If you own a home, business, or commercial property, you probably hold a property insurance policy to protect your assets in case catastrophe strikes. You might have even just experienced such a situation – property loss or a significant disaster like fire and smoke damage, hurricane, tornado, flood, hail or other storm damage. If that’s the case, you’ll need to file an insurance claim, which means you might want to look into hiring a public adjuster. No matter the size of the insurance claim you need to make, you should always file for the coverage you’re due. Determining how much your claim is worth, however, is no easy task.
If you’re facing the undertaking of filing a claim, you’re probably wondering what the next step is in getting your deserved insurance funds. After all, you’ve been paying into it all that time- it’s only fair that the insurance company pays you what your policy says you deserve.
But did you know that the insurance company doesn’t want to pay you for the coverage they owe you? If you’ve never had to experience the insurance claim process on a property or other asset, you may be blissfully unaware that much of the time, insurance companies do not pay full value on claims. In fact, they’ll do their best to make sure your payout is as low as possible. That’s good for their bottom line… but not so good for you and the damage you’re dealing with.
Claiming your funds (the full amount needed to restore you to pre-loss conditions) is where your real challenge arises. It’s not as if you didn’t already have a million other things to deal with from the disaster itself. Insurance policies can be very complicated, oftentimes making filing and resolving a claim a stressful and lengthy process- and that’s on top of resolving any issues that arise from the damage itself.
You may need to stabilize the damage, mitigating against further damage (such as putting up temporary tarps, etc), and dealing with the fallout from it, such as loss of income, temporary relocations, additional living expenses, and more. These stressors can make the filing process feel even more complicated.
Getting through this stressful process is where a public adjuster (aka public insurance adjuster) can be incredibly helpful to your situation. Many property or business owners aren’t sure what a public adjuster or public claims adjuster is, or exactly what they do. Yet, hiring one can make a night and day difference in the payout you actually receive from your insurance company. Having an expert on your side of the situation can also make the whole process a lot less stressful for you.
Today, we’re discussing what a Public Insurance Adjuster is, what they do, and why it’s important for you to know this in your process of filing an insurance claim.
Before we dive into the main meat and potatoes of this Public Adjuster business, we should squash one major misconception:
The adjuster that works FOR the insurance company is not on your side. (They are called staff adjusters or independent adjusters, depending on whether they are employed directly by the insurance carrier, or work with an independent company contracted by the carrier. But make no mistake, even independents know who is paying their fee, and they follow the carrier’s adjusting guidelines.) In fact, their main job is to make sure your payout is as SMALL as possible – saving the insurance carrier lots of money.
This is something most people don’t know, but it is a costly fact to ignore. If you want to have an expert on your side helping you get the insurance payout that is owed, you need to hire a public adjuster who works for you, the insured, and is advocating for your best interests.
So, hopefully you understand a little bit why it’s so important to hire a public adjuster. But you should still know a few things about them and what they do.
What Exactly Are Public Insurance Adjusters?
A public adjuster can be hired by a property owner or insurance policyholder in order to settle the value of their insurance claim after a disaster. They legally represent you as the policyholder during the process of filing your insurance claim. They are independent insurance professionals- they only work for you, NOT the insurance company.
Insurance adjusters (both public and other types) are responsible for evaluating the extent of damage to a home after a damage-causing incident has occurred, and getting the insurance company to pay you fairly for it. These catastrophic incidents can include storm, flood, fire, smoke, hail, wind/hurricane damage, as well as damage due to other perils.
- are about to file a property claim for moderate to severe property damage, want the least amount of hassle possible, and want the timeliest resolution possible,
- already filed, and think the claim settlement amount offered by the insurance company is too low (perhaps because you actually had a reputable contractor give you a real estimate)
then hiring a public insurance adjuster will be a saving grace for you.
The reason they can be so good for you is that they’re experts in the complicated details and language of insurance policies, as well as the language of adjusting and filing claims. A good public adjuster also has extensive experience in construction and restoration, and understands water damage mitigation and repair. This process is intentionally complicated- because the insurance company does better if you don’t pursue them for your money.
Can You Just Use A Contractor Instead of a Public Adjuster?
