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Your home insurance policy helps pay for repairs and rebuilding costs if your home is damaged in an unexpected event, like a fire or storm. To get paid from the insurance company, you’ll need to file a claim.

Here’s what you need to know about filing homeowners insurance claims, including a step-by-step process on how to file one:

How do home insurance claims work?

A home insurance claim is a request to your insurance company to financially reimburse you for damage to your home. When you take out a homeowners insurance policy, the insurance company should tell you how it handles claims. Your policy also dictates what types of losses are covered and how much money you can receive to cover them.

When you file a claim, the insurance company generally sends out an insurance adjuster to inspect and document the damage. Based on this information, the insurance company will tell you how much money it’ll give you to repair or replace the damaged property — this is called a settlement. Often, the insurance company will send you a claim check before work begins to hire a contractor to complete it. More money may be disbursed as work progresses.

Good to know: Claims typically have to be acknowledged by your insurance company within a certain period of time — often between 10 and 30 days, though it’s usually much faster than that. However, there is no strict timeline for how quickly an insurer needs to issue a settlement.

How to file a home insurance claim

While the specific process can vary based on your insurance company, there’s a general procedure you should follow when filing a home insurance claim.

1. File police report

If the damage or loss at your home was due to a crime — such as theft or arson — the first thing you should do is file a police report. Report the crime to your local law enforcement agency and fill out any paperwork it requires. This step doesn’t apply if the damage to your home was due to a natural disaster or non-criminal activity.

2. Contact your insurance company

The next step is to touch base with your homeowners insurance company. Each company will have its own specific process. Some may ask you to use their mobile app, while others may want you to call them.

Tip: Don’t wait for disaster to strike. Contact your insurance company beforehand to find out how to best file a claim with your provider.

While you’re speaking with a company representative, find out if you’re covered, how long you have to file a claim, and how long it’ll take to process.

Double check your deductible as well. This is the amount you must pay out of pocket before your coverage kicks in. Try to determine if your loss will exceed the deductible.

If the loss won’t exceed your deductible, you’ll need to pay out of pocket for the repair whether you file a claim or not, and going through the trouble of filing a claim may not be worth it.

3. Fill out claim forms

Your insurance company will provide you the forms you need to formally file a claim. State law dictates how long the company has to provide these to you. When you receive them, be sure to fill them out promptly and submit them in the way your insurance company requires.

4. Document the damage

Take photos and videos of the damage to your property, making sure you thoroughly record everything that needs to be repaired or replaced. You may need this information to ensure you get a large enough settlement from your insurance company.

5. Make urgent repairs and prevent further damage

If there’s the possibility of further damage, you might have to make temporary repairs to prevent this from happening. This may include boarding up broken windows, placing tarps on exposed areas, stopping leaks, or clearing clogged drains.

Tip: Be sure to keep the receipts for any money you spend to make these repairs; your insurance company may reimburse you for them.

6. Prepare for the insurance adjuster

Typically, the homeowners insurance company will send out a claims adjuster to inspect the damage to your home and prepare a settlement offer. You’ll meet the adjuster at your property and show them all the areas that were damaged.

To speed the process up, create a home inventory of all the property that was damaged. Include any receipts for property that needs to be replaced. Try to avoid throwing out any damaged property before the adjuster arrives, to make it easier to document the losses.

7. Get repair estimates

You can obtain repair estimates from qualified contractors to understand what the true cost of restoring your home will be. Once you have those estimates, you can use the information to negotiate the amount you ultimately receive from the insurance company.

Most professional remediation contractors have experience working with insurance companies and may be able to communicate with your insurance agent on your behalf.

8. Receive a settlement offer

After the adjuster completes his or her work, you’ll typically receive a settlement offer from your insurance company. Make sure you’re completely comfortable with the offer before agreeing to it.

Important: If you’re not comfortable with the settlement offer, your contractor may be able to help you negotiate with the insurance company for a higher amount. You may also need to hire an attorney or a public adjuster.

9. Complete repairs

Using the money from the insurance company, you can hire a contractor to complete the repair work and purchase replacement items. Generally, the insurance company will pay some of the money right away to hire the contractor, and then disburse more money as work progresses.

How to file a claim against someone else’s homeowners insurance

If you believe someone else is liable for an injury you suffered — such as a dog bite, fallen tree, or trampoline accident — you may be able to file a claim to their homeowners insurance to cover your medical bills and other damages. You’ll follow a similar process:

  • Talk to the person responsible. This person may choose to file a homeowners insurance claim themselves. If not, you should get their home insurance policy information, including the name of the insurance company and policy number.
  • Contact the insurance company. A representative will be able to tell you how to go about filing a claim.
  • Document the injury. Take photos and videos if possible, and keep any receipts or invoices for medical care you receive. Write down all the details you can, including evidence that proves the other person is responsible.
  • Cooperate with the investigation. The other person’s insurance company will investigate your claim. Be sure to work with the investigator or adjuster and provide the documentation you’ve gathered.

When to file home insurance claim

In most cases, you’ll want to file a home insurance claim when you suffer extensive, costly damage to your home or property. Make sure the cost to repair the damage exceeds your deductible.

You may want to forego a home insurance claim if the damage is minimal and would cost less to repair than your deductible.

Also, you likely shouldn’t file a claim if you know the damage isn’t covered by your insurance — if it’s excluded from your policy, for instance — or if the damage is from normal wear and tear rather than a sudden event.

Will my homeowners insurance go up if I file a claim?

Yes, your homeowners insurance costs will likely go up after you file a claim.

Your premium — the price you pay for home insurance — may go up even more dramatically if you’ve filed multiple claims in a short period of time. In some cases, your insurer may even decide not to renew your policy. This is why you should be judicious about when you file claims.

How long do home insurance claims take?

There’s no set timeline for how long a home insurance claim takes to handle. State law dictates how long your insurance company has to respond to your request to file a claim, but generally it doesn’t spell out how long the company has to fully resolve the claim.

Good to know: In some cases, it can take many weeks or months to reach a final, satisfactory settlement.

You can help to speed things up by promptly contacting your home insurance company, filling out claim forms quickly, preparing documentation for the damage, and cooperating with the insurance adjuster when he or she arrives.

Can you keep home insurance claim money?

Generally, home insurance claim money must be used to repair the damage or replace your property. In some cases, the insurance company will pay your contractor directly to complete the work required, without you touching the money at all.

However, other times settlement money will go to reimburse you for money you’ve already spent to replace items or make necessary repairs. This money is yours to keep. If money is left over from your settlement after repairs are made, you may be able to keep this money, depending on your policy.

How long do homeowners insurance claims stay on your record?

A home insurance claim typically will stay on your record for five to seven years. This means you may face increased costs for your policy for this time period.

Can I cancel a home insurance claim?

Yes, usually you can cancel a home insurance claim after you’ve filed it. Contact your insurance company to find out how to do so. You may cancel a claim if you determine the cost to repair the damage will be less than your deductible.

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About the author
Andrew Dunn
Andrew Dunn

Andrew Dunn is an award-winning mortgage and finance writer with a decade of experience covering the industry with articles published at Fox Business, LendingTree, Credit Karma, Axios Charlotte, and more.

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