How to File a Home Insurance Claim: Understanding the Process

How to File a Home Insurance Claim: Understanding the Process

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Filing a home insurance claim can be a long process. Most homeowners insurance companies allow you to file small claims online. However, if your home has significant damage or you're unsure whether your claim would be covered, you should contact an agent.

Before you file a claim, it's important to take pictures and videos of the damage to submit as proof to your insurance company. Prior to meeting with the insurance adjuster, it can be helpful to gather quotes from two to three contractors that detail the amount of work required to make repairs and demonstrate the cost involved. When the insurance company sends you a settlement offer, make sure that the amount will cover all of the repairs before you cash the check, because you can dispute the claim if the amount isn't sufficient.

What is an insurance claim?

Homeowners insurance protects more than just the structure of your home. If something happens to your house, personal belongings, a structure on your property or a visitor in your home, you may consider filing an insurance claim to take advantage of that protection.

The most common coverages included in a home insurance policy are:

These coverages protect you from a host of perils listed in your insurance policy documents. Some of the most common perils are fire, theft, wind and hail.

If your home or property is damaged by a covered peril, you can file an insurance claim to request that your homeowners insurance company pay to repair your house or replace your personal property.

For example, if a hail storm damages your roof, causing it to leak, you could file a claim with your insurance company to repair the roof as well as the damage to your ceiling and any furniture or flooring in the room below that may have been damaged.

When should I file a home insurance claim?

Before you decide to file an insurance claim, review your policy to make sure that the damage or loss is covered by your home insurance. If you're unsure, you may be able to get some insight by calling your insurance agent.

Once you determine whether the damage is covered by your policy, file your claim as soon as possible. Most companies require that claims are filed within one year of the loss, but the time limit can vary by state. However, the longer you wait to file a claim, the harder it can be to prove the source of the damage. Secondary damage can also occur if repairs aren't made right away, and those may not be covered.

How to make a claim

Filing an insurance claim is a multi-step process, and not all claims follow the same order or schedule. This is a process that we recommend following for a successful claims experience.

Step 1: File a police report

If your claim involves theft, arson or any illegal activity, contact the police immediately. Don't call 911 unless the crime is in progress; instead, use your police department's non-emergency line. An officer may not show up right away, because they have to prioritize crimes that are in progress and emergencies.

Some departments require you to file a report in person, so be prepared for a visit to the police station

Step 2: Document the damage

Before you begin cleanup, it's crucial that you document the damage. Take pictures and videos — you'll need to submit these to your insurance company as proof along with your claim.

Plumbing leaks are the one exception. Turn off the main water valve immediately to prevent the leak from causing more water damage.

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Step 3: Contact your insurance company

After you've inventoried the damage, you need to file your claim with the insurance company. Many insurance companies allow you to file simple claims online. For larger claims, contact your agent directly or call the phone number listed on your policy.

Insurer
Phone
File a claim online
State Farm800-782-8332Start a claim
Nationwide800-421-3535Start a claim
Allstate800-255-7828Download the mobile app
Farmers Insurance800-435-7764Start a claim
Progressive800-776-4737Start a claim
Liberty Mutual800-225-2467Start a claim

Step 4: Make temporary repairs

Now that your insurance company is aware of the damage and has documentation, you need to make temporary repairs so more damage doesn't occur.

If your roof began leaking during a storm, secure a tarp over the affected area to stop the damage from getting worse.

If you're not comfortable making repairs, call a handyman to help. Keep your receipts for any materials or services so that you can request a reimbursement from the insurance company.

Step 5: Prepare for the home insurance adjuster

Next, your homeowners insurance company will send an insurance adjuster to evaluate the damage. Depending on where the damage is located, you may not need to be at home during the adjuster's visits. However, walking your adjuster through the damage can be helpful — it will give you an opportunity to show them any damaged items that may be missed, provide photos or video of the damage and ask questions about your policy.

It's the adjuster's job to determine how much your insurance company will pay out, and you can expect them to:

  • Review the cause of the damage to make sure that it's covered.
  • Interview you regarding the incident.
  • Inspect your home's structure.
  • Gather contact information for anyone who has information about the claim, like witnesses, doctors or lawyers.

Step 6: Get repair quotes

Depending on your timeline, it can be helpful to have quotes from contractors prior to your meeting with the home insurance adjuster. Sharing the numbers with them can help ensure the insurance company payout will cover the repairs. Some contractors have a lot of experience with insurance claims and may even help you through the process.

