Are you thinking about filing an insurance claim? You're on the right track. Your homeowners insurance is there to protect your property and things, even to protect you legally. Home insurance providers paid out over $56 billion in claims in 2019. (Statista.com) It's a critical fail-safe that should be a part of every homeowner's financial portfolio. Claims can save you a lot of money when things go wrong. But before you decide to file one, it may help to know how home insurance claims work and to consider a few things. If you do file a claim, we can also help you plan for what to expect and how to make the process go smoothly.
How home insurance claims work
Home insurance companies are responsible for protecting their policyholders and balancing risk. In a nutshell, the premium for your home insurance coverage is pulled with other customer's premiums to operate the business and pay claims.
When you have a bound homeowners insurance policy, you are essentially in a contract with your insurance company for one year for the agreed upon coverage for you, your home, and belongings up to your limits. This agreement is an important part of home insurance and is often misunderstood. It is essential to understand your policy's details and set limits (up to coverage amount) and deductibles (the part you pay for a claim) that work for you. If you do not fully understand what you agree to in your policy, you may feel upset later if a coverage for a claim does not go as expected.
When you file a home insurance claim, your insurance provider will look at the details of the incident and the coverage in your policy agreement. They will send an adjuster to inspect the damage. The adjuster may offer you a settlement check the same day to begin repairs. The payout will be the total cost to repair damage minus your deductible, unless the damage is not covered per your policy agreement.
What to consider before you file a claim
Say a tree fell on your house during severe weather and damaged your house. The key is to make a quick assessment so you can notify your insurer as soon as possible if you decide to file a claim. Insurers have a time limit for filing and finalizing a settlement. Here are some things to consider first.
If you are not sure beforehand, you want to verify whether or not your standard home insurance covers your damage. Tree damage, for example, is covered by most standard home insurance policies. If you can't determine coverage for your situation from your policy documents, call your local independent insurance agent. Some things, such as flood damage and earthquakes, maybe only be covered by separate policies or endorsements ( add-ons to your policy). Also, pay attention to any exclusions in your policy. If it's not covered, there's no point in notifying your insurance company. Your agent can help advise you.
You want to avoid filing a claim for non-covered damage. It will be denied and still show up on your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange or C.L.U.E. report. Your C.L.U.E. report follows you regardless of what carrier you use for five to seven years. Providers will check that report when determining your insurance risk and what premium to charge.
It's also important to see if your policy has coverage for actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. You can select one or the other when choosing your policy. Actual cash value is based on depreciated value, so you may not have enough to replace the item. While coverage costs more, replacement value is based on what it would cost to replace the property with a new version.
The more claims you file, the more risk you present to an insurer. This has a direct correlation to your premium. Multiple claims in a period of three years or costly ones can cause your insurance premium to increase or even cause your policy not to be renewed. Remember that claims are noted in your CLUE report and may cause your premium to increase. A really high number of claims can make it difficult to find a new carrier to insure you.
Estimate the total repair cost plus the cost of any temporary repairs, and compare it to your deductible. Your deductible may be a set amount or a percentage of the total cost of the claim. If the repairs are less than or close to your deductible, it may be smarter to do the repairs yourself and keep the claim off your record. If the estimate significantly exceeds the cost of repairs, it makes sense to file a claim.
It's smart to get a professional assessment of the damage to make this decision from a home repair contractor. You may miss damage or not realize all the damage that has occurred. For example, roof damage is hard to see from the ground and without a trained eye. If you're getting temporary fixes, that may provide the opportunity to get an estimate. Always hire licensed and insured professionals for any work on your home.
Well-maintained homes are much cheaper to insure than those that are neglected. Claims that result in damage due to poor maintenance can be denied. For example, your home insurance may not cover the damage from that tree that fell on your house if it was clearly dead and in need of being removed. Then you're on the hook for the repairs.
We see all kinds of maintenance issues insuring Virginia homes, especially from termites, plumbing problems, and old roofs. Perform regular inspections and maintenance and pay for small repairs or fix them yourself to avoid multiple claims and increased insurance rates.
Filing a home insurance claim
If you've decided to file a claim, the process begins with reporting the incident to your insurance company. Claims can be stressful but don't have to be. If you have all your ducks in a row and stay committed to the process, things will go smoothly. Here's what to expect:
Make emergency repairs.
You can make minimal repairs to protect your house from further damage while you're starting the claims process. Take pictures of all damage before any work is done. Keep those initial repairs to a minimum as much as possible. Save receipts so you can be reimbursed as part of your covered claim.
Your insurance will send an adjuster.
The adjuster will assess the damage to your home and property. They help determine what's covered and can identify repairs and estimate costs. They may even provide payment to get started on repairs the same day. If more damage is found as repairs are made, you or your contractor can report that information to your adjuster as you go. Keep up with all communications with your adjuster and expect the same from them.
Contact your mortgage lender.
If you have a home loan, your lender will need to be included in the claims process. The check you receive from your insurance company may be made to you and your lender, and the money could be held in escrow and paid out as repairs are made.
Document the process.
Being organized will make your claim go more smoothly. Be sure to:
- Save all your receipts.
- If you have a home inventory, use it to track lost property.
- Document interactions and save emails.
- Take and store detailed pictures of all damage.
- Ask for a detailed invoice from your contractor distinguishing labor charges and materials.
- Use a credit card or check for any payments you make.
- If you have coverage for living expenses, save receipts for other costs related to your claim, such as food, lodging, babysitting, etc.
- If your claim involves a liability scenario, be sure to gather detailed written witness statements and contact information.
- Stay in contact with your adjuster and keep up with requested documentation, deadlines, and any other requirements.
After your claim
Once your claim is settled, it's a good time to review your coverage and make any needed changes. You may or may not see an increase in your premium next time your home insurance policy renews. If you do, there are plenty of ways to save money on your home insurance, such as bundling your home and car insurance or raising your deductibles. Seeking advice from your local independent insurance agent is by far the best way to save money on insurance in Virginia.