HOUSTON – If you are one of thousands of Houston homeowners who will be making an insurance claim due to storm damage for the first time, the process can seem intimidating.
Consumer expert Amy Davis spoke with professionals with experience on flood insurance and repairs to help you with your claim.
According to FEMA, there are about 5,000 qualified flood insurance adjusters in the United States. Some have more experience than others. You have no control over which adjuster your insurance company sends to your home, so it's in your best interest to be nice and helpful, not combative. You want your adjuster in your court.
Sam Craven owns Senna House Buyers and knows a lot about the flood insurance claims process. He purchased a home that flooded in Meyerland in 2015. It was almost fully repaired when it flooded again in 2016. Harvey made the home a three-time flood casualty. Craven is sharing what he learned in last year's flood with victims who will be going through the claims process now.
"I was lucky," Craven told Davis. "I got a good adjuster that was experienced."
But yours may not be. Ask politely how long they've been certified to inspect flooded homes. The less experience they have, the more likely they are to miss things or make mistakes. Craven said most people don't realize that insurance adjusters are paid a percentage of your total claim. The more money you get, the more they get.
"In a way, they are incentivized to take care of the client and make sure everything is covered properly," he explained.
After an adjuster checks your home for damage, they will send you a proof of loss quote. It is a line by line item of everything your insurance policy will pay for.
"What you should do is you should review that," said Craven. "If you don't feel comfortable reviewing that, have someone review and see if they have missed anything."
Craven says he found $12,000 of items missing from his proof of loss quote last year. He was able to get that money added to his settlement amount. The items that he discovered missing from his proof of loss quote were custom trim around the windows that the adjuster had not fully accounted for and an allowance for a general contractor to oversee the job.
"With a project as big as this, a 4,000-square foot house that needs a lot of work, we need to have a GC on this job," Craven said.
Flood insurance policies will generally give you a profit and overhead allowance; but depending on the size of the job and the number of different tradesmen needed, you can probably get more money.
Your adjuster may tell you they won't cover ceramic tile because the water didn't damage it. Craven said that's not always true.
"What you want to do is get a rubber mallet or dead blow hammer and tap the tile all the way around," Craven said. "If you hear something that sounds hollow, that probably means there is water sitting under there."
If you suspect there is water under your tile, try removing just one outer tile. If there is moisture underneath, take pictures and show the adjuster.
Craven's adjuster told him his proof of loss quote won't be ready for at least 60 days, maybe not until January since Hurricane Irma hit Florida. You need that document before you can even begin negotiating with your insurance company.
A lot of people wonder if they should hire their own public adjuster. Craven said you only need one if you feel overwhelmed with the process and just feel like you can't negotiate effectively. A public adjuster will typically cost you between 5 and 20 percent of you total loss. You can wait until after you get the proof of loss quote from your insurance company to bring one on board to help you.