How to File a Homeowner’s Claim

By Carol Church

If you’ve ever had the experience of having your home robbed or seriously damaged, you know how awful it can be. Seeing the destruction and mess can feel deeply upsetting, and somehow very personal.

At times like these, we may react in emotional ways. However, it’s key to try to stay calm. This may well be a time to make a claim on homeowner’s insurance. But to do so effectively, there are some things that are important to know.

Should You File a Claim?

When we see any kind of damage to our home, our impulse may be to pick up the phone and immediately call the insurance agent. But in real life, it’s actually not that simple. Before making that call, homeowners should consult the terms of their policy and consider the potential price of making a claim vs. the cost of repairing and/or replacing the missing or destroyed items.

New Home

In fact, in the following situations, experts recommend NOT filing a claim:

  • If the cost to repair and replace may well be less than the deductible;
  • If the cost to repair and replace isn’t going to be much more than the deductible (most say not to file unless it’s at least $500-$1000 more, while some advise going even higher);
  • If the damage is caused by an event that is unlikely to be covered by the policy (remember, those without flood insurance are most likely NOT covered for a high-water event);
  • If the homeowner has made more than two claims in the last decade (meaning the insurance company already considers him or her high risk);
  • If the problem happened because of needed maintenance the homeowner failed to do (meaning the claim will likely be denied)

This might seem contrary to common sense. After all, we may think, this is why we have insurance. Unfortunately, however, homeowner’s insurance companies can and do raise rates or even pull coverage completely based on homeowner claims—even claims that were denied. (Laws on this do vary by state.) In the end, the monetary benefits from filing may be dwarfed by cost increases to the policy.

What’s more, a homeowner’s claim history will follow them around and potentially count against them. Insurers use an information system called CLUE, the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, to check on claims history before insuring or issuing a quote. CLUE tracks all the car and homeowner’s insurance claims a consumer has made over the past 7 years, including those that were denied.

So before putting it on record that a claim has been made, homeowners should think carefully. Of course, there is definitely a time and place for making a claim, but that time and place is typically after major and catastrophic damage.

Document the Damage

Let’s say damage is severe enough to warrant filing. Although it may seem tempting to start cleaning up the home right away, the homeowner’s first job is to document the damage and list the losses, as thoroughly as possible. Today’s smartphones make this task easy, but it’s crucial to take notes as well, and to date them. (This whole task will be much easier if there is already a home inventory—the KnowYourStuff app is a great way to get started).

Do not throw out damaged items yet, as the adjuster may want to see them. At the same time, don’t place belongings at risk of further damage by leaving them exposed to the elements. Move salvageable goods to a safe storage area.

Finally, homeowners who have been the victim of a crime, such as a theft, should report it to the police. Get copies of the police report.

Begin Repairs

Although homeowners may think they should wait to receive a check or at least see an adjuster before making any steps toward repair, this is not the case. In fact, they should not hesitate to make repairs that are needed for safety or to protect the home, such as fixing broken windows. Holding off may cause the insurance company to say that damage has been worsened by negligence. However, save receipts from these repairs.

If the home’s damage is so severe that it is unlivable, families should seek shelter elsewhere–again, saving receipts so they can be reimbursed.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll cover filing the claim, dealing with problems, severe disasters, and special concerns for military members.

References

Hill, T. (2017). How to Make the Most of Your Home Insurance Claim. Retrieved from https://smartasset.com/mortgage/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-home-insurance-claim

Insurance Information Institute. (n.d.) How do I file a homeowner’s claim? Retrieved from http://www.iii.org/article/how-do-i-file-a-homeowners-claim

Lake, R. (2016). How to file a homeowner’s insurance claim. Retrieved from https://smartasset.com/mortgage/how-to-file-a-homeowners-insurance-claim

Ochalla, B. (2017). When not to file a homeowner’s insurance claim. Retrieved from  https://quotewizard.com/home-insurance/when-not-to-file-a-homeowners-insurance-claim

Procter, B. Financial Recovery and Risk Management. Retrieved from http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPrinterFriendlyPub.aspx?P=emw1022

Waters, J. (2013). When not to file a home insurance claim  Retrieved from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/think-twice-before-filing-home-insurance-claims-2013-10-16

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