Apart from being your advocate with the insurance carrier, there’s another huge bonus service that public insurance adjusters provide: they can help you negotiate with contractors. By doing this, they’ll be able to independently and fairly inspect property damage, as well as providing accurate assessments of needed repair.
Maybe you’re thinking you could just have a contractor inspect your property damage, and bypass a public adjuster. Sometimes, that works. Sometimes, your contractor will give you an estimate, or even meet the carrier’s adjuster and point out what they think needs to be done to fix the repairs. On occasion, the adjuster takes this into consideration and writes their official estimate based on the contractor’s advice. After all, the contractor is the one who is going to do the work – wouldn’t you think they should be the expert authority on the cost?
Times When A Contractor Might Not Be Enough
There are a couple of problems with this approach, though.
First, some contractors would rather take shortcuts than wait for an approval from insurance. When a contractor looks at your estimate and says “meh, we can fix er right up for half this (if you pay cash money)” – run. A good contractor will do insurance work to replace things according to code, with similar materials, so that you would never know the difference when they’re done. It should look new. And they should do that for what insurance pays (plus your deductible). If insurance didn’t pay enough, they should have no problem asking insurance for supplements for the items not included in the adjuster’s estimate.
Second, insurance adjusters tend to have this idea that contractors are out there to fluff up estimates, to finance their hedge fund or something. Adjusters rarely have much experience with actual restoration construction.
They often look at a contractor’s estimate and question legitimate items like removing and bagging wet insulation and drywall (have you ever tried to remove wet insulation or drywall without bagging it? good luck with that).
Or maybe they balk at replacing roof decking that is soft or has wide gaps because the planked wood deck has shrunk over years of heat under the sun.
Or perhaps they don’t want to replace trim that is going to break when you try to remove it, making it impossible to detach and reset it without spending more in labor than new trim would cost.
These are some of the details many adjusters think are fluff, or worse, that the carriers have told their adjusters not to include.
Lastly, when the adjuster ignores the contractor’s advice, and lowballs your estimate, the contractor has no recourse. In most states (but not all), it is illegal for a contractor to negotiate with the insurance company. They can be fined and imprisoned for that, if the insurance company wants to press the issue. There’s a gray area around giving an adjuster their estimate and asking for things to be included that were missing, and being accused of attempting to influence the adjuster and negotiate on behalf of the insured. In Florida, this is especially risky due to recent laws.
Public Adjusters Can Negotiate A Good Repair Estimate With Your Insurance Company
So a public adjuster with construction experience, like Advocate Public Adjusters, can ensure that all the needed repair items are included. They can negotiate on your behalf about not only the construction details needed, but also the policy and coverage. And they can negotiate with a contractor to help you get a good deal after your settlement, and their estimate should help your contractor understand the full scope of the work required.
Summary of The Steps of a Property Insurance Claim
So, to sum up the process… After you file a claim, the insurance company’s adjuster will inspect your property, evaluate your policy, and write up their opinion on the repairs needed. Your public adjuster also needs to inspect and evaluate and estimate for repairs. Your carrier might disagree on structural issues and want to call out an engineer, and to protect your interests, you might need an engineer also (because guess which side the carrier’s chosen engineer usually favors, even though they’re not supposed to).
The insurance company often offers a lower settlement amount, and the public adjuster generally works with the carrier’s adjuster to try to reach an agreement for full indemnity (making you whole). If that doesn’t happen, a PA can help coordinate an appraisal. In some cases, things do need to go to litigation. In those rare instances, the PA will help coordinate that process. And after you get your settlement, the PA can help you get your property restored, which was the point of this whole experience.
Yes, you read that right- there are multiple layers of the claims process to get through. (Even reading this in a simple blog post can be confusing- do you see how having an insurance professional on your side might be necessary or useful for this process?)
Be Aware That There Are Different Kinds of Adjustors
- Public Adjusters (what we’re talking about in this article) work for individuals and businesses – the insured party – and they represent the interests of the insured.
- Staff adjusters are employed by insurance companies – the insurer – and are sent to evaluate claims filed by the insurance company’s customers – the insured party – and represent the interests of the insurance company.
- Independent adjusters also work for insurance companies, but act more as consultants. (They’re usually hired as-needed.) Don’t be fooled into thinking independent adjusters are neutral parties! These people still represent the interests of the insurance company.
So, Is a Public Insurance Adjuster Right for You?
