How and When To File a Homeowners Insurance Claim

A home insurance claim is a formal request that policyholders make to insurance carriers to cover their home and property damages. The insurance company sends a claims adjuster who approves or denies the claim. After processing the claim, the home insurer will issue a settlement payment; however, the policyholder must first meet their deductible before home insurance coverage kicks in. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from the claims process.

What Is An Insurance Claim?

An insurance claim is a request for payment that you submit to your homeowners insurance company. You must submit a claim after a peril named in your policy damages your home or belongings. A claims adjuster will visit your home to assess damages before validating or denying your claim. The adjuster also determines how much the insurer owes you if your claim is accepted.

An insurance claim is a request for payment from a homeowners insurance company.

How Do Homeowners Insurance Claims Work?

Once your home insurer approves your claim, your homeowners insurance company will decide on the amount they are willing to pay to repair your damaged property or replace them based on market prices and depending on whether you have an ACV vs RCV home insurance policy.

you'll receive a settlement to cover the damages after you meet your deductible

Should I File a Homeowners Insurance Claim?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of filing an insurance claim.

Advantages:

  • Homeowners insurance claims can help pay for your home's repairs.

  • You can replace damaged or destroyed belongings without paying out-of-pocket.

  • Home insurance can help you maintain your home's value.

Disadvantages:

  • Filing a claim can increase your home insurance rates.

  • Multiple homeowners insurance claims may cause your insurer to drop you.

  • You'll have to wait for an insurance adjuster to assess damages.

When Should I File a Home Insurance Claim?

Speak to your homeowners insurer about the damages as soon as possible to avoid missing deadlines and to have a swift and smooth claims experience. Home insurance claims can affect your insurance premiums, so only file a claim under the following circumstances:

  • Your home's repairs or replacement costs exceed your home insurance deductible.

  • An unexpected incident causes significant damages or losses that make your home uninhabitable.

  • You're making your first claim within three years and it's difficult for you to pay for repairs on your own.

What's a Homeowners Insurance Deductible?

A deductible is an amount you must pay before a home insurer covers your homeowners insurance claim. These shared costs are not the same as premiums you must pay to maintain your home insurance.

Homeowners select their deductible when first signing up for a policy. The average deductible is $1,000; however, other amounts include $500 and $2,000. You can select higher deductibles to save money on your premiums.

Once your home insurer approves your claim, you'll pay the required deductible. For instance, suppose a lightning strike sparks a fire that causes $10,000 of damages to your roof. If your deductible is $1,000, you must pay this amount before your carrier pays the remaining $9,000.

Your deductible applies to every home insurance claim you submit.

How To File a Homeowners Insurance Claim

Step One: File a police report if the damages were related to a crime, such as theft or vandalism. Ask for the names of responding officers that inspected your property and completed the police report. Next, request a copy of the police report. You must produce this document when filing a claim with your insurer.

Step Two: Call your homeowners insurance company to notify them about your home's damages. Your insurer will schedule an insurance adjuster to visit your property. Additionally, complete any necessary claim forms to start the claims process.

Step Three: You should carefully document any losses or damages. First, take clear, well-lit pictures that capture your home's damages from different angles. If necessary use items like dollar bills, coins or rulers to provide insurers with a sizing scale. You may also record video footage of damages to help insurers assess them accurately.

Step Four: Next, make emergency repairs to prevent further damages to your home. Most home insurance policies allow homeowners to make emergency repairs; others require them. Once these repairs are complete, keep copies of all receipts for reimbursement purposes.

Step Five: Contact your mortgage lender who will probably become part of the settlement process if you haven't paid your loan off. Most mortgage lenders hold insurance settlements in escrow, then release the funds in installments to ensure the homeowner uses the money for home repairs.

Step Six: Prepare for the adjuster's visit by gathering all evidence that supports your claim.

  • Before the adjuster arrives, have an independent contractor complete an assessment of your home's damages.

  • Finish a written timeline that explains how the damages occurred. For liability claims, ask a supporting witness to prepare a written narrative.

  • Create an inventory of all lost or damaged items, including their estimated value.

  • Include a copy of the police report (if the claim was because of criminal activity, such as theft or vandalism).

  • During the claims adjuster's visit, present all supporting documentation, photographs and evidence. This information will help the claims adjuster spot the extent of damage and avoid missing critical details.

Step Seven: Save all relevant documentation to resolve any issues with your claim. You can keep track of the process by:

  • Taking notes of all meetings/calls with insurers and contractors.

  • Saving receipts of all repairs.

