Was your home damaged in a house fire? Tropical storm? Break-in? If you can’t afford to pay for the damage out of your own pocket, you’ll want to file a homeowners insurance claim ASAP to see if you qualify for an insurance payout to help rebuild your home and replace your things.
Our guide walks you through the exact steps you’ll need to take to file a claim, how soon you can expect to get your settlement check, and exactly how having a claim on your record impacts your home insurance rates.
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How do I file a homeowners insurance claim?
Follow these seven steps to file a homeowners insurance claim from start to finish. (You can click on each header to be taken down to even more details about each step below.)
Survey the damage and file a police report if necessary. While you won’t need a police report if a natural disaster damages your home, you’ll want to file one if your home was broken into or vandalized. Keep a record of any police personnel you speak to so that you have additional documentation to submit to your insurance company along with the report.
Contact your insurance company ASAP. The sooner you get in touch with your insurance company and begin filling out the claims forms, the sooner the claim settlement process can begin. Whether you have to submit the claims forms online, over the phone, or in person varies by insurance company.
Document the damage. Take pictures and videos of anything that’s been damaged or vandalized, noting the dates and times of each. Do not throw anything away! You’ll want to save anything that’s been damaged — even if it’s not salvageable — to support your claim.
Make temporary repairs and save all receipts. Make temporary repairs to prevent any further damage to your home, and make sure to save all receipts. If your claim is ultimately approved, your insurance company should reimburse you for these necessary repairs. And if you need to live elsewhere until it’s fully rebuilt, save all of your receipts for hotel stays, restaurant bills, pet boarding, and other living expenses. Your insurance company should cover those costs, too, if all goes well with your claim.
Meet with your insurance adjuster. After your claims forms have been submitted, your insurance company might send an insurance adjuster to your home to survey the damage, ensure the damage is covered under your policy, interview you and others involved in the claim, and verify everything you submitted is accurate.
Get estimates from contractors in your area. While you wait to hear if your claim has been approved and the details of your settlement offer, reach out to a few contractors in your area to get repair estimates. It helps to have these estimates in hand before you receive a settlement offer in case your insurance company tries to low-ball you.
Receive your settlement check and complete repairs or buy new stuff. Once your claim has been approved and you’ve agreed to your settlement offer, you’ll receive several checks from your insurance company to pay for repairs to your home and replace your belongings.
Step 1: Survey the damage and file a police report if necessary
If your home was burglarized, the first thing you’ll want to do is file a police report. If you’re filing a theft claim, you’ll need to provide your insurance company with a police report to verify the details of the crime.
Otherwise, if you're filing a claim after a natural disaster like a wildfire or tornado, survey the damage before contacting your insurance company. Avoid throwing out anything that's ruined or damaged — instead keep it so you have documentation for when the insurance inspector comes by to assess everything.
Step 2: Contact your insurance company ASAP
After the police, your next call should be to your insurance company to let them know what happened. They’ll let you know if the damage or theft is covered by your policy and how long you have to file the claim. You may also be given a ballpark estimate of the loss amount and whether or not it exceeds your deductible. Other information — like how long the process will take and whether or not you need to obtain a repair estimate for structural damage — may also be provided.
You’ll then fill out the claim forms provided by your insurance company, including a proof-of-loss form that asks for:
Your personal information
Cause of the loss
Part of your house or property you’re claiming a loss on
Estimated loss amount
Photo and video evidence of the damage
By law, claim forms must be sent to you within a certain time frame after your initial contact with the insurer. Once you’ve filled out the necessary paperwork, be sure to send it back to your insurer quickly to avoid delays.
Step 3: Document the damage
Take photos and videos of anything that’s been damaged or vandalized — making note of the date and time of each. And I’ll repeat: Don’t throw anything away. Even if it’s unsalvageable, having a pile of things that have been ruined will provide further proof of damage to your insurance adjuster.
If you have a home inventory, make a copy of it and note any items on it that were damaged or stolen. This will also improve your chances of getting fully reimbursed in your settlement offer.
Step 4: Make temporary repairs and save all receipts
You’ll want to make sure that any openings or damage to the structure of your home won’t result in further damage. If you notice a leak or a hole in the siding of your home, make temporary repairs and hold onto the receipts so that you’re reimbursed by the insurance company later on should your claim get approved
If after making those temporary repairs you’ll need to live elsewhere while your home is fully rebuilt, save all of your receipts for hotel stays, restaurant meals, pet boarding, dry cleaning, and other living expenses so that your insurer covers those bills, too.
