We often hear "What do I do if something happens to my house?" Filing a claim can be an intimidating or complex process; let's walk you through the steps you need to take, from the initial loss to repair of the damages.
One of the most common questions I get when helping someone set up a new home insurance policy is "how do I use this policy?" or "what exactly do I do if something happens to my house?". You can go through and select all the proper coverage when writing the policy, but what is the point if you don't know when and how to use it?
Filing a claim can be an intimidating or complex process, so this article will walk you through the steps you need to take, from the initial loss to repair of the damages.
The most important first step to a claim is ensuring your safety and the safety of others, stopping the damages, and speaking to your provider to file the actual claim. I will walk you through each step of these processes and why they are key to maximizing your payout and covering yourself from additional risks.
What am I supposed to do before I call the insurance company and file the claim?
When should I file a claim on my homeowners insurance?
- If your home or vehicle is damaged, the very first thing you should do is check the health and safety of yourself and those present and seek medical attention for any injuries that may have occurred.
- Not only is this the right thing to do, but putting the health and safety of those around you as your top priority will lower your chances of facing a negligence lawsuit.
- Next, as I outlined above, make sure you stop any further damage as soon as you notice it. For example, if you have a pipe burst in your home, do not take time to call your agent. The first thing you should do is shut the water off and soak up whatever you can.
- Too many times I have heard from people that they want to leave the damage the way it was as if it is a crime scene that the claims adjuster needs to examine, and they believe they are helping preserve the evidence of what happened. In fact, you are responsible for ensuring that the damage does not persist and if you do not, you could have your claim rejected. Make it your next highest priority to stop the damage as soon as possible. If that means shutting off the water to your home and soaking up as much as you can with towels, then that's what you have to do. If your roof is damaged and leaking into your home, make sure you take the time to put a bucket under the leak in the attic. Anything you have to do to stop damage from continuing should be your objective.
How to handle a theft claim on your homeowners insurance: What to do if my watch or jewelry was stolen?
- To file a claim, my very first recommendation is to check your policy or check with your agent and make sure it is something that you both agree should be covered under your current policy. The reason I put this first is: you do not want the unfortunate situation of having to go through a claim process just to be rejected any payout.
- Example: if your hot water heater goes out, your agent may tell you that it's considered "wear & tear", which is never covered on insurance. But if your hot water heater goes out and starts causing water damage, the hot water heater itself still won't be covered, but the water damages done to your home from this event should be.
- Once you have confirmed it is a covered event that has damaged your home, my next recommendation is to get an estimate of how much it will take to fix the damage. This is a critical next step, as your agent gets the claims adjuster assigned. Having an idea of how much it will cost will save you plenty of time and you will now have a better idea of how much you can expect to receive after your deductible.
- Note: Sometimes it may not be in your best interest to make a claim even if it is a covered event. The most common example of this is if the damages do not exceed your deductible.
- Example: You have a $1,000 deductible on your insurance and your home is broken into. If you only lost $300 worth of property plus $500 for a new window, then your total claim would be $800, but that would not meet your $1,000 deductible and you would get paid $0 from the insurance company.
- Assuming it is still in your best interest financially after the deductible to file the claim, you will want to ask your agent to assign you a claims specialist. The claims specialist will coordinate directly with you to finalize the estimate and put a plan in place to get the damage repaired. From here, you are nearing the end of your claims process. The insurance company will get the claims money to you or the contractor, and the last step is to have the damage repaired.
Filing a theft claim will look very similar to the situation outlined above, but there are some key points to keep in mind with jewelry or valuables.
Step One: The most important first step is to call the police. The insurance company will want a police report for the incident and if you do not call the police, you could have your claim rejected.
Step Two: After you have a police report in hand, the next step is to call the insurance company. If you had this item insured on its own policy, you'll call the agent over that floater policy. Otherwise, you will call your home insurance carrier. If your coverage has been properly written, the rest of the claims process should be very similar to the process outlined above with one exception being, you will likely have a zero-dollar theft deductible for scheduled items.
Note: This is why it is so important to make sure to purchase additional jewelry coverage so you can take advantage of the zero-dollar theft deductible on your watch or jewelry.
What happens if a neighbor's tree falls on my home?
If your neighbor's tree falls on your home, coverage is not guaranteed on your home insurance. Home insurance covers specific situations that caused the damage so I will break down three scenarios: one where you will be covered on your home insurance, and two where you won't be covered on your home insurance.
What to do in the event of a break in?
- Scenario 1, you are covered on your policy - Your homeowners insurance company will want to see why the tree fell. If it fell from a storm or was caused by another covered peril, there typically will be coverage.
- Scenario 2, you are out of pocket - If the tree was rotten or neglected and happens to fall over, the claim will typically be rejected, and your choice becomes limited to asking your neighbor to cover the damage. Negligence is never going to be covered with any home insurance company, so make sure you check the trees on and around your property, including your neighbor's trees, and remove any that have died, or inform your neighbor that one of their trees has died and ask them to remove it.
- Scenario 3, your neighbor's policy covers it - This is a highly unlikely scenario unless lawyers become involved. The reason is, their home insurance dwelling coverage is meant to cover their own home, however they will be protected if you sue them for damages. In a case where their tree damages your property, they may be held responsible in court for damages to people and property and should be covered with the Liability section of their own policy.
- The first thing you need to do after a break in is take your family and get to a safe place. Home invasions and car thefts are often traumatic incidents, and you should consider your well-being first over any damaged assets.
- The next step is to call the police. Even if you do not think the police will be able to catch the criminal, the police report is vital for the claims process.
- The next step is to assess the damages. This can be challenging as you do not always remember how much stuff you owned in the first place. This is why I always recommend taking pictures or videos of every room in your home in case you have a break in or a fire so you will be able to recuperate your property.
Article written by: Agent: Raymond Proietti