When to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim

Does your home insurance company need to know about every incident that causes damage to your property?

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When should you file a homeowners insurance claim?

Homeowners insurance and car insurance have one thing in common: the importance of weighing when to file a claim and when not to, and carefully considering how doing so might affect your premium and pocketbook in the long run. Never assume your homeowners insurance will cover what you think it will. See this guide to what homeowners insurance covers.

Home insurance claims stay on your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report, which contains up to seven years of claims history and helps insurance companies judge how likely you are to file another claim. If you rack up one too many, insurers can void your policy if they think you and your home carry too much risk. You may also be surprised to see a hike in your premium after filing a claim even if the cause of the claim is due to an unexpected or accidental incident — exactly what home insurance is meant to protect against.

The unfortunate reality is that just because you pay for home insurance does not mean your insurer is obligated to help pay for fixes whenever you need them. Knowing when not to file a claim will save you from future headaches, more expensive premiums, and surprise policy non-renewals.

  1. When you should NOT file a claim
  2. When you should file a claim
  3. How to file a homeowners insurance claim
  4. Will COVID-19 affect the homeowners insurance claims process?
  5. Common reasons for claims denial
  6. What to consider


 

When you should NOT file a home insurance claim

Be aware of how claims on your record will affect your homeowners insurance premium, and you'll be happier you didn't file an unnecessary claim. Here are the instances in which it would not be wise to call up your insurer.

1: The cost to repair or replace does not exceed your deductible

The same logic in whether or not you should file a car insurance claim also applies to home insurance: if your deductible is less than how much it would cost to repair the damage, it makes more sense to pay for it out-of-pocket instead of facing an increase in your premium. As a general rule, don't sweat the small stuff and don't involve your insurance company for minor fixes.

2: It's a maintenance issue or normal wear-and-tear

If there's something you could have done to prevent the damage, insurance likely will not cover it. It's the homeowner's responsibility to care for basic upkeep and maintenance, so wear-and-tear in your home will not be compensated for by your insurer even if it ends up completely destroyed after a covered loss. If your roof or fence is already damaged and worn after years of neglect, and it collapses after a heavy snowfall, the insurance company will deny the claim because it could have been prevented had you kept up with maintaining your property.

3: You've filed a claim within the last three years

Insurance companies get flighty if they look at your claims history and see more than one claim filed within the past couple of years — even if it was never paid out, and it was denied or unresolved. Filing a claim when you already have a few under your belt risks getting your policy non-renewed or voided, and you may even have trouble getting coverage elsewhere.

 


 

When you should file a homeowners insurance claim

So, what should homeowners insurance be used for? As a rule of thumb — bigger losses following a peril that damaged your property.

1: The cost to repair or replace exceeds your deductible

Disaster strikes and part of your roof has caved in. The estimate for repair is $5,000 and your deductible is $1,000. It would be prudent — and worth it — to file a homeowners claim with your insurance company to get it fixed. If it's an expensive repair or replacement to fix your home, and it was caused by a covered loss, it makes more sense to get your insurer involved to help pay for it.

2: There's significant damage or a total loss

This is primarily what homeowners insurance is most useful for — when your home suffers a loss so great after an unexpected incident that it becomes uninhabitable. In these cases, you should definitely file a claim to recoup your losses.

3: It's your first claim in three years

As we previously mentioned, insurers take your claims history into account when they decide what to charge for your premium, or whether they should even cover you at all. Statistically — whether for homeowners or car insurance — if you've previously filed a claim, you're more likely to file more claims in the future. For insurance companies, that's a risk they don't want to be responsible for even if you pay your premium every month. When you do need to file a claim, make sure to space them out as much as possible.

 


 

How to file a homeowners insurance claim

Policyholders needing to make a homeowners insurance claim may be curious about how the system works. Below you'll find the steps for how to file a standard claim. Keep in mind, however, that your particular situation could make your claims process slightly different.

1: Contact your insurance company

The first step in the claims process is to report the claim to your insurance company — unless your claim is related to a crime such as theft, in which case you would first need to contact the police. At this point, your home insurance provider will likely go over whether or not the claim is covered and how long you will have to file the claim. They can also give you guidance on how long it might take to process the claim as well as whether or not the claim will exceed your deductible.

2: Fill out the proper claims forms

After you have made contact with your insurer about the claim, they will send you forms to fill out detailing the damage. Fill out any claims forms that your insurer sends you as thoroughly as you can. Also, make sure to return them promptly to keep the claims process moving.

3: Have an insurance adjuster inspect the damage

In most cases, the next step is to have a claims adjuster evaluate the damage and offer a sum to go toward the cost of repairs. Make sure to be prepared for their arrival by having any receipts or other pertinent information ready. It is likely that they will interview you about the nature of the damage.

4: Make temporary repairs

It's important that you stop further damage from occurring before sufficient repairs can be made. Covering a damaged roof with tarps or boarding up broken windows can prevent the damage from becoming worse, which makes the claim more costly to fix.

