Property owners buy insurance to protect their homes and belongings from many catastrophes including fire, storm damage, theft and vandalism. Although homeowners insurance is not a requirement in many states, most banks and mortgage lenders insist you carry insurance. Lenders typically want homeowners to carry enough insurance to cover the amount of the mortgage.
The first thing to do when a disaster strikes is to call your carrier straight away. Most policies stipulate that you have to file a claim in a timely manner, typically within two weeks. If someone robs your house or if a person is injured on your property, call immediately [source: Filisko]. When you do, customer service will ask you a series of questions about your claim and the damage to your property. Make sure you to tell them if the house is unlivable [source: Sherman].
Once you file a claim, document the damage or loss. This means taking photographs of anything that has been broken, smashed, or otherwise destroyed, including antiques, appliances, furniture -- you get the idea. If you have an inventory of your valuables -- and you should -- check the damage against the list. The insurance company will assign an adjustor to your claim. Some claims can be handled by an in-house adjustor. Others will require on-site inspection.
You don't have to wait for an adjustor to come to your property before you call a contractor to repair damages. Get at least two or three estimates on repair costs. Sometimes the adjustor will give you a check right on the spot if he or she agrees with the estimates. If you need to make temporary repairs to your house after it's been damaged, go ahead. Save the receipts and submit them to the insurance carrier for reimbursement [source: Sherman].
If the damage is so bad that you have to move into a hotel, keep track of your living expenses. A standard home insurance policy will pay to relocate you. So called "loss of use" coverage reimburses you for hotels, meals and any other living expenses. Most insurance companies pay up to 20 percent of the coverage price for loss of use expenses [source: Home Insurance].