Step 5: Meet with your insurance adjuster
Your claim may also require a visit from an insurance adjuster, particularly for large claims involving damage to the structure of your home. The adjuster’s role is to assess the damage and confirm several details before reimbursement can proceed.
The inspection may include, but isn’t limited to:
Confirming that the cause of the loss is covered in your policy
Detailed inspection of your home’s structure
Providing the adjuster with any documentation, like receipts, photos, or a home inventory
If it's a liability claim, the adjuster may ask for contact information for doctors, lawyers, or anyone familiar with the claim
A thorough interview with you, the policyholder
Step 6: Get estimates from contractors in your area
You’ll want to get damage estimates from local contractors, roofing companies, or even appraisers depending on the extent of the damage. You can also look into whether your insurance company has its own guaranteed repair network. This is typically a list of pre-qualified experts you have access to that can help repair your home. Oftentimes, your insurance company will offer a warranty on materials and labor if you go with someone from their network, which can help save you money in the long run.
Having repair or rebuild estimates from licensed contractors could give you more leverage in the event that your insurance company low-balls your settlement amount. You can also increase your chances of getting a fair reimbursement by hiring a public adjuster to survey the property damage and give you their own estimate to compare with that of your insurance company.
Step 7: Receive the claim payout and complete repairs
Once your claim is approved and you’ve agreed to the settlement amount, you’ll receive the insurance payout. You’ll typically receive multiple checks based on the structures and personal belongings damaged in the event. You’ll also receive a separate check to cover the additional living expenses portion of your claim, if applicable.
If you’re insured for personal property at its replacement cost, you’re normally sent a check for your belongings’ actual cash value (its value minus depreciation) and then reimbursed the remaining amount once you actually replace your stuff.
You can keep any leftover money from your claim payout as long as your insurer doesn't ask for it back and you didn't commit insurance fraud for the extra amount.
Pros and cons of filing a home insurance claim
Filing a home insurance claim comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. You’ll want to weigh each side to determine whether filing a claim makes sense for your situation.
When should I file a homeowners insurance claim?
You should file a homeowners insurance claim as soon as possible after the incident. But before you do, you’ll want to make sure it’s even worth filing the claim in the first place. This is because you’ll have to pay your deductible before your insurance company kicks in to cover the rest.
Most experts recommend only filing a claim if the loss is at least twice the amount of your deductible. This is because filing a homeowners insurance claim often increases your rates — which we’ll get into more below.
Is there a time limit for filing a homeowners insurance claim?
Typically, you’ll need to file a homeowners insurance claim within a year of the loss that you’re claiming. However, the statute of limitations for property damage claims may vary based on what state you live in, what type of claim you're filing, and your insurance company.
Reach out to your insurance company to ask what the rules are around how long you have to file a home insurance claim, and whether it differs depending on the type of loss you’re filing a claim for.
How long does it take to pay out a homeowners insurance claim?
There’s no hard rule for how long an insurer can take to pay out a claim. But depending on where you live, some states require insurers to pay out claims within 30 to 90 days of approval.
Here are a few variables that may affect how fast you receive your claim payout:
How fast you contact your insurance company and submit the claim forms
The reason for filing the claim and amount of damage incurred
How quickly your claim is approved or denied
In most states, a decision about whether your claim is approved or denied must be made within a limited timeframe.
For example, in California, a decision must be made within 40 days.  While that may seem like a long time, keep in mind that’s the maximum number of days the insurance company can deliberate. So you could hear back about a decision even sooner if you have a fairly cut-and-dry claim.
What if my claim is denied?
While you don't need a lawyer to file a claim, you might want to consult one if your claim is denied and you're not sure what to do next. They can typically help you appeal the claim denial. Just keep in mind that lawyers can be expensive, and it's possible to appeal a claim yourself — it'll just take a lot more work and research on your part.
Will my home insurance rates go up if I file a claim?
Your home insurance rates might go up after you file a claim since your insurance company now perceives you as a higher risk for filing claims in the future.
How much could your rates go up? Most homeowners are looking at an average rate increase of 7% to 10% after filing their first claim, says Fabio Faschi, former property and casualty lead at Policygenius.
What type of claim impacts rates the most? Insurers are more likely to increase rates after non-weather related claims, like those related to theft, vandalism, water damage, or accidents and other personal liability claims.
How long do claims stay on your record? Claims typically stay on your record for five to seven years, though it varies by insurance company.
Average cost of home insurance by claims history
Here's the average annual cost of home insurance in the U.S. in 2022 based on different claims histories:
Number of claims filed
National average rate
$1,933 per year
$2,101 per year
$2,916 per year
$4,407 per year