How to file a homeowners insurance claim

Your guide to an accurate and timely homeowners insurance claim payout. If you’re filing a claim during the coronavirus pandemic, the entire process will likely be done online.

Pat Howard 1600

Pat Howard

Published April 9, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • You need to file a homeowners insurance claim in order for your insurance company to reimburse you for property damage or theft

  • 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

  • If you’re filing a claim during the COVID-19 crisis, it should be processed the same as before. Your insurance company will likely not require an in-person inspection for smaller claims

Homeowners insurance reimburses you when your home or personal property are damaged, burglarized, or destroyed by a peril that’s covered by your policy. In order to make use of that coverage, you need to file a homeowners insurance claim.

Prior to filing a homeowners insurance claim, look over your policy to see if the damage you’re claiming is covered or excluded by your policy. You should also get familiar with certain provisions in your policy like your deductible, your reimbursement terms (e.g. replacement cost or actual cash value), and coverage enhancements for high-value items. If everything checks out, contact your home insurance company as soon as possible — most insurance companies require you to fill out and send your claim forms within a year of the incident. Filing quickly can also avoid delays, especially in the event your home damage was part of a large-scale regional disaster.

If you need to file a home insurance claim during the coronavirus pandemic, you’ll still get reimbursed as you normally would. Insurance company claim centers and customer service departments are still fully staffed and can assist and process your claim like before. The only difference is the inspection of the claim. Most insurance companies are offering remote inspections (photo and video evidence) in lieu of sending an adjuster to your home, but an onsite inspection may still be necessary for larger losses or fire claims.

How does a homeowners insurance claim work?

When you file a homeowners insurance claim, you’re putting to use the coverage that you pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for on an annual basis. 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.

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 if the claim is related to theft, internal water damage, or liability (like a dog bite or trampoline injuries).

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How to 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.

For example, if your roof caught fire due to lightning and wind-driven rain proceeded to enter the home 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.

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 timeframe 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 will 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.

Will the coronavirus pandemic impact homeowners insurance claims?

It shouldn’t; your ability to file a claim and get paid in a timely manner likely won’t be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most insurance companies are keeping claim departments and call centers fully staffed to answer questions and process home insurance claims.

The one thing that has changed temporarily is the insurance claim inspection process. Insurance companies are only sending adjusters to homes for specific claim types, such as fire damage or large losses. Otherwise, insurance companies are allowing for more end-to-end online claims, meaning they’ll accept virtual proof like photos and videos instead of an in-person inspection.

What’s the homeowners insurance claim timeframe?

Unfortunately, there’s no law in the books (either state or federal) that dictates a payout timeframe. How quickly you receive your claim payout depends on a few variables:

  • 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.

Does homeowners insurance go up after 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 such as theft, vandalism, internal water damage, or mold growth. 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.

Insurance Expert

Pat Howard

Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is an Insurance Editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in homeowners insurance. He has been featured on Property Casualty 360, MSN, and more. Pat has a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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