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Tips For Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim

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If you're like most people, you probably think of homeowners insurance as a burdensome expense. But when you find yourself filing a homeowners insurance claim, you'll be glad you have it. If you want the claims process to go as smoothly as possible, though, you'll want to know the following information.

How does filing a homeowners insurance claim work?

When filing a homeowners insurance claim, the homeowner notifies their insurer about the situation and provides details about the damages. The insurer will typically send an insurance adjuster out to the property to assess the damage for themselves, ensure the claim is covered under the policy terms, and estimate how much it will cost to fix the home.

Once that's done, if the insurer determines the loss is a covered claim, it will pay the homeowner. For small claims, the homeowner might receive a single check soon after filing a homeowners insurance claim. If they later notice additional damage, they can file another claim.

In the case of larger claims, a homeowner may receive multiple checks. The first check may cover the cost of emergency home repairs to make the home livable, or it may cover food and lodging costs if the homeowner is forced to vacate the property. Then, once the insurance company has investigated the claim further, it'll pay for the repairs themselves.

If both home and property are destroyed in a single claim, homeowners might receive two separate checks -- one for the home repairs and one for the replacement cost of their damaged personal property.

How to file a homeowners insurance claim

Here's a brief overview of the typical procedure for filing a homeowners insurance claim.

Notify the appropriate authorities, if necessary

In the case of vandalism or theft, the homeowner's first call should be to the authorities. This way, the police can begin tracking down the perpetrator as soon as possible. Insurance companies will also want to see the copy of the police report the homeowner filed. This won't be necessary with all homeowners insurance claims, though.

Review the homeowners insurance policy

Before contacting the insurance company, it's a good idea to give the policy a quick read-through, if you have it handy, to ensure that the type of claim is covered under the policy terms. Ideally, homeowners are already somewhat familiar with the policy terms as reviewing them is part of the basics of buying homeowners insurance. Some things like flood damage aren't covered under a traditional homeowners insurance policy and require special coverage.

It's also a good idea to review any rules related to filing a homeowners insurance claim. For example, most homeowners policies require customers to file claims within one year of the damage if they want it to be covered.

Contact your insurer

It's wise to notify the insurance company of the claim as soon as possible. Getting the process started right away ensures the home will be repaired in a timely fashion. Provide the insurer with as much detail as possible about what happened. Verify that the claim is covered and ask any questions you have. Find out when the insurance adjuster will be out to assess the damage.

Some insurers now enable customers to file a claim online. Homeowners can provide some basic details about the accident, and they may be able to upload photos. But at some point, they'll probably have to deal with a live person.

Document the damage

Ideally, the homeowner has created a home inventory before the accident with photos showing the home and their possessions. This considerably speeds up the process of filing a homeowners insurance claim. But it is possible to get reimbursed for damages without a home inventory.

Take photos or a video of the damages, going from room to room in your home. Note any damaged or stolen items and record their approximate value to give to the insurance company. Be as detailed as possible. You know your home and your belongings better than anyone else, so it can be easy to overlook details or assume the insurance adjuster will see what you see, but this isn't always the case. Err on the side of providing too much information rather than too little.

Make emergency repairs

Some insurance companies require homeowners to make emergency repairs soon after the claim if they want the damages to be covered. That could be as simple as boarding up a broken window or hiring a contractor to make some repairs to ensure the home's structural stability.

The homeowner may have to pay for some of these things out of pocket at the time. Document all the work that's done and remember to take before and after photos. Hold onto all receipts for the materials and labor associated with these emergency repairs and submit them to the insurer with the rest of the claim documents.

Follow up as necessary

It takes time to file a homeowner claim -- anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more if it's a particularly complicated claim and the homeowner and insurer dispute how much the insurer should pay for the damages.

The insurer should keep the homeowner abreast of what's going on with their claim, but if the homeowner has questions about what documents they should submit or what's taking so long, they shouldn't hesitate to reach out and express their concerns. The same goes for homeowners who don't feel their insurer has paid them an appropriate amount for their claim.

