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When a storm suddenly sends the old oak tree in the backyard crashing through your roof — or a pipe bursts and floods your kitchen – it might be time to file a homeowners insurance claim.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most states require that you make home insurance claims within one year of your loss. A homeowners insurance claim starts the process of getting you reimbursed if your home or property is damaged. 

To make sure your claim is successful, it is essential to follow key rules and procedures. For starters, call your insurance company as soon as possible after the event to explain what happened. Also, make sure to take pictures and do any necessary repairs to prevent further damage.

Read on to learn more about homeowners insurance claims, how to file one and what to expect during the claims process.

Key Takeaways

  • The most common home insurance claims are related to weather events – but other claims are more unusual and can be downright bizarre.
  • Following a step-by-step procedure for filing a claim is the best way to make sure your claim is successful and is processed quickly.
  • In some cases, you might not agree with the amount your insurer is willing to pay you after a loss. Fortunately, you have several options for persuading your insurance company to pay out more for your claim.
  • If you file a single claim, your rates generally should not increase. However, filing multiple claims in a short period can result in a rate hike.

How do I file a homeowners insurance claim?

The rules for filing a claim may differ depending on your insurance company and the state you live in. But there are some home insurance claims mistakes you need to avoid.

Here are some ways to improve your chances of a successful claim: 

If your loss is because of a crime, call the police: The first step should be to call the police if a crime has been involved. This should be done before you phone your insurance agent, according to the III. Ask for a police report and the names of any officers involved with your case.

Call your agent or insurance company: Tell your insurer what happened, and make sure you square away details such as how much time you have to file the claim, what forms you need to fill out, whether you need to get estimates for repair work, and how long the claims process will last.

Make temporary repairs if necessary: Talk to your insurer and inform them if any temporary repairs are required to avoid additional damage. Before you make repairs, photograph or videotape the damage as extensively as you can and make a list of damaged items. Do not throw out damaged items and keep the receipts from purchases you made during the repair process.

Fill out and file the proper forms: Complete and return these forms as quickly as you can. Typically, you will find the forms on your insurer’s website. But if you are unsure of where to get the forms – or just want to make sure you are filling out all the necessary forms — talk to your insurer to make sure you follow the proper procedures.

Prepare for your insurance adjuster’s visit: Your insurance company will probably send out an adjuster to examine the damage to your home. Prepare written notes about what happened, including the list of things damaged.

Keep receipts if you relocate: Your home may be so damaged that it is no longer habitable. If this is the case, you will need to relocate temporarily. Keep all receipts related to the relocation, including those for hotel fees, meals and other expenses.

How are homeowners insurance claims paid?

Once the adjuster has finished investigating, they will calculate an estimate of how much you should be paid to repair the damage. You’ll receive an official notice of the claim settlement amount in writing.

You can accept the adjuster’s recommendation or negotiate. The insurance company will pay you the actual cash value of the repairs first and pay the difference once the repairs are finished. 

Claims can be paid out in various ways. For example, if both your home and some of your personal contents were damaged, you will likely receive separate checks for each.

If your home is uninhabitable and you are temporarily living somewhere else, you may receive a third check for additional living expenses.

How long does it take for homeowners insurance to pay a claim?

It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for your insurance claim to be paid out. State laws vary, with some states requiring insurers to pay out in what is deemed to be a “reasonable amount of time.”

Other states require insurers to acknowledge receipt of your claim between 10 and 30 days. They then have 40 days to accept or deny it.

Where can I get the homeowners insurance claim form?

Each insurance company has its own rules for filing a claim. In many cases, you will be able to do so directly from the insurer’s website. In other cases, the insurer will mail some — or all — forms to you.

However, it is important that you follow your insurer’s rules, as they vary from company to company. So, speak with your agent to learn more about where to get a home insurance claim form and how to file it.

When to file a homeowners insurance claim

Homeowners insurance protects you from financial loss in the event of damage to your home or possessions. However, filing a claim can be lengthy and complicated, and it’s important to ensure that you have a valid claim before proceeding. 

You should file a claim when:

The cost of repairs is more than the deductible: You should file a claim if the cost of the repairs is significantly higher than your deductible. For example, if your home is damaged in a severe storm and the repairs cost $5,000, and your deductible is $1,000, you should file a claim. 

If the damage is extensive: When your home has been greatly damaged and becomes uninhabitable, it’s important to file an insurance claim.

When not to file a homeowners insurance claim

There are times it does not pay to file a claim. If your damages are around $800 and your deductible is $1,000, there is no point in filing a claim, as you won’t receive any payment. Not only could the claim increase your rates, but your homeowners insurance is likely to report any claim you make to private nationwide databases such as the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE).