Research and contact local contractors to get the repair process started. It's important to compare at least three quotes to make sure that you're choosing a reputable company that you can trust and that they're charging a fair price.

Step 7: Review the settlement

After your insurance adjuster completes their report, you'll receive a settlement offer. Review the offer carefully, because after you accept it, your claim will be closed. If the offer won't cover the repair quotes you've gathered, you can ask your insurance company to review your claim again.

If you're still not happy with the outcome, you can hire a public adjuster. A public adjuster will evaluate your claim on your behalf and can help you negotiate with the insurance company for a fee.

Step 8: Receive the claim payout and repair the damage

Once you've accepted the settlement, your insurance company will either send you a check or initiate an electronic transfer. If you have a large claim, the insurance company may issue two payments — one to secure a contractor and begin work, and a second after the adjuster inspects the completed repair.

The payout process can be more complicated if you have a mortgage on your home. Because your lender is invested in your property, they have equal rights to insurance payouts. The insurance company will usually issue one check directly to you and the other to your lender, which they'll hold in an escrow account until the work is completed.

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Occasionally if your claim involves major structural damage, you could receive an initial payment right after you file your claim so that you can get repairs started immediately. Unlike a settlement offer, you are able to submit another claim later if you find more damage when work begins.

How long do home insurance claims take?

Depending on the amount of damage and how persistent you are in following up with the insurance company, settling home insurance claims can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

For example, if someone broke into your home and stole your office equipment, but you had receipts and documentation for everything that went missing, the insurance claim may be rather quick.

On the other hand, if your entire home needs to be rebuilt after a fire loss, the construction may take a few years to complete. In that case, the claim would remain open until your new home was built.

Homeowners insurance claim tips

Navigating the claims process for the first time can be difficult. Without any experience to rely on, it's hard to know whether you're doing everything right. Here are a few tips that will help make your claims process as smooth as possible:

Start a home inventory list

Maintaining a list of your personal belongings can help streamline the claims process when damage occurs. Make a list of all of your furniture, artwork and valuables. Include as much information as you can about each item, like the purchase date, original price or appraised value and photos. Having a detailed list to show your insurance company will make it much easier to determine the value of any damaged property.

Keep a paper trail

Throughout the claims process, you will have conversations with a number of different people. Start a file to keep track of phone calls and meetings, who you spoke to and what they said. Keep receipts for anything you've paid for prior to reaching a settlement with the insurance company, including materials for temporary repairs and living expenses if your home is uninhabitable.

Gather quotes before your adjuster comes

It can be extremely helpful to have an idea of what it will cost to fix the damage to your home before your meeting with your adjuster. Meeting with contractors beforehand will help you understand the scope of work necessary to make the repairs and how much it will cost. Providing documentation of the costs will also help ensure that your settlement is enough to cover repairs.

Stay on top of the process, but be patient

Depending on the extent of the damage, insurance claims can take weeks, months or even years to settle.

Talk to your adjuster and contractor about the length of the project up front so that you know what to expect.

Then, be sure to follow up regularly to avoid any unnecessary delays in the process. Just remember to be patient, because repairs take time.

Hire a public adjuster or lawyer

If you're not happy with the way that your claim is being handled, it can help to get a second opinion. A public adjuster or lawyer can help you get a better understanding of what your policy covers. If they find that your insurance company isn't providing you with a fair settlement, you can dispute the settlement offer.

Frequently asked questions

Should I get an estimate before filing a claim?

It's not necessary to get repair estimates before making an insurance claim, but it can help you determine whether it makes sense to file one. If your repairs cost less than or close to your deductible, it may not be worth the potential raise in your insurance rate.

How long do homeowners insurance claims stay on your record?

Insurance companies use the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report to determine the risk of insuring a homeowner or property. The CLUE report includes seven years’ worth of claims history.

Will my homeowners insurance rates go up if I make a claim?

A single dwelling or personal property claim won't usually result in a rate increase. However, filing multiple small claims over a short time period can result in higher premiums. Liability claims tend to have larger payouts, so you're more likely to see a rate increase after filing this type of claim.

Does the insurance claim history of my house affect my rates?

The claims history of your house is also reported to CLUE. If a lot of claims have been made on your home, insurers may worry that your home could have problems that lead to future claims, which can increase your insurance rates.

Can you keep home insurance claim money?

The payout from your insurance claim should be used to repair any damage to your home or replace your belongings. However you are allowed to keep any leftover funds after the repairs are complete unless your insurance policy states that unused funds need to be returned.

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