Homeowners insurance is a smart way to protect yourself when life’s hazards happen. When a broken pipe floods your home and causes thousands of dollars in damage or a guest at your backyard picnic is injured from a grilling accident, you don’t want to be on the hook to cover the expenses. Having homeowners insurance provides protection
We’re all more or less familiar with what it is, but how often do you really use it? About one out of every 20 homeowners will need to file a claim this year. The chances are that when something happens, you may not even initially think about contacting your insurance company. And there may be times with minor incidents where it is even preferable not to contact your insurance company. So, how do you know when you should file a homeowner insurance claim?
What You Should Know Before You Make the Call
There are always consequences when filing an insurance claim. The first thing to consider is your deductible. Every policy is different, but $1000 is common on homeowner policies. This is the amount of money that you will pay out of pocket before the insurance company picks up the tab. For minor damage totaling less than your deductible, it doesn’t make any sense to file a claim because you’ll be paying the bill out of pocket anyway.
Another way that filing a claim can have unintended consequences is by causing your premiums to go up. Your rates are based on risk level, and one of the factors that insurance companies use to determine their risk is by looking at the number and size of claims you have filed over the last few years.
After considering your deductible and the potential premium increase, there are plenty of times when it still makes sense to file a claim with your insurance company. For example, if a fire causes significant structural damage, the cost of repairs will be high. Or, if a guest in your home takes an ambulance trip to a hospital and remains in care or requires surgery as the result of an accident at your home, the medical costs will be high. These are exactly the situations that homeowner’s insurance is designed to provide liability protection for. Excluding catastrophic damage, the average homeowner’s claim is about $8,742.
Maintenance-related issues or normal wear and tear are not covered by your insurance policy. If you need a new roof due to the age of your home, that is a maintenance cost, and you would not file a claim. If you need a new roof because a big storm blew half of your shingles off, that could be an insurable claim. However, if a small storm blew half the shingles off your home because you neglected routine maintenance, it is likely that your claim will be denied. It’s important to read your policy carefully and stick to the rules.
Common Reasons to File a Homeowner’s Insurance Claim
Homeowners insurance is there to keep you from going bankrupt over unforeseen perils. If you are facing damage to your home that is caused by a policy-covered event and the cost to repair exceeds your deductible, leaving you with costs too high to manage on your own, filing a claim is usually appropriate. A good rule of thumb is to pay for repairs less than $3,000 out of pocket and consider the implications of filing a claim when repairs are between $3,000 and $5,000.
You can afford to be a little less strict if it’s your first claim in three years. Every claim increases your risk of insurability. At first, it may be higher premiums, but if you file too many or too frequent claims, your insurance company may even cancel your policy. High-risk homeowners could also face a difficult time finding a new insurer willing to take them on. So, deciding your personal risk level and when you feel comfortable filing a claim can be a little bit of a grey area.
This area becomes less grey when there is significant damage or total loss from a fire, flood, storm, or another policy event. If any portion of your home becomes uninhabitable, you’re facing a big expense to cover repairs, material losses, and living expenses while you’re displaced. Filing a claim in the event of catastrophic damage is a no-brainer.
How to File a Homeowner’s Insurance Claim
Filing an insurance claim is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. You’ll want to keep detailed records of the entire process and take notes when you are speaking with the Claims Adjuster. First, address any emergency needs. If individuals are in need of medical care, call for help. If you have a hole in your roof, cover it. Then, when the immediate emergency passes, you can begin the claim process with your insurance company.
Collect and Document Details: Take pictures of original damage and collect documentation of repair estimates and inventories as appropriate for the situation. You’ll want to have hard data like dates and the net value of items before contacting your insurer.
Contact Your Insurance Company: The first step is to report the claim. Your insurance company will usually be your first contact unless a crime is involved, and you need to make a police report in addition to notifying your insurance company.
Complete Accurate Claim Form Paperwork: Every insurance company has its own form or process. When you contact them, they will provide you with the forms needed. It’s important to be thorough and accurate when completing these forms to prevent delays.
Meet with the Insurance Adjuster: Even though you may have already contacted a professional for repair estimates, the insurance company will send their own adjuster out to assess the damage and validate the claim. Be prepared by having receipts, repair estimates, and other documentation available when the adjuster comes. Make sure all damage is noted in the adjuster report so that there are no problems with coverage and payments later on.
Make Temporary Repairs: Take appropriate steps to prevent further damage by making temporary repairs while you wait for the repair work to be scheduled. This could mean replacing tarps with a semi permanent covering or adding a layer of plywood that will eventually be removed and replaced with permanent building materials.
Hire a Contractor: Try to stick with the preferred provider indicated by your insurance company when possible. If not, make sure to get approval from the insurance company before proceeding with outside vendors. Your contractor should be able to schedule the work and order the materials based on the initial cost estimates. As the work is completed, your contractor can then submit the appropriate paperwork and collect final payments from the insurance company.
Keep Track of Expenses: If you have multiple contractors performing different work or you are paying for additional living expenses during the repairs, keep track of things like lodging, food, and transportation so that you can be reimbursed.
Keep Communication Open: Promptly follow up with all inquiries and requests from the insurance adjuster, making sure to keep documentation well organized until all expenses have been properly reimbursed.
The Bottom Line on Homeowners Insurance Claims
As long as your claim is worthwhile and covered under your existing policy, you should have little trouble getting the claim approved. Keep good documentation of all work and expenses and lean on your insurance company for their expertise. Our friendly and experienced agents at CIIG Insurance are here and ready to help you navigate your homeowner’s claim process.