Insurance and Finance

How to File a Property Insurance Claim

By Jennifer Chappell Smith 1.1.13

Whether damage to your home happens because of a hurricane or hail storm, theft, or fire, you’re going to have to file a property damage claim. Do you even know where to begin or if your renters policy or homeowners policy really covers it?

Handling a property damage claim is easier if you’ve prepared in advance for the unthinkable. “Policies are there to protect you from the big things,” says Stephen Fehler, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Regional Underwriting Manager.

Fehler advocates for knowing what coverage you need, maintenance that can prevent bigger claims and liability, and close collaboration with agents. Here’s a quick run-down of how to prepare for dark skies while it’s still sunny – and what to do when the rain pours.

Before you file a homeowners claim

A lot of times, the key to a smooth claims process is the prep work beforehand.

  • Do a home inventory. With video cameras and ubiquitous smartphones, it’s easier than ever to document your belongings. Just video each room to preserve memories of the little things you may forget to report. “A video can serve as a visual prompt and reminder, and will serve as proof of what you have,” Fehler says. You can keep a written record, receipts, and photos, as well. The little things add up.
  • Insure for replacement cost. There’s a difference between insuring your possessions for actual cost value, the value of an object minus its depreciation, and replacement cost — what items are worth to replace. The higher premium may be worth it to you.
  • Consider special coverage for furs, jewelry, or artwork. Homeowners policies typically have limits for your diamonds and other favorite things. Talk to your agent about your prized possession to determine if a personal articles floater policy is right for you. “That Remington bronze statue you have may not be covered otherwise,” Fehler says.
  • Protect your liability by keeping the home in good repair. It’s about spending $100 now to repair a stairway to save thousands later in deductible cost or personal injuries damages.
  • Keep important papers organized. To prevent panic over where your home inventory is located or what your insurance agent’s number is, get organized. Keep your agent’s number and insurance company’s info in your smartphone, and consider cloud services or a safe deposit box for storing important documents, such as your home inventory.

When you file an insurance claim

  • No. 1. Prevent further damage. After a storm, fire, or other catastrophe, Fehler says the most important thing beyond personal safety is preventing further damage to your property. “It’s only in your best interest to prevent additional damages, as far as how long you’re going to be displaced during repairs,” he says. The Insurance Information Institute (III) recommends saving receipts for any repair work you do for possible reimbursement from your insurance company.
  • No. 2. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Keep them in the loop from the beginning and call the claims number right away.
  •  No. 3. Record the damage. The more documentation you have of before and after, the better. “Document as much damage as you can as quickly as you can,” Fehler says. “Snap pictures, if it’s safe to do so.”
  • No. 4. Communicate. Let your agent know your plans if you have to relocate during repairs.