Homeowners insurance offers financial protection to cover the cost of damages to a home or personal belongings. Typical reasons for filing a claim include natural disasters such as fires or floods, weather events that cause wind or water damage, and theft.
But when and how do you actually file said homeowners insurance claim?
It’s crucial to know the terms of the policy, when to file a claim, and how the process works. We will dive into all of this and more.
How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim
When an unfortunate incident occurs, fast action is critical. Homeowners should know and understand the steps to take to file a homeowner’s insurance claim to get the process moving.
File a Police Report
The homeowner should first contact the police to file a report if vandalism, theft, or another crime took place. Record all interactions with police officers by writing down names, dates, and times. The more details a homeowner can provide, the better.
Contact the Insurance Company
The next step is to notify the insurance company of the incident. Homeowners should be familiar with their contact process and the required documentation needed to start the claim. Some require a phone call to an agent, while other insurers offer an online option.
Inventory all Damage
Homeowner’s insurance claims require that all damage is documented. Take photographs of the home to show the damage or loss. It’s also a good idea to make a complete list of stolen items.
Start Repair Work
If damage has made the property unstable, the residents should relocate immediately. Some insurance policies include coverage for alternative lodgings while repairs are made.
With safety in mind, the homeowner must address urgent matters and make possible temporary fixes. This could include covering a damaged roof with a tarp to prevent further damage from the elements. Never engage in any activity that could lead to a bodily injury. Arrange for a professional to make emergency repairs and get started on restoring the home. Homeowners should keep all receipts to submit to the insurance company as part of the claim. Without this documentation, they may not get reimbursed.
Keep complete and detailed records of everything associated with the claim. This includes copies of paperwork, supporting documentation, phone call records, and receipts. Ask for detailed invoices from all contractors that break down the charges on the bills. Homeowners who have a mortgage may also need to notify and work with their bank to access funds.
Review Settlement Offer
Once the insurance adjuster reviews the claim and inspects the damages, the homeowner should receive an offer for the settlement. If the offer is too low, the homeowner can choose to fight for more, but this could delay payment for quite some time.
The filing process may take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. It all depends on the severity and complexity of the claim.
Pros & Cons of Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim
There are both benefits and disadvantages to filing a claim. Understand what to expect and weigh all options before making a decision.
- Repairs are completed: Homeowners’ insurance claims help ensure that all necessary repairs are handled quickly.
- Homeowner reimbursement: Filing a valid claim results in a reimbursement that the homeowner uses to pay for repair work and replace damaged or stolen belongings. The amount received depends on the coverage limits and terms of the policy.
- Home value remains intact: The ability to get all necessary repairs done allows the home to maintain its resale value for the future.
- Rate increase: In some cases, the homeowner would be better off paying for the repairs out-of-pocket instead of risking an increase to their insurance policy. Homeowners with a recent history of additional claims are at higher risk of a rate increase.
- Policy cancellation: It’s also possible for the insurer to cancel the homeowner’s policy entirely.
- Claims record: Claims are typically recorded on a shared database where they remain for up to seven years called the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). Other insurance companies can view this history and use the information to adjust offered rates accordingly.
- Long wait time: The wait for an insurance adjuster to access the property damage and decide is often lengthy. This is especially true if there is a widespread event affecting many homes.
The Claim Payment Process
Once the settlement is reviewed and accepted, the insurer generally issues a paper check or electronic transfer of funds to a designated bank account. Most claims are paid out as a single lump sum. Complicated incidents could require multiple payments to cover ongoing repairs and expenses.
If the residents are forced to find temporary lodging, an insurance company can make an initial payment to help cover these costs and then issue the remainder of the funds at a later date.
Mortgage companies are usually listed on a homeowner’s insurance policy, and they may hold the funds in escrow and pay for repairs on the homeowner’s behalf. When this happens, a final inspection of the work is often required for the homeowner to receive the remainder of the funds.
The time it takes to pay out a claim varies widely. Homeowners should expect to receive the full amount of their reimbursement in anywhere from several weeks to a couple of years. Complicated claims take longer to process. Fast action, detailed reports, and compliance with all requests are crucial factors in speeding up the process.
Impact a Claim Has on Insurance Rates
Every claim that a homeowner makes has the potential to increase policy rates. Even an inquiry to discuss a potential claim or requesting a visit from an adjuster can add a flag to the homeowner’s record. Assess the value received from filing a claim against the cost of higher premium rates and paying the deductible.
Insurance companies use the information provided by CLUE to determine rates. As a result, everything from major to minor incidents becomes part of this record and can hike up the costs of a policy.
Mistakes to Avoid
Understanding how and when to file an insurance claim can help homeowners avoid costly mistakes by adhering to all terms set by the insurer. The first is to complete all documentation and required forms within the designated time. Include detailed reports and receipts. The reimbursement won’t include items that aren’t reported.
Another common mistake is filing a claim for minor damage. If the cost of repairs is low, a homeowner could save more money by paying out-of-pocket and keeping their policy rate from rising. Knowing the types of events that are covered and the coverage limits are the first steps to determining if filing the claim is the right choice.
Perhaps the most problematic mistake is when homeowners don’t purchase a policy with enough coverage. It’s best to estimate the projected cost of rebuilding the home, repairs and replacing possessions to get an idea of the coverage amount needed.
Homeowners must take action to update their insurance policies often to make sure they have adequate coverage, especially if you have had work done that changes the value of your home. They should understand their policy terms to make financially sound decisions. When an incident arises, follow the steps to file a claim as requested by the insurer, stay vigilant, and check in on the progress often.