August 28, 2017 / TAMPA, Fla. /
Hurricane Harvey is an unprecedented storm that will cause widespread wind, water and flood damage along the Eastern Texas from Corpus Christi to Houston and inland to San Antonio. This will also trigger thousands of insurance claims from residential and commercial policyholders who may have never before filed a claim. The public adjusters at Tutwiler & Associates urge policyholders to take the proper steps to protect themselves and their claim to avoid some common mistakes that may create insurance claim settlement problems.
1. Do not go back into your home or mitigate damage until you know it’s safe to do so. If returning to your home after a power outage, do not turn on the power right away, especially if your home has been flooded. Have an electrician check the dwelling first to ensure that it is safe.
2. Don’t make permanent or emergency repairs until you have documented the damage. After documenting the damage, mitigate your loss to prevent any further damage from occurring. Your insurance policy requires this. And don’t throw away any damaged materials until the insurance adjuster has inspected your property. You do not want to prejudice the investigation of your insurance claim. While you are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent further damage from occurring, we often see policyholders rush to “repair” the property only to bring the actual damages into question. In some cases you are harming your claim by simply eliminating the evidence. So take pictures!
3. DO NOT sign over your claim to a contractor or restoration company. These are sometimes called Assignment of Benefit (AOB) clauses. Carefully review the restoration contractor’s Work Authorization Form and do not authorize any repair work until you get approval from your insurance carrier or adjuster. If no approval is agreed upon, your insurer may refuse to pay and you may find yourself saddled with a VERY BIG BILL. You can have a restoration company clean-up the immediate mess after an agreement, but you are not required to have them also do the repair work. This is very important as you want to make sure you are in control of your insurance proceeds so they are not going directly to you contractor. If you do sign a contract with a contractor, it should be for Emergency Services ONLY and your insurance carrier should approve and agree to pay for them IN WRITING. Otherwise, you could be signing your claim directly to the contractor and you will never see a dime of your claim settlement.
4. Don’t feel forced to use the contractors your insurance company recommends. They are referred by the insurance company for a reason, which is to keep the costs at a minimum. When insurers hire contractors based on cost only, you may not get the quality restoration work you require. If they get continual work from the insurer, their priority will be to keep them (not you) happy. Get independent estimates for the repair work to understand the true cost. It’s your property and you should control who does the work and the quality of the work.
5. Don’t forget that ALL damage repair estimates should include an additional 10% for Overhead and 10% for contractor profit. That extra 20% should be added as a standard on all estimates. Check for the “10 & 10” on the totals page of your estimate.
6. Don’t believe it when a contractor says they can handle your entire claim. By law in many states, contractors are not allowed to negotiate a claim, only present an estimate to the insurance company. They are also not licensed or trained to interpret insurance policies and adjust a claim. If they do have a public adjuster on staff they are not allowed to both adjust and repair the claim as this is considered a conflict of interest.
7. Don’t allow the insurance adjuster to unfairly depreciate the amount of your claim. Remember, these amounts are negotiable. For example: If it costs $5K to replace your sofa and it is five years old, don’t let your insurance company pay you $2,500 (50% depreciation) if your belongings are in good condition. The most they should take is 15% and reimburse you $4,250.
8. Don’t allow restoration companies to cart out your belongings without a detailed itemized list of belongings. Take pictures of the process. Expect to be charged storage fees and remember that some items can be restored while others that could harbor mold need to be replaced and should not be cleaned. That is where the restoration companies make their money so your claim needs to reflect that. Storage and cleaning costs reduce your policy limit and coverage amounts. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to go out and buy new items rather than cleaning damaged clothes and personal property which may not ever be fully restored to their pre-loss condition?
9. Don’t be afraid to ask your insurance company for an advanced payment for any undisputed amounts until an agreement can be reached on the rest of your claim. This will help you get repairs started and avoid heavy out-of-pocket expenses. Take extensive photographs of all the damage, and keep all your receipts and documents, as well as records of conversations with the insurance company.
10. Don’t wait too long to file your claim or respond to insurer inquiries. If you have a flood loss or your insurance company sends you a Proof of Loss Form YOU have 60 days to submit your entire claim. If not, and you do not get an extension, your claim could be void.
“Be proactive but patient and remember that this is a process and things may not happen as fast as you’d like,” comments Charles R. “Dick” Tutwiler who is President of the firm. “Hire the right professionals to help document your loss and damages. If you feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the process or feel your insurance company is not offering a fair settlement, consider hiring a public insurance adjuster to help with your claim,” he says. Public adjusters are licensed by the state and compensated a small percentage of your recovery (typically no more than 10%) to cover their time managing your claim. Often times they are able to recover their fees by identifying legitimate claim amounts the insurance company failed to offer and negotiating an increase in the settlement amount. Studies have shown that policyholders who use a public adjuster receive increased settlements above the insurance company’s original offer.
As a veteran of the Public Adjusting Property Insurance industry, Mr. Tutwiler is a frequent speaker and trainer at industry conferences. More of Mr. Tutwiler’s insurance tips and commentary can be read on his blog, On Property. Mr. Tutwiler can be reached at email@example.com.
Tutwiler and Associates
Phone: (800) 321-4488
For more information, please visit www.PublicAdjuster.com
About Tutwiler and Associates: Tutwiler and Associates is a firm of public adjusters licensed in 10 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands specializing in commercial and residential property loss adjusting. With well in excess of $113 million in client success stories over a 27-year history, the Florida public adjusters work exclusively on behalf of policyholders to help them achieve the maximum settlement amounts they can fairly and honestly recover based on their loss and their policy provisions. Professional help from the adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates can help clients obtain a fair recovery under their policy. The Gulf Coast based public adjuster firm is committed to public service and strives to educate its clients about commercial and residential windstorm and hurricane losses, flood damage, fire, smoke and water damage, collapse, hidden decay and mold losses, sinkholes, loss of stock, and business interruption.