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What to do before filing that homeowner’s claim

There are many reasons to file a homeowner insurance claim, including burglary, an injury to someone on your property, damage from a fire or storm, damage to your property from a motor vehicle and water damage considered “sudden and accidental.”

Like so many things, preparation is key to fling a claim. Proper preparation starts with photographing your home and property prior to an insurable event. You will be able to provide these photographs as “before” pictures when placing a claim.

Knowing what your home insurance covers prior to an insurable event is another important element of proper preparation. In most states, earthquakes, sinkholes and other earth movement are not covered by a standard policy. You will have to purchase it as an endorsement for an additional fee in all states except California. Damage from flooding is also not covered by a standard policy and must be purchased as a separate policy only available through the government-run National Flood Insurance Program.

Additional types of water damage are also excluded from standard policies. These include overflows or backups from a sump pump, sewer system or drain. Coverage can be obtained by adding a separate endorsement.

In case of theft, begin the process of filing a claim by filing a police report if this is required by your policy. Photographs of the stolen items will be useful. Begin a habit of documenting your claim during this first step. Record the date you file the report, as well as the names of the officers. Submit the police report to your insurance company when filing your claim.

In a case of theft, notify your insurance company at the earliest possible time after the incident occurs. Submit the police report, as well as photos of the stolen items if available. If it is possible, include purchase records.

At this point, the claims department will assign a claims number and an insurance adjuster to your case. The adjuster will assess the damage and help determine how much will be paid out to replace the stolen items.

For all other claims, the safety of yourself and everyone living with you should be your first priority. Once everyone’s safety has been assured, contact your insurance company at the earliest practical time. Here, too, the claims department will assign a Claim number and an insurance adjuster to your case.

Document the time of your call and the name of the person with whom you spoke.

Photograph any damages when it is safe to enter your home or property. Record everything, including the date, time and details of the incident. By providing photographs and details to your insurance company, you can help the claims process.

If damage to your home and/or property are significant enough for you to seek alternate living space, retain all receipts related to lodging, travel and food expenses. Otherwise, you may not be reimbursed for these expenses.

Do not wait for an insurance payout before making needed repairs. If you have a leaky roof or other water damage, for example, make temporary repairs if doing nothing could cause further damage to your home or property. Take corrective action if a wall is threatening to fall down causing additional damage, or a tree is leaning over your property. Of course, retain all repair and materials receipts. 

Not all incidents should be reported. If the cost of repairs or replacement does not meet your deductible, it is advisable to pay for them out of pocket. All insurance companies have access to CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange). This database contains information about your claim history. A history of even multiple minor claims over a short period of time can result in a higher premium. What’s more, it will be difficult to obtain a new policy if you face cancellation or wish to shop around for a lower rate.

Contact your trusted broker for additional guidance regarding homeowner insurance claims, or following an event. He or she will provide valuable guidance and support during what can be a stressful time.

Tom Kueny is a Partner in the Warrington, PA office of KMRD Partners, Inc., a risk and human capital management consulting and insurance brokerage firm. He can be reached at tkueny@kmrdpartners.com.

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