by Keith Kravitz
THE MORE YOU KNOW
A small amount of knowledge can save you a large amount of money.
If your property has been destroyed or has suffered extensive damage, you may need to file an insurance claim to recoup your losses and get your life back on track. However, the claims process is often exhausting. It will require you to describe and value the extent of the damage to prepare and submit paperwork, understand insurance lingo, do calculations, analyze reports, handle negotiations, and communicate with inspectors, adjusters, and contractors. It may be difficult for you to take on the claims process independently. Your insurance company will probably try to settle your claim for less than it’s worth if you do. We can help you.
Public adjusters are a great line of defense against the rigors of the claims process. A report published by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability revealed that policyholders who use public adjusters tend to receive 747% more on their insurance settlement than those who choose to do it on their own.
Beyond helping you negotiate a better settlement, public adjusters can also help you manage other aspects of your claim by referring you to the right appraisers, plumbers, restoration/construction companies, and lawyers who can help you restore your property and settle any legal matters that might arise throughout the claim settlement and property restoration process.
Before you hire a claims expert to handle your case, you need to make sure they’re capable of accomplishing the task efficiently. The last thing you need while dealing with an emotionally overwhelming situation is additional stress and frustration.
You need to carefully screen any public adjuster you plan to hire before bringing them on to work for you. There are important questions you need to ask when hiring a public adjuster to ensure you’re the company that is best qualified to assist with your claim.
You’re going to be working closely with the public adjuster you hire for many weeks or months so it’s important that you choose someone you’re comfortable dealing with and can trust to handle every angle of your claim properly.
Questions you should ask before hiring a public adjuster to help you with your home or property damage insurance claim:
- Will you review my insurance policy and help me understand it?
- Are you licensed to practice public adjusting in my state?
- How long do you estimate the process will take?
- How long have you been a licensed public adjuster?
- Will you have a dedicated adjuster assigned to my case?
- What kind of claims do you have experience with?
- Can you provide me with references?
- How much money should I reasonably expect as a settlement?
- How much will you charge for your services?
- How heavy is your current workload?
- What is your error and omissions policy?
Will you review my insurance policy and help me understand it?
Sometimes, insurance policies require a bit of industry experience to understand what rights the policyholders have under their agreement fully. Any reputable public adjuster should be able to review your policy and explain every little detail to you so know what you know what leg you have to stand on while pursuing a settlement. It’s possible that you may have misunderstood the extent of your coverage, made an error when filling out the paperwork for your claim, or you’re missing something that could benefit you. Whatever it is, you should have the public adjuster discuss the fine details with you and advise you on the best options. If they can’t articulate your problem, explain the issues you’re facing and any challenges you can expect while processing your insurance claim. Then they certainly cannot be counted on to take on your case and handle it in a manner that will maximize your insurance payout.
Are you licensed to practice public adjusting in my State?
Before making a hiring decision, you need to make sure you’re dealing with a public adjuster who has the license to practice in your State. You can look up any Public Adjuster at the Florida Department of Financial Services to see if they have a valid license. If they are from out of state, you can look them up at the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. This organization sets the standards and codes of conduct for practicing claims professionals. A reputable public adjuster with nothing to hide should have no problem showing you their Public Adjusters 6-20 License if you request to see it. When a hurricane occurs, adjusters often have no credentials and qualifications that attempt to get business from the catastrophe but work under another agent’s or adjustment firm’s license. You want an adjuster with legal standing and a good reputation within their professional community to represent you to avoid running the risk of your claim being compromised due to incompetence.
How long do you estimate the process will take?
Insurance companies tend to pull different stunts to delay settlement to frustrate the policyholder into accepting an offer below their claim so that they can be done with the process. If you’re experiencing this problem with your insurer or want an idea of how much time it’d take before you can hope to see a final settlement, asking the public adjuster about it beforehand can help put things in perspective. It would also help you understand how confident the adjuster is in their abilities. An experienced insurance adjuster has tricks that they can use to speed up the process or get your insurance carrier to be more responsive. You can also ask the adjuster what their process is in working up and settling each claim. If they explain to you clearly the steps to adjusting the claim, they probably know how to get things done the right way and on time, and you might stand to gain a lot from using their services.
How much experience does your public adjuster have with your type of claim?
