Surprises You Can Do Without

by Mark Goldwich

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Being a fan of, I was noticing that even though it is not making national news – whatwith the first presidential debate and Charlotte riots and all – there continues to be bad weather wreaking havoc in parts of the country you might not normally think about. Deadly flooding in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and tornados in Indiana and Utah, seem to happen with little warning,  leaving death and destruction in their path which will be remembered for years to come.

This is happening almost a month after Florida saw damage from the first hurricane to hit the state in eleven years. Hurricane Hermine did not come out of nowhere, but as hurricanes go, it developed rather quickly, going from a depression to a category 1 hurricane within 24 hours of making landfall. Typically, these depressions are tracked for weeks, with courses predicted and severity estimated in plenty of time to allow for preparation or evacuation. That didn’t happen this time, but fortunately, Hermine wasn’t a very powerful storm, and it moved through the state and was on its way relatively quickly, so damage was not nearly severe as it could have been.

As is typical of many lower level hurricanes, most of the damage resulted from flooding, not from the powerful winds hurricanes are known for. And much of the wind damage occurred when trees, planted too close to structures, and allowed to grow untrimmed, were toppled onto homes, cars, and other property. Sometimes, people are in those homes, making for a dangerous and frightening experience. The same holds true for people trapped in homes by fast-rising waters or flash floods, given no time to escape. Regardless of the nature of the damage, once the wind has stopped blowing or water recedes, there is another frightening experience awaiting those trying to put their lives back together. We hear about it every time an event like this happens.

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Just last week I heard from someone who had a very large oak tree land on their home after Hurricane Hermine coasted through the state capitol of Tallahassee. It wasn’t even their tree – it was their neighbor’s – but it was big enough to crush a number of roof trusses on their home which allowed water to run into their attic. It also smashed a skylight, and a kitchen vent, allowing more water into their home. They placed buckets about to catch the water streaming into the house, and spent most of the night emptyin
g the buckets as they filled up with water. Before too long, insulation in the attic got so heavy from all the water, that the ceiling collapsed onto the floor. Luckily, no one was hurt, but their home was a mess.

They promptly called their insurance company first thing in the morning to report the loss. Their carrier put them at ease, telling them a “preferred vendor” would be out to take the tree off the house and begin to clean up the mess. And sure enough, an hour later they received a call from a restoration company. This particular restoration company is nationally recognized in the insurance industry, but many people have not heard of them because they do not advertise as much as other companies. It seems they don’t need to, since insurance companies so regularly refer them to policyholders who need emergency restoration work.

This may sound innocent enough, but we have found that having this special relationship between the insurance company and the emergency restoration company can be very good for all parties, except for the policyholder – the one that is in dire need. The restoration company gets work handed to them on a very regular basis, saving potentially millions in advertising nationally every year.  By getting to the job site first, this company has gotten extremely proficient at selling themselves to the policyholder to complete all the needed restoration work, especially since they already seem to have the approval and blessings of the insurance company. This nets them even more money than the emergency work they were initially called out for.

And what does the insurance company get? They get a nationally branded contractor that will respond to their requests for assistance at a moment’s notice, and local managers with whom they develop long-term relationships. They also get preferential treatment, even compared to the homeowner for whom the work is being done. After all, it is the insurance company that pays the restoration company, not the homeowner. It is only natural then, that the relationship between the insurance company and the restoration company can result in blurring the loyalty lines. Remember, they want that flow of claims to keep streaming into their pipeline, so if they have to jump through a few extra hoops, or make less money on a job here or there to keep their “partner” happy, that’s what they are going to do, even if it comes at the expense of the policyholder.

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So in this case, the insurance company’s preferred restoration company was on the site within a few hours of the homeowner’s call. As discussed with the insurance company, the tree was cut up, the mess dealt with, and a tarp was placed on the roof to prevent more water from entering until the reconstruction could begin. Then they began to work their magic, explaining to the homeowner that they were the insurance companies preferred contractor, and that they would write up a complete estimate for all of the damages and reconstruction estimates. They said they would help take care of everything, including helping the family relocate while the work was being done, not to mention meeting with the insurance adjuster to agree on the estimate. Within days, the insurance adjuster and the preferred vendor met, just as planned, and the adjuster told the contractor, “send me your estimate”. It all seemed to be going according to plan.

But the next day, the contractor came out again with an engineer to confirm the damages and begin the permitting process. And while they were there, the contractor first asked the homeowner to sign what is called a “work authorization”. This allows the contractor to access the property and work on the repairs – basically, hiring the contractor even though no estimate was done. While many people might not be familiar with this form, this particular homeowner was (since he himself is a contractor), and he knew this was not necessary in order for the contractor to provide the insurance company with an estimate. It was clear the contractor was not happy, and the request became more firm, with the contractor saying the form was needed for the contractor to send the estimate. The homeowner refused, and the contractor left in a huff. That was a few weeks ago, and as far as he can tell, no estimate from the preferred contractor was ever sent to the insurance company.

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A week later the insurance company then sent their own adjuster’s estimate, but it was woefully lacking. This comes as no surprise to me, and in my opinion, it is simply a strategy to coerce the homeowner into hiring the preferred contractor, in hopes of getting the process back on track.  By this, I mean the track desired by the insurance company and their contractor. Now it is our turn get this claim back on track for the policyholder, and that is exactly what I intend to do.

In the wake of such catastrophes, it is easy to see how people would be vulnerable in a time of calamity. They are desperate to have the damage repaired so they can get on with their lives. The thought of an insurance company working in concert with a contractor to take advantage of a policyholder that has paid a lot of hard-earned dollars for the promise of being treated fairly, is hard to believe. Still, based on my decades of experience, I’m afraid it might be the rule rather than the exception, and this example certainly seems to support my suspicions. After weathering the storm you need to be strong, and especially vigilant before signing anything. For those who know, help is just a phone call or keystroke away. And since being forewarned is forearmed, now you know.

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.        


  1. It's bad enough to get blindsided by a natural disaster. It's another to get worked over by a contractor. That's why I always get estimates from 3 different contractors.

  2. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this one . Thank you Mark Goldwich .

  3. Insurance carriers obviously have an underlying motive for pushing THEIR preferred contractors, and in this case it doesn't appear to be in the policyholder's best interest.