When the time comes, you should be prepared to file a home insurance claim and follow it through to its conclusion. Knowing what to do when you file a home insurance claim can increase the chance that your claim process goes smoothly.
In this article, we'll answer the following:
When should you file a homeowners insurance claim?
Home insurance can protect your home and belongings from many perils, but you want to make sure your claim is valid and will be covered before filing a home insurance claim.
When deciding whether or not to file a homeowners insurance claim, you should find out if the claim will be worth the deductible and potential premium increase. Your home insurance company may increase your premium even if you make a small claim, which can end up costing you more than what you initially save.
Insurance companies may look at claims filed within the last seven years to determine the risk level of insuring your house. Before you file a claim, be careful about asking an adjuster to come to your home. Even if your claim cannot be covered, it may still be reported and included in your insurance history.
You should also review your policy to find out the types of incidents that are covered and the maximum value you can get from a claim. It's important to check if your policy offers actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. Actual cash value is based on depreciated value, while replacement cost is the cost of replacing an item with a new version. For an actual cash value payment, you may not have enough to replace what was damaged.
How to file a home insurance claim
If any damage or loss occurs that you think should be covered by your policy, you can contact your insurance company and submit a claim. Your insurance company will likely send an adjuster to your property to help determine if your policy covers the damage.
To help make the claim process go smoothly, you'll want to do the following:
1. Call the police if necessary
If you've been the victim of theft, or your property damage was the result of criminal activity, call the police. Waiting to file a police report could place your claim under suspicion or slow it down. Your insurance company may want a copy of the police report to confirm what happened.
2. Contact your home insurance company
Call your insurance company as soon as possible. You'll be assigned an adjuster who will inspect your property. After you call your insurer, you may need to fill out claim forms sent by the insurance company. To avoid setbacks, fill out these forms as soon as possible.
3. Document and take photos of the damage
Your first step after calling your insurer should be to begin documenting the damage. Take clear, well-lit photos from as many angles as possible. Use a ruler or a dollar bill to give a sense of scale to close-up pictures like hail damage, and use wide shots to give an idea of where the damage is located relative to other rooms. Using video can also help rule out any ambiguity regarding the accuracy of your photos. You should also take notes of the date and any damaged items.
4. Make temporary repairs
You can make temporary repairs in order to protect your home from more damage. Insurers may reimburse you for these repairs, so save receipts for what you spend.
5. Get in touch with your mortgage lender
Your mortgage lender will likely be part of the settlement process if you don't own your home in full. Ask your lender how they handle insurance claims. Often, they'll hold the insurance settlement in escrow. They'll release it in installments to ensure that the homeowner is actually using the money to repair the home.
6. Get ready for the adjuster
You should be ready to give the adjuster your personal assessment of the damage in writing. It's important that you're present during the adjuster's inspection with any documents and photos related to the claim. You'll help make sure that they do not miss crucial details or underestimate the extent of the necessary repairs.
7. Leave a paper trail
The key to making claims as painless as possible is airtight documentation:
- Make note of relevant phone conversations and emails.
- Save all receipts for expenses.
- Insist that your contractor's invoice be as detailed as possible, including labor charges and per-item material costs.
- Never pay in cash, especially for your contractor's work.
- If your policy covers living expenses, save receipts for associated costs (hotel rooms, babysitting, etc.) while waiting for repairs.
- For liability claims, have yourself and a witness write out narrative descriptions of the event in question.
8. Stay on top of your claim
Do not let your claim fall by the wayside. Your insurer should resolve the process in a timely manner. Follow up around once a week, and have your claim number and your adjuster's name ready. Be aware of any deadlines, required forms or other actions. Failing to keep up with your obligations could jeopardize your entire claim.
9. Review the settlement
Your insurer will send a settlement offer. Part of the terms of a settlement is that your claim is closed and you cannot legally contest it anymore. If you are not happy with the offer, you can contact your insurance company and ask them if they can review your claim again based on new documents you send, or hire a public adjuster. Public adjusters are third parties that can help you dispute a claim.
Homeowners insurance claim tips
When making a home insurance claim, you can increase the chance that you're satisfied with your claim process and settlement by using a preferred contractor or hiring a lawyer.
Use your preferred contractor for a repair estimate
During a repair estimate, you can use your preferred contractor. A dependable contractor will be able to make an accurate estimate.
If you wait for the claims adjuster, they may assess your repair costs based on lowball bids. The adjuster could also miss some of the damage or underestimate the extent of necessary repairs.
Call your preferred contractor to come out for an inspection before the adjuster gets there. Ask them to put their detailed assessment in writing to help strengthen your claim. You may also want to have the contractor make an estimate to see if a claim will be worth the money. When the claims adjuster arrives at your home, it's important to be present during the inspection. You should answer their questions truthfully, but avoid suggesting the damage is your fault.
Consider getting outside help
If you're not satisfied with the claim result, a public adjuster can help you negotiate a better settlement and act as an advisor to you. However, public adjusters don't have legal power.
If you want to sue your insurer, hiring a lawyer is your best option. Lawyers can get involved if your insurer intends to drag out your settlement or deny you your fair share.
Keep in mind that you'll end up having to share your settlement with a third party.
Make an inventory list
If your personal property gets damaged, you'll most likely need proof of your loss to get reimbursed. A home inventory list can help you remember all the items in your home if your home gets damaged. When creating a list of your belongings, you'll need details like the value of the item, which can help your settlement offer from being lowballed. When it's time to start your home inventory, we recommend including the following information for all of your belongings:
- Photographs and videos.
- A description.
- The make, model and serial number.
- Receipt (or approximate purchase date and location).
Your claim may take longer to settle than you expect. Your insurance company may also give you a lowball offer. Your carrier will want to pay the lowest amount possible, and you'll want the highest amount. In order to get a claim offer that's reasonable, you may need to be patient and realize that accepting a settlement is a permanent decision.
- Homeowners Insurance Claim Settlement Process
- When not to file a home insurance claim
- How to get your homeowners insurance claim paid
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