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.

A homeowners insurance claims process begins to make sure you will be reimbursed after damage occurs to your home. To make sure your claim is successful, it is essential to follow key rules and procedures.

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For starters, call your insurance company as soon as possible after the event to explain what happened. Also, make sure to do any necessary repairs to prevent further damage.

As the process moves forward, work hand in hand with your insurer to make sure everything goes smoothly. Be sure to move quickly to meet any request your insurer makes. By state law, your insurer will be required to pay you promptly once you and the insurance company have agreed to the terms of your claim.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most states require that you make home insurance claims within one year of your loss. 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.

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 Services Office (ISO), the most common homeowners insurance claims for property damage during the years 2014-2018 were:

  • Wind and hail: 34.4% of all losses in 2018
  • Fire and lightning: 32.7%
  • Water damage and freezing: 23.8%
  • All other property damage: 6.2%
  • Theft: 1%

For liability losses, the most common types of claims were:

  • Bodily injury and property damage: 1.8%
  • Medical payments and other: 0.1%
  • Credit card and other: Less than 0.1%

Some homeowners insurance claims are less common – and they can be downright bizarre. For example, a man in South Carolina once woke to the sound of his ex-girlfriend calling his name. Turns out she was stuck in the chimney!

Firefighters created a hole in the chimney to free the woman, and Farmers Insurance paid the repair claim.

How do home insurance claims work?

Knowing how the homeowners insurance claims process works can save you time and effort – and possibly a lot of heartaches – when the time comes to ask for reimbursement of damages to your home.

Wondering how to file a claim? Following is a step-by-step guide:

How to file a homeowners insurance claim

The rules for filing a claim may differ depending on your insurance company and the state where you live. But avoiding home insurance claims mistakes is key to filing a successful claim.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most states require that you file a claim within one year of your loss. Following are the III’s tips for filing a home insurance claim.

If your loss is related to a burglary, call the police. To effectively collect on a loss when filing a homeowners claim, 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 receive estimates for repair work, and how long the claims process will last.

Make temporary repairs if necessary. Talk to your insurance company to get the OK to make any repairs 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 in 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. In all likelihood, your insurance company will 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?

After an insurance adjuster has visited your home and evaluated the damage, your home insurance claims process begins to move into the homestretch. Once the adjuster has finished investigating, he or she often will immediately suggest how much you should be paid to repair the damage.

You can accept the adjuster’s recommendation on the spot. Your first check may be an advance on the full amount your insurer will send later if you do so.

Checks 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.

Here are some things to keep in mind about insurance checks:

Checks for damage to your home. If you have a mortgage, any insurance company check that reimburses you for repair costs may be made payable to you and the lender. If you live in a condominium or coop, it is also possible that the building's financial entity will be named. If any of this is true, the other party will need to endorse the check before you can cash it.

Your lender may put the money in an escrow account and pay for repairs out of the account in other situations.

It also is possible that your insurance company will directly pay contractors who work on your home. This is most likely when contractors ask you to sign a document known as a "direction to pay." This is a legal document, so you should consult your insurance agent before signing it.

Sometimes, it is possible that you later will notice damage that you overlooked – and the adjuster – at the time of your initial claim. If you discover damage later, you can reopen the claim and file for an additional payout. Most policies give you up to one year to do so, III says.

Checks for damage to your personal belongings. If your belongings were damaged or destroyed, you would initially receive a check for the actual cash value of your items. This will be the depreciated amount of the items’ value.

If you have a replacement cost policy – which reimburses you for the amount of replacing your items at today’s prices, rather than the depreciated value – you will be required to purchase replacements for your damaged and destroyed items and to submit your receipts to your insurer.

After receiving proof of your purchases, the insurer will pay out any remaining gap between the initial payment and the replacement cost.

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 home 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.

What you should know about weather-related home insurance claims

Many home insurance claims are the result of weather-related damage. There are some important factors to consider with any weather-related home insurance claims.

Because weather-related damage often impacts many households, you may be competing with other homeowners for access to insurance agents, lawyers and even hotel rooms.

It also is important to note that your homeowners insurance policy may 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 events such as earthquakes.

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

Frequently asked questions about home insurance claims

What are some important homeowners insurance claim tips?

Your insurance company will decide how much to pay you after you file a claim. Remember, the better you document the claim, the better the odds you will get the payout you deserve. So, be sure to:

  • 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

The insurer typically will decide how much to pay you based on the input of the insurance adjuster. However, it is possible you won't agree with this amount.

If that is the case, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners urges you not to agree to anything that makes you uncomfortable. Instead, talk to your agent and try to find a resolution. In some cases, having your contractor meet with the insurance adjuster can move things in your favor.

If that fails, 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

Finally, remember that there are times it does not pay to file a claim. If your damages are around $800 and your deductible is $1,000, filing a claim can be counterproductive. 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. A history of claims can be a factor in the rates you will pay.

Can you keep home insurance claim money?

Your insurance company wants you to repair your home and bring it up to a proper standard of maintenance. So does your lender.

So, it is foolhardy to think you can simply pocket your insurance check and not make needed repairs.

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 is also possible that your mortgage lender will insist upon an inspection to make sure repair work was completed satisfactorily.

Does homeowners insurance go up after a claim?

You may well ask, “Will my homeowners insurance go up if I file a claim?” Homeowners insurance rates may go up after a single homeowners claim. The type of claim you make and its size will determine if you get an increase – and how big the increase is likely will be.

However, in most cases, a single claim should not cause your rate to rise, although certain types of claims – such a 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 decide not to renew your policy. For example, when you file a claim, your insurer may view you as a bigger risk and decide not to renew your policy. This is especially likely 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.