Property damaged in the winter storm? Here's what you should do to file an insurance claim.
Icy weather has downed trees and branches in neighborhoods throughout Austin this week. If they’ve caused damage to your property, you may want to consider filing an insurance claim.
What should I do?
First, consider if the cost to repair or replace property covered by your policy is more than your deductible. If it is, Ben Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Insurance, recommends starting a claim right away. And to document everything.
“Make a list of all the damaged property,” Gonzalez said. “You can also take pictures or video with your phone. Just walk around and show the damage that you can.”
Make temporary fixes where you need to. For example, if part of your fence has been knocked down, fix it to keep your dog from getting out. Also, take reasonable steps to keep damage from getting worse.
“You want to cover any broken windows or holes in the roof or things like skylights just to keep rain from getting in,” Gonzalez said. “Use plywood or tarps or whatever you can to cover those holes.”
He said you should also get any wet furniture or rugs out of your home to prevent mold from growing inside, but don’t throw them away until the insurance company tells you to.
For any fixes you make, be sure to save your receipts to add to your insurance claim.
Coverage varies from policy to policy. Read your policy or ask your insurance agent what’s covered by yours.
Some policies may provide temporary living expenses if your home is unlivable. Some cover the costs of food spoilage. Tree removal may be covered if the tree fell on your home or is blocking access to your home, like if it fell in your driveway. Homeowners insurance or comprehensive car insurance may cover a tree falling on your car.
What happens after I file my claim?
An insurance adjuster may come out to examine the damage after you’ve filed your claim. Gonzalez recommends being there for the visit so you can point out your specific concerns. Depending on the claim and your documentation, everything may be handled online. If you don’t get a quick response from your insurance company, you can file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance.
Will filing a claim affect my insurance prices going forward?
Gonzalez said making a single claim for a weather-related incident will have minimal impact to your insurance rates, though they could increase if you made multiple claims over the past few years.
Rich Johnson, a spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Texas, a trade group for the insurance industry, said while your claims history is a factor in determining your rates and premiums, insurance rates have increased in the last five years, and particularly in the last 18 months, because of weather events like this.
“Insurance companies are also looking at the totality of the scenario which we've seen over the last several years,” Johnson said. “Texas now [has] to rate their risk for freezing events because we've now had three of them in a row, which is something that they never considered before. There has been a hurricane in the last couple of years on the coast. We had flooding up in Dallas. And so it's kind of the totality of what's going on in the area and the risk that insurance companies are taking on in a particular area.”