If your home, business, or belongings suffered damage or loss, you probably have a homeowner’s insurance policy or commercial property insurance policy that covers you. But you also probably don’t have much if any experience handling property claims, which can make the claim process feel overwhelmingly difficult. It doesn’t have to be that way. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to successfully navigate your property claim, so you can recover quickly and fully.
The Big Picture
One point we often emphasize is that when it comes to claims, details matter. But we also know that details can overwhelm (it’s why we developed our Claim Manager). So even though our goal in creating this guide is to simplify the property claims process, it’s still easy to get lost in the minutiae of your claim. If you find yourself feeling confused by your claim, remember that the process usually boils down to taking one of the three following actions:
- Stop the Bleeding. In the aftermath of a loss, you need to take reasonable measures to prevent further damage to your property. So if there’s a hole in your roof and you can’t get it repaired quickly, you at least need to see if someone can put a tarp on it.
- Make Your Claim. This part is relatively simple, but you need to notify your insurer about your loss and the potential that you’ll need to make a claim under your policy. The sooner you do this, the sooner your insurer is required to take action on your claim.
- Prove Your Loss. Most of what you do for a claim falls into this bucket. We often forget this, but the most important rule in insurance claims is that at the end of the day: your insurance claim is your responsibility, and yours alone. Your insurance company owes you a duty of good faith and fair dealing in processing your claim, but they don’t owe you any money until you’ve proven to them that you have losses covered by your policy.
- Get Paid and Fix Your Stuff. This is why you’re here. You probably need to make repairs and replace property, but you can’t do that until your insurer pays you. Getting your claim across the finish line sometimes means doing basic things like following up with your insurance company to keep forward momentum in your claim.
Step 1: Document Your Loss
As soon as any immediate danger has passed, you should start taking pictures and videos of the damage to your property. Your mindset here should be more, more, and more. You can’t have too many photos and videos, but you can have too few. Try to get perspective on your photos and videos, with some shots from far away so you can see most or all of the house, and other shots close up so you capture the details of the damage. Make sure you have adequate lighting. Review your photos and videos to ensure you can clearly make out what you were trying to capture.
For most claims, documenting your losses is the first step in your journey to recovery — before you begin cleanup, before you make emergency repairs, and even before you notify your insurer. In some circumstances, you may not be able to access your property to take photos, in which case you should start at Step 2, notifying your insurer.
Step 2: Promptly Notify Your Insurer
Either immediately after or at the same time that you document your losses, you need to notify your insurance company about the loss or damage to your property. Notifying your insurer of a covered loss promptly after it occurs is one of your core duties after loss, so any delay in reporting your loss must be reasonable and justifiable.
Depending on your insurer, you can provide notice of loss via a 1-800 number, email, or a claims portal (which typically requires you know or create a username and password). The notice can come in any form, but for all communications with your insurer, writing is preferred because it’s easier to document and prove if necessary. You can typically find your insurer’s contact information on your insurer’s website and on the declaration page of your insurance policy. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation also provides a very helpful list of contact information for all property insurance companies doing business in the state. Even if your property isn’t located in Florida, there’s a decent chance that you’ll find your insurance company on the list.
Pro Tip: Start a Communications Diary. Document all communications between you, the insurance company, and their representatives. For each conversation take note of the time, date, names of anyone on the call (including employee ID number, if applicable), and the substance of what was said during the call — especially what the insurance company representatives told you. Avoid the need to create a diary entry altogether by communicating in writing.Tobias Patch
Sometimes policyholders worry about notifying their insurer of a loss when the damage is minimal because they fear that the cost of their loss will be less than their deductible. Don’t. Giving notice of loss does not mean you have to follow through with your claim and seek payment for your insurer. Unless you’re confident that the amount of loss will be less than your deductible, it’s best to err on the side of caution and notify your insurer of your loss.
Step 3: Prevent Further Damage (if applicable)
Your insurance policy usually requires that you take reasonable measures that are necessary to prevent further damage to your property. Examples include tarping a leaking roof or removing wet materials from the home to prevent mold. In making emergency repairs, make sure you thoroughly document the affected area before, during, and after the repairs.
Pro Tip: If you have to pay someone to make emergency repairs, notify your insurer before beginning the repairs . Policies sometimes cover emergency repairs under separate coverage. But those policies will sometimes cap emergency repair coverage at a low amount (sometimes only $3,000) unless you meet a list of special requirements stated in your policy. One of those requirements is notifying your insurer before beginning emergency repairs. So if your emergency repairs will cost more than a couple thousand dollars, it’s best to notify your insurer before beginning work. Remember it is always best to closely follow any emergency repair requirements set forth in your policy.
