How to file a home insurance claim quickly and painlessly

Whether lightning struck a tree near your home and harmed an upper floor or a storm flooded your basement, you'll want to fix the damage as quickly as possible. But dealing with your insurance company often can add to your stress. Here are some tips for reducing insurance claim-induced headaches.

An ounce of prevention

Preparation before disaster strikes is vital. The Ohio Insurance Institute recommends that homeowners review their policies in detail so they know in advance what's covered and what's not.

Once you know what's not covered, you can purchase endorsements to cover exclusions. For instance, many homeowner's insurance policies don't cover sewer backups, but you can buy an endorsement to protect your basement.

Examine your property for deterioration, mold, leaks and other signs of disrepair. Failure to repair your property can leave you vulnerable to slip-and-fall lawsuits, among other problems.

Compile a "home inventory" of all of your property and personal belongings. A comprehensive inventory can be a blessing in the aftermath of a disaster or theft.

  • Use a digital camera or video camera to show what's in each room, including closets, garages and even drawers. Narrate your video or add captions to the photo slideshow. In particular, detail big-ticket items, like TVs, jewelry, artwork and even the video camera itself.
  • The more detail, the better. Include pricing information, serial numbers, brand names and dates of purchase.
  • The Information Insurance Institute offers free software to help consumers catalog possessions. Your insurance company also may provide a home inventory form.
  • Store your inventory record in a safe deposit box or another place away from home.

After disaster strikes

First, determine whether filing a claim is actually a good idea. If the amount of damage roughly equals the amount of your deductible, the Ohio Insurance Institute suggests that homeowners consider not filing a claim.

If you make a claim, your agent will ask you to fill out forms detailing your losses along with their estimated value. You may not get reimbursed entirely for some items because they may have depreciated since you bought them.

A claims adjuster will measure the damage and act as a go-between for you and the insurance company. The adjuster may record your conversations, ask to interview you and even visit your property, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute. The more meticulously you've cataloged your processions, the easier it will be to work with an adjuster.

If you have flood insurance, the National Flood Insurance Program recommends that claimants photograph or videotape) the premises, detailing the extent of the water damage.

The Insurance Information Institute suggests following these steps for filing a home insurance claim:

1. Connect with your insurer as quickly as possible. If you had to evacuate, provide contact information and the location of where you're staying.

2. Compile a list of everything you've lost, using photographic documentation. This is where your home inventory comes in handy.

3. Keep receipts. You may be able to collect up to 20 percent of the insurance you have on your home to pay for additional living expenses -- like lodging or meals.

4. It's OK -- and even advisable -- to do temporary repairs on your home to prevent more damage. But don't make permanent repairs until the adjuster has looked at the damage. For instance, if a tree smashed through a window, put a tarp over the broken window to prevent rain and wind from further damaging your home.

5. Stay calm and organized. In the wake of a disaster, you and your family likely will feel overwhelmed and confused. Err on the side of being too organized about your recordkeeping. List things like out-of-pocket expenses, the names of everyone you speak to during the claims process and the names of any contractors and repair people.

6. Be wary of fraud. Disaster victims often fall prey to scam artists. Get complete written estimates for any repair job, and look at references. If you have doubts, contact the Better Business Bureau or your insurance company for references.

See how much you could save today on your home insurance. Get your free home insurance quotes today!