You pay your home insurance premiums just in case something happens. Then one day, it does. At that moment, would you know how to file a home insurance claim?
Document the Damage
A storm blew a tree onto your house, your water heater exploded, or your home was burglarized. These are just a few of the possible catastrophes that can happen to your home.
Whatever the situation, take pictures of the damage. It is also helpful to video the damage since some issues, like standing water, are difficult to capture in a still photo. You will also want to document damage to personal belongings since these can be part of your claim. If any electronic items are damaged or stolen, make a note of model, serial number and price.
Also, take note of the date and time the damage occurred. In some circumstances, the damage happens when you are not at home. In that case, make sure you have an estimated date and time. For instance, if you were away for the weekend and came home to a tree in your living room, you can estimate the damaged occurred sometime when you were away.
Call your Insurance Company
Within minutes or hours of first seeing the damage, you need to call your insurance company. A delay in notifying your insurance company could cause you trouble down the road. One of the many general requirements under your policy of insurance is to timely notify the insurance company. Insurance claims can be denied for something as simple as a delay in notification. Do not risk a claim denial!
On this initial call, you will be asked questions about what happened, when it happened, and where the home is damaged. This is where your documentation will help answer these questions. This initial call will likely serve as your formal claim filing which will trigger your rights and responsibilities under your policy. The insurance company will likely mail a letter after this initial phone call, confirming receipt of your claim and contain your assigned claim number. In that letter will also be a reminder of your rights and responsibilities such as the right to mediation if you do not agree with the outcome. Some of the responsibilities will include continued cooperation with the insurance company, such as allowing a representative from the insurance company to come and inspect your property and damage.
The person who comes to inspect your property is called a field adjuster or independent adjuster. It is not unusual for insurance companies to hire outside firms to handle field inspections. This increases efficiency in claims handling. When the adjuster comes to your home, he or she will ask you some of the same questions about what happened and where the damage occurred. He or she will do an interior and exterior inspection of your property including taking photos and possibly measurements. While this field adjuster does represent the insurance company, they usually can not provide any insight into the status of your claim. In fact, it is probably wise to keep chatting with the adjuster to a minimum unless asked a direct question. You do not want to say something that can be misinterpreted and jeopardize the claim.
Prevent Further Damage
Part of filing a home insurance claim is to take steps to prevent further damage to your property. In the case of roof damage, this may mean placing a temporary tarp or covering on the roof. If there is water damage, this likely would include contacting a water mitigation company to dry out your home. These steps to prevent further damage are part of your responsibilities under your policy when filing a claim. Failure to do so may result in a denied claim.
Every step you take to prevent further damage, it would be wise to maintain a paper and photo trail so there is no question you are complying with the insurance policy. This is important to prevent a denied claim. While you’re preventing further damages, building materials, such as wet baseboards, may be removed. Be sure to save the damaged materials until the insurance company has an opportunity to inspect them. This will increase the chances that you’ll be reimbursed for the repairs.
Filing an insurance claim can be overwhelming and frustrating. It can be weeks before you receive a final decision on your claim. In the case of a widespread catastrophe like a hurricane, you can expect that timeframe to extend to months. It is important to have patience while you wait for the insurance company to make their decision. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you may pursue your mediation rights or contact an attorney if necessary.
Ultimately, filing a home insurance claim is not something people want to do. Following this guide will help you with the process and assist in obtaining a favorable outcome.