Credit: Kyle T. Webster
“Most people don’t go through this [kind of thing] in their lives, and when they do it’s extremely challenging for them. Keeping calm and being an advocate has led to our success.” —BRYAN HENSON
Hurricanes, fires, flooding — every day brings reports of catastrophe. Even if you don’t run a disaster restoration company, you’ve likely heard from clients or their referrals when trouble strikes. While this brings in additional work, for many general contractors it also sends up red flags about working with adjusters.
But the relationship with an insurance company need not be contentious, says Bryan Henson, general manager at Allen Associates, in Santa Barbara, Calif., a remodeling company that also works on wildfire-damaged homes.
Success lies in helping the adjuster do his job and advocating for your client. Henson and John Albritton, an independent claims adjuster who works for insurance companies such as All State, Met Life, and Farmers, offer these tips.
Justify pricing: Don’t just hand the adjuster lump-sum pricing. Offer a detailed scope of work with line items. If possible, use Exactimate, the estimating software most adjusters use.
Build a good case: Document everything with notes and photos. Occasionally an adjuster leaves midproject and you start over with another adjuster. Your notes will keep the process moving. Also, adjusters only do a visual inspection. If there’s water behind the drywall, the adjuster won’t necessarily know that, and he isn’t allowed to do “destructive testing” to find out.
Know your labor costs: Use subs and suppliers who give realistic numbers. This way you can show the insurance company that yes, in your area a plumber, for example, does cost “x” amount.
Know your materials: There are at least five types of drywall in your adjuster’s software. Since he can only do a visual inspection, the more specific you can be, the better for your client.
Be patient: Sometimes the adjuster will cut a check in the homeowner’s driveway, but it’s usually a longer process. He will do due diligence, which might include sending a carpet or wall sample to a lab or sending roofing specs to a satellite imaging company.
Bone up on policies: Adjusters can only replace like for like, so the insurer won’t pay for granite, for example, if the client had Formica. Also, insurance policies pay on coverages; e.g., the house may be covered but not the fence or detached garage, or the house may be covered for replacement costs, with other items covered for cash value.
Actions Speak Loudest
Though Allen Associates is a full-service remodeler, Henson says it always has one or two insurance jobs going. The company doesn’t seek out the work, but after a series of wildfires a few years ago, staff volunteered to help homeowners, which built trust. In addition, the fire-safe homes the company had built survived the fires and owner Dennis Allen gave seminars on next steps after a disaster. “We acted only as a resource” and didn’t actively promote the company, Henson says, and the firm’s reputation grew.
—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.