May 28, 2022

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Knowing the process, having an advocate, key to homeowner’s insurance claims

When it comes to negotiating with the insurance companies after a natural disaster, homeowners don’t have to go it alone.

In fact, they shouldn’t.

It’s best to have your general contractor, if you will have one, on-site when the insurance adjuster comes out to look at damage. Or, if only the roof is damaged, a roofing company.

Even a friend or family member with some general construction knowledge can be an asset when it comes to dealing with your homeowner’s insurance company, said public adjuster Richie Brown.

Public adjusters work for the homeowner in negotiating with the insurance company and looking at damage. Public adjusters must be licensed by the state, and they typically charge a fee of 10 percent of the total insurance payment.

Insurance Commissioner’s office handles more than complaints

The Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s Office is also ready to help Georgia policyholders navigate the process.

Consumers can contact the Insurance Commissioner’s Office call center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to speak to a representative. Representatives can provide information and direction to assist policy holders with their concerns, said Jo Anne Oni, director of consumer services.

You can reach the call center at 404-656-2070.

An Insurance Commissioner’s representative can even contact the insurance company to open the lines of communication which can often resolve the issue, Oni said.

“We reach out (to the insurance company) with the consumer’s issue and they provide us a response that we’d then share with the consumer,” said Weston Burleson, director of communications and legislative affairs for the insurance commissioner’s office.

When they make that call, it’s helpful to have copies of any communications between the policyholder and the insurance company, as well as copies of policies.

If the problem can’t be solved through the phone calls, representatives can help consumers with the process of filing a formal complaint.

As of Friday morning, Burleson said the office had only received five calls from policyholders regarding the March 26 tornado, and there are no active complaints.

However, the office is looking into some tree removal companies that have been acting improperly and taking advantage of impacted homeowners, Burleson said. Anyone who is experiencing anything like that is asked to contact the office’s criminal investigations division at https://oci.georgia.gov/report-suspected-fraud .

Tips when dealing with contractors

Burleson provided a list of things that policyholders should be aware of when working with contractors.

  • No one can negotiate on your behalf with your insurance company unless they are specifically licensed by our office or if they are a lawyer you have hired.
  • No one can legally offer to pay your deductible as a way of earning your business.
  • Talk to your insurance company first before you sign any kind of contract with an adjuster, a roofer, tree removal service, etc. If you are having trouble getting a response from your insurance company, call the Insurance Commissioner’s office.
  • Beware of anyone charging a large amount for services, particularly if they assure you it’s covered by your policy. Again, talk to your insurance company first.

Brown, the public adjuster, is working in Newnan and has been offering general tips to policyholders on Facebook.

For Brown, although he doesn’t live in Coweta, this disaster is personal. His stepdaughter’s grandparent’s home was severely damaged, and he has been helping them with their claim.

The home will be a total loss, he said. And meeting with the adjuster for that claim took about seven hours.

He recommends that every homeowner be represented by somebody, even if it is just a friend.

Not all damage is obvious

“It’s somebody to stand there and just say, ‘Hey, this looks damaged, this looks damaