When a fire ravages your home or business the losses can be great. You may lose precious family heirlooms, invaluable business documents, photo albums, furniture, and, of course, the building itself. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take before a fire and immediately following one that can help reduce the costs to you and make the road to recovery a quicker, easier one.
The first step you should take after a fire is contacting the appropriate parties. Call a local disaster relief service, such as the Salvation Army or Red Cross; these organizations will be able to help you with such important post-disaster matters as finding temporary housing, food, medicine, clothes, blankets, and other basic necessities. You will also want to get in touch with your insurance provider. The company or your agent will send an adjuster to help you get your claim started. Your mortgage company will also need to be notified. You will want to contact friends and family, of course, as well as the utility companies, the post office, your employer, and any delivery service you subscribe to.
After you’ve secured a new temporary residence and have contacted everyone you need to contact, and after the fire department has deemed the site safe for you to re-enter, start making a list of items damaged by the fire. Taking inventory of your losses will help you in the valuing process that is soon to come. Valuing your property is an imperative step in reclaiming lost or damaged goods. This process will aid you in filing a claim with your insurance provider as well as claiming a casualty loss on your federal income tax.
There are a few key terms you will want to familiarize yourself with before you begin the valuation process. The first is personal valuation. This is the term that is used to describe items that may have had personal or sentimental value to you but may not have been worth much money. Personal valuation is an important part of filing an insurance claim; however, it can also be the most frustrating and confusing, as you, your insurance company, and the IRS may not see eye to eye on an item’s worth. Luckily, personal valuation is also open to discussion among the three parties, so don’t feel too discouraged if you lost a lot of heirlooms or other items of sentimental value.
The second term you should know is cost when purchased. This is the first actual part of item valuation and it is pretty straightforward — how much did you originally pay for the item you are claiming? Having receipts or records of purchase helps immensely in this stage, but remember; just because you paid top dollar for furniture or an appliance when it was new doesn’t mean you will be covered for that same cost, especially if you bought it years ago.
That brings us to the third important term; fair market value before the fire. As the second main part of item valuation, this concept expresses how much your damaged goods would have been worth had you tried to sell that at fair market price right before the fire. The cost here reflects an item’s devaluation over time, so don’t be surprised if your coverage is less than what you paid for your items.
Once you’ve finished the valuation process you will want to contact a restoration company and try to restore any important books, documents, and photographs, as well as clean and restore the damaged structure. Check first with your insurance company, as some coverage plans do include restoration services. If yours does not, make sure to look for restoration companies that offer certain types of services. The first is a desiccant air dry distribution system. This state-of-the art restoration service removes excess moisture from the air, allowing documents damaged by fire and water to be dried, cleaned, and, if needed, reproduced in a very short amount of time. You will also want to look for companies that offer vacuum freeze drying systems. This technology also helps restore books and photographs without warping them beyond recognition.
There are a few other important steps to take after a fire that might not immediately come to mind. First, remember to save receipts for any money you spend related to the disaster. This will help you recover post-fire losses by proving to the insurance company and IRS that you incurred loss even after the fire took place. Second, you’ll need to replace any identification you might have lost in the fire. This can be an irritating and long process, but it is essential in rebuilding your life after a fire. Also, don’t forget to contact family, friends, employers, and anyone else that might be worried about your well-being.
A fire can be a great tragedy, but recovering from one doesn’t have to be. By following the above steps as soon as the fire is out, you’ll be able to recover as much as your property as possible and quickly be on your way back to your normal life.