How to file a claim on property insurance

What do I do if something goes wrong with my house?

Home is a special place. It’s where we spend most of the time we’re not working and for some people it’s even where work happens. I know for me at least, when people invite me to places, I often politely decline because I prefer being at home, it’s where all my stuff is.

For many people, we take out insurance policies on our homes or our things so that if there were ever an unfortunate occurrence that might damage or destroy any of it, we will be able to at least have it physically replaced.

But what should you do if something goes wrong? Who do you call if a tree falls through your roof, you get robbed or your upstairs neighbour forgets they left their bath running for three weeks (that last one actually happened to someone I know and it was not pleasant at all).

Here’s the basic rundown of what to do if something goes wrong with your home.

The two categories of homes when it comes to insurance.

Homes are quite different from cars when it comes to insurance because we live in them, they have multiple functions and not every part of a home needs to work to be able to continue living there. For this reason the first thing you need to figure out is if your home is livable or unlivable.

Livable means that the inhabitants of the home can continue to stay there without danger. This is the kind of situation where turning off a water pipe or flicking a circuit breaker can tie you over till you have the time to sort things out.

An unlivable home is a home where it’s not possible to continue to dwell. A home that’s missing a roof, or has exposed electrical wires or is on fire.

If the home is livable, secure yourself and your family first and then do whatever you can to solve the problem. It's a good idea to call your insurance provider and check what is covered. The insurance company might have a preferred contractor they would like you to work with, or they might only cover the repairs up to a certain amount. Basically, when the home is livable, there is more time to figure out the best course of action so it’s best to involve the insurer and understand that there may be some time between the incident and the repair or replacement.

If the home is unlivable, you can basically call someone immediately and start taking care of the process yourself. The goal in this situation is to get the home livable ASAP. If you are unfortunately in this situation remember to get any tradespeople to include a ‘statement of fact’ on all quotes for work. A statement of fact is basically an explanation detailing exactly why they needed to do what is written in the quote. And document everything as much as possible (but more on that later).

Try to keep in mind, in this type of situation that you need to initiate contact with your insurance company as soon as possible whether the home is livable or not. You have 48 hours from the initial discovery to contact your insurance company to make a claim, or, failing that, you have 48 hours from the time that you are actually capable of contacting them.

As with all insurance matters, documentation is the most important thing.

Document everything. It’s not just about taking pictures and keeping receipts, it’s about making sure that it is obvious that the problem was real and needed to be fixed. A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the insurer’s shoes. Take a look at your documentation and think to yourself, ‘If I was my insurer, would I believe this?’

Think about perspective. For example, if your bathroom is flooded, take pictures of the flooding but make sure the pictures accurately portray the issue. 10 cm of water might not look that significant in an image taken from far away; but combined with close ups, video and even things like a simple ruler or finger to show the depth can make a huge difference when making a claim. Document the issue from different angles and if you’re lucky enough to have ‘before images’ this helps too.

Anything you have that will help to support your claim is helpful and most of us have pretty powerful cameras in our hands all the time.

The main point is that if you can prove it, and it’s covered in your policy, the insurer must pay. French insurance companies operate a little bit differently to other countries. In France an insurance company must have three times their annual turnover as collateral, so they have the money and as long as they have the evidence to support a claim, they will pay.

Lastly, in general, accidental damage that is done by you or any permanent member of the household, or direct relatives is usually not covered. So when Uncle Jean Pierre suggests it would be fun to set off fireworks in the backyard for Bastille Day, perhaps suggest he does it at his own house.