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How and when should I file a home insurance claim?

Homeowners should file insurance claims for property damages they can’t afford to repair on their own. They will need to contact their insurance agent to start the claims process.

We purchase home insurance to help offset the cost of expensive home repairs. But when facing property damage, the thought of filing that first home insurance claim might bring up a little anxiety and a lot of questions.

If you need to file a claim but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for a full guide on homeowners insurance claims to learn which claims are worth filing, how to file an insurance claim, what to expect from your payout, and even a few additional FAQs to make sure all your home insurance questions on claims are answered.

And if your insurance company ’s claims process leaves you less than impressed with your policy, use Insurify – the home insurance comparison tool that helps you find the best home insurance coverage for your insurance needs.

When to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim

Your home insurance policy covers a number of different perils, or causes of damage, so you’ll need to know what your insurance coverage includes and doesn’t include before filing a claim.

Most homeowners insurance policies will pay for damages caused by theft, vandalism, natural disasters (including fire, windstorms, and hail), and many other “sudden and accidental” damages. The causes of damage your homeowners insurance covers are often called covered perils or covered losses.

Standard policies usually don’t cover damage caused by floods, earthquakes, natural wear and tear, or preventable damages. Homeowners need additional coverage like earthquake insurance or a home warranty to be covered for these common exclusions.

Home insurance coverage also typically excludes certain types of damage in high-risk areas, particularly wildfire and wind damage. Check your policy’s exclusions to know whether you have coverage for these perils or need to purchase additional protection.

Before deciding to file a claim for your damaged items, you should familiarize yourself with your policy’s deductible and coverage limits and the ways an insurance claim could affect your policy.

Insurers reimburse policyholders for their damaged property and personal belongings up to their coverage limits minus their deductible. This means if you have $100,000 in personal property coverage with a $1,000 deductible, your insurance company will reimburse you up to $99,000 for your personal belongings.

This is great for when homeowners experience total losses, meaning their entire home and all their belongings were damaged beyond repair. But if you need to file a claim for a broken window and the estimated repair costs are less than $1,000, you’re better off bypassing your insurer and paying for the repairs on your own.

Filing insurance claims can also cause your insurer to increase your premiums or even choose not to renew your coverage if you have an extensive claims history. Water damage and theft are two of the most common claims that lead insurers to raise premiums, as these perils are likely to reoccur.

This doesn’t mean you should forgo filing insurance claims when your home sustains damage; the whole point of your home insurance policy is to cover you for expensive repair costs. Just make sure that when you do choose to file a claim, it’s for damages you couldn’t otherwise cover on your own.

How to File a Home Insurance Claim

So you’ve decided to file an insurance claim. Now what?

The first steps you’ll need to take largely depend on the type of damage you need to repair. For home burglaries and vandalism, the first step is filing a police report. For roof damage, the first step is to mitigate the risk of further damage (like covering gaping holes with a tarp or moving your personal belongings and appliances away from the damaged area).

Next, you’ll need to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the incident. An insurance adjuster should then be able to tell you what type of information the company needs to move forward with reimbursement. This might include the aforementioned police report, photos of the damage, and general information about the time of the peril and the property you need to replace.

Making a home inventory can help you determine how much of your property you need to repair and how much those repairs will cost. If your home is severely damaged and you need to leave until it’s fixed, talk to your agent about your additional living expenses (ALE) coverage. You may need to keep the receipts for your hotel and any food costs so that your insurance company can reimburse the cost of your stay.

The claims process can seem extensive, and it’s probably going to take some back and forth between you and your insurer to get everything right. But just sit tight and follow your insurer ’s instructions or mandates to make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible.

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What to Expect From Your Reimbursement

Your insurance payout is largely determined by the type of home insurance coverage you have, either actual cash value or replacement cost coverage.

Actual cash value policies account for depreciation, which basically means the value of your home and belongings are based on their average lifespan. In this case, your insurer will pay you less for your older items since they’ve approached the end of their useful life and more for your newer items that haven’t depreciated in value as much.

Replacement cost coverage doesn’t account for depreciation and pays for the entire cost of repairing or replacing your belongings instead. Replacement cost policies often pay policyholders for the actual cash value of their damaged items upfront and then reimburse the remaining cost (known as recoverable depreciation) afterward. This gives homeowners time to purchase replacements and submit their receipts to their insurance company. That way, the insurer can then reimburse the items based on the cost the homeowner actually paid to replace them, rather than basing the payout on potential expenses.

The other main factor that affects your payouts is your deductible. While you aren’t responsible for paying your deductible out of pocket, your insurance company will subtract your deductible from your reimbursement. So if you opted for a high deductible to help lower your monthly insurance payments, you’ll receive a smaller reimbursement than if you had opted for a lower deductible with higher monthly premiums.

Frequently Asked Homeowners Insurance Claims Questions

  • Some insurers have restrictions on which companies or independent contractors homeowners can hire to fix property damage. Check with your insurance agent to see if this applies to your policy.

  • If you purchased flood insurance coverage with your private insurer, then yes, you can file a flood claim with your insurance agent. If you bought flood coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program, you’ll need to file a claim through the NFIP website.

  • Since liability coverage is just another aspect of your home insurance policy, you would file a liability claim the same way you’d file any other home insurance claim. File a police report if necessary, and contact your insurer as soon as possible to get the claims process started.

Homeowners Insurance Claims: What You Really Need to Know

If you’ve never filed a homeowners insurance claim before, it’s okay to have questions. But there are plenty of resources (like Insurify ) and local insurance agents who can help you during the claims process. At the end of the day, the claims you should file are the ones you can’t afford to pay for on your own. That is what your homeowners policy is for, after all.

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Jacklyn Walters
Jacklyn WaltersInsurance Writer

Jacklyn Walters is a personal finance writer. She has a bachelor's degree from SUNY-Buffalo and specializes in home insurance, striving to help customers make informed decisions about their insurance policies.