Anyone considering filing a property insurance claim should also think about hiring a public adjuster. This is especially true if the claim is for a large amount. As a policyholder, you have little to lose! Many public adjustment firms offer to visit a property for free to determine the proper next steps- before you even hire them. In other words: it’s worth giving it a shot because you only stand to get a better payout.
However, there are two instances where a public adjuster might not be the best, or at least final, solution.
The first is when the loss is pretty small, or if the insurance adjuster writes for nearly the full amount needed and only leaves off a few things, or if they will take your contractor’s estimate and just use that – these are times when there’s not much a public adjuster can add value to.
The other is when a lawyer is needed, and that’s after you and your adjuster have tried negotiating with the insurance company and still believe you’re being offered an unfair settlement. In this particular scenario, you will want to find a lawyer after your adjuster tells you that you should. Your adjuster may be able to recommend a good lawyer also.
What Does It Cost To Hire a Public Adjuster?
Public insurance adjusters offer the above-listed services for their clients in exchange for a fee, which is usually a small percentage of the total payout. This fee is generally a small fraction of the total additional amount that a public adjuster can recover, versus what you would end up on your own.
Normally, a public adjuster will charge a percentage of whatever a policyholder’s insurance carrier ultimately pays for a claim. (Much like lawyers, they’re motivated to get you a higher settlement, though the fee is much less than what lawyers charge.) This amount is also oftentimes capped off at a certain maximum payout- which can be useful to know with especially large claims.
The way insurance adjusters get paid is also dependent on local insurance laws and regulations, so be sure to price them out near you.
How to Choose a Public Insurance Adjuster
Here’s a step by step process:
Step 1: Check Whether the Public Adjuster Can Legally Practice.
Public insurance adjusters require a license to practice in nearly every individual state they wish to practice in. They’re also required to be bonded, and to receive continued education to be in accordance with modern laws and practices (there are a few states which do not require a license).
Absolutely never work with anyone who offers claims adjusting services to you but is not licensed to do so! This is both illegal but also harmful to you in your process.
Step 2: Choose a Firm or an Individual Practitioner.
Depending on the situation, it might be better to work with an independent individual, or it might be wiser to work with a firm of adjusters.
This decision often comes down to the specifics of your case. Do you need a specialist? You might prefer an individual adjuster that specializes in a certain kind of claims.
Or, adversely, you might not know what your insurance claim situation needs. In this case, a firm might be able to guide you and send the adjuster best suited for you.
With a small firm like Advocate Public Adjusters, who specializes in property claims, you also get individual attention. That might not be true with large companies who are just looking to settle as many claims as possible, as quickly as possible, with the least resistance. It’s unfortunate, but that sometimes happens.
Step 3: Check Referrals and References
As always, a referral from a trusted friend or associate is best.
However, not everyone knows an adjuster. If you’re forced to hire someone you don’t know, ask the public adjuster under consideration for some of their previous work and references.
You’ll want to:
- Make sure past customers have been happy with their work
- Check their reviews. The National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA) has a directory of members including reviews.
Step 4: Check Experience Level
The experience level of an adjuster might come into play depending on the severity and level of complication your claim has. For very complicated or unusual claims, you’ll definitely want to find an adjuster that’s been working long enough to know the proper steps for your case.
When shopping around for adjusters:
- Ask what types of claims they’ve worked on
- Ask if they have experience with your insurer
- Ask public adjusters how long they’ve been practicing
- Ask if they have experience with your particular circumstances
Most adjusters display this information on their website, and won’t be too hard to find. Keep in mind, the more experience the adjuster is, their fee will generally be higher.
Step 5: Finalize the Terms & Do the Paperwork
Always remember that you’re in the driver’s seat and that any adjuster you hire works for you, not the insurance company. A public adjuster generally handles the entirety of a claim for their clients, but it’s okay if you want to have a higher level of involvement. Most adjusters are happy to keep you in the loop and make sure you’re 100% comfortable with the way you work together.
With that, you should have a very good idea of whether or not a hiring public claims adjuster is right for you- and even how to hire one if you’d like to. This can be a complicated process, but an adjuster can make your life a lot easier. Take it from the professionals- it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Need to hire a public adjuster? Contact us to learn how we can help you!