use this information to help you complete a proof of loss statement, which you’ll file with your insurer.
How does flood insurance work in Florida?
Because flooding is the most common natural disaster in the Sunshine State, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) underwrites most flood insurance policies in Florida. The NFIP is a federal program managed by FEMA and designed to make flood insurance affordable to homeowners in areas not serviced by traditional flood insurance providers.
Floridians can learn more about purchasing or renewing a flood insurance policy at FloodSmart.gov.
What does flood insurance cover?
You can typically choose between two types of flood insurance coverage: building coverage and contents coverage. Building coverage will pay to repair or replace things like foundations, electrical and plumbing systems, appliances, permanently installed carpets and cabinetry, window blinds, detached garages, and other permanent aspects of your home.
Contents coverage pays to repair or replace personal property, like clothing, furniture, electronics, artwork, and sports equipment.
Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson.
Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Kiplinger's, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.
She is the author of several books, including The 5 Years Before You Retire, End Financial Stress Now, and the brand new book Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management, written with Joe Saul-Sehy.