How to Make the Most of Your Home Insurance Claim

by Emily Guy Birken · 3 comments

House on ocean

After you’ve lived through a storm, accident, or natural disaster that damages your home, the stress and emotion are hardly over for you: you still have to file a claim with your homeowners insurance.

This is the point where many policyholders will reluctantly take a lower payment than they deserve, just because it’s easier to cut their losses and move on than it is to fight with insurance after all of their other stresses.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are several things you can do before and after the fact to ensure you get your full payout — without feeling like you’ve been through the wringer twice.

Here’s what you need to know before you’re staring at your flooded living room in dismay:

1. Be prepared.

One of the biggest reasons why people are disappointed by their homeowners insurance payout is that they’re not clear on what exactly is covered. We tend not to think about insurance until we need it, but every homeowner should take some time each year to review your policy and make certain that it still provides adequate coverage.

It’s also important to have an itemization of your property. This is much easier in the modern world when you can take photos and videos of your stuff rather than listing it. There are even apps to make it easier. According to Kiplinger,

“Insurers used to recommend making long lists of every item in your house and storing the records in a safe-deposit box. Now you can take a video of everything—including your possessions and architectural details—with your smart phone and e-mail it to yourself.”

2. Record, record, record.

In addition to having a photographic or video record of your possessions, it’s also a good idea to take pictures of your home before a disaster strikes. If you know that you’re in the path of a hurricane that’s set to touch down soon, you should take the time to record what your home looks like beforehand. Then, you’ll have a comparison if your home is damaged by the storm.

This obviously won’t work for other types of damage that don’t announce themselves ahead of time. However, it’s always a good idea to get photographs or video of the damage soon afterwards. If you can give your claims adjuster photographic proof of the source of a leak, for example, there will be fewer questions about the cause, and your claim will go more smoothly.

3. Don’t wait to start temporary repairs.

One of the tough aspects of filing a claim is feeling like you need to wait for your insurance check before you can start fixing things. Unfortunately, waiting to fix things may lead to parts of your claim being denied. If a broken window or leaking roof causes more damage, it’ll be difficult for your adjuster to know what damage came from the initial loss and what happened because the window wasn’t fixed yet.

When you do make these temporary repairs, make sure that you save all your receipts and documentation, as you’ll often be reimbursed.

4. Be persistent.

Just because your claim is initially denied doesn’t mean that you’re done. Continue to ask for what your policy covers. If you’re still having trouble getting anywhere, contact your state insurance department. There’s one in all 50 states, and each offers a free service to help policyholders through the claims process.

The Bottom Line

Navigating the claims process will never be anyone’s idea of fun, particularly after living through a disaster. However, with planning, organization, and persistence, filing a claim doesn’t have to be a disaster of its own.

Have you ever tried to make homeowners insurance claim? Any tips?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dona Collins March 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I used to work in insurance. The best things you can do are document everything; read your policy; and take a video inventory of the inside AND outside of your home. Every little detail counts after a catastrophe. You have to protect yourself!

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Robert March 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

My parents’ home burned to the ground several years back. There were many lessons learned, but one of the most important was the lack of a home inventory. I made an excel spreadsheet inventory of our home. I was shocked at the number of things we do not use on a daily basis that are sitting around. For example, the silver serving platters we received as wedding presents and the jewelry we have collected over the years. Add that to the thousands of dollars worth of tools in the garage, appliances, TV sets, bedroom sets, etc. and it adds up pretty quickly. I did one room a week so it was not such a chore. A video backup is nice, but having prices and model numbers are key I believe.

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@pfinMario March 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

I did once. When I did it, they were looking at a lot in the area so mine was a pretty standard problem and they seemed more concerned with knocking mine out quickly than trying to squeeze me into a smaller payout.

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