The goal is to hire a claim professional who knows what they’re doing. You need to find out how many claims they have handled like yours as a licensed public adjuster. Specifically, you want to make sure they understand the type of damage claim you are asking them to work on. What matters is that the adjusters themselves have enough experience dealing with property damage claims similar to the claim on your home. Every adjuster and adjusting firm has to start from somewhere and needs to be given chances to prove themselves. However, if they don’t have experience adjusting a water damage claim, and that is precisely the type of claim you have, you probably should not hire that adjuster. They’ll probably have fewer resources and strings to pull when evaluating your damages and negotiating a settlement. They might also not be as familiar with the job’s practical and technical aspects, which could impact your claim. You cannot neglect the importance of a claim professional’s expertise. The more experience a public adjuster has, the more capable they can expedite the process and find ways to maximize your settlement. Some public adjusters have specific claims they specialize in, even though they might dabble in other areas once in a while. You want an adjuster who has dealt with a case similar to yours in the past. You can consult the company’s website to discover this information or ask a representative directly. Their answer can dissuade or assure you of their ability to tackle the facts and challenges of your case. If they have handled claims like yours in the past, they’ll be able to offer tailored suggestions and strategies to deal with your problem. They will also be able to identify complications before they arise and map out solutions to avoid or address them.
Will I have a dedicated adjuster assigned to my case?
Before you decide whether a public adjuster is a good fit for you, you should find out if you’re going to be dealing with just one person or a team of professionals who can all contribute to the success of your claim. There’s only so much that one person can handle competently, so you need to know how the workload will be distributed and who will be in charge of your case. In an ideal situation, you would be getting a team of experts with different specialties working to create the most profitable outcome for you and a dedicated agent who will be in direct contact with you and at the forefront of your negotiations.
Can you provide me with references?
Asking for references helps on two fronts: it shows the public adjuster has the experience, and it’ll allow you to learn more about their past customer satisfaction. Tell the adjuster to give you at least three references of local clients they have worked with in the last three years. Any public adjuster proud of their work should be able to direct you to past clients who have been happy with the services Past clients provided them. Be sure to call or email the references. Contact at least two of their previous clients to determine if the adjuster is as good as they say they are. Some of the questions you should ask the references are:
How did they feel about the overall client experience and the result?
Did they get value from the service—i.e., a fair settlement?
Did the public adjuster support them every step of the process?
How were the costs for the adjuster’s service calculated?
Did the public adjuster/firm personally work on their case or pass it to someone else?
How much money should I reasonably expect as a settlement?
A claim adjuster worth their salt should be able to give you an estimate of how much you can expect to get when your claim is settled. Of course, they have to visit the property first and assess the damage before giving you an estimate (so don’t ask this question the first time you speak on the phone). Getting a settlement estimate will allow you to prepare for the best-case scenario instead of holding on to unrealistic expectations that might leave you feeling cheated and disappointed at the end of the day. In the same vein, you should ask the public adjuster you’re interviewing about the worst-case scenario, so you can also factor that into your plans and hopes for the settlement. Knowing the ballpark figure, you could get for your claim puts you in a better negotiating position. And remember, having a public adjuster on your side gives you a much better chance of getting a maximized claim settlement (an average of 747% more than if you try to negotiate your claim alone).
How heavy is your current workload?
If an adjuster is dealing with too many existing claims, they probably won’t be able to give each one the care and diligence it needs. You want an adjuster who will stay on top of every aspect of the claims process for as long as it takes to negotiate a settlement. Ask the claims professional how many other claims they’re working on, especially if it’s a post-disaster claims situation. Even if they’re highly qualified, you need to know that they can furnish your claim with the attention it deserves. After all, your case is a priority to you and should be treated that way, not be kept on the back-burner. Note that public adjuster companies are not all the same size. So some can handle far more cases than others. This means it’s not necessarily the number of cases that you need to worry about whether or not they will give your case priority treatment.
How much will you charge for your services as a public adjuster?
Before you make any final decisions, it’s essential to discuss and agree on a payment structure. It is unethical for a public insurance adjuster to ask for payment upfront before your claim is settled. They usually work on a contingent fee basis, meaning that they take a certain percentage of whatever settlement you get and only if you get a settlement. Contingency charges differ from one adjuster to another and depend on the particulars of a claim. They charge between 10% to 20% of the insurance settlement you receive. Percentages are usually higher for non-hurricane claims and lower for catastrophic claims like hurricanes and flooding. This is mandated by law, and if someone tries to charge you more than 10% after a hurricane damages your property, they are breaking the law. Depending on the type of property damage you’re dealing with and the status of your claim, an adjuster may sometimes work with you on the percentage they take. Find a claim adjuster who can offer you a free consultation to assess the particulars of your claim and generate a fair estimate of the percentage they’d charge to represent you.
What is your errors and omissions policy?
An errors and omissions policy is protected by a Surety Bond and provides compensations for the public adjuster’s malpractice or mistakes that negatively impact your claim. Every reputable claims adjuster should have a Surety Bond in place to protect their clients. If they don’t or are reluctant to share it with you, feel free to walk away and look for another public insurance adjuster to assist with your claim.