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Anything can happen in life, and if you’re a homeowner, the right homeowners insurance policy could help provide peace of mind, as you’ll know that certain damages and losses are covered if disaster strikes. While not always a requirement, homeowners insurance can also be a smart way to protect your finances from claim-related losses.
However, you might not always know what to do when it comes time to file a claim. Navigating the claims process can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Bankrate’s insurance experts have outlined everything you need to know about filing a home insurance claim in the article below, from the types of claimable events to the steps for filing 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.
But what exactly 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|
|Liability||If a guest is injured while on your property or you are found responsible for damaging someone else’s property, your personal liability coverage is designed to pay if you are found negligent.||✔️|
|Theft & vandalism||Standard home insurance includes protections in case your home or belongings are vandalized or stolen.||✔️|
|Fire||Many causes of house fires are covered, as specified in your policy.||✔️|
|Hail & wind||A 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, an average policy covers damages resulting from the 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 other water damage and requires a separate policy.||✔️|
|Hurricanes||Depending on where you live, hurricane coverage may be included on a standard home insurance policy or may need to be added by endorsement. Talk to your agent to see how your policy covers damage caused by hurricanes.||✔️||✔️|
|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. Talking to your agent or a representative from your company to make sure you understand your policy’s coverage before damage occurs may be a good idea.
First-time homebuyers may also approach their policy differently given their specific needs.
To be safe, always review your policy and discuss any questions you may have with an agent before purchasing.
How to file a home insurance claim
As soon as a loss occurs, you should consider contacting your home insurance company for help in filing your claim. Each insurance company has its own claim process that policyholders need 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 that you file a claim quickly, 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 — adds that verifying your policy’s listed perils with your insurer could be an important step in the process.
“Ask them if this specific loss is covered under your policy,” Adler says. “Get an understanding of your policy limits too and what your deductible costs will be. If your deductible costs more than the loss, it is likely not worth filing a claim for.”
Many questions about specific losses and what to file under your homeowners insurance can be answered by speaking directly with your provider.
Fill out requested claims forms
After filing your claim, your insurance provider may ask you to fill out certain forms documenting the damage to your home or belongings. You may need to provide the following information:
- Personal information, like your name and date of birth
- Policy number
- Location of the loss
- Date of the incident
- Cause of the loss
- Estimated loss amount
Many insurance experts also recommend submitting photographic and video evidence to support your claim.
Have your claim inspected
After your claim is submitted, the insurance company will usually send a claims adjuster to assess the situation in detail.
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 offers 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 says. “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.”
Espenschied also 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.”
Adler advises having a contractor of your choice present for the adjuster’s inspection, as they might assist in voicing your concerns. In some instances, you may even want to hire a public adjuster. It usually takes a few days for your insurance company to reach out to schedule an appointment with its insurance adjuster, but if your area suffered widespread damage, the process could be slowed down.
Help prevent further damage
While you are waiting for the situation to be resolved, you still have to manage your home. Experts suggest that you try to minimize further damage wherever possible.
John Butkus, director of property claims for Country Financial, shares a few tips for homeowners to mitigate further damage. These include keeping your home tidy, boarding up shattered windows and covering holes with tarp. Butkus also recommends saving any receipts from basic repairs made, including the items purchased to complete them.
Nicole Shacket, a litigation attorney at Insurance Litigation Group, recommends 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. Know what you signed, when you signed, with who and for what.”
After your appointment with the insurance adjuster, there may be a 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.
Things may get costly if you incur other expenses in the meantime, 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, including:
- Keep an up-to-date home inventory: It can be difficult to remember even the most basic details related to your belongings after a covered event has occurred. Keeping a home inventory with purchase information, including identifying data like serial numbers and receipts, may make it easier to recoup the value of your items or buy replacements.
- Avoid throwing away damaged items: Although it can be tempting to clean up quickly after your home has sustained damage, doing so can hinder the insurance adjuster’s job when it comes to processing the claim. You should avoid throwing away damaged items until the claims adjuster can assess your home and contents, and keep receipts for reimbursement if you have to buy items as part of the clean up process.
- Maintain backup copies of important paperwork: Home inventories and other pieces of important paperwork can be destroyed or become unusable after the home has been damaged. It may also be helpful to consider storing copies of important paperwork away from the home, such as in a safety deposit box or digital copies on the cloud or computer server.
- Add photos or video to your home inventory: Many homeowners do not think to take photos until an actual incident occurs. However, taking photos or videos of your home and your belongings prior to any incidents can help with the claims process, especially if there are no other identifying factors, like serial numbers.
Questions to ask before filing a claim
Before filing a home insurance claim, it may be a good idea to consider your answers to the questions outlined below. Doing so may help you decide if it is worth filing a claim.
- What is the cost of repairs compared to my deductible?
- How will filing a claim impact my homeowners insurance rates?
- Will I lose discounts on my policy, like being claims free?
- How long will a claim stay on my record?
- Have I filed too many claims and could I be at risk of being nonrenewed or canceled?
- Was there any type of negligence on my part, such as poor maintenance, that contributed to the damage?
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 the 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. Eligible expenses could include temporary lodging and laundromat services.|
|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 of your home is the amount you could sell it for. This will likely be different from the value your home is insured for.|
What to do if your insurance claim is denied
Not every insurance claim that is filed will be approved. So what should you do if your insurance claim is denied? The insurance company should send you a letter of explanation detailing why the claim was denied. Depending on the reason, you may be able to appeal the decision.
Let’s say, for example, that your claim was denied because the insurance company decided that the loss was not a covered peril, but you feel the damage should be covered. In that case, you may be able to file an appeal yourself with the insurance company, or you could opt to discuss next steps with a public adjuster or attorney. If you choose to file the claim yourself, be sure to check the process your insurance company uses to provide your steps of action. Even if you appeal your claim denial, there is no guarantee the claim will then be approved.
Frequently asked questions
Filing a home insurance claim may affect the cost of your homeowners insurance, depending on the details of your claim and your company’s underwriting guidelines. Insurance providers may look to see how many other claims you have on your record, as well as how much was paid during the claim. If your premium does increase, you can consider getting quotes from other companies that could offer cheaper coverage, although those companies may also charge for your claim.
Insurance claims generally stay on your record for an average of three to five years, although all companies have their own regulations. You can check with your insurance agent or company to find out how long an insurance claim will stay on your record if you file one.
There are many reasons why an insurance company might cancel your home insurance policy. This can include filing too many claims over a short period of time or filing a claim for certain situations, like a dog bite.