UPDATED: Aug 20, 2013
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Most people who buy insurance do so with the hope that they’ll never need to use it. Because insurance only becomes necessary in the wake of a disaster, filing a home insurance claim is rarely a pleasant experience. Understanding what to expect in the event of a claim can help relieve some of the stress associated with filing one and will protect you from making some of the most common mistakes.
Starting a Home Insurance Claim
After damage occurs to your home from a peril you believe to be covered by your policy, you can contact the insurer to get the claims process started. (Bear in mind that home insurance will generally not cover standard wear and tear or any damage that occurs over time, such as dry rot or mold.) Insurance also will not pay for most types of preventative maintenance, like replacing a worn-out roof before a big storm. Assuming that the damage occurred suddenly and accidentally, however, you can usually file a claim to see whether your coverage will pay for it.
To file a claim, you would need to call the claims department or stop by your local agent’s office. Some insurance companies also accept claims filed over the Internet. Regardless of how you submit the claim, the information required will be similar.
You will need to provide:
1) Your contact information
2) Policy number
3) Description of what happened
4) A list of areas that were damaged
If personal property was involved in the loss, you will need to submit a list of each item and a rough estimate of its replacement value. If you do not have that information at the time in which the claim is filed, that’s okay; you can follow up with those details later.
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During the Claim
Once the claim is input in the system, the insurance company may refer you to a damage mitigation company that can help make temporary repairs to prevent damage from worsening. Temporary repair measures can be as simple as placing a tarp over a leaking roof or pumping water out of a flooded basement. Bear in mind that these expenses may come out of your pocket at first, and you might be responsible for their cost if the claim is denied.
After the claim has been filed, an adjuster will contact you for more information. An inspection will then be completed to assess the damage and determine the amount of your claim. You are welcome to negotiate this settlement amount, and many homeowners find that hiring an independent adjuster can prove valuable.
Ultimately, though, it’s the insurance company’s decision whether to negotiate the cost of the claim. If the adjuster determines that the damages cannot be covered by insurance, the claim will be denied and you will be responsible for your own repairs.
If the claim is accepted, the insurance company will proceed in paying for the repairs. Depending on your situation, this payout could be handled in different ways. For example, the insurer may pay you a portion up front and the rest after repairs have started, or the insurer may pay the vendor directly. This will depend largely on the type of claim filed and whether you owe money on a mortgage or own the home outright. Any expenses owed directly to you, like loss of use costs during the repairs, will be paid by check or prepaid debit card.