There are a lot of steps to take directly after having your house burned down. Insurance companies will expect you to act promptly and do whatever is necessary to mitigate further damage. Here's some advice we recommend to our clients who have been victims of a house fire.
Request an advance from your insurance company - Depending on how and when the fire started, you may not have had an opportunity to save anything and need basic necessities like toiletries and clothing. You should be able to request an advance from your insurance company to cover these items. Be sure to save all receipts for your purchases and be reasonable in your purchase items. It's best to shop for clothes just as you would typically, meaning don't buy an extravagant wardrobe.
Mitigate further damage to your property - Insurance companies expect you to do your due diligence to secure your property against further damage. For example, suppose the fire burned down a wall, and you know a storm is coming. In that case, the insurance company will expect that you put up tarps to prevent flooding of the undamaged portions of your home. Professional mitigation contractors can perform these services, including boarding up doors and windows to prevent further damage to the structure. But you will also need to check on the property regularly to make sure no other harm comes to it.
File your insurance claim promptly - We understand that it's a stressful time, but insurance companies expect you to report a house fire right away. They will ask you to submit a "proof of loss claim," which should include a list of all your losses and the value of the items. Delayed reporting of house fires raises red flags with the insurance adjusters and only makes the process of getting compensation more difficult.
Any communication with the insurance company must be documented, so save all emails, texts, and letters. Keep notes on phone conversations, including the date, time, and names of people you talk to about the claim. Save the original copies of all repair documentation like invoices, estimates, bills, and contracts for repair work.
Document your daily living expenses if you're unable to live in the home - You should be entitled to living expenses through your policy "loss of use" clause, which covers additional expenses incurred from not being able to live in your home. However, this doesn't mean you can live high on the hog. This clause only covers the difference it costs you have while living away instead of at home. For example, say you have a remote job that requires you to have high-speed internet, but the hotel where you're staying charges a premium for high-speed internet access. Your internet costs $80 a month at home, and the hotel is charging $100 a month. You wouldn't be eligible to get $100; instead, you would get $20 for the difference in cost.
Even if you're fortunate enough to stay with friends or family, you could still make an argument that they should be compensated for putting you up. After all, they probably have rent or a mortgage, too.
Hire an independent estimator - You don't have to accept the insurance adjuster's numbers at face value. You can hire an independent estimator that is experienced in building and working with insurance companies. You have a right to be compensated fairly, and that includes what a buyer would have paid for your home before the damage.
Don't stop paying your insurance premiums - If your home was partially damaged, you still need liability protection. Even if the structure is a total loss, you still want to protect yourself wherever you're currently living. Still, you could ask your insurance agent to reduce your coverage for the structure.