That claim will be a part of your insurance history – and will be visible to any future insurance company that you do business with. If you have a history of claims, insurers may charge you higher premiums when it’s time to renew your policy.

What are the most common homeowners insurance claims?

Some home insurance claims are more common than others. Regardless of where you live and what type of home you own, certain risks are always higher than others.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the most common homeowners insurance claims for property damage in 2020 were:

Cause of damagePercentage of losses
Wind and hail45.50%
Fire and lightning23.8%
Water damage and freezing19.9%
All other property damage7.9%
Theft0.6%

Does home insurance cover all weather-related damages?

Your homeowners insurance policy will not cover some weather-related damages. For example, you need a separate flood insurance policy to cover damage from floods. Some homeowners may also need to purchase a separate wind policy to protect themselves from damage related to hurricanes. You also may need an endorsement on your policy to cover damages from weather events.

Ask your insurance agent if you are unclear about which weather-related events are covered and which are not.

Can a homeowners insurance company deny a claim?

A homeowners insurance company can deny a claim for a number of reasons. For example, if the policyholder does not have the right coverage, the company may refuse to pay out the claim. 

Sometimes, homeowners insurance companies deny claims if they believe the policyholder is at fault for the damage. For instance, if a policyholder fails to maintain their home or doesn’t take steps to prevent damage, the company may deny their claim. 

It’s important to carefully read your policy and ensure you understand the terms and conditions before filing a claim. Otherwise, you risk having your claim denied.

What to do if your homeowners insurance claim is denied

There are a number of reasons why this may happen, but you can appeal the denial if you disagree with the decision. 

The denial may be due to a simple misunderstanding that can be easily rectified. If you have any questions about why your claim was denied, call your insurance company and ask to speak to a representative. They should be able to explain the reason for the denial and how you can appeal it.

You may need to hire an attorney if you still don’t understand why your claim was denied after speaking with a representative. An attorney who specializes in insurance claims can help you navigate the appeals process and potentially get your claim paid. 

Shivani Gite contributed to this story.

Frequently asked questions about home insurance claims

What are some important homeowners insurance claim tips?

Here are some important home insurance claim tips:

  • Your insurance company will decide how much to pay you after you file a claim. 
  • The better you document the claim, the better the odds you will get the payout you deserve. 
  • Take pictures and video of the damage
  • Create a detailed list of the things you have lost
  • Maintain receipts related to both damaged items and any costs associated with the claim.

What can you do if you disagree with the home insurance claim adjuster?

It’s possible you won’t agree with the claims adjuster’s settlement amount. If that’s the case, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) urges you not to agree to anything that makes you uncomfortable. Instead, talk to your agent and try to find a resolution. 

You can consider other measures, such as

  • Hiring a public adjuster to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf
  • Contacting your state department of insurance to ask about your options
  • Hiring an attorney

In some cases, having your contractor meet with the insurance adjuster can move things in your favor.

Can you keep home insurance claim money?

If you own your home outright, you are not obligated to spend the money from your insurance company on repairs, remediation or replacement. But if you have a loan on your home, your insurer would want you to repair your home and bring it up to a proper standard of maintenance. So does your lender. 

Some insurers will take steps to prevent the possibility that you will skip repairs. For example, they may ask you to name the repair company of your choice before mailing a check made out to both you and the repair company. In such instances, both you and the contractor have to sign the check, and the money will go straight to the contractor.

Other insurers pay the contractor directly.

It’s also possible that your mortgage lender will require an inspection to make sure the repair work was completed correctly.

Does homeowners insurance go up after a claim?

Homeowners insurance rates may go up after a single homeowners claim. But how much claims increase your home insurance rates depends on the type of claim you make and its size.

In most cases, a single claim should not cause your rate to rise, although certain types of claims — such as one for a dog bite — could quickly result in higher rates.

Your history of filing home insurance claims also may play a role in how much your rates increase. For example, if you have made multiple claims in recent years, your rate is considerably more likely to rise.

Because most homeowners insurance companies report claims to private nationwide databases, your current insurer likely will be able to tell if you have submitted claims in the past.

Can a home insurance company drop you for filing a claim?

Yes, your insurance company can drop you and decide not to renew your policy if you file two or more claims in a year. For example, when you file a claim, your insurer may view you as a bigger risk and decide to drop your policy. This is especially the case if you make too many claims within a short period of time. However, as a general rule, it is unlikely that your insurer would drop you simply for filing a single claim.

Sources:

Insurance Information Institute.“Understanding the insurance claims payment process.” Accessed September 2022.

Insurance Information Institute.“ Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and renters insurance. ” Accessed September 2022.

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Chris Kissell
Contributing Researcher

 
  

Chris Kissell is a Denver-based writer and editor with work featured on U.S. News & World Report, MSN Money, Fox Business, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Money Talks News and more.

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