Becoming a homeowner is a major milestone, but it comes with a long list of responsibilities like purchasing homeowners insurance. Should you need to use your insurance coverage to repair your home or replace belongings, you’ll need to file a claim with the insurance company.
What is an insurance claim? A claim means that you’re asking your insurer to compensate you for a loss that is covered under your policy. The insurance company will review your claim, approve it and send you the money you’re owed.
Having homeowners insurance is extremely important, but homeowners’ insurance claims are relatively rare. According to the Insurance Information Institute, about one in 20 insured homes files a claim each year, and over 98 percent are related to property damage caused by fire or extreme weather.
What can I claim on my homeowners’ insurance?
There are four main categories covered by most homeowners’ insurance policies—your dwelling (physical home), your personal belongings, liability protection and coverage for additional living expenses.
- Dwelling coverage: You can submit a claim if the outside of your home is damaged or destroyed by fire, smoke, wind, hail, lightning, explosions and vandalism. The damage from floods and earthquakes are not covered under most policies. Dwelling coverage also pays for damage to detached structures, like a garage or shed. You cannot submit a claim for general wear and tear of your home, like aging pipes.
- Personal property coverage: If your personal belongings are damaged by one of the covered perils mentioned above, you can submit a claim to get reimbursed for some or all of the original value. That can include your clothing, kitchen appliances, and furniture. Personal property claims are most common if your home is burglarized. High-value items like jewelry tend to be subject to a coverage limit.
- Liability coverage: If you have a guest at your home, and they fall down the stairs or get bitten by your dog, you can file an insurance claim for protection in a lawsuit where you could be found responsible. If you do have to go to court, your liability coverage will pay for the cost of defending you and any court awards. It also pays for your guest’s medical bills.
- Additional living expenses: Some insurance companies allow you to file claims for additional living expenses in the event that you’re unable to live in your home due to damage from a covered peril. If your homeowners’ insurance policy offers this, you can submit a claim to cover things like hotel bills and restaurant expenses.
Create a home inventory
As a homeowner, one of the best things you can do is create a home inventory. Cataloging all of your personal belongings helps you determine how much insurance coverage you need and makes filing a claim faster and easier.
Survey each room of your home and make a list of all the items with a detailed description. If you can, record details like the make, model, the year it was purchased and where you bought it. For more expensive items like an appliance or electronics, write down the serial number. Taking pictures of your personal belongings can also be helpful when you file a claim.
Once you’ve created your home inventory, keep it up to date. Add newly purchased items, or save your receipts. Have at least one copy of your home inventory outside your home so it doesn’t get lost or damaged.
What to do before you file a claim
If you do have to file a homeowner’s insurance claim, there are a few steps that are important to follow.
- Call the police immediately after you notice the damage—whether your home was burglarized, a fire broke out or a tree fell on your garage.
- Document the damage when it’s safe to do so. Take pictures and include written notes about the damaged items and their original value.
- Gather your receipts for the items that were damaged or destroyed to help the insurance company properly compensate you for the losses.
- Contact your insurance company to let them know about the incident, discuss your policy and coverage limits and get the proper paperwork.
How to file a homeowner insurance claim
If you’re wondering how to file an insurance claim, the answer is simple, and most of the major insurance companies let you do it online or even through their mobile app.
If you need to file any type of homeowner’s insurance claims, speak with your insurance company to find out exactly what you need to do. We’ve included the basic guidelines for filing a claim below based on what kind of claim you need to file.
- Damage to your home or personal property: In your claim, include pictures of the damage, a written description of the incident, when it occurred and the monetary value of the items that were damaged. Don’t throw away any damaged items before the insurance company can evaluate them.
- Personal liability or medical payments claim: Report the incident to your insurer as soon as possible. In your claim, explain the incident, report when and where it happened, give the name and information of the person injured, include any witnesses and take photos of injuries or other damage. If someone is injured and goes to the hospital, explain their diagnosis and any medical treatment they received.
- Additional living expenses claim: If you’re unable to live in your home due to damage, keep all your receipts for hotel bills, restaurant meals and moving costs, if applicable. In your claim, including photos of all receipts and describe the situation. Also, note how long you expect to be away from your home while it’s being repaired.
Prepare for the adjuster
After you submit an insurance claim, you’ll meet with an adjuster from your insurance company. The adjuster’s job is to organize and prepare the claim by speaking with you, witnesses, police officers and lawyers to gather all the facts about the incident. Typically, they’ll visit your home to assess the damage in-person and collect photographs, written details, and other assets to be used in a report that helps the insurance company accurately assess your claim.
Before meeting with the adjuster, submit the necessary paperwork to your insurance company. Organize the photos, notes, and statements and have them ready to share with the adjuster to expedite the claims process so you get your payout faster.
How to get the most from your claim
If you decide to file a claim to get reimbursed for your losses, the most important thing you can do is to fully understand your insurance policy. Often times, homeowners don’t get the full payout they deserve because they don’t know what they are entitled to. Before you file the claim, carefully review your policy or have a professional do it for you. It’s also important to review your policy a few times per year to make sure you still have enough coverage.
Another way to maximize your claim is to document the damage as best you can. For example, take photos of the exterior of your home before a major storm hits, so you can more easily show the before-and-after if damage does occur. Have a home inventory, take photos of everything you own, and keep receipts whenever possible. If you feel more comfortable, you can always hire your own personal adjuster, who can work independently of the insurance company.
Lastly, if you feel like your insurance provider hasn’t fairly compensate you for your losses, there are a few things you can do. Consider contacting your insurer to see what else you can provide to raise the payout, like additional proof of damage. Or, hire an independent appraiser to get a second opinion about what your compensation should be. If you have a significant claim and have exhausted your other options, you can hire a lawyer and take the insurance company to court—for a high fee.