NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
More than 370,000 Floridians are without power after hurricane Charley roared across the state packing winds of 145 mph.
While there is still no official estimate on how many buildings were destroyed or damaged, Governor Jeb Bush said damage is clearly in the billions of dollars. Residents now face the daunting process of filing insurance claims.
Here are today's 5 tips on getting the most from your insurance claim:
1. Make contact
While insurance policies do place time limits on filing claims, industry sources tell us they're not hard and fast. Insurance companies already have representatives on the ground in affected areas. Some even have mobile units in the area.
Make contact with your agent or company representative as soon as you can. If you don't have your policy handy, you'll need to start asking some very important questions about your coverage.
How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs for structural damage? You may not want to make extensive permanent repairs until the claims adjuster has been to your home and assessed the damage.
However, you should take measurers to prevent further damage to your home, like protecting exposed areas from moisture. Save receipts for any building supplies you purchase for these purposes. Insurance companies reimburse policyholders for these expenses.
2. Assess the damage
Identify the structural damage to your home and other buildings on your property, like your garage, tool shed or in-ground swimming pool.
Most insurance companies will pay for the removal of trees that have fallen on your home. (Fallen trees that haven't damaged your home are your responsibility to remove.)
Make a list of everything you would like to show the adjuster...cracks in walls, damage to the floors or ceilings and missing roof tiles. If you need your electrical system checked, most insurance companies pay for such inspections.
CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on how to get the most from your insurance claim.|
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If your home was destroyed, you have several options. You can rebuild your home on the same site. You can sell the land your old home was built on and build in a different place. Or, you may decide not to rebuild at all and rent a new home. However, if you decide not to rebuild, find out ahead of time how it will affect your insurance settlement.
For more information on the claims process visit www.iii.org and download their pamphlet, "Settling Insurance Claims After a Disaster."
3. Prepare for adjuster's visit
Your insurance company may send you a claim form, known as a 'proof of loss form,' to fill out. Or they may send one of their adjusters to visit your home. (An adjuster is a person professionally trained to assess the damage.)
In either case, the more information you have about your damaged possessions the better. You're going to need to have proof of your losses. Prepare a home inventory of damaged or destroyed items. Include descriptions, approximate purchase dates and cost estimates (how much it cost to replace or repair the items).
Give a copy to the adjustor along with copies of any receipts you have access to. Don't throw out damaged items until the adjuster has visited your home.
Also, consider documenting the damage with a camera. If your property is completely destroyed or you no longer have any records, you will have to work from memory.
4. Keep your receipts & records
If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations, keep records of all additional expenses incurred. Homeowner's insurance policies provide coverage for the 'loss of use' of your home, if it is damaged by an insured disaster.
The amount available to pay for such expenses is generally equal to 20 percent of the insurance on your home. So on a home insured for $100,000, up to $20,000 would be available. This amount is in addition to the $100,000 to pay for repairs or to rebuild your home.
Some insurance companies pay more than 20 percent. Others limit additional living expenses to the amount actually spent during a certain period of time, such as 12 months, instead of a maximum percentage of the policy limit.
Among the items typically covered are extra food costs, increased housing costs, telephone or utility installation costs in a temporary residence, and extra transportation costs to and from work or school.
5. Second opinions
Insurance companies provide adjusters to assess damage at no cost to you. But if you want a third party adjuster working solely for you, you may want to contact a public adjuster.
These adjusters charge a fee for their services. If you decide to use a public adjuster to help you in settling your claim, this service could cost you as much as 15 percent of the total value of your settlement.
Sometimes after a disaster, the percentage that public adjusters may charge is set by the insurance department. If you do decide to use a public adjuster, check references and qualifications by calling the Better Business Bureau and your state's insurance department. If you live in Florida, it's www.fldfs.com.
For more information on public adjusters, visit www.napia.com. If you need storm related assistance, the state hotline is 1-800-22-STORM or visit www.floridadisaster.org.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.