How much does home insurance go up after a claim?

One of the most common questions people have following a disaster is, "Will filing a homeowners insurance claim raise my rates?" The answer to that is maybe. It depends on where the homeowner lives, their claims history, and who their insurer is.

In some cases, homeowners insurance claims can raise premiums by 10% or more. But in other cases, it may not have a noticeable effect on rates, especially if the claim was small. Homeowners are more likely to see rate hikes when they've filed multiple claims or they've filed a large claim. Some insurers may even drop them as customers.

Insurance rates typically remain increased for about five years, though it depends on how long the homeowner's state allows these claims to remain on the homeowner's record. Once it falls off, the homeowner's rates should fall back to pre-claim levels.

When should you file a home insurance claim?

Here are some common scenarios when it makes sense to file a homeowners insurance claim.

Filing a homeowners insurance claim for roof damage

In some cases, the insurance company may pay for full roof repair or replacement even if part of it was damaged. This could be due to issues matching the existing roofing materials. Or the insurer may determine the accident shortened the lifespan of the roof. Take these claims seriously and ensure the structural integrity of the roof is still intact following an accident.

In the case of roofs damaged by wind or hail, some insurers are now requiring homeowners to pay a separate deductible for these claims. These are often higher than traditional homeowners insurance deductibles. Check the details of your policy to see what you might pay out of pocket for one of these claims.

Filing a homeowners insurance claim for water damage

When filing a homeowners insurance claim for water damage, it's important to know that traditional homeowners policies don't cover all types of water damage incidents. Issues related to lack of maintenance typically aren't covered, and things like sewer backup may require a separate policy endorsement.

Flooding also isn't covered under a typical homeowners insurance policy. Homeowners interested in this coverage will have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy.

Filing a homeowners insurance claim for fire damage

In the event of a fire, the homeowner may be forced to vacate the home temporarily. Many home insurance policies pay for alternative lodging arrangements while the home is being rebuilt. If a homeowner needs money right away, they should reach out to their insurer and ask for an advance on the claim payout to help cover these costs.

Even homeowners who don't receive an advance should hold on to all receipts related to living expenses, including food, while they're living elsewhere. They can submit this to the insurer later so they can be reimbursed for what they've spent.

When not to file a homeowners insurance claim

There are a few scenarios where filing a homeowners insurance claim doesn't make sense.

Filing a homeowners insurance claim for something not covered by the policy

As discussed above, certain things like flood damage aren't covered under a traditional homeowners insurance policy. Filing a claim for these things will just be a waste of time. Policyholders should review their policy before filing a homeowners insurance claim to check whether a loss is covered under the policy terms.

Filing a homeowners insurance claim when the repairs cost less than the policy deductible

Homeowners must pay their deductible before the insurance company will pay anything. With a homeowners insurance policy, this deductible can be several thousand dollars. When the total cost of the damages is less than or equal to the homeowners insurance deductible, it's usually better to pay for the repairs out of pocket rather than risk a rate hike by filing an insurance claim.

Need Homeowners Insurance? If so, check out The Ascent's American Family Homeowners Insurance review.

FAQs

  • Filing a homeowners insurance claim can raise a homeowner's rates, but how much depends on several factors, including the severity of the damages, the location, and the homeowner's claims history.

  • It's possible for a denied homeowners insurance claim to raise rates, so try to verify that a loss is covered under policy terms before reaching out to an insurer.

  • It really depends on the insurer and the frequency and severity of the claims. There's no way of knowing this, but ideally, homeowners should try to file as few claims as possible to keep their rates low.

  • In most cases, homeowners have about a year to file a homeowners insurance claim, but it's usually to the homeowner's advantage to file as soon as possible. This is especially true in the case of large-scale natural disasters.

  • Claims are expensive and paying out too many claims could drive an insurer out of business. So they're careful about how much they pay out. But if a homeowner isn't happy with the settlement they receive, they can always dispute it and see if the insurer is willing to provide them with more money for repairs.

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