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The Do's and Don'ts of Repairing Significant Damage to Your Home

Posted by Matt Schmidt | Sep 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

My wife and I recently had extensive repairs done to our home due to some substantial damage. Whether its termites, mold, fire, leaks, weather or some other disaster, damage to your home is likely to come at some point if it hasn't already. Here is a list of do's and don'ts when you find yourself in the same situation:

Look carefully at your policies to see if you are covered

Often, with major damage comes the urgency to get it fixed as soon as possible, and people panic. They call the first person they find in the phone book, have the damage repaired immediately and pay the bill. Often, however, the urgency makes people overlook the fact that the entire thing might be covered by home insurance or a company like American Home Shield.

By looking at our coverages and giving our insurance companies a phone call, my wife and I discovered the majority of damage would be covered by insurance and the cost to repair the source of the problem covered by AHS.

It is also important to read the language of your policies carefully so you can cautiously phrase how the damage occurred when your insurance agent asks you what happened. Policies can cover many types of damage but can also exclude coverage depending on how the damage was caused. For example, an insurer might not cover a repair if your actions caused the damage (i.e. the glass panel didn't crack due to wear and tear, but because you accidentally threw a baseball at it).   I'm not suggesting you lie, but the last thing you want is for coverage to be excluded because you inaccurately described what happened or used the wrong terminology.

Don't wait too long

You should begin the process of getting the problem fixed as soon as you notice it. If you wait too long to act, you invite your home insurer to deny coverage or limit it by arguing that you aggravated the damage or made it worse by not mitigating it as soon as it was discovered (your duty to mitigate the damage as soon as you notice it is likely an obligation you are required to comply with under your insurance policy). Many types of damage--termites, leaks, mold, etc--can go from small to ugly in a very short amount of time.

Be careful who you hire

Yes, the damage may require immediate attention, but spend as much time as you possibly can to research and select a professional and competent company to do the work.  A lot of the time, the damage caused requires a certain type of expertise beyond your own realm of knowledge. Because you are new to this situation and lack the expertise to know how the process of fixing it works, it presents the perfect opportunity for a dishonest company to take complete advantage of you by overcharging you for a rushed and incomplete job.

Do some online research and read the companies' reviews. Call a few different companies to find out what the repair you are dealing with will typically cost. If one company's quote is way higher than the others, that is likely a company to avoid. While you are on the phone, have a conversation with the people working for the company and see if you personally like them. If they come out to look at your property, have a conversation with them then as well. If they aren't responding to you quickly, you are getting bad vibes through simple conversation or something just feels off, it's probably not just in your head—there is likely a legitimate reason for your inclination to go with someone else.

Be cautious of the basic repairman who knows the specialist who knows the inspector who knows the renovator who knows….you get the idea.

Don't be afraid to fire a company who is doing a bad job, even if the job has only gotten started. In fact, if you aren't satisfied with how a company is doing from the very start, it is not likely to get any better—to the contrary, it will probably just get worse. One caveat to this rule: review the contract you signed with them first and make sure there are no penalties for firing them before they have completed the job. If there are, look for parts of the contract they may have breached to see if you can get out of the contract all together.  If you are unsure, it might not be a bad idea to have a lawyer review the contract.

Likewise, if the company claims to have completed the job but you are unsatisfied, don't be afraid to demand they fix it.

Be careful what you sign

When you do hire someone, they will make you sign a ton of paperwork, including a contract. I know you want to simply sign and get it over with so they can start working, but read this stuff carefully. Companies often put boilerplate language in their agreements that heavily favors them and heavily disfavors you in the event of a disagreement.  For example, it is not uncommon for companies to have terms in their contract that make it very difficult for you to sue them, fire them or demand reimbursement if something goes wrong.

Sometimes they will even sneak in a contract for their buddy company (depending on the damage, you might have to hire more than one company to do different jobs, so Company A might try and have you sign a contract for Company B. Once Company A completes its job, Company B will then claim you are locked in to work with them next because you signed their contract when you met with Company A. It depends on what you signed, but you may not be obligated to work with Company B at all if they haven't started any work for you yet).

Don't be afraid to cross out language you don't like and modify it with language you feel is more fair, balanced and agreeable. Don't be afraid to tell Company A you will sign their contract but will not sign one for Company B until you meet with them first. If the company refuses to let you do this, think very carefully whether you would like to proceed with them.

Communicate and participate

The value of your property is at stake, so be heavily involved through every stage of the repair, communicate with all the relevant parties and make sure you are a part of any big decisions. The insurance and repair process can be extremely confusing and complex, so don't hesitate to ask your insurance agent or repair specialist as many questions as required to completely and competently understand what is going on and whether the process is being handled correctly. If the answer to your question didn't make any sense, make them explain it again.

Consider upgrading

Similar to spending a little extra money to buy a newer and nicer car after your old hunk o' junk has been totaled, it might be worth a little extra cash to use the substantial damage done to your kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/whatever as an opportunity to give that room a makeover. This is obviously an important personal decision that will have to be made, but under the right circumstances, it might be a a significant chance to turn a negative into a positive by increasing the value of your property.

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.


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