Here’s a scenario we see on a regular basis: A homeowner has a fire in their house. It spreads to several rooms, leaving only charred remains. Other rooms in the house are intact, but all of the personal property in those rooms is damaged – furniture, clothing, electronics, etc. – and needs to be replaced. When you have a ‘burnt out of sight’ loss like this one, you want to optimize your coverage as much as possible. To do this, you must prove your claim – and that involves providing as much background information and documentation as possible.
SMW takes a straightforward approach in these cases. Early on in the claims process, we explain to the insured what we will need. Insureds are often less than enthusiastic to hear they must provide extensive documentation. Indeed, our clients are often somewhat resistant at this early stage.
We understand the pushback we sometimes get from clients – everybody is busy, and the last thing anybody wants to do is dig up old receipts and proofs-of-purchase for items destroyed or damaged in a fire.
At this stage, we always try to help them understand how hugely helpful it is for them to provide proof of their damaged items. Ideally, this proof includes original invoices and purchase documentation. Our goal is to establish the quality, the price, and the age of the items. Why? Because, with this information in hand, we can more accurately research and document a price for each item’s replacement cost. Original invoices show where a homeowner shops, thereby allowing us to reinforce pricing of multiple items at these documented stores, and confidently submit an accurate claim.
Pre-loss photos are also a great asset. Just recently, one of our public adjusters went to a furniture store and sat down with a salesperson to review original photos of the damaged items. Using those photos, they pointed to multiple furniture pieces, and worked together to target comparable items within the same brand, thereby finding accurate replacement costs directly from the furniture company’s pricing list. This was hugely helpful as the replacement costs of these particular furniture brands were not listed online.
Other Helpful Sources
Online purchases can be accessible by logging into your accounts and pulling up your order histories (Amazon saves orders all the way back to 1995!), or by searching your email inbox and deleted messages for proof of items purchased online. You can also inventory through old family videos. You may have thought you were just recording your sister’s birthday party, but you’ve also successfully captured images of your collection of antique books in the background.
Our Advice to Homeowners
Be prepared. Take photos throughout your home and store them in the cloud or off the premises. Should you have a worst-case scenario where a room is completely destroyed, this may help you recreate a list of what you had prior to the loss, and prove the existence of these items. Succeeding in pinpointing accurate replacement costs is a little like establishing the burden of proof. If you can substantiate things, it makes the claims process so much easier. When it comes to replacement costs, if we have receipts, we have justification.