Why Isn't Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim as Easy as Auto Insurance?

Home insurance may be slower to develop new tech tools, but the reason may be more important to your claim than you think.

U.S. News & World Report

Why Isn't Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim as Easy as Auto Insurance?

(Getty Images)

Once you purchase a homeowners insurance policy, it’s likely to be immediately filed away in the back of your mind. After all, no one wants to dwell on the possibility of a storm, accident or other disaster leading to them filing a claim.

But many homeowners go decades without having to file a homeowners insurance claim. Between 2011 and 2015, 6.8 percent of insured homes had a claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute. When a claim is so statistically rare, homeowners can be unfamiliar with what to do to begin one and what resources are available to them.

Auto insurance has marketing campaigns across nearly every medium imaginable, helping consumers learn about shopping around for a policy, using apps to photograph damage and submitting receipts for reimbursement as part of the claim. While insurers in the home industry provide many similar products and services to their customers, most homeowners appear less aware of them and how to leverage them in the event of filing a claim.

“Homeowners insurance, relative to auto insurance, hasn’t been as available online. And there’s some good reasons for that: Homeowners insurance is a little more complicated, and every home is unique. There’s no VIN number for homes like there is for cars,” says Dan Witalec, customer acquisition leader at insurance company Progressive.

Much of the homeowners insurance industry has been able to make strides toward more automation, transparency and increasing consumer understanding through technology, but the industry also appears to be working carefully to strike a balance between that automation and personal connection in working to make homeowners whole again.

Here’s how you can benefit from digital transformations in the homeowners insurance policy process.

Homeowners Insurance Is Getting There

Many insurance companies with home policies offer mobile apps for customers to use to easily begin filing a claim, communicate with an adjuster, take photos and provide documentation throughout the claim process.

Of course, making an old-fashioned phone call to your insurance company is always welcome and may be more comforting in a crisis. But in major events, Kathy Phillips, senior underwriter for insurer USAA, which offers an app, says getting the process started digitally might help you get moving faster.

“In the time of a catastrophe, sometimes going online, you can get through as opposed to being on hold, just because there’s such an influx of calls,” she says.

When it comes to inspecting property damage, Liberty Mutual is one of multiple companies using drones to assess roofs or exterior walls that may be hard to reach or in too dangerous condition for a person to get close.

Even before you’ve selected an insurer, you can benefit from comparison tools that help you to weigh price and coverage options. Progressive’s HomeQuote Explorer tool, which speeds up the process of getting an insurance quote, launched nationwide (excluding Alaska, Florida and Hawaii) last month.

The value of technological advancement in homeowners insurance isn’t entirely reliant on insurance companies, however. When it comes to documenting your belongings to prepare for unforeseen circumstances, Phillips recommends you “go through and video record it, and maybe store that in the cloud, because in the event of a total loss, it’s really difficult to remember everything you had.”

In place of a list, a video you can access from anywhere allows you to have a complete image of everything in each room, closet and cabinet and makes it easier for the daunting – but necessary – task of pricing and aging each item during the claim process.

Human Touch Still Proves Valuable

While automation may often be an improvement, the human element of an adjuster visiting a damaged home can be a big factor in a claim’s success.

“Technology is great and a useful tool for both the insurance company and the public adjuster, but … right now, it cannot replace the human aspect of it,” says Jill Moore of Claimside, an Austin, Texas-based company that connects consumers with public insurance adjusters.

A public adjuster is unaffiliated with a private insurance company and serves as an advocate for the policyholder throughout the claim process. While they, too, have embraced new technologies such as apps and drones to make their work easier, public adjusters also step in when technology may not be as effective.

Moore recalls a recent example where an insurance company inspected damage to a policyholder’s roof with a drone and based on the footage denied the claim, stating there was no damage. The public adjuster, working with the homeowner, requested an adjuster with the insurance company to inspect the property in person because there appeared to be more damage than the drone captured.

“The insurance company considered that a second inspection. We [at Claimside] don’t consider the drone an inspection at all,” Moore says. “You’ve got to have an adjuster come take a look at it for it to be considered an inspection.”

Consider the advice below to improve your experience with your homeowners insurance provider.

Shop around. Whether it’s a real estate agent, handyman, lender or insurer, you should always be shopping around to find not only the price that best agrees with you but also the policy that will best meet your needs, whether you’re using a comparison tool like Progressive’s or making individual inquiries with companies.

“You want to go with a trusted brand and somebody you know that’s going to be there when you need it,” Witalec says.

Work with a public adjuster. When your home has sustained damage, there’s no doubt you’re stressed. If you contact a public adjuster as quickly as you contact your insurance company, it could help to relieve some of the burden, such as accounting for lost belongings or finding additional damage.

“Their job is to protect the interests of the consumer and make sure they are getting paid for the coverage that they have purchased from the insurance company,” Moore says.

Know what you own. An insurance company can only restore your belongings when you actually know what you’ve lost. “That’s easy when you’re talking about a sofa and a television and a rug,” Moore says. “That’s not so easy when you start opening cabinets and closets and drawers and you’ve been there for 10 years.”

Keep a list, video or photos of all your belongings that can be accessed in the event of a disaster. Some insurers’ apps include a feature for you to store photos of all your belongings, so in the event of damage the company already has everything on file.

Don’t delay. Whether it’s a fire, break-in, flood or a tree that fell on your roof, you should always contact your insurance company as soon as possible to get things started. “We recommend they call as soon as they can – as soon as they’re safe,” Phillips says.

7 Things First-Time Homebuyers Wish They'd Known

Wealth of Knowledge Podcast

Wealth of Knowledge is a weekly podcast featuring tips and expert insight on all things money: personal finance, careers, investing, real estate and more.

Wealth of Knowledge logo