Buying a new home can be one of the most exciting milestones in your life. It can be a good idea to protect your investment with homeowners insurance. Anything can happen in life, and home insurance could help provide peace of mind, knowing that certain damages and losses are covered should disaster strike. However, you might not always know what to do when you experience losses.
Bankrate’s insurance editorial team has talked to several experts to get the best tips and insight on home insurance, what the standard policy covers and how to file a claim should damage occur.
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:
- Keeping an ongoing home inventory: If you know what you own, it may 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.
- Keeping evidence: Anything that you can provide to prove damage may be helpful to your insurance provider when filing a home insurance claim.
- Storing extra copies of important paperwork: Store your documented inventory away from the home where it is protected and will not be damaged in a loss, or make copies that you keep elsewhere or online. You could also track your belongings and store photo evidence through mobile apps.
- Keeping 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 shares some considerations that homeowners should think about 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 deny renewal of your policy. You may also want to consider if a loss resulted from poor maintenance upkeep, as that 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 want to talk 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 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
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 with a mailed letter of explanation, and your adjuster will likely let you know by phone or email as well.
You may not always be able to dispute a denied insurance claim, especially if the loss was not a covered 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 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.
How long does an insurance claim stay on your record?
Insurance claims generally stay on your record for an average of three to five years, although all companies have their own regulations.
Can my insurance company cancel my policy after a claim?
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.