Fact: Not all homeowners insurance policies are created equal. When it comes time to file a claim, many homeowners find that their policy covers only certain types of damage.
"As a homeowner, you should thoroughly read your policy before you need it. Review your declarations page in order to fully understand what your policy covers and what your deductible will be for various types of losses," says Raymond Plante, vice president of account services at Rainbow International Restoration.
"This way, you aren't hit with any unexpected surprises when you have to report a claim," says Plante.
When an unfortunate event happens (like a windstorm or a burglary), you'll likely file a claim with your insurance company. But your life will be even more stressful if you make a mistake filing the claim or aren't familiar with what your policy covers.
To avoid any unexpected pitfalls, experts recommend that—in addition to knowing the ins and outs of your policy—you take certain steps to protect your property. Here are some insurance claims do's and don'ts for homeowners.
Do: Document everything
There’s no such thing as overdocumenting when it comes to claims. Your smartphone can be a handy tool to document each and every detail.
“Take plenty of pictures and videos detailing the story of your claim, including various angles and distances capturing the origin of the loss and the resulting damage to your dwelling and its contents,” says Plante.
It’s also a good idea to get organized and create a separate folder to keep all your documented items together.
“Equally important, document all related expenses, save all receipts related to temporary repairs, alternative living expenses, contractors, plumbers, electricians, etc.,” says Plante.
Don't: Delay filing your insurance claim
When an incident causing damage happens, homeowners should report it immediately.
Most insurance policies don't put a time limit on how long you have to file a claim. They simply require "timely reporting of property damage," says Plante.
A good rule of thumb is to file within one year of the incident.
"Some policies state the homeowner may be held responsible for subsequent damages due to delayed reporting or failure to make reasonable temporary repairs to prevent further damage,” Plante says.
Do: Use professionals to help you navigate the claims process
When damage happens, there’s so much to do and take care of. But don’t go at it alone. Claims representatives can help walk you through the process.
“For example, the insurance adjuster, mitigation contractor, insurance experts, and building inspectors should all be able to get in contact with homeowners,” says Plante. These professionals can help you deal with the fine details.
The claims process can be arduous, so you should prepare a list of questions to ask claims professionals. For example: “Does my home insurance cover temporary living expenses?” Or, “When will an adjuster come to my house?”
Don't: Allow a generalist to do the job
When it comes time for repairs, the last thing you need is shoddy work from a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, especially since your home may have more damage than you are even aware of.
“After a hailstorm, if you have damage to your window glass, you’ll also likely have damage to your roof,” says Larry Patterson, owner of Glass Doctor of North Texas. “Your insurance company may tell you they have one person who can fix both types of damage, but be wary of this.”
A jack-of-all-trades may know how to fix a window, but he likely won’t have the expertise of a roofing expert. Therefore, find experts that know what they're doing, and will be covered by your insurance company. This might mean going back and forth with your policy holder to find qualified professionals, but it'll be worth it in the long run.
Do: Ensure you receive a warranty
Getting your home repaired after unforeseen disaster can put your family at ease and get your life back on track. But you’ll want to make sure that a repair job on your home comes with a warranty.
For example, if your home has a lot of window glass damage, make sure you receive a warranty for your glass repair services.
“A strong warranty against seal failure, for example, will ensure you don’t have to pay to have the work completed again in a few years when your insurance company isn’t paying for it,” says Patterson.
Don't: Pay a contractor in full before the work is completed
Your insurance company will be paying for some, or all, of the repairs. Yes, the money won't be coming out of your pocket, but that doesn't mean the insurance company should pay for a job half-done. Be careful not to pay in full or sign on the dotted line before work is actually done to your home. Make sure there is a plan for the work being done, and get all the details in writing.
“Work with the repair contractor to set expectations, including time frame, materials selection, inspections, payments, etc.,” says Plante. “This can prevent future headaches and ensure homeowners and contractors are on the same page.”