5: Make a list of damaged personal property

The more detailed that you can be in your property inventory the better. The value of your items as well as specific model numbers and dates of purchase can help tremendously. When possible, try to include receipts to make things even easier.

6: Get estimates for repairs

Getting an estimate for repairs from a local contractor or appraiser can help to ensure that your insurance company is providing enough money to make the necessary repairs.

7: Make repairs

If you have a mortgage lender, they will likely have a say in how the repairs to your home are completed. This means that taking a DIY approach in order to save money may not be an option. In fact, it's likely that your bank or lending agency will have their name listed on the actual check you receive from your insurer. This is because they have an insurable interest in the property and want to make sure that stays in good shape. Payouts for personal property will be distributed to you at either replacement cost or actual cash value, reflecting the level of property damage coverage that you have.

8: Keep track of additional living expenses

If you are unable to inhabit the home while repairs are being made, the additional living expenses portion of your home insurance policy covers expenses such as lodging, food, and transportation. Keep track of your expenses so that you can be properly reimbursed. 

 


 

Will COVID-19 affect the homeowners insurance claims process? 

While the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life, the insurance industry is largely functioning in the same manner. This means you can expect your home insurance claims to be processed in much the same way. However, because of physical distancing measures, it is unlikely that a claims adjuster will physically inspect damages deemed less serious. In these cases, an insurer may accept photos or videos of the damages instead of dispatching a representative to check it out in person. However, if the damage to your home is severe — such as foundational damage — an adjuster may still show up, taking precautions to make the process as safe as possible. 

The time it takes to process your claim shouldn't be affected by the novel coronavirus. Usually, claims can become held up when many are filed at once — such as events like hurricanes or wildfires. However, with more people staying at home, the likelihood of theft and liability claims goes down. Furthermore, those staying at home can address issues such as busted pipes before they cause more serious damages. Because of this, it's likely that fewer claims will be made overall, meaning that you can expect your claim to be processed in a reasonable timeframe. It's hard to gauge exactly how the pandemic will impact the insurance industry overall, but the claims process should stay relatively unaffected for the time being. 

 


 

Common reasons homeowners claims are denied

Any claim you file will be investigated by a trained claims adjuster for authenticity. However, unless you have a company with a bad reputation for claims handling, it generally shouldn't be a surprise. Let's outline the big reasons you can have a denied homeowners claim.

 

1: The damage was caused by a non-covered peril

If the peril (cause of loss) is excluded from coverage, your insurance company will deny your claim. For example, flood damage. If a hurricane floods your basement, you are not going to have any homeowners coverage because flood is an excluded peril on every homeowners insurance policy. To have this claim covered, you would need flood insurance through FEMA. Other causes of loss, such as mold or water backup, might be covered if you have their coverage endorsements. An endorsement is any change to your policy. In this case, you would need to buy a mold or water backup endorsement to have your claim paid out.

2: If the damage was intentional or avoidable

Insurance will not cover any malicious intent. Any damage you intentionally caused to your home will not be covered. Any time you file a claim, the source of loss will be investigated by trained claims adjusters. Meaning, you should think carefully before you file a claim after intentional damage. Furthermore, if the damage was caused by neglect — i.e., avoidable — don't expect insurance assistance.

3: If the damage was caused by wear and tear or maintenance issues

Homeowners insurance is designed to cover sudden and abrupt damage. If you had a slow leak in your basement and mold formed, your insurance will not cover it. The same is true for old roofs, flooring, or siding. Any maintenance or wear/tear losses are up to the homeowner or a warranty to replace.

4: If your policy was canceled/inactive at the time of claim

This one is pretty straightforward. If your policy canceled on the 1st and you file a claim for damage that occurred on the 10th, your claim will be denied. Even if you reinstate your policy, it's very unlikely your company will honor your claim. Our best advice: always pay your insurance bill! If you're getting a new policy with a different provider, do not leave any days without coverage. 

5: If you waited too long

Your statute of limitations to file a claim can vary by your company and by your state. If you wait too long, you could have your claim denied.

6: If the value of damage doesn't exceed your deductible

If you're uncertain of the total cost of damage, get an estimate before you contact your insurance company. Even if you have a $0 payout, this claim can impact your premium.

 


 

What to consider when filing a homeowners claim

By how much you can expect your premium to increase following a home insurance claim relies on a few variables: your location, the cause of the claim, your claims history, and how much the claims payout cost the insurance company. Liability claims tend to affect premiums the most, and you can expect your premium to increase drastically if you file one.

When deciding whether you should file a home insurance claim, weigh whether it will be worth the extra cost over the long run, and consider the potential risks to your home insurance coverage. You don't want to be caught in a situation where your home has suffered significant damage after a disaster, but you were unable to acquire insurance because of your claims history. Knowing when and when not to file a claim will save you more money and keep your status with your insurer more stable and secure for when you really need it.

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Kristine Lee LinkedIn

Kristine is a licensed insurance agent and one of The Zebra’s in-house content strategists. With a background in copywriting, she covers the ins and outs of the home and car insurance industries. She has contributed to numerous publications focused on the nuances of insurance, including BestCompany.com.