Step 4: Request a Certified Copy of your Complete Policy
You need access to your complete insurance policy, including all endorsements and binders in effect at the time of loss. A complete policy should include the declarations page(s) and the original insurance application. You may receive just the declarations page(s) when requesting a full copy. You should persist until you receive ALL the forms listed on the declaration page(s).
Why is it important to have access to your complete policy in addition to your declaration page? Because the declaration page is just a summary of your policy, and it can’t help you with specific issues that might arise in your claim. When is your deadline to submit a sworn proof of loss? Does your policy cover damage to your fence? Does it exclude coverage for wind-driven rain? What about mold or mildew? If I do have coverage, how much do I get paid for what was lost or damaged — the replacement cost or actual cash value? The answer to those questions are in your complete policy, not your declaration page.
Step 5: Track Your Expenses
You need to keep track of any expenses you incur because of damage or loss to your insured property. Repairs are often the most significant expenses that your insurer will pay for, but don’t forget about money you may be owed under Coverage D (Loss of Use), which can cover additional living expenses, and Additional Coverages, which can cover debris removal and emergency repairs.
Keeping track of all those expenses and submitting them regularly for reimbursement can feel like a full-time job for some claims, especially if you’re seeking reimbursement for additional living expenses. If you’re looking for a better way to manage your claims expenses, try our free Claim Manager, which makes it easy to document and submit expenses so you can get paid fast.
Pro Tip: Even if your claim-related expenses aren’t covered by your insurance policy, you should still keep track of them because they may be tax deductible.
Step 6: Preserve Damaged Property
One of your duties as an insured is to preserve damaged property. So unless local law requires disposal or preserving the item would create a health hazard, preserve any damaged material related to your insurance claim. For example, if a pipe burst and had to be replaced, keep the broken pipe.
You should preserve the material until you’ve completely resolved your claim. Even if your insurance company adjuster has already inspected the material, you may still need it to support your position if your insurer denies your claim.
Step 7: Inventory Damaged Personal Property (if applicable)
If you’re making a claim for personal belongings, you not only need to preserve those belonging, you also need to create an inventory of them.
What is a personal belongings inventory for an insurance claim? It’s a document that shows each personal belonging that you are making a claim on:
- A description of the item, including manufacturer, model, SKU, or serial number if applicable,
- The original purchase price, if known, and any receipts proving purchase and purchase price,
- The age and condition of the item, and
- A website link or bid showing the item’s replacement value.
Step 8: Insurance Company Inspection (if applicable)
Your insurance company has a right to inspect property or belongings related to your insurance claim. As a result, your insurance company may schedule a time for one of its adjusters to inspect your property and any damaged belongings.
You should attend the insurance adjuster’s inspection. You need to be present during the adjuster’s inspection to identify losses and ensure the adjuster is thorough in their inspection. Remember, you bear the initial burden of proving your losses are covered by your insurance policy. Your insurance company’s adjuster has a duty to act in good faith when adjusting your claim, but the adjuster is not required to exhaustively inspect your home for potential damage. So if you fail to identify damage to your insurer’s adjuster and she doesn’t happen to notice it, you’re not getting paid for that damage. Don’t leave your claim to chance. Either present all the damages yourself or work with a professional to show the damaged property for you.
Step 9: Submit a Proof of Loss (if applicable)
A proof of loss (POL) is a signed document that contains all the evidence needed to support your claim. It provides details about the nature of the damage, estimates for needed repair work, and receipts for repairs that has already happened. Your insurance company may require you to submit a POL, and if the do, they should provide you with their approved POL form. Only sign POL forms you have completed yourself and are confident are correct!
Each policy has specific requirements for your proof of loss. This list of requirements is located in the Conditions section of the policy under “Duties After the Loss.” Make sure every item on that list is completed. Your insurance company could deny coverage if you fail to meet one of these requirements.
Step 10: Follow-up, Frequently
It is important to communicate with your insurance company regularly if you are waiting on a response from them. Keep track of your attempts to contact them and notes from any conversations. This is especially important during a catastrophe! Staying consistent (and persistent) will ensure your claim is not forgotten.
Step 11: Get Your Payments and Make Repairs
You should be preparing to repair your property damages and purchase new belongings as you receive payments for your claim. At first you may not be paid enough for your claim to make repairs. If that happens, go back and follow the check list or chat with us now if you are unsure how to proceed.