Knowing Your Options When It Comes to Fire Damage Repair

To say that recovering from fire damage is an emotionally overwhelming time is a gross understatement; this is often the most devastating trial a person will experience in his/her entire lifetime. For that reason, when faced with the aftermath of a disastrous house fire, most fire damage victims don’t realize the full range of options they have when it comes to repairing, replacing, or rebuilding the damage to their home and its contents. Unless they’ve contacted an experienced public adjuster to advocate on their behalf, the process that soon follows the initial phone call to their insurance company can quickly turn into a whirlwind of one poor choice—or rather lack thereof—after another that can have unfavorable, if not ruinous, financial implications.

Imagine settling for a claim that’s a fraction of what you’re entitled to, only to be responsible for repair bills that hardly fixed your damage, followed your own by out-of-pocket expenses. At Insurance Claims Consultants, we don’t have to imagine this scenario because we see it every day.

Here’s what typically happens following fire damage:

  • Step 1: The insured contacts his/her insurance company to initiate the fire insurance claims process.

    This first step is absolutely essential. But it’s what happens following this initial action that can quickly steer you down the wrong course and negatively impact your entire claims process—everything from the amount of stress you’ll encounter to the final amount of your settlement.

  • Step 2: The insurance adjuster (who, remember, is hired by your insurance company) comes out to begin the appraisal.

  • Step 3: The insurance adjuster may recommend a preferred contractor that your insurance company often works with who will repair your fire damage.

    Because the insurance adjuster who performs your appraisal is hired by your insurance company, it’s important to understand that their valuation of your fire damage and the repair involved may not be the most thorough of appraisals. Think about it: their bottom line is affected by the amount they pay out to you, and these hired contractors have longstanding relationships with the insurance company. For this very reason, the contractor may be far more willing to simply go along with the insurance company’s appraisal rather than point out further damage or small but important details that need attention.

    But to the uninformed fire damage victim, this referral can seem very enticing. After all, when you’re already emotionally overwhelmed and scrambling to document everything you’ve lost, searching for a contractor can feel like an unnecessary headache, especially when this friendly insurance adjuster is recommending someone whom they’ve already work with and have an established relationship. On the surface, it actually seems like a smart, hassle-free choice.

    Here’s what happens instead.

    The insurance adjuster, and subsequently the contractor they recommend, may not be forthcoming about all of the options and rights your insurance company affords. For example, you might be strongly encouraged to have your furniture and/or clothing professionally cleaned, only to discover that these items are still permeated with smoke in spite of a $30,000 cleaning bill you receive. Unfortunately, you’re responsible for paying that bill out of the often reduced settlement you receive. What a sheer waste of money when the item(s) could’ve been replaced. Unfortunately, this horror story is  not an exception; it’s something we see happen frequently with our clients who call us after they’ve received a low fire claim settlement… and these astronomical bills.

  • Step 4: The insurance company compensates you for the damage they were able to find.

  • Step 5: The insured ends up with a settlement that leaves money on the table and doesn’t make them fully whole.

    People often assume they’re going to get their full structure and/or personal property limits, especially in the case where there’s a total loss. It is very rare, however, that an insurance company will offer you the maximum amount stipulated in your policy. Instead, unless you hire a public adjuster experienced in fire damage repair, your settlement could likely be just a fraction of the true value of your claim.

    In the meantime, the bills from the insurance company’s recommended repairs are due, and you’re using the limited settlement you received to pay them, whether you’re satisfied with the outcome or not. Additionally, because of new building standards and codes that may have been enacted after your home was built, you could end up picking up the tab for what your insurance company should ultimately have covered.

How is that, you ask?

We see this kind of unfortunate occurrence all of the time. In a recent incident, one of our fire damage clients happened to live in a home that was built at a time when kitchen countertops were often permanently secured to the cabinets. Our client’s insurance company happened to overlook this structural detail, and noting that fire damage only occurred to the cabinets, attempted to compensate our client for the cabinets only. fire-damage-claimThough the insurance company argued that no damage had occurred to the countertops, our own investigation process uncovered that because of the building standards at the time the home was built, the insured was entitled to a total replacement of both cabinets AND countertops. As a result, the insured was awarded additional compensation for countertops that they themselves would have been held responsible for without our eagle-eyed team.

As you’re starting to see, the fire itself is really just the beginning of what can quickly transform into a nightmarish, frustrating process that can take years to overcome both emotionally and financially if you choose go the claims process alone.

But there’s another route you can take that produces an entirely different outcome, without the expensive and stress-inducing hiccups along the way.

Here’s what typically happens following fire damage:

  • Step 1: Contacts his or her insurance company to report the claim.

  • Step 2: Contacts a public adjuster who performs an independent and thorough appraisal of all damage to ensure that every loss down to the finest detail is documented and accounted for.

  • Step 3: Works with the insurance company’s adjuster, but under the guided wisdom of their public adjuster whose bottom line is to get highest amount possible for the policyholder.

  • Step 4: Because of step #2, knows to avoid hiring the insurance company’s recommended contractor, opting instead for an experienced contractor of their choice.

  • Step 5: Is empowered to make his/her own decisions when it comes to what and how something will be repaired or replaced.

  • Step 6: Experiences far less aggravation and stress while waiting for a fire damage repair settlement because they’ve hired an informed spokesperson who watches out for them from every angle of the claims process.

  • Step 7: Gets the maximum settlement amount in the fastest way possible, and in some cases, as much as 35% above and beyond the policy limit(s).

Hiring a public adjuster will be the most important and empowered decision you make in your fire damage claims process because doing so opens the door to even more options that lean in your favor…not your insurance company’s. Armed with our extensive knowledge and the findings from our thorough investigation process, you’ll have a complete understanding not only of what you’ve really lost (as our president Ron Delo always says, “We’re going to inventory everything from toilet paper to toothpick.”) but the full range of options you have in either repairing or replacing them. After all, this is your home and your insurance coverage…from our perspective, how you choose to repair or replace something and whom you hire to do it should be your decision—not your insurance company’s.

Even if you’ve already begun the claims process or settled, if it’s within the statute of limitation [Just confirming that this is correct in general. ]since you filed your claim, we can still help you attain the settlement you’re actually entitled to. In fact, we’ve never not secured more money for our clients even after their fire claim had already been settled with the insurance company. But because we’re dedicated to maximizing your settlement and preventing you from feeling both stressed and powerless, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of contacting us from the beginning. The process is going to feel much more informed, smooth, and predictable when you have a steward whose main objective is to uphold your rights and options, and you’ll like receive a bigger settlement, in the quickest way possible.

Because our goal is to probe every single detail when it comes to your fire damage, we work with your insurance company to get the settlement you require to repair and or replace what would have otherwise been overlooked and eventually paid for by your own personal funds.  Depending on the extent of your damage, you may be entitled to up to 35% above and beyond your policy limit; those maximum figures are the ones we seek for our clients—and win—day after day.  Because we’ve been in this industry for over thirty years, we have a good rapport with insurance companies and know the ins and outs of getting you the money you’re entitled to in order to get your life back on track.

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