Filing a homeowner’s claim can be confusing and overwhelming to those who have never filed one before, but it is critical to ensuring you get the protection you’ve paid for with your insurance company. Claims are used to help you pay for repairs to covered damages done to your home, or to reimburse you for extraneous living expenses if you need to live elsewhere while your home is being fixed for a covered loss. Use this article as a guide for the general steps to take when damage occurs to a covered property.
How Do I File a Home Insurance Claim
Make sure to notify the home insurance company about the damages as soon as possible so they can walk the homeowner through the steps to file a claim. The general steps to file a claim are as follows:
1. File a police report (if applicable)
In the case of theft, vandalism, or home invasion, your first call should be to the police. Once they get to the property, walk them through the areas of damage to point out the missing and damaged items and give them whatever information they need to complete a police report.
You should also write down the names of any police personnel you speak with in addition to which department they come from. Make sure to keep this information with the police report in case the insurance company needs a copy for their records. Anything other than theft, vandalism, or home invasion may not need a police report. If the damage doesn’t require a police report, move on to step 2.
2. Document home damage
As tempting as it may be, it’s important to not clean anything, except for taking whatever steps are necessary to stop further damage to your home. Instead, walk through the affected areas and take pictures or video to document the damage as it was when you found it.
This would also be the time to compare any missing items to a home inventory where photos of the items and estimated values are listed. Document the date and time the damage was discovered. If anyone was injured in the home, be prepared to provide insurance information and anything else they might need for their injury claim.
3. Make urgent repairs (if needed)
While it is important to not clean up the damage, it is necessary to stop further damage from occurring. Most insurance companies have a clause in their policy agreements that states that the insured must do what they can to stop the damages from getting worse while waiting for an adjuster.
This means that if there’s a fire, call the fire department instead of letting the home burn to the ground. If a massive leak is ruining the floors and appliances, turn the water off and try to get the area as dry as possible while waiting for the company to send an adjuster. Cover any holes in windows or the roof with a tarp to prevent animals and moisture from getting into the home. Be sure to keep the receipts of whatever you may have purchased to protect your home from further damage as this could be reimbursed through your claim.
4. Contact your insurance company
After the police have documented what they need for their reports (if applicable), you can then contact the insurance company to inform them of the damages. How the insurance company wants homeowners to document their damages can vary from company to company, but the company will likely want to see the damage as it was when it was discovered. The agent that helps you can inform you of the insurer’s specific process to file a claim. Make sure to keep a record of the agent you spoke with and when you spoke with them for your own record of events.
5. Prepare for a home insurance adjuster visit
After you’ve informed the insurance company about the damages to the home, the insurance company may send out an adjuster to assess the damages if they deem it necessary. For example, larger claims and claims for major damage will likely warrant a visit from an insurance adjuster, while smaller claims or claims that involve relatively minor theft or vandalism may not because the police report could be sufficient.
An adjuster’s job is to come to the home, examine what happened, and determine the extent of the loss to report back to the insurance company. This is where all of the documentation that you compiled from your walk-through and conversations with the police (if necessary) will be useful.
Homeowners can also have a few quotes for the damages ready to compare with the adjuster’s findings if necessary. After the adjuster has done their walkthrough and made all the documentation that they need, they’ll put everything together and produce a quote for the insured and write them a check to cover the damages.
6. Get quotes for repairs
Depending on when the adjuster can make their way out to the home, this step can come either before the adjuster comes or after. Homeowners can have contractors come out to assess the damages and estimate what it would cost to make the repairs. After getting the check from the insurance company, you can hire a contractor to complete the repairs.
7. Review your settlement
Once the adjuster collects all of the relevant information and documentation, the company will put together a settlement amount for the insured. If the insured is happy with the settlement amount, they can cash the check and move forward with repairs.
However, if you feel the amount that the company offered is too low, you should start the dispute process by requesting the documentation that led the adjuster to the amount that the company offered. After reviewing the adjuster’s work, consider what other information you can offer that might increase the settlement amount. For example, you could hire an independent adjuster to review the damage and come up with a quote that you can then present to your insurance company to negotiate a higher amount.
8. Receive your claim payout and repair damages
Once you are happy with the settlement amount, you can then cash the check, hire a contractor, and start with the repairs.
What Events Can I File a Home Insurance Claim On?
Any covered incident that causes damage to the home or the property within the home can result in a home insurance claim. This includes:
- Internal explosion
- Theft or vandalism
- Falling objects
- Windstorm or hail
- External explosion
- Riot or civil commotion
- Aircraft, including self-propelled missiles and spacecraft
- Damage from vehicles is covered, but this coverage doesn’t apply if the damage is from a vehicle that was operated by the homeowner or any of the residents of the home.
- Volcanic eruption is covered, but typically earthquakes, shockwaves, and tremors are not covered.
- Damage by burglars
- Weight of snow, ice, or sleet
- Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam, as long as it’s coming from inside the house
- Sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning, or bulging
This list isn’t exhaustive and there are, of course, caveats to each of these incidents. You can find the specifics in the coverages and perils section of your policy.
Will Making a Claim Impact My Current Rates?
Whether filing a claim on a homeowners policy will impact the rates at renewal differs from company to company. Some companies increase the policy’s premium with every claim filed no matter the amount or type, and will drop the homeowner’s coverage if “too many” claims are filed in a policy term. But other companies may be more lenient and not factor in claims at all when determining renewal rates. Most companies are somewhere in between: the type, amount, and frequency of claims filed will impact your renewal rate.
What To Avoid When Filing a Home Insurance Claim
- Don’t file a claim if it’s not necessary. Not only could the claim cause your rate to increase at renewal, but you could also end up paying more for the insurance company to make the repairs than what it would cost for you to hire a contractor yourself to do the repairs. A good rule of thumb is to check the estimate against the policy deductible before making a claim. If the repairs are more expensive than the deductible, it is likely a good idea to make the claim. If they’re less expensive, hire a contractor to fix the damages instead.
- Pay attention to the details. This is especially important for a larger, more complicated claim. The homeowner won’t be reimbursed for anything that isn’t included in the claim.
- Maintain adequate coverage for your home. It is disappointing at best and financially ruinous at worst to find out that your home is covered for $150,000 in damages when there are $250,000 in actual damages after a fire or another catastrophic event. When calculating how much coverage is necessary for your home, consider everything, from the floors, to the ceilings, to all of the belongings in the home. Also, keep receipts for any electronics or furniture in a book or spreadsheet for ease of future access.
- Don’t be afraid to dispute the claim. If you feel that the amount that the insurance company issued for the repairs isn’t enough to repair the home, you can dispute the claim with the insurance company.
What Happens if My Home Insurance Claim is Denied?
If the claim is denied by the insurance company, you can always dispute the claim. You can do this by reaching out to the insurance company to request a written breakdown of the damages to see how they decided to deny the claim. You can then hire your own adjuster to reassess the damages and come up with their own reimbursement amount. If that amount is favorable to you, you can take it back to the insurance company and use it to negotiate a settlement.