One of our long time customers recently experienced a house fire. I decided immediately that telling their story was necessary, in the event you too suffer a fire. For the sake of privacy, I have renamed the customers Jack and Jane, but everything discussed here is exactly how it played out post-fire. Pay special attention to the “Good to Know” points…..
The Day of the Fire
We had just opened the office Monday morning, when Jack and Jane came in. They said that they had smelled smoke around 1 o’clock that morning and discovered the fire had started in an upstairs bedroom. They called the fire department, and the fire was subsequently extinguished.
Luckily everyone got out safely. Also fortunately, the fire did not spread to the entire house, but kept contained to one side. Damage was still pretty extensive- walls, doors, flooring, ceiling, and part of the ceiling even caved in. The water damage sustained from the fire hoses completed the picture.
Preliminary reports indicate the fire was due to an electrical issue.
Based on this information, the power company shut off power to the house. It makes sense, because until the electrical issue is solved, you certainly don’t want it to happen again. Good to Know Point #1- If the power is turned off, how will the damage get cleaned up? I didn’t give that any thought until I spoke with the fire/water damage restoration company. More on that later…..
What Happened Next
I looked at them and said something like this, “The point of the insurance is to take care of you and get you back to where you were before the claim. That’s exactly what we’re going to do. Everything will be OK. I promise.”
I picked up the phone and called the claims department and was immediately assigned an adjuster (the person who coordinates the claim, verifies coverage according to the policy, authorizes repairs and makes sure checks get written). I gave Jack and Jane the adjuster’s information so they would know who to expect a call from.
Next I called the fire/water damage restoration company. I provided all the claim details, insured’s contact information and also the adjuster’s name and phone number. Good to Know Point #2- The sooner you can hook up the restoration company and the adjuster, the BETTER. You want them to work together- the adjuster authorizes the work and the restoration company does the work. When they work together, it gets done efficiently and timely. And when we’re talking fire or water, you need to get going quickly.
Advising the Customer
This is where the rubber meets the road- you’re trying to help people who have just experienced a terrible tragedy understand what will happen next. And our customers were tired, anxious and SCARED TO DEATH. So I broke it down into a series of steps.
- I told them the adjuster would call very soon (within the hour was promised) and his first job was to get them money so they could find a place to stay, get clothing, do laundry and eat. If not via a physical check, companies often have the ability to make a deposit into a checking account. Good to Know Point #3- This is called Additional Living Expense or Loss of Use. I don’t know many homeowners policies that DON’T include it, but you certainly want to check and make sure you’ve got it. As you can see, its value is enormous in a situation like this.
- I then explained that the restoration company would call to set up a time to begin work. They assess the situation, then work with the homeowner to create an inventory of items that were damaged in the fire, make arrangements to clean/repair, as well as clean the parts of the house that were affected. Good to Know Point #4-They normally take the items to their facility for cleaning, so the inventory will help catalog and make sure the items that are taken are returned.
- Lastly, I explained about the type of paperwork they would be expected to complete, including the personal property inventory. Good to Know Point #5- Just because you have $50,000 in contents on your policy does NOT mean the company will just write you a check for $50,000. They REQUIRE proof of loss, so the inventory provides that proof. Our customers have access to a mobile app that allows them to do a complete home inventory, including photos. Trust me, it’s easier doing it in advance than AFTER the loss happens.
They also needed to be available to let the insurance company and restoration company have access to the house.
When I was finished, I asked if they had any questions or needed me to review anything again. They were satisfied with the conversation and noticeably less anxious than when they had first walked in. They left to collect a few other items from their house and wait to hear from the adjuster.
After They Left
While the restoration company was keeping me updated on the progress, they pointed out a couple of items I hadn’t thought about. File these also as “Good to Know”…
- The insurance company would not allow the restoration company to start cleaning the scene. Why? Because their fire investigator had to visit FIRST and determine the cause of the fire. It’s similar to crime scene mentality- the scene can’t be compromised until the evidence is collected. When the cause is determined, the scene is released and restoration efforts can begin. I totally forgot about the fire investigator, because luckily, we have few fires.
- Remember the power being turned off? So any restoration company has equipment that requires power. Hmmm. That causes a problem because in order for them to do the work they need power. But until the cause can be determined and fixed, the power company won’t turn it on. Kind of a Catch-22. So once the fire investigator was finished, the first order of business was getting the power turned back on.
First Day Post-Claim
The last communication I received was a note from the restoration company that the insurance company fire investigator and restoration company supervisor were scheduled to meet at the house the following afternoon, along with the homeowners.
There will be much more communication in the weeks, and even months that pass. I am confident that the ultimate goal of taking care of our customers and getting them back to where they need to be will be accomplished. It will not be quick, but it WILL happen.
As an insurance agent, I am proud and honored to be able to help our customers through this time in their life. That is what we do and what we are here for.
- Offer a friendly face and ear during a moment of crisis. I’ve been known to offer hugs and hold a hand during the worst moments.
- Access our trusted network of service professionals to get our customers back on their feet.
- Walk them through the claims process, so they know what to expect.
- Answer any questions they have.
- Remind them they’re not alone and we’ll be here to help however we can.
- Above all, remind them we CARE about them as human beings.
For additional general details about Ohio homeowners insurance claims, read our article.
Concerned your agent may not be there when you need him? Call us or request your Ohio insurance quote via our website. We’d love to help you and as you can see, we’re here during ALL the stages of the insurance process.