How to file a homeowners insurance claim

If your home or personal belongings are damaged or stolen, you’ll need to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company to be paid out for the loss. Here is our guide to filing a successful homeowners insurance claim.

Pat Howard 1600Kara McGinley

By

Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a senior editor at Policygenius specializing in property and casualty insurance. His work has been featured on Property Casualty 360, Fatherly, MarketWatch, and more.

&

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is an insurance editor at Policygenius, specializing in home, auto, and renters insurance. She's been writing about insurance since 2019, and her work and insights have been referenced in Kiplinger and WRAL.com.

Updated July 13, 2021|6 min read

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Homeowners insurance covers your home and belongings in the event of property damage or theft. If your home is damaged by an accidental fire or severe storm, or property is stolen from your car or house, you’ll need to file a homeowners insurance claim to make use of that coverage.

Prior to filing a homeowners insurance claim, look over your policy to see if the damage you’re claiming is covered by your policy. You should also get familiar with certain policy details like your deductible and how your payout is calculated (e.g. replacement cost or actual cash value). 

Once you know if the damage or loss is covered, file a claim with your home insurance company.  Most insurance companies require claims to be submitted within a year of the incident. Keep reading for our guide to the entire home insurance claims process.

Key Takeaways

  • In the event your home is damaged or burglarized, you’ll need to file a homeowners insurance claim to be reimbursed for the loss

  • Before contacting your insurance company about a claim, double-check your policy to see if the loss is covered

  • To ensure a full payout and speedy claim process, make sure to provide as much information about the damaged or stolen property as possible

How do I file a homeowners insurance claim?

If you think the damage to your home or personal property is covered by your policy, reach out to your insurance company and be sure to have as many details as possible about what caused the loss.

In the event your roof catches fire due to a lightning strike, for example, and rain proceeds to enter and destroy thousands of dollars worth of personal property, be sure to include all of that in your initial report. The more details you provide upfront, the fewer questions you’ll be asked later on and the faster your claim will be processed.

The home insurance claim filing process will vary depending on your insurance company and the type of claim you’re filing, but you’ll generally want to do the following:

1. File a police report

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.

2. Contact your insurance company

Call your insurance company and inform them of the incident. The insurance company claim professional will likely inform you if the loss 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.

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3. Fill out the claim forms

You’ll then fill out the claim documents sent to you or provided through the company’s online or mobile claims portal. One such document is your proof-of-loss form, where you provide your personal information, the cause of the loss, the part of your house or property you’re claiming a loss on, and the estimated loss amount. You may also submit photo or video evidence of the damage at this time.

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.

4. Provide documentation of everything

In the event of, say, a claim for personal property loss, you’re going to need to substantiate the loss before you’ll be sent a reimbursement check. Having receipts, a list, or a home inventory that confirms the value and description of damaged or stolen items will improve your chances of getting fully reimbursed down the line.

5. Make temporary repairs

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.

6. Prepare for the adjuster

Your claim may also require a visit from the 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

7. Obtain repair or rebuild 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. 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.

8. Receive the claim payout and complete repairs

Once your claim is approved and you and the adjuster have agreed to the settlement amount, you’ll receive the insurance payout. If you have a mortgage on the home, the insurance company may send out two checks — one to you and one to the lender that is listed on the insurance policy. In the event of damage to the home’s structure, the lender gets equal rights to the insurance check to ensure that necessary repairs are being made to the property that it has an investment in. Your mortgage company will typically put this money into an escrow account and will release the funds for payment as the work is completed.

If you’re insured for personal property at its replacement cost, you’re normally sent a check for the properties’ actual cash value (its value minus depreciation) and then reimbursed the remaining amount once you actually replace the property.

When should I file a homeowners insurance claim?

You’ll want to file a homeowners insurance claim as soon as possible after the incident. If the damage is covered by your policy, the expectation is that you’ll be fully reimbursed for the loss and you can go on living your life as it was before the incident. However, one important question you’ll have to answer before filing a claim — apart from the initial questions of if the damage is covered or if the loss amount exceeds your policy deductible — is whether it’s even worth filing a claim in the first place. It may not be worth filing a claim that isn’t at least twice your deductible amount.

While not an ideal alternative, if you determine the loss amount is hardly higher than your deductible, consider paying for repairs or replacing stolen personal belongings out of pocket instead. It’s worth noting that filing a homeowners insurance claim can increase your policy premiums — especially for non-weather related claims such as theft, vandalism, internal water damage, or mold growth

How long does it take to pay out a homeowners insurance claim? 

There’s no hard rule with how long an insurance company can take to payout a claim, however there may be certain timeframes they have to stick to depending on what state you live in and your insurance company. For example, some insurers may be required to payout claims within 30 to 90 days of approval. The faster you file your claim and the more information you provide, the quicker the process typically is.

Here are a few variables that may affect when you receive your claim payout:

  • How fast you contact your insurance company and fill out the claim forms

  • How quickly your claim is accepted or denied

  • The type and size of your claim

In most states, a decision about whether your claim is accepted or denied must be made within a limited timeframe. In California, for example, 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. For less complicated claims — like a clear instance of theft or hurricane damage — the claim will likely be accepted much faster.

Will my homeowners insurance go up if I file a claim?

It depends. Your rates will likely be impacted by the type of claim you’re filing — not necessarily the dollar amount. But proportionate to your current home insurance premium, you’re probably looking at a 7–10% increase on average for a first claim, according to Fabio Faschi, property and casualty lead at Policygenius.

Insurance companies are more likely to increase rates, nonrenew, or cancel policies after non-weather related claims. Personal liability claims are also a big red flag for insurance companies. If you have one of those on your record, it may be difficult to get coverage with any standard insurance company.

Frequently asked questions

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.

Can you file a claim against someone else’s homeowners insurance?

If you are injured or your property is damaged by someone else and you believe they are responsible, you can file a claim with their homeowners insurance, provided they share their policy information or take responsibility for the loss and file the claim themselves. Keep in mind that you’ll need to provide proof to support your claim.

How are homeowners insurance claims paid?

Claim payouts may arrive in the form of a check, direct deposit, or mobile e-payment. If you have a mortgage on your home, both you and your lender will receive a payout from your insurance company. Your lender will put the payment in an escrow account and release the funds once the repairs are completed.

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