Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's not just about the money. It’s about getting the homeowner's life back in order.

The Value of a public adjuster for a property damage insurance claim.

by Joe Welch

Who do you call if you are having problems with your insurance claim? Getting the proper professional help after a disaster is very important.

Why use a Public Adjuster?

Public adjusters are licensed and trained professionals that help you - the insured homeowner - to rebuild your home and get the assistance that was promised to you when you contracted with your insurance company. After a major disaster or extensive storm/fire damage, most major insurance companies do a good job of responding to and handling their customer's immediate needs and claims. However, they may not do such a good job at restoring the homeowner's house and property to its previous condition. That is when you as a homeowner may need some help.

You could call an attorney but that is very expensive and most attorneys really don't know how to cost-effectively negotiate a settlement that leaves all parties happy. This is where the special training and experience of a public insurance adjuster comes in. The goal is not to win or to lose - it is to arrive at a financial agreement that enables a homeowner to get their home and property back to the shape it was before the disaster occurred.

The Public Adjusters (PAs) value-add for a disaster victim is their intimate knowledge of insurance coverage and policies. Many PAs previously worked in the insurance business before becoming a Public Adjuster. The PA will need to review the specific insurance policy to see what the homeowner is truly entitled to, establish the value of the damage, and, maybe most importantly for most disaster victims, manage all aspects of the claim process to take the burden off the shoulders of the besieged policyholder.

Working a claim can be akin to herding sheep. As long as the herd is in the pen, everything is ok, or as long as the claim is one dimensional, the homeowner can manage it. However, a typical claim can get complicated fast. The sheep start running wild and there is no way one person can herd them up.

The normal claim process starts with the notification to the agent or carrier. An insurance company adjuster will make contact and if necessary, make an appointment to see the loss. At the loss the company adjuster will review coverage, scope the damages and advise if any additional documents are required. Some will issue payment on the spot; others will need time to investigate the claim or will wait until they have received all the documents before updating the homeowner regarding the settlement.

There can be dozens of documents that need to be completed, inspected and reviewed. Keeping track of these can be a challenge.

In addition to managing document flow and timing, the claims process also requires working with a variety of people. In many cases, homeowners end up working with a succession of different insurance company adjusters. Usually there is the first team who respond to the emergency or disaster area. Then a second team takes over to keep the process moving, and then a third team takes over the investigation and payment process. The homeowner may end up dealing with a half dozen or more different insurance company adjusters, who often do not communicate well with each other.

The claim process also requires a variety of outside specialists to establish the damage, provide quotes and estimates on repair and rebuilding costs and to replace destroyed possessions.

Insurance company policies and processes can be byzantine, hard to understand, and often quite frustrating to someone who is not familiar with how insurance companies operate. For example, if the homeowner has a mortgage on the destroyed property to be rebuilt, the payment checks often first go to the mortgage lender who then has to disburse it to the homeowner. This can take months.

The entire process can get very complicated and hard to manage - especially if the homeowner has a job and family obligations. Making steady progress on a claim can take 20, 30 or 40 hours a week, leaving little time for job and family. The PA can take care of the claim in its entirety. They know what forms are required, what supporting information will be needed and the time frame requirements of the insurance carrier.

Do Public Adjusters Need to Be Licensed?

In 44 of the 50 states, Public Adjusters are required to be licensed by the state they are doing business in (more states are in process). In contrast, in many states, the Insurance Company's staff adjusters are not required to be licensed.

For PAs, most states require a test, and in order to renew, there must be a number of Continuing Education hours completed per license period. This requirement helps the Public Adjuster to stay up to date with the latest developments in adjusting and insurance law. There are organizations both state-based and nationally (National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, or NAPIA) for Public Adjusters. These organizations provide a forum for the PAs and a set of high ethical standards its member adjusters must adhere too.

Its not just about the money, it’s about getting their lives back in order.

Many people value Public Adjusters simply because they can usually negotiate a more complete settlement for a claim than a homeowner can do on their own. However, maybe even more attractive is the opportunity to have a trained, experienced and licensed professional Public Adjuster to take over the minutia of managing an insurance claim, to enable the homeowner to stay in control of their lives and have peace of mind that they are getting a fair claim settlement.

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