Filing a homeowners insurance claim? Here’s what you need to know
Insurance might be the one product you purchase for your home hoping you’ll never use. So, if you do need to file an insurance claim, there’s a good chance it’s a first for you and your family. Filing a claim typically happens when something hasn’t gone as planned. When this is the case, you may find yourself in a stressful or even crisis situation, having to do something you’ve never done before.
Whether you need to file a claim or think you might because of some severe weather heading your way, here are some things you’ll want to know about filing a homeowners insurance claim.
What do I need to file a claim?
Most homeowners insurance companies can begin the claims process with access to your policy. Different companies may have preferred ways of retrieving policy information. In many cases, it’s as simple as providing your property address and phone number. Having your policy number available can be useful, but if you can’t put your hands on it, it shouldn’t prevent you from getting started.
Many companies provide the ability for you to file a claim online. Often this requires signing into a user account and documenting the loss. Companies can also accept claim reports over the phone. Your insurance agent might also be able to get the claims process started for you.
All these options are in place to make the process easy and accessible. During disasters or widespread, severe weather, your preferred way of communication could be affected, with power lines down or services interrupted. These options will ensure that you can communicate your loss with your homeowners insurance company.
You may not know this, but individuals other than the homeowner can file a claim on an insurance policy. While strangers off the street won’t likely be the best candidates to complete this step, there are situations when you might not be able to be the one filing the claim. It may be because of damage to infrastructure or personal injury. In these cases, others can begin the process for you. A contractor is also a likely individual to file on your behalf.
Documentation is an important part of the claim process. Photos are one of the easiest and best ways to show the extent of the damage and the severity of the loss. If you have pictures of the damage, providing them to your homeowners insurance company when you file a claim can be helpful, but are usually not a requirement. Photos allow the adjuster to understand the scope of the loss before visiting the property. With forward-thinking, innovative insurance companies, documentation could also facilitate advance payment for claims or other benefits.
What happens after I file a claim?
Filing the claim is the first step, but many other details need to be managed before payment is received.
1. Reporting to your local law enforcement agency
If your loss was the result of theft or property damage from criminal activity, filing a police report will be one of the first things you need to take care of, oftentimes even before contacting your insurance company. Failure to perform this step quickly may make your claim look suspicious and require additional investigation, in turn causing delays. Your insurance company may request a copy of the police report to document the incident.
2. Detailing loss of personal property
When your home is damaged, the contents inside, known as your personal property, can also be affected. Personal property is the items that would “fall out” of your house if it were turned upside down. When personal property is damaged, you are responsible for providing documentation about the items damaged and the cost associated with them. If you already have a home inventory, this step will be much simpler. Without a home inventory, you’ll need to create a list of damaged items. Sometimes you can see and easily detail your damaged belongings, other times damage can be so extensive that items are severely damaged or no longer in the home, and you’ll have to recall from memory what you’ve lost.
3. Working with the adjuster
Once the claim is filed, the insurance company will often send an adjuster to assess the damage and write an estimate for the repairs. During this step, it’s a good idea to ask as many questions as you may have about the process of rebuilding your home.
4. Hiring a contractor
To repair your home, you’ll need to hire a contractor. Do you have a contractor who has already completed work on your home, who you trust and like working with? Will you work with them on the repairs? If you don’t have an established relationship, you’ll need to find a contractor. In both cases, providing their information to your homeowners insurance company can help things move along more smoothly.
In some cases, you can also choose to work with a contractor provided or referred to you by your insurance company. When this happens, the contractor has often been evaluated by the insurance company, saving you from having to vet one yourself. Contractors provided on behalf of an insurance company understand expectations, needs and timeframes and have worked together on past projects. In many cases, insurance companies also offer a warranty with the work provided by one of their contractors, which can provide additional peace of mind.
5. Understanding the role of your mortgage company
If you’ve experienced extensive damage, your mortgage company will need to be involved in the claim process. Because of their interest in the property as a lender, they may need to sign off on the funds issued for payment. Don’t be surprised by this; it’s standard practice. Even though this might be your first claim, your mortgage and homeowners insurance company navigate this process daily.
6. Accounting for your deductible
Claim payments are made minus the amount of your deductible. A deductible is the amount of money you are responsible for paying toward an insured loss and was determined when you purchased your policy. In the situation of a covered loss, insurance companies pay for the amount to recover from your loss after your deductible has been paid. Different claims can have separate deductibles applied. Often, there are special deductibles that apply to wind or hurricane claims, especially for properties insured in coastal areas. When you receive an estimate for the work to restore your home, remember to subtract the amount you are responsible for in the deductible.
7. Selecting a payment method
If your claim is covered by your insurance policy, you’ll be receiving payment to recover from your loss, minus the amount of your deductible. Checks are a common way for insurance companies to issue payments. Some companies provide digital payment options through electric fund transfers or services like PayPal and Venmo. Find out what options are available and determine what would work best for you.
8. Being aware of scams
During a catastrophe, dishonest individuals looking to make a buck can take advantage of the situation. Public adjusters, contractors or other service providers often assert that they can get more money for a homeowner from the claim process, but much of the time, this is a scam. You’ll end up paying them to do work that is unnecessary or that your insurance company is already supposed to do. Keep your guard up, investigate anything that doesn’t seem right, and if you have any questions, reach out to your insurance company. Helping people through a crisis is what they do each day.
How long does it take to receive payment for a homeowners insurance claim?
Each insurance claim has its own set of circumstances, and no two are alike. Additionally, insurance regulations fall under state jurisdiction, and each state has its own set of rules and regulations governing insurance and the claim process. For these reasons, it’s difficult to assign a timeframe for how long the claim process will take. To facilitate a smooth and quick response, be sure to answer documentation requests quickly. If an adjuster needs to assess the damage on-site, don’t delay getting that appointment scheduled.
No one wants to think about having to file a homeowners insurance claim. Knowing more about the process can help you and the partners you work with move things along to restore your home.