While this latest winter storm wasn't as damaging as last year's, a lot of people didn't make it out untouched this time around.
Downed trees, frozen pipes and damaged vehicles from the ice were the most common reports. Whatever the damage may be, navigating insurance claims is never easy.
Many people are learning some lessons on how to get this fixed and what to prepare for in the next winter storm.
The Texas Department of Insurance offers a checklist:
- Make a list of damaged property. Take pictures or video of the damage. Don't throw anything away until your insurance company tells you to.
- Take steps to protect your home from further damage. Cover broken windows and holes in your roof if possible. Save all receipts. Your policy may cover these costs.
- Try to be there when the insurance company comes to inspect the damage. If you can’t be there, leave a note with information on where you can be reached.
- Keep a list of everyone you talk to at your insurance company. Be ready to answer questions about the damage.
- Ask about additional living expenses. If you can’t live in your home due to the damage, your insurance policy may pay for some of those expenses.
When it comes to cracked windshields on your from ice -- which was a common issue during this latest storm -- this type of damage falls under “comprehensive coverage” within your insurance policy.
It usually refers to incidents that are out of your control, often called “an act of God” within the policy text. An “act of God” generally means something that can't be predicted or prevented and are outside of human control, which typically includes weather events and natural disasters. That could include cracked windshields from ice, damage on your vehicle from ice on the road (depending on the circumstance), or a tree limb breaking from the weight of ice and falling on your home or property.
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“So if you yourself run into a post while pulling through a bank, then that's your fault. That's considered a collision. Comprehensive damage is anything outside of your control, like if somebody backs into you while your car's parked,” said Ryan Stokes, VP of Sales Marketing for Fort Worth-based Property Damage Appraisers, which provides damage appraisal services for major insurance companies.
It’s important to check to see what your deductible is for that comprehensive coverage and what your insurance policy might consider that to be.
“There will be usually different deductibles depending upon what type of what type of collision, whether it's your fault or somebody else's fault. Sometimes we set those deductibles really high, fingers crossed, nothing happens. But then you get into a situation that you do have to use that coverage and you find out that you've set your deductibles high,” Stokes said.
For example, if the deductible is set to $1,000, you would have to pay out of pocket for a windshield replacement, which can run between $500 and $800 depending on your vehicle.
“It's really simply, 'do you want to pay now or pay later?' So, if you're comfortable with the high deductible and you know that that may be coming down the road you can go ahead and set your policy that way,” said Stokes. “If you do have a $1,000 deductible, you just have that set that money to the side with the understanding that if a claim comes up, that's what you're going to use it for.”
Certain insurance companies do offer "glass only" policies, where you would pay a little more per month to be covered for glass damages only.
“Sometimes there are those policies that allow you to have a glass-only claim, which means a lot of times you don't pay out of pocket at all on glass. So if you do commute a lot, you may check and see if that's an option,” explained Stokes.
At the end of the day, Stokes said it’s important to know your policy so you can make a decision on adjusting it for the next time something damages your property.
"Sometimes we set those deductibles really high, fingers crossed, nothing happens. But then you get into a situation that you do have to use that coverage and you find out that you've set your deductibles high,” he said. "If you do lower your deductible, it will increase your monthly payments, so do you want to pay now or pay later? It really depends on your insurance. You need to speak with your agent. Let them know your financial situation. Let them know you can have disposable income set aside for that.”
When it comes to your house, ice can find a way inside. Stokes said this time period after the storm is a good time to check for leaks in your roof, cracks in your pipes or gutter problems.
“If you do have gutters, it can pull away and can cause leaks on your roof. A lot of times, ice finds a way in When a rainstorm hits your roof, it may seep in through a very small place,” he said. “To have a clogged gutter full of water and it freezes—you're talking hundreds of pounds on the edge of your roof.”
If you find damage and need to file a claim, keep in mind that insurance companies will send someone to assess the damage. Stokes said they could get you for lack of maintenance.
That's why ahead of the next storm, take inventory by taking pictures and video of your property.
“We suggest spring cleaning and fall cleaning, do a walk-through of your house. Take an inventory of your home, know what's there and know what the value is on it,” said Stokes. “So if you have an attic that's full of memorabilia or things that are of value in your attic, know what those things are. Take photos and have an outline picture in your policy. If a tree falls through your roof, goes into your attic, and ruins everything that you've got in your attic – you know you've got the proof on that and what the value of those items are.”
At that time, see what you can do to winterize your home. Have landscapers clear any branches that could cause issues or plumbers check your pipes for suspected problems.
And if you do need to change your policy, don't wait. Hail season is coming up fast and you will not be able to benefit from the adjustments made in your policy if you don't do it before something happens.
Stokes also warns of “fly by night” contractors that are on the hunt for weather events to make a quick buck without actually completing work. Bogus companies often send people door-knocking and offer a steep discount for repairs.
"Be sure to verify any company that you're working with through your insurance agent. Property Damage Appraisers can also help verify if they're legitimate," Stokes said.