When to file a home insurance claim
You should file a home insurance claim whenever your home suffers substantial damage or a total loss. If an event causes damage so severe that your home becomes uninhabitable, filing a homeowners insurance claim can help you recover your losses.
It typically makes sense to file a claim whenever the out-of-pocket cost of repairing your home exceeds your deductible. For example, say a tree falls on your house, resulting in $6,000 worth of roof damage, and your deductible is $1,000. In this case, it would be worthwhile to file a claim with your home insurer.
It's usually not a good idea to file a homeowners insurance claim when the cost to repair your home is less than, or close to, your deductible. It may make more sense financially to pay for the repair yourself because filing a claim could increase your premium, which could be more costly over time.
You should also avoid filing more than one claim in three years if at all possible. That's because insurance companies review all claims you've filed when calculating your premiums or when deciding whether to cover a claim. Filing multiple claims within a few years could lead to higher premium costs.
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How to file a home insurance claim in 8 steps
Before you file a home insurance claim, review your policy documents to make sure the damage is covered under your policy. Your policy may even outline instructions for filing a claim. Here are eight steps to take to file a homeowners insurance claim:
1. File a police report if necessary
If you're a victim of theft, arson, vandalism, or any other illegal actions, file a police report as soon as possible. Get a copy of the police report and record the names of any law enforcement officers you talk to, because your home insurance company may want that information. If your claim isn't related to a crime, you can skip this step.
2. Contact your insurance company to report your claim
Before you file a claim, contact your insurance company to go over specific details about the claim and your home insurance coverage. You'll want to confirm that the damage is covered under your policy. Ask your insurer how long you have to file a claim and if the claim amount will exceed your deductible. If the replacement cost of your damage is lower than or close to your deductible amount, you may want to forego filing a home insurance claim.
3. Complete the claim forms
Once you inform your insurer you want to file a claim, they should promptly send you the required claim forms. You may even be able to fill out a claims form on their website or mobile app. If the damage to your home or property is significant, you may want to call your agent or the claims number found in your policy documents to discuss it in more detail.
No matter how you file your claim, make sure to fill out the forms correctly and as quickly as possible to keep the process moving along.
4. Document everything and take pictures
Take pictures and videos of the damage, and gather as much information as possible. Your insurer will likely require you to submit proof of damage when you file your claim.
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5. Prevent further damage or make temporary repairs
Before you meet with an adjuster, take steps to prevent your property from sustaining additional damage — if possible. For example, if you're experiencing a roof leak due to a covered peril, you might cover the damaged area with a tarp. Consider boarding up broken windows to protect your home in the event of heavy rains.
Save receipts of any expenses you incur repairing your home. With proper proof, your insurer may reimburse you for your out-of-pocket expenses later.
6. Meet with the insurance adjuster
The next step in the claim process is to meet with an insurance adjuster so they can inspect the damage to your home. The adjuster represents the insurance company, and it's their job to determine how much your insurer will pay out for your claim.
The adjuster will typically interview you about the damage to your property, so it's essential to be ready with your photographs and video documentation as well as your receipts and any other important information.
7. Get quotes for the repairs
Once the adjuster finishes their report, the company will give you a settlement offer. Remember, your claim closes once you accept the settlement offer, so make sure the settlement amount is enough to cover the cost of repairs to your home. If it's not, you can ask your insurer to reexamine your claim.
Getting multiple repair quotes can be instrumental in helping you claim the appropriate amount of money for your repairs. Also, comparing estimates from three or more local contractors can help you choose a reputable company at a reasonable price. If the quotes you receive are higher than your settlement offer, show the quotes to your home insurance company and ask them to review your claim again.
8. Receive your payout and complete the repairs
Once you accept your settlement offer, your insurer will send you a check or transfer the funds electronically for the damages covered under your policy. If you have a mortgage on your home, your lender will also be named on the check you receive because it has an insurable interest in the property. You can now make arrangements with the contractor you choose to begin the necessary repairs to your home.
How long do you have to file a home insurance claim?
Most homeowners insurance policies require claims to be filed within one year of the event, although the time frame can vary by company and state. If you determine that the settlement offer from your insurance company is enough to repair the damage to your home correctly, you should file your claim as soon as possible.
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How long will it take to process your home insurance claim?
Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer about how much time it takes to process a homeowners insurance claim. The claims process could be complete in as little as a few weeks, or it could take several months to receive your claim payout, depending on your state's laws.
Some states have vague laws, only requiring home insurance companies to pay your claim in a "reasonable" time frame. Other states are more specific, giving your insurer 10 to 30 days to confirm receipt of your claim and 40 days to accept or reject your claim.
Tips for filing a home insurance claim
Consider these tips to help your home insurance claim process go smoothly:
- Start a home inventory list. A good practice for all homeowners is to create an itemized list of personal property before an accident or theft happens. Write out every item you'd replace if covered, as well as prices, purchase dates, and receipts if available. Your list can also help you determine if your current homeowner's insurance coverage is adequate.
- Make essential repairs. Review your policy for details about making moderate repairs after an event damages your property. You may have to make repairs to protect against future damage. If you fail to maintain and repair your property as outlined in your policy, your home insurer may reject your damage claim.
- Complete homeowner's claims paperwork promptly. Read your policy to make sure you understand your insurer's deadlines and claim requirements. Complete the paperwork and provide all required information to your insurance company to avoid delays in your claim being processed.
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Will your home insurance go up after you file a claim?
Your home insurance premium could rise when you file a claim, but this isn't always the case. Insurers may base any rate hike on the number or types of claims you file. Your insurance company could even cancel your coverage after one or more claims, according to the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
Your home insurer will report your claim to the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, a home and auto claims history database which most insurance companies can access. Any home insurance claims you make — and even claims filed by a previous homeowner — will stay on your file for seven years, which could affect your insurance premium costs.
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What to do if your home insurance claim is denied
If your home insurance company denies your claim, here are some things you can do next:
- Review your insurance policy. Review the reasons your insurance company states for denying your claim to see if they're valid, and contact your insurer for clarification if necessary.
- Appeal the decision. Ask your insurer for its deadline to submit an appeal form, and complete this form as soon as possible. Along with your appeal, submit all pertinent information, including receipts, contractor quotes, and photographic evidence.
- Enlist a public insurance adjuster. You may find it necessary to get an independent review by a public insurance adjuster. Unlike the adjuster who works for your home insurance company, a public insurance adjuster works on your behalf. A public adjuster can examine your policy and the evidence for your claim and work to get a fair payout from your insurance company.
- Consult an attorney. You might consider retaining the services of an attorney who specializes in homeowners insurance. They can inform you of your rights and help you navigate the claims process.