Recently I had the opportunity to help a contractor on a claim involving the contractor’s own home. I met this contractor just a year or two before, but he had never referred any of his customers to me. In one of my encounters with him, we were at a business coaching event, and I seized that opportunity to again explain what we do at Gold Star. I detailed how we might be able to help him and his customers, especially those with roofing issues, as both of our companies were heavily involved in this type of work.
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So not very long after that, the contractor called and asked me to come out and take a look at a roof. It was not a customer's roof, but the roof of his own home. He mentioned he had looked at it already, and while there was some damage, he wasn’t sure there was enough to warrant putting in an insurance claim. He also noted that a few roofers had been by (not knowing what business the contractor was in), and suggested he submit a claim for the roof, (This is a very common practice here – and probably everywhere – but one I definitely do not agree with, and I’ll explain why below).
He again asked how it would work with me coming to inspect his home, if there was a cost, and would he need to turn in an insurance claim first. I assured him there would be no cost for me to take a look at his roof (and his interior water leak from the roof as well) , nor to consult with him about his options regarding any potential insurance claim. I also reiterated that, in fact, it was better that he did not yet turn in an insurance claim. The reason I believe it is better if a claim is not already submitted, is because it gives me the opportunity to determine whether or not a claim should be submitted.
If a claim is submitted for which there is no coverage, it could present a problem for the insured when the property is inspected. The company adjuster could note a breed of dog, preexisting damage, needed repairs, a trampoline, or other element that the insurance company might elect to non-renew coverage.
And even if the claim is covered, it may not be worth submitting a claim, as the damages may not exceed the policy’s deductible. It is simply my opinion that it is better to have an expert determine whether or not a claim should be submitted for a particular loss, especially when this consultation is done at no cost.
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So back to the contractor’s potential claim…his roof had suffered some relatively minor damage, and there was a leak on the ceiling of his dining room, which was next to the foyer. The damage on the roof was not extensive, but there was damage on more than one side of the roof, The shingles were about 15 years old, they were not very pliable, many could not be repaired without creating additional damage to other shingles that were not damaged to begin with, and even if they could, the repairs would be fairly unsightly. On the interior, the water leak created a stain only about 1 foot in diameter, but it was near a wall which would necessitate a drywall repair, The wall would then need to be painted, and the ceiling texture would need to be replaced.
It was not a desired scenario because the amount of damage was relatively minor, but the expense to properly repair the roof and interior would be much more significant had just a few facts and home features been different. Typically, insurance companies and their adjusters tend to dwell on this disparity between the amount of actual damage, and the expense of proper repairs. When they see damages that would only total $500 if the circumstances were different (for example, a roof that could be repaired and a leak in the middle of a small room), but are now totaling over $20,000, many of them have a hard time agreeing that the valid claim is $20,000, and not $500. I discussed the pros and cons of this particular claim with the contractor, and let him know I would be willing to pursue the claim if he wanted to go that route. However, I also let him know I felt we could be in for a battle.
But when the company adjuster came out to meet me at the property, I did not assume an attack position, or come at him with guns blazing. Instead, I guided him through the facts, calmly explaining why I felt the entire roof would have to be replaced based on the conditions present. I even acknowledged that the damage was relatively minor in relation to the amount of repairs I was proposing. I talked to him about things we had in common – places where we worked, and people we might both know. I talked to him as a co-worker would, bouncing ideas and suggestions off him, but always coming to the conclusion that ultimately, the entire roof would have to be replaced, the ceiling would have to be retextured, and the walls repainted. He did not dispute anything I was saying, but would not commit to it all either. In the end, he said, he needed to submit his findings to his supervisor, and they would make the final determination together.
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When I told the contractor how much my estimate was for, he seemed quite surprised, and said he would be happy if he could get half that much. I told him not to worry, and before long, the insurance company was offering less than what I proposed (naturally), but already much more than half of my estimate. We eventually agreed on a number that was below my initial figure, but not by much. Needless to say, the contractor was very happy with the result, and has since referred several customers to my company. Those claims have also gone well.
The moral of my story today is to keep chipping away. I chipped away at the contractor who was reluctant to refer my service to his customers, until such time as he was presented with an opportunity to try me out for himself. Once satisfied beyond his own expectations, he felt confident in referring my company to others. Similarly, I chipped away at the opposing adjuster, taking a friendly approach to what could have easily been an adversarial situation, finding common ground and using facts and reason to lead him to a conclusion he would likely not find plausible on his own. When chipping away, you can use a chisel, a sledgehammer, or dynamite (or all three). All may be effective. Different people use different methods to chip away, but I find the chisel works best with my personality. What works best for you?
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.