Homeowners Insurance Claim Timeline & Guide
Homeowners Insurance Claim - Timeline and Guide
More than 50% of homeowners don’t know how their insurance policy works. Combined with the problems of dealing with the real life damages, many homeowners find filing an insurance claim to be daunting and stressful.
We’re here to help you navigate these murky waters. We’ve created an step-by-step timeline and guide on the insurance claims process, how it works, and what you need to do.
Step 1: Contact your insurance agent
Notify your insurance company of the damages. There will be official deadlines to file your claim, and your agent can remind you of dates, but it’s wise to let your insurance know when an incident has occurred.
If your situation included evacuation and/or you are unable to access your property for your essential belongings, you can request an advance from your insurance company help cover any necessary expenses for the time being. This can include hotels, car rentals, and even time off from work. Understand that this advance will be deducted from your total claim settlement, but can provide necessary short-term relief if needed. Keep track of all the expenses related to your claim, but don’t assume all will be covered.
In the case of damage and loss due to a burglary or other crime, contact the police.
Step 2: Document all damages
It’s a good idea to start taking photos/videos of damages, not only for your insurance company, for your records as well. Once your claim is filed, your insurance will send out an independent claims adjuster to evaluate the damage. It’s important to note that the independent adjuster works on behalf the insurance company, not you, the policyholder. If possible, be present during inspections with the claims adjuster. This way, you can answer/ask any questions (especially regarding immediate changes that must be made), and double check that nothing important is missed.
Additionally, you should carefully document any/all correspondence you have with your insurance agent, adjuster, contractors, or other associated delegates. In the case of any disputes, you will want evidence to support your argument and claim.
Step 3: Protect your property from further damage
You should not be making any significant repairs or changes to damages prior to documentation, as it may affect your damage evaluation. However, once proper documentation has been made, and your claims adjuster has assessed the property, you should prevent further or worsening damage from occurring. In many cases, this will be required from your insurance. Again, this does not mean permanent repair should be performed at this time, especially if your claim is still being processed. Examples include using a tarp to cover any holes/leaks in the ceiling, and securing your undamaged property. It’s also important to only perform these minor prevention tactics if it is deemed safe to do so. And if you are unsure whether an immediate and temporary repair could affect your claim, check with your agent/adjuster before you carry them out.
Step 4: Begin repair and reach out to contractors
After the initial damage inspection, your claims adjuster may issue you a check on the spot. It is up to you to decide whether you’d like to accept it or not, especially if immediate repairs should be made.
You can often reopen a claim if further damage is found. Check with your policy and your state’s laws for information regarding when a claim can be reopened. Most policies will have a deadline, typically a year from the incident date to reopen/readjust claim settlements. In other cases, some insurance companies will have a “final paperwork” to close out your claim, in which case it may be difficult to request additional funds. But any legitimate repairs should be covered by your insurance company, and a public adjuster (more information below) can help you with that.
In the case other homes were affected by the incident (ie. natural disasters, fires, etc.), you will want to get a hold of contractors as soon as possible, as your neighbors will be doing the same.
Keep all receipts and correspondences with your contractor, for you will need to provide them to your insurance company.
Step 5: Contact a public adjuster
A public adjuster is vastly different from your insurance issued independent adjuster. A public adjuster can be hired by you to work on your behalf, or essentially, provide you with support and backup in case there’s a dispute in your settlement. Many public adjusters are former independent adjusters, and will know things to spot to help maximize your argument.
Public adjusters are optional and often have opposing opinions from their independent counterparts, so they will not be covered by your insurance. You will be responsible for paying for the public adjuster, though most public insurance adjusters will not take immediate payment and will request 10% of your final settlement.
You should expect complications when it comes to major home repair. Building materials may increase in price, and the repairs can require more labor than originally estimated. Your contractor may find additional related damage that was not included in the assessment, such as electrical or plumbing damage directly caused by the incident. You will need to keep your insurance company updated on any new issues that arise, but understand that you will likely find resistance from their end.
It’s important to understand that public adjusters will not necessarily speed up your settlement. They will however, argue on your behalf, especially if new issues or disputes arise.
Other Considerations: Important things to keep in mind
For smaller damages, consider paying out-of-pocket rather than filing a claim. Your premiums will likely be affected upon a filed claim, and can see increases. Additionally, you will have to pay your deductible prior to receiving your claim settlement, so it may not make sense to file a claim if the damage repair cost is lower than your deductible.
Understand that your insurance company, and all associated representatives including your agent and the independent adjuster, work for the benefit of the insurance company, and not necessarily the policyholder. This is not to say you should face your insurance company with an adversarial approach. However, your insurance will try to find ways to minimize your settlement as much as possible, so be careful in what you may say in your phone calls or emails to your insurance representatives.
Ideally, you will have a copy of your insurance policy and be acutely aware of the contents; namely, what is covered and what is not. However, when dealing with a stressful situation such as damage to your home or property, the last thing you may want to do is read through pages of policy information. It’s still crucial that you know your rights in case there are any issues that arise with your insurance coverage.
Keep paying your premiums. You will need to continue making payments to your insurance during the entire process to prevent any lapse or delays in coverage.