Ask the Insider
A claims adjuster wading through the hurricanes' wake reveals how to get more from your home policy
By Ellen McGirt

(MONEY Magazine) – Michael Smith of Travelers Insurance has been working out of a mobile claims van since just before hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast.

Q What have you learned about people's preparedness for a disaster?

A Most people I've met were fairly prepared--this is hurricane territory, after all. I'm seeing a lot of tarps on roofs; I'm hoping people are saving receipts so we can reimburse them.

Q Does it help to have a contractor on-site when you come to my house? A It can. I can read his scope--that's a summary of what needs to be done to get a property to pre-loss condition--while I'm doing mine. If there are differences, we can talk right there.

Q How can I make sure the gray areas in my coverage end up in my favor? A Say a contractor decides your roof has to be replaced after a storm, but there's no visible damage. Is the home settling and the roof warping? If you can give us a preponderance of evidence in your favor, we'll do an assessment and cover it.

Q Do people ever cheat? A Hey, I've been here 14 years--you're not going to get one over on me. But most people don't do it intentionally. Say you have a roof that's rated to last 25 years, and a contractor says you should upgrade to a 35-year roof. I explain that we replace only to "like, kind and quality." If you start with a Volkswagen, you can't end up with a Mercedes.