Navigating a Homeowners Insurance Claim After a Disaster

Disastrous storms like Hurricane Ian, which hit the west coast of Florida in September 2022, may not strike very often. However, weather events or wildfires that inflict property damage across a region — and isolated incidents that affect a single property — can and do occur more frequently.

When a homeowner files an insurance claim for property damage, any settlement will generally depend on what caused the loss and the type and amount of coverage that was purchased. But in the aftermath of a disaster, stunned homeowners may not be sure what to do first, who to trust, or how to manage the recovery process.

A Good Place to Start

As soon as possible, call your insurance agent or company to report the extent of your property damage. When a disaster affects an entire region, insurers may first try to address the needs of policyholders with the most severe losses. Otherwise, lesser claims are likely to be processed in the order they are received, so acting quickly could result in a faster settlement.

While you are waiting to hear from an adjuster, you may want to read your policy documents carefully or ask your insurance agent for help reviewing your coverage.

Identify and take photos of any visible structural damage to your home and other structures such as garages, sheds, and swimming pools. You may also want to get written construction bids from trusted local contractors, but wait to make major, permanent repairs until a claims adjuster has assessed the damage. Temporary repairs, however, may be needed to help protect your property from further damage, and they may also be covered as part of your total settlement. Keep receipts for any repairs that you pay for out of pocket and submit them to your insurer for reimbursement with the rest of your claim documentation.

Refer to your home inventory, if you have one, and begin listing your damaged possessions, including a description, the date of purchase, and how much it will cost to replace or repair each item. If your car is damaged or destroyed, you may be able to file a separate claim under your auto insurance, but only if you have a comprehensive policy.

Homeowners policies typically include coverage for reasonable living expenses if your home incurs so much damage that you must relocate, so save receipts for hotels, meals, and other expenses that you incur while you are not able to live in your home.

The Role of an Adjuster

Insurance adjusters are trained to assess the damage and determine the size of a policyholder’s payout. Your insurer will send at least one adjuster to handle your claim at no charge. If you believe the insurer’s proposed settlement is too low, ask the adjuster to show you the contract language and explain the offer. Referring to several local contractors’ bids for repairs may help you negotiate a higher payout.

If your home is located in a disaster area, you may be contacted by public adjusters who do not have a relationship with your insurer and who usually charge a flat fee of up to 15% of the total value of your settlement.1 If you decide to pay for the services of a public adjuster, you may want to check his or her qualifications with the Better Business Bureau, your state’s department of insurance, and/or the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters (

Make sure to keep copies of all documents that you give to your adjuster or other company representatives and write down the full name of every person with whom you speak about your claim.

You may ultimately receive three separate checks from the insurer. The first one may be an advance for additional living expenses covered by the policy. Another check may pay for damage to the structure, and a third check may reimburse you for losses related to the home’s contents and your personal belongings.

Uninsured Losses

Unfortunately, large-scale gaps in insurance coverage are often exposed whenever a fire, tornado, or storm causes extensive damage, but U.S. tax laws may provide some financial relief. A portion of unreimbursed casualty losses may be deducted from income on federal tax forms, according to certain guidelines. The IRS defines a casualty loss as one that results from the damage or destruction of property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event (not ordinary wear and tear or avoidable conditions). Affected property owners may want to seek advice from a knowledgeable tax professional.

For those who suffer large losses, a tax deduction from Uncle Sam may offer little consolation. To help avoid such a fate, homeowners should carefully document their personal belongings and review their insurance policy on an annual basis, partly to make sure their coverage limits have kept pace with inflation.