  • Asking contractors to be detailed in their invoices, and include labor charges and line-item costs.

  • Not paying cash for your contractor's work.

  • Documenting additional living expenses (including meals and hotel costs).

Step Eight: Track your claim to ensure that your home insurer processes your paperwork quickly. Your home insurer should finish the process promptly. Keep your claim number and adjuster's name in a file you can readily access.

Follow up on your claim once a week to learn about any deadlines or required actions you must take. Sometimes, homeowners who don't monitor their claims can jeopardize them.

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Homeowners Insurance Claim Tips

Contact your homeowners insurer to file a claim if a named peril caused damages to your home or belongings. After submitting your claim, an insurance adjuster will visit to assess your home's damages. Here are some other steps you can take to ensure the claims process goes smoothly.

Tip One: Use your preferred contractor for a repair estimate. Don't wait for the claims adjuster to assess your repair costs, since adjusters are notorious for low-balling damage estimates and missing the full extent of damages. A dependable, independent contractor can accurately estimate your property's damages.

Tip Two: Schedule the contractor's visit before the adjuster arrives. Ask them to write a detailed estimate that can bolster your claim. The repair assessment can also help you decide whether it's worthwhile to file a claim.

Tip Three: When the claims adjuster visits your home, make sure you're present. Ask questions during the inspection, but avoid saying that the damages are your fault.

Tip Four: Seek outside help. If you don't like the result of your claims estimate, contact a public adjuster to assist you. These professionals can negotiate with your home insurer to get a better settlement. Public adjusters can also help you to navigate the claims process.

If all else fails, you can also hire an attorney if your insurer has refused to pay you a fair settlement. Remember, lawyers will ask for a share of any settlement you receive as payment.

Tip Five: Inventory all of your belongings. Often, home insurers require homeowners to list all lost, damaged and destroyed items. An inventory can help you itemize all belongings if a covered loss occurs. You can use the following steps to document your things.

  • Take high-quality photographs and videos.

  • Describe each item's features.

  • Include the make, model and serial numbers of your belongings.

  • Include receipts (or the approximate purchase date and location).

  • Include an estimated value for each item.

How Can Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim Impact My Rates?

Your home insurer determines your home insurance premiums using several factors, including how many times you've filed a claim. These factors help home carriers predict your risk of filing a future claim.

A single home insurance claim can raise your premiums by 7-10%

The Insurance Information Institute reports that  5.1 percent of insured homes filed a claim in 2019. Property damage and theft, accounting for 97.2% of these claims. 

Expect that a claim may affect your rates:

  • A single home insurance claim can raise your premiums by 7-10%.

  • Theft and liability claims may raise your premiums by 20%.

Whenever possible, avoid filing unnecessary home insurance claims, so you won't have to overpay on home insurance premiums.

How Long Does it Take To Pay Out a Homeowners Insurance Claim?

How quickly and thoroughly you file your claim will affect how fast your claim is processed. The sooner you file a claim with detailed information, the quicker your insurer can issue a settlement for damages.

Homeowners insurance companies pay claims within five days or within a few weeks. Some state governments have a deadline for insurers to settle, others don't:

  • Texas insurers must issue settlements within five days of approving a home insurance claim.

  • California insurers must pay a home insurance claim within 40 days of proof of claim.

  • Georgia home insurers have 10 calendar days to pay settlements after accepting a claim.

You can visit your state's insurance department website to learn about home insurance claims regulations in your area.

Can I Cancel a Home Insurance Claim?

Yes, you can cancel a home insurance claim if your insurer has started the claims process but hasn't paid anything on your claim. There are several reasons you should cancel a claim:

  • The property damage on your home is less than your insurance deductible, so filing a claim doesn't make sense.

  • You've filed more than one homeowners insurance claim within the last three years.

  • You want to keep your claims-free discount after combining your home and auto insurance.

  • Your home's damage was caused by a maintenance issue or normal wear-and-tear and it will likely be denied.

Get Home Insurance Coverage that Meets Your Needs

An insurance claim is a request that homeowners make to insurance carriers to cover damages to their home and property. The home insurer will schedule a claims adjuster who will either approve or deny the claim. Once approved, the home insurer will issue a settlement payment, however, a policyholder must pay a deductible before the carrier pays the rest of the claim.

If you've submitted a recent claim to your home insurance company, you may be unhappy because your rate spiked. SmartfFinancial can help you buy a new home insurance policy at a cheaper rate and with better coverage. Enter your zip code below to get a free home insurance quote.

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