A Public Adjuster’s Advice: Navigating Hurricane Property Damage

cbeecherBuilding Envelope, Hurricanes

The damage caused by Hurricane Ian is heartbreaking and economically difficult. The Southeastern United States is still assessing the total damage left by Hurricane Ian; but as of today, it is the 24th deadliest hurricane in United States history with totaled damages estimated between $41 billion to $70 billion.

As those affected pick up the pieces, filing an insurance claim is a critical part of the post-disaster process.

Last summer, our CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants, Paul Beers, spoke with Karen Schiffmiller, Former President of the Florida Association of Insurance Adjusters (FAPIA) about navigating the claims review process for hurricane property damage. With recent events – now seems like a fitting time to revisit this interview.

In addition to being the former President of the largest public adjusting association in the country and one of the partners at Reliant Insurance Adjusters, Schiffmiller is also an insurance appraiser and umpire.

We’re happy to share this advice and help you determine the best course of action for filing insurance claims in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

About Public Adjusters

In simple terms, public adjusters investigate insurance claims. This makes them extremely valuable resources during catastrophic events such as Hurricane Ian, as they have daily experience navigating the complex requirements of insurance policies.

If you’ve ever tried to read the entirety of your homeowners policy, then you understand it’s not the easiest or most thrilling read.

“You have to hire the right public adjuster and you have to make sure that they’re qualified to assist you,” says Schiffmiller. “Every claim is different, no claim is alike.”

Public adjusters are often referred to as consumer advocates; they are independent of the insurance companies and help push back against some of the less generous policies. Their involvement includes actively participating in legislation changes, as in the case of Karen Schiffmiller and FAPIA.

One example of this involvement is Senate Bill 76. This bill would have allowed insurance companies to pay only a roof’s value at the time of destruction (if the roof was destroyed in the event of a hurricane), rather than 100% of the costs of replacing the roof.

“Thankfully, we were able to get that removed,” recalls Schiffmiller. “And that’s where the protection of consumers comes into play.”

Advice for Filing Property Insurance Claims

“I probably scream this from the rooftops. When a client is reaching out for help, they’re vulnerable. They’re overwhelmed. They need help for a reason,” explains Schiffmiller. “You always have to do the right thing and put your clients first. You have to keep them well-informed, you have to keep them up-to-date. If there’s no change in the status of their claims, tell them anyway, and always return their phone calls and answer when they need you.”

As a public adjuster, taking measure of your client’s well-being should be the top priority. As a policyholder, Schiffmiller recommends that you have the proper documentation to file an insurance claim.

“Documenting your file is key,” says Schiffmiller. “You couldn’t ever assume that your potential client never had a claim before, so you have to make sure you ask a lot of questions. Ask them if they’ve ever had a claim. If they have, review the documentation from their prior claims. If they’ve had a prior claim, make sure it didn’t affect the area you’re going to discuss with them at that time. Make sure, if they have done repairs, that they have receipts for those repairs.”

“Make sure you have detailed photos, notes, videos, if necessary. You have to document your file well, and you have to back up everything that’s in your estimate. So when you’re asking the insurance company to pay X amount of dollars, you need to show the support and backup what you’re asking for. A well-documented file is always key to a successful claim resolution.”

On top of documenting the details of a claim, policyholders should also review their insurance policy.

“Very important to review the insurance policy,” says Schiffmiller. “Read it again and again and again, and understand the entire policy. Highlight things because in one section of the policy, there’ll be something that’s covered and then there’ll be an endorsement added into the policy that removes the coverage or changes the coverage. So you need to read your policy in its entirety, understand it, highlight it, read it again and again and make sure you understand that policy.”

Preparing for the Next Hurricane

If you think your property may be vulnerable in the future to hurricane damage covered by your insurance policy, begin preparing as soon as possible.

“It’s good to have documentation about the condition of the property before a loss,” adds Beers. “Take pictures of everything. Show your roof intact. Take pictures of each room, windows, doors, and exterior walls… anything you can get. [When] I come in as an expert after a loss, how do I know what the condition was like before the storm? It makes it much, much easier when a client has good documentation [including] any maintenance records – caulking, painting, repairs.”

Hurricanes are part of life, especially in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. That doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. Reviewing your insurance policy, documenting a property’s current condition, and working with a public adjuster are some of the best practices to help make sure an insurance claim is properly processed. For more advice on navigating hurricane season, talk to the team at GCI.

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