Filing a home insurance claim

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Buying a new home can be one of the most exciting milestones in your life, but it could also be costly to protect without homeowners insurance. Anything can happen in life, and home insurance could help provide the sense of relief you need to know that certain damages and losses are covered should disaster strike. However, you might not always know when to file a claim.

John Espenschied, owner of Insurance Brokers Group in Chesterfield, Missouri, has been helping homeowners and business owners with their insurance needs for over two decades. He pointed out that many homeowners feel uncertain about when they should file a claim.

We talked to a few experts who provided insight on home insurance and tips for how to make a claim.

What events can be claimed on your homeowners insurance?

There are several circumstances in which a homeowner may need to file a claim. Generally, consulting your policy and speaking with your insurer to know which perils are covered is a good first step to take.

So what does homeowners insurance cover? Below are some of the most common sources of loss you may encounter.

Coverage type Details Standard policy Requires an additional policy or endorsement
Theft & vandalism Standard home insurance includes protections in case your home or belongings are vandalized or stolen. ✔️
Fire Many causes of house fires are generally covered, as specified in your policy. ✔️
Hail & wind The standard policy usually provides reasonable protections against hail and windstorms, but you may need additional coverage if you live in a high-risk area. ✔️ ✔️
Explosion If there is an explosion in or around your home, the average policy covers any damages resulting from the initial blast. ✔️
Falling objects Things like falling satellites, asteroids, meteors and space debris are all typically covered under the standard homeowners insurance policy. ✔️
Flooding Flooding is handled differently than water damage and often requires separate coverage. ✔️
Hurricane If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you may need additional hurricane insurance to cover the risk of flooding and other damages not typically covered under the standard home insurance policy. ✔️
Mold Mold is typically only covered if it is caused by a covered peril under your policy, so you may need to consider additional coverage if you live in an area or property that is prone to mold. ✔️

*This table should only be used as a guide as all policies are different and may or may not cover different perils.

Protections can vary depending on which provider and policy you choose. For example, coverage for water damage may be tricky and is often defined with certain limitations.

“If you incur water damage from a broken pipe, you have to look at the policy documents to see if water damage is excluded or is limited,” said Nicole Shacket, a litigation attorney at Insurance Litigation Group in Florida. “Many policies limit water damage coverage to $10,000 per occurrence, but $20,000 per policy period if there’s more than one claim in that policy period.”

First-time homebuyers may also approach their policy differently given their specific needs.
To be safe, always review your policy in full and discuss any questions you may have with an agent before purchasing.

When to start the claims process

As soon as a loss occurs, you should consider contacting your insurance company. As there are claims processes to follow, usually the sooner you can initiate a claim, the earlier you may be able to resolve the issue.

Contact your insurer

Experts generally recommend not to waste time before filing a claim, as it could impact how smoothly the process goes. David Adler, president and owner of Adler Insurance Group — an Allstate insurance agency in the Denver metro area — added that taking time to verify your policy’s listed perils with your insurer could also be an important step.

“Ask them if this specific loss is covered under your policy,” Adler said. “Get an understanding of your policy limits too and what your deductible costs will be. If your deductible costs more than the loss, it’s likely not worth filing a claim for.”

Many of your potential questions about specific losses and what to file under your homeowners insurance can be answered by speaking directly with your provider.

Fill out claims form

After filing your claim, your insurance provider can usually send emergency mitigation. To do so, your insurance company may want to know several specific details on your claims form in order to send the right help. This generally includes:

  • Personal information
  • Policy number
  • Location of the loss
  • Date of the incident
  • Cause for the loss
  • Estimated loss amount

Most insurance experts also recommend submitting photographic and video evidence to support your claim whenever possible, as it could go a long way in providing proof for your claim.

Have your claim inspected

After your claim is submitted, the insurance company will usually send a claims adjuster to assess the situation and file an official report for claim approval. Espenschied of Insurance Brokers Group offered a friendly word of expert advice to homeowners at this stage.

“If there was any damage done, make sure that the adjuster inspects the property with you present before writing up an estimate for damages,” Espenscheid said. “Once they leave, their only source of information is going to be whatever paperwork they have from you. If anything was missed during their inspection, it could cause problems later on down the line when trying to get reimbursed for those items missing from their report.”

Help prevent further damage

While you are waiting for the situation to be resolved, you still have to manage your home in the meantime. Experts suggest that you try to minimize the damage wherever possible.

