Expert Insight On Preparing Your Claim

Learn more about accurately documenting the full extent of your property damage from wildfire and other disasters. Video from Patricia Russell.


The insurance company guy just slams out an estimate really quick in Xactimate and he comes up with a number, most likely it's okay, but the detail estimate is going to be the estimate that really drives your claim to the right place. So if you don't have the ability to get this estimate in the format that the insurance company wants, find someone that can do it for you. It's important. There’re a lot of really good contractors out there, but there are certain contractors that only do insurance work and that's something you need to make sure of—that they have the Xactimate software and they know how to write an estimate on that software so you've got the same type of tool that the insurance company is using. It’s not a software that you're going go buy at Best Buy, it's a very expensive software. When you're interviewing people to repair your home, you want to make sure that these people know the software and that's how they're going to estimate it because—again like Sheri said—the round number one-page, very little detail estimate isn't going to go very far with the insurance company and they're just going to take that and they're going to enter that into Xactimate and it's going to kick out a lower number because, again, the software's only as good as whoever's using it.

When we use Xactimate, we're manipulating making the software work for us, for our clients to project union-scale labor. Things like that. You’re entitled to hire a union electrician, but if the insurance company can pay you a lesser rate they're going try to do that. You're entitled to Malibu pricing, but if the insurance company can use South Dakota pricing, they'd like to. Let’s face it, it's much cheaper to build a home in South Dakota than it is in Malibu. With the firestorm, lumber prices are surging like crazy right now. You need sub-bids. You can't just guesstimate what these numbers are based on now. You have to increase what the surge is and you have to talk to the guys that are actually doing the work, the vendors. It's very important.

Describing things. There’re two ways to describe something that you totally lost. This table I bought at Costco: fifty dollars. Or you can go on the Internet and get the exact make, the exact model, the exact price. If it's an antique, you want to detail it. Maybe you don't know the exact make and model, but it had gold handles and it was a nice oakwood finish. That's what the insurance company wants to see. They want to see a full description of what that item is, not just a folding chair: twenty dollars. You want to be detailed. The more you describe the more detail, the easier it is for the insurance company to pay you because it's a full description of what it is.

Now some of you have lost things beyond recognition and that's where you've got to start creating a memory guide. What was in the dresser—Sheri talked about that very briefly—next to your bed? So, in my dresser, I have an alarm clock that sits on the top, I have a phone charger that's plugged into the wall. When I open up my drawer I've got a collection of my pens, I have a stack of business cards, I have a stack of playing cards, I have my reading glasses, I have my sunglasses, I have five pairs of sunglasses in there, I have my cufflinks. So every single item that's in my top drawer, it's not just an armoire—it’s everything that's inside of it and it's all that detail of every single thing. You've got to do that room by room by room. I've seen garages that have two hundred thousand dollars worth of stuff. Tools and yard equipment and ski equipment, you name it. If you look in my garage, my wife wants me to get rid of half the stuff—she thinks it's junk. It’s important to me. All of that has value. Whether you lost it all, if it's smoke damaged, well then how is someone going to come in and clean all one hundred fifty European five micron screws that you have in a drawer because they're all smoke damaged. Yeah, they can be wiped down individually or they can pay to replace that whole set of one hundred fifty screws. That's the argument you're going to have with the insurance company. Sure, I can pay my aunt five dollars an hour or ten dollars an hour to clean every one of these by hand—it’s going to take her three weeks—or you can just pay me to replace them all right now for a hundred bucks.

Understanding depreciation is a more complicated thing, but what you want to understand is that when you buy something like a glass like this—you buy it brand new—it's maybe two dollars, but now it's three years old, ten years old, how much is it worth? It's not worth three dollars anymore—it's been used—but it may be worth two dollars or it may be worth what the insurance company may say: it’s only worth 50 cents. So that's very subjective, what the used value—the actual cash value—things are, and that's important. So you want to negotiate, you don't want them to just depreciate every glass in your kitchen twenty-five percent. Some glasses in my kitchen don't get used every day, they only get used once a year—Thanksgiving or at Christmas. So why would a glass—it doesn't matter if it's ten years old if I only use it once or twice a year, it didn't depreciate as much as the glasses that I drink out of every day. Concepts like that, and they're going to do that on the building side of the claim and on the contents.

There're going to be certain limitations in your policy, so know your sub-limits of your policy—jewelry, fine art, things of that sort. Firearms, cash—they're not covered for their full value, they've got a sub-limit in the policy, so get a full copy of your policy. Ask your adjuster to summarize it in the email what are your sub-limits.