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Home Insurance Claims FAQ
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Handling a homeowners insurance claim is a lot like handling a toddler. If you do it right, things can go pretty well. But do it wrong, and you’ll be dealing with major tantrums for years to come.
When Should I File a Home Insurance Claim?
If the damage/theft/incident was significant, you should file a claim right away. But if your old 10-speed bike (with only 3 remaining working speeds) was stolen, you may not want to file a claim. The value on your bike is probably insignificant compared to the risk of having your premiums go up.
So after any incident, try to weigh the possible premium increases against the possible out-of-pocket replacement costs to make a call about whether it’s worth the claim.
How Do I File a Home Insurance Claim?
If your home or property has sustained any kind of damage or loss, make sure you take photos of the damage with crime-show-detective-like detail.
Then, contact your home insurance company as soon as possible—whether that’s by phone or online. If you somehow don’t have access to your policy’s number or details, you can call your insurance agent for help.
How Do I Know If the Damage Is Covered?
First, check your policy documents. If you’re still unsure, you can go ahead and begin the claims process anyway. For example, flood damage is not covered by home insurance, but if your basement sustains significant water damage, it is not necessarily due to a flood and may be covered.
Case in point, if your hot-water heater leaks and damages your floors and walls or if a sump pump fails and your policy includes backup of sewage and drains coverage, you may be able to receive compensation. If your damages are not covered, your insurance company will let you know–you can’t lose just for asking.
How Does the Deductible Work?
Every home insurance policy has a deductible. Some deductibles are a dollar amount (typically $500 or $1,000), while others are percentage-based according to the value of your home (i.e., a home that is valued at $200,000 with a 1% percentage-based deductible would have a deductible of $2,000).
The deductible is the amount you have to pay out of pocket for damage repairs. Therefore, if you have a $500 deductible and your house sustains $10,000 worth of damage, your insurance company will reimburse you $9,500—simple as that.
What If My Home Is Burglarized?
Your first step is to ensure that you and your family are safe, and then call the police. When the police arrive, they will complete a report with all the important info regarding your situation. This report is necessary when you file your claim and will help expedite the whole process.
Make sure you also create a detailed list of your lost or damaged items, including their estimated values, and have that ready when you contact your insurance company.
If My Home Was Damaged, Can I Start Repairs Right Away?
If a natural disaster has caused significant damage to your home, you may be tempted to begin repairs right away. We get it, you just want your life back to normal. But doing so can mask a lot of the damage and will make it hard for an adjuster to make a fair estimate of the repair costs.
Temporary fixes that could help prevent any further damage are a good idea, but it’s best to wait until after the insurance adjuster has taken a good solid look at your property to make permanent repairs.
Does My Home Insurance Cover Temporary Living Expenses?
If your home is uninhabitable due to damage caused by a covered event, the additional living expense (ALE) portion of your home insurance will reimburse you.
Your policy will have a cap on how much ALE coverage it will provide, so it is best to handle your temporary arrangements as frugally as possible (think motel, not 5-star resort).
This coverage can include expenses such as:
- Rent for your temporary housing
- Boarding for your pets
- Gas and mileage if you have to drive further to get to work or school
- Dining at restaurants
It’s always best to verify with your insurance company exactly what is included in your ALE coverage before you go and rack up a big hotel or restaurant tab.
When Will an Adjuster Come to My Home?
This depends on a few factors, like the insurance company, the location of your home, and the extent of the damage. If a wildfire or hurricane causes wide-spread damage in your area, it may take a while for an adjuster to make it to your home.
If it is an isolated event, like an oopsie in the kitchen that led to a fire, your adjuster may arrive very quickly.
How Do I Know the Claims Adjuster Isn’t Ripping Me Off?
For contents claims, you can do a bit of homework in advance by looking up the replacement costs of your lost or destroyed property. If your policy includes replacement cost coverage, the amounts you give may be accepted by your insurer.
However, if you have an actual-value coverage policy, your adjuster will estimate a depreciated value of your property.
For property damage to your home, it’s a good idea to get a couple of repair estimates before your adjuster arrives. If possible, you may want to have a trustworthy contractor at your home at the same time—in case the adjuster’s estimates are wildly different from the amount you were quoted.
The contractor and adjuster can often work together to come to an agreement. Then everyone’s happy.
What If I Don’t Agree My Insurer’s Compensation?
If you feel that the reimbursement your adjuster offered is way off, you can try contacting someone higher up in the insurance company to plead your case.
If that fails, you can appeal their decision through mediation, which is way more informal than going to court.
NOTE: You may want to get help from an expert before going into mediation to increase your chances of a positive outcome.
How Long Will It Take to Get My Money?
This depends on your insurance company and the damage we’re talking about. In some cases, the insurance adjuster can cut you a check on the spot after assessing the damage. Other times, it may not be as easy, with a lot of back and forth and delay on your reimbursement.