John Butkus, director of property claims for Country Financial, shared a few tips for homeowners to mitigate further damage. These include keeping the home tidy, boarding up shattered windows and covering holes with tarp. Butkus also recommended saving any receipts from basic repairs made, including the items purchased to complete them.

Shacket of Insurance Litigation Group recommended that homeowners keep copies of any signed documents. “If you sign an agreement, work authorization or any type of document with a contractor, take a picture of the whole document with your phone,” she said. “Know what you signed, when you signed, with who and for what.”

Schedule an appointment with an insurance adjuster

Within a few days, your insurance company will usually be in touch to schedule an appointment with its insurance adjuster. Adler advised having your contractor present for the adjuster’s inspection, as they might assist in voicing your concerns and give your claim the best chance of approval. In some instances, you may even want to hire a public adjuster.

Espenschied encourages his clients “to make a list of any damaged items and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion from an outside, independent appraiser.”

Complete repairs

After an appointment with an insurance adjuster, you may need to wait for the claim payout checks from your insurance company so you can complete your repairs. Your payout may be issued via multiple partial payments, allowing you to work in stages as you make temporary repairs, replace your belongings and complete the more permanent repairs.

In the meantime, things may get costly if you incur other expenses, like moving out of your home. Fortunately, most homeowners policies include additional living expenses resulting from a covered loss, like for eating out or staying in a hotel. According to Butkus, some providers may even issue checks to policyholders on the spot.

Tips for filing a home insurance claim

There are a few things you can do to simplify the process of filing a home insurance claim, such as making all of the supporting evidence that you need for your home insurance claim.

  • Keep an ongoing home inventory: If you know what you own, it will be easier to replace if it is damaged. Keep an inventory of your belongings, including a brief description, when it was purchased and its value.
  • Keep evidence: Anything that you can provide to prove damage may be helpful to your insurance provider when filing a home insurance claim.
  • Store extra copies: Store your documented inventory away from the home where it is protected and will not be damaged in a loss. You could also track your belongings and store photo evidence through mobile apps.
  • Keep current photos: Many homeowners do not think to take photos until an actual incident occurs, but it could pay to be proactive.

Questions to ask before filing a claim

Sometimes, it may be difficult to determine whether filing a home insurance claim is the right decision. Adler shared some considerations that homeowners may want to make before beginning the process. These include assessing how many times you have filed a claim on your home and considering whether negligence was at play. Filing too many claims within a period of time could cause your insurer to increase your premiums or even nonrenew your policy. You may also want to consider if a loss resulted from poor maintenance upkeep, as it could impact your eligibility for a payout.

Other important questions to ask are whether or not the damage is significant and if your deductible outweighs repair costs. In the event of a smaller loss where you might pay more out of pocket than it would actually cost to restore the damage, it may not be worth filing a claim. But to be certain, you may consider speaking with your agent.

Terms to know when filing a home insurance claim

When filing a home insurance claim, there are some common terms and phrases that you may see frequently.

Homeowners insurance term Definition
Actual cash value (ACV) Actual cash value is an item’s worth after depreciation.
Replacement cost value (RCV) Replacement cost value reimburses costs to repair or replace your home at current market value, excluding deductions for depreciation.
Insurance to value Insurance to value refers to maintaining coverage amounts that match the value of your home as it changes.
Additional living expenses (ALE) Additional living expenses provide homeowners with financial reimbursement should their property become uninhabitable due to a covered loss.
Adjuster An insurance adjuster is another term for the insurance claims agent for your home insurance company.
Endorsement An endorsement is an addition, modification or update that is made to an original home insurance policy.
Market value The market value is the total price of your property based on the amount you paid for ownership and may be different than the value in which your home is insured.

What to do when your insurance claim is denied

Just because you file an insurance claim does not mean that it will be approved. Your insurance company will usually notify you of its decision on your insurance claim with a mailed letter of explanation.

You may not always be able to dispute a denied insurance claim, especially if the loss was not a named peril. If you feel the damage should be covered, you could file a formal appeal within a specified timeframe or consult a public adjuster for advice on next steps. However, there is no guarantee that the claim will be approved.

Frequently asked questions

Does filing a home insurance claim increase your premium?

Filing a home insurance claim may affect the cost of homeowner insurance, depending on the severity of the incident. Insurance providers may look to see how many other claims you have on your record when setting future premiums.

How long does an insurance claim stay on your record?

Insurance claims generally stay on your record for an average of three years. Some more severe claims may stay on your record for longer and some insurance carriers may look back at a longer claims history.