8 Steps in Filing a Home Insurance Claim
No one wants to experience a loss, but if it happens, it helps to know the steps you need to take to file a homeowners insurance claim. The purpose of homeowners insurance is to protect you if your home is damaged or lost. Whether damage is caused by fire, hurricane winds, rain or rising floodwaters, knowing how the claims process works can relieve some of the stress.
- Contact your insurance agent:
File a claim during normal business hours by contacting your insurance agent or one of the company’s local offices. A claims representative can answer questions you have about your homeowners insurance. Call the company’s toll free number to file a claim after business hours, on weekends or holidays. Many companies now give you the option of filing a claim form online as well. Be sure to fill out any forms completely.
Contact the insurance company immediately to file a claim. Even if your policy does not cover certain types of damages, call your insurance agent anyway. Some expenses may be covered. Most homeowners insurance policies provide for loss of use coverage if you need to live somewhere else while your house is being repaired.
- Explain the nature of the loss or damage:
Provide the claims representative with the date and time the loss occurred. List what was damaged or lost, explaining the cause of the damage. Find out what other information the claims adjuster will need to know. If theft or burglary was involved in the loss, state whether you contacted the police to report the incident. Contacting the police will speed up the claims process, as you will need a copy of the police report. Get the names of the police officers who take your complaint.
- Make temporary structural repairs:
Protect your property from further damage. Your insurance company won’t pay for damage that started out as minor but led to further damage. This may be the case if you neglect to take the steps necessary to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. If you need to make temporary or minor repairs, keep the receipts for any supplies you purchase so that the insurance company can reimburse you for the cost. Structural damage usually requires immediate attention. Don’t begin making any major repairs until after the claims adjuster visits your home.
- Know what coverage your policy provides:
Review the terms of your insurance policy to determine the type and amount of your coverage before inspecting the property and documenting the damages. Your policy will also tell you what your responsibilities are. Report any items that are missing or were completely destroyed. Estimate the cost to repair or replace the damaged or lost property. If damage is only minor, decide if the claim will exceed your deductible. In some cases, deductibles can be high. For more serious losses, do not discard any damaged items as you clean up after the event. The claims adjuster will want to inspect any damaged contents of your home.
- Give as much information as possible:
Provide the claims adjuster with as much information as you can when you first meet. Once you report a loss and file a claim, the insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to investigate your claim. In most cases, a claims adjuster will contact you within hours of making your report.
The claims adjuster is the person who will investigate your claim and negotiate a settlement with you. Ask if you have questions about the extent of your insurance coverage. Be clear about what specifics the company will require to process your claim. Show the claims adjuster photos or videotapes of your home before it was damaged so that he can compare the before and after condition of your home and its contents.
- Provide a copy of a household inventory:
Supply an inventory record of the contents of your household. Insurance companies recommend keeping an accurate household inventory before taking out a homeowners insurance policy. Not only does this help you to determine an adequate amount of insurance coverage, you will have the information in the event you ever need to file a claim.
Update the inventory at least once each year. Regularly updating your policy will help ensure that you have the proper coverage. Keep a copy of the inventory with your other important documents and a second copy in a location, such as in a safety deposit box, outside of your home. Along with the inventory, take photos of your home and any items you own that are of particularly high value. The list should contain the items found in each room including furnishings and home décor items, appliances, electronics, clothing and other personal belongings. A household inventory list should also indicate the current cost to replace each item.
Find a licensed contractor to give you a written estimate for repairs. Check to see that the estimate itemizes what materials will be used in addition to an estimate of the labor costs.
- Collect receipts for reimbursement:
Give the claims adjuster receipts for any temporary living expenses you incurred or materials you needed to prevent further damage to your property. You will need to show proof of the expenses in order to be reimbursed. Most homeowners insurance companies offer customers the option of including coverage for additional living expenses on the policy. Companies generally pay reasonable living expenses for lodging and personal belongings. Talk to your claims adjuster about the amount the company will reimburse you for these living expenses.
- Cooperate with your insurance company:
Comply with all your insurance company’s requests. Each company has its own procedures for filing claims. Cooperating can help move the process along more quickly and prevent your claim from being denied. If the damage is due to a major natural disaster, processing your claim may take longer since many other people are filing homeowners insurance claims at the same time. Remain patient, as the insurance claims for homes that suffered the most severe damage will likely be given priority and processed first.