Business & Finance Taxes

United States Public Adjusters Helping Hurricane Victims

 Imagine that you're a boxer, facing your opponent before an important bout. The referee recites the rules and says he wants a fair fight, then sends you both to your corners to wait for the bell. You're ready to rumble. But there's just one problem. The referee works for your opponent.

Fair fight? Hardly, but that's the situation many Texans might find themselves in this hurricane season. Because if you have to submit a claim, you'll quickly learn that the claims adjuster -- the person who estimates damage and the cost of repairs -- works for the insurance company. So he may be more interested in keeping costs down for his employer than in making sure you're paid enough for complete repairs.

Many insurance claims are handled this way. Which is why millions of dollars rightfully owed to policyholders stays in insurers' pockets. And most people don't even know there's an alternative.

But there is -- a public insurance adjuster. And just as you wouldn't go into court without a lawyer, or go through an IRS audit without an accountant, you should never let your insurance company decide what you're owed without a public insurance adjuster.

 Whatever the claim, you need someone in your corner.

Hurricane. Fire. Burst pipes. Vandalism or burglary. Virtually everyone sustains some kind of loss to their home or business at some point, especially in tornado/hurricane-prone Texas. And the stakes are too high to leave your payment to the party writing the check -- your insurer.

Public insurance adjusters are licensed by the state of Texas to represent your interests through every stage of the claims process: preparation, filing, adjustment, negotiation, and settlement. They can even help you re-open a claim that's been closed for up to two years, recovering additional money for repairs, replacements and upgrades. And if you're ever notified that your claim is denied, a public adjuster should be the first call you make.

Having this kind of advocate on your side is especially important right now, because estimates of hurricane damage can vary widely. The insurance company's adjuster is likely to estimate on the low end; that's why your public adjuster can routinely achieve settlements of 50, 100, even 200 percent higher than the insurer's offer.

"The insurance company will often want to pay for cleaning and painting a damaged area, or replacing only part of the affected area," explains Alex Step, of United States Public Adjuster (“USPA”). "But cleaning and painting might not be enough -- there could be structural damage you don't see, like mold or wood rot. And because building codes are stricter now, you could be entitled to a whole new, upgraded roof -- not just repairs to the damaged area."

Most adjusters at USPA are former insurance company adjusters with extensive experience in estimating damage caused by hurricanes, fires, floods, fallen trees, lightning, you name it. That's important, says Step, "because you need people who know the process in and out -- who know all the tricks of the trade."

Do you want the money in your pocket -- or the insurance company's?

The average homeowner may have only one major damage claim in his lifetime. "It's just not possible for a homeowner to knowledgeably argue for a larger settlement," says Step. "There are too many factors involved -- age of the home, the possibility of hidden damage, the fluctuating costs of labor and materials."

And a public adjuster doesn't only help you with the damage claim. You may be entitled to reimbursement for additional living expenses or temporary repairs before the real replacement work starts.

"It's no different than tax or legal matters," says Step. "Without the assistance of expert professionals, the little guy is at the mercy of the big guy."

In short, not having an experienced public adjuster in your corner could cost you big money. And with hurricane season upon us, that's something to keep in mind -- before you have to duke it out with your insurance company.

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Adjusters

Q:  What is a public insurance adjuster?

A:  A loss adjustment expert who represents you, the homeowner, in the preparation, filing, and resolution of your insurance claims. A public adjuster is tested, licensed and bonded by the state of Texas.

Q:  How can a public insurance adjuster help me?

A:  Your adjuster relieves you of the many time-consuming and difficult details involved in preparing and filing your claim -- and helps you receive a prompt and fair settlement.

Q:  Why should I engage a public insurance adjuster to obtain what is rightfully due to me?

A:  You'll have the advantage of the public adjuster's experience and knowledge of repair costs and the claims process. Insurance companies offer to pay what is due to you as they see it. Public insurance adjusters are your exclusive representatives. With their experience and knowledge they are better able to obtain a more favorable adjustment for you, the insured.

Q:  How do adjusters determine the actual loss?

A:  They take a physical inventory, obtain all pertinent appraisals and make sure all provisions in your policy are properly fulfilled. This often involves subjects you know little or nothing about. That's why a thorough inventory made by an adjuster on your side can make a significant difference in the amount of the final adjustment.

Q:  How much do they charge for their services?

A:  Your public insurance adjuster's charge is a percentage of the insurance company's settlement with you -- usually 10 percent.

Q:  In the event of a loss, what steps should I take?

A:  Promptly report the loss to your agent or broker, or directly to the insurance company -- then immediately retain the services of an accredited public insurance adjuster.

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