Has your water heater sprung a leak and soaked your basement? Did a tree fall in a storm and crush your fence? It's never exciting dealing with homeowner disasters, but that's exactly why you pay for homeowners insurance. While it can feel like just another bill, your policy is there to help cover the costs of unexpected damage to your place.
The important thing is knowing exactly when to file a claim to get the most out of your coverage. You don't want to be paying premiums for years only to find out you could have been reimbursed for recent repairs. At the same time, you don't want to file claims for every issue and risk your homeowners insurance cost going up or your policy being dropped.
What Is Homeowners Insurance?
Homeowners insurance protects one of your most valuable assets—your home. It covers damage from events such as fires, storms, tornadoes, or theft.
What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?
Homeowners insurance typically covers your house and any attached structures like decks, fences, or garages. It also covers personal belongings inside the home, up to a certain dollar amount. The specific types of damage covered typically include:
- Fire: From electrical issues to natural disasters. Homeowners insurance helps pay for repairs or rebuilding costs.
- Storms: Damage from things like hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storms are covered with this. If a tree falls on your house -- homeowners insurance is here to help.
- Theft: If someone breaks in and steals or vandalizes your belongings, homeowners insurance provides personal property coverage on that. Keep records of purchase prices for valuable items.
- Liability: Homeowners insurance protects you in case someone is injured at your home and decides to sue. It covers a certain amount of legal and medical costs.
When to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim
So your homeowner's insurance policy can come in handy when something unexpected happens. But when is it time to actually file a claim?
When there's damage from a covered peril
If your home sustains damage from something like a fire, storm, or vandalism, that's typically covered under a standard homeowner's insurance policy. File a claim as soon as possible to get the ball rolling on repairs or replacement costs. The insurance adjuster will evaluate the damage, determine how much is covered under your coverage limits, and issue you payment to cover those costs.
When the damage is extensive
Minor issues like a leaky faucet or squeaky floorboard usually aren't worth filing a claim for. But when the damage is more significant, like a burst water heater that floods the basement or a tree that falls on your roof, the repair or replacement costs can really add up. It's best to file a claim so you're not left footing the entire bill yourself.
When you have liability for an accident on your property
If someone is injured at your home because of poor maintenance, lack of home security, or some sort of dangerous condition on your property, medical and legal costs could be significant. File a claim under your homeowner's liability coverage so your insurance company can properly investigate the incident and handle the costs on your behalf.
As with other insurance, you want to be prudent when filing homeowners insurance claims to avoid increased premiums or dropped coverage. But in scenarios involving substantial damage or high costs you can't afford, don't hesitate to take advantage of the insurance coverage you purchase. Your homeowners insurance policies are there when you need them most.
How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim
So something happened to your home—maybe a pipe flooded your basement, or a storm damaged your roof. Now you need to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company to help cover the costs. Here are the steps to file a homeowners insurance claim:
- Contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible: Tell them the date of the incident, the cause, and the type of damage. They will discuss the claims process with you and they're likely send an adjuster to inspect the property.
- Take pictures of the damage: Photograph the overall area as well as close-ups of specific issues. These will help support your claim. Also keep records of any temporary repairs you make to prevent further damage.
- Receive estimates: Ask contractors you trust for written estimates of the repairs. Make sure the estimates specify the necessary repairs in detail, including materials and labor costs. Provide copies of the estimates to your insurance company.
- Review and sign the claim paperwork: Once the claim is approved, your insurance company will provide documents specifying the details of your claim, including the amount they will cover for repairs. Review carefully, then sign and return the paperwork.
- Make repairs: Once you have received payment from the insurance company, hire contractors to make necessary repairs and rebuild damaged structures. Save all receipts to prove the money was used properly.
- Consider filing a supplemental claim: If unexpected issues arise during repairs that increase the costs, you may need to file a supplemental claim to request additional funds from your insurance company. Provide documentation to support the extra costs.
Tips for Making a Claim After a Loss
After suffering damage or loss to your home, it can be an extremely stressful experience. Homeowners insurance is there to help put you at ease during this difficult time. When making a claim, here're some tips to keep in mind:
File your claim as soon as possible.
Don't delay - contact your insurance provider promptly after discovering damage or loss. The sooner you report the incident, the sooner you can begin the process of repairing or replacing items. Your homeowners insurance policy may also require that claims be filed within a certain time period following an incident.
Provide details about what was damaged or lost.
Give a thorough account of the items affected, including descriptions, dates of purchase, and estimated costs to repair or replace if known. Supply photos or videos of the damage or loss if possible. The more details you can provide, the faster and more accurately your claim can be processed.
Keep records of damage or loss.
Maintain documentation of the incident in case additional details are needed. This includes keeping copies of correspondence with your insurance provider, repair or replacement estimates, photos, videos, or other records related to the claim. These may come in handy if there are any questions about your claim during review or processing.
Cooperate fully with adjusters and agents.
Work openly with anyone from the insurance company who contacts you regarding your claim. Provide them access to your property to assess damage and evaluate repair/replacement costs. Answer questions honestly and to the best of your ability. Failing to cooperate can delay or jeopardize your claim.
Pay close attention to the details of your settlement.
Carefully review the settlement details and payouts from your claim before signing off. Make sure you understand what is covered (and what isn't covered), that cost estimates for repairs or replacements are reasonable, and that you're being properly compensated based on the provisions in your policy. Throw questions at them right away if anything seems incorrect or confusing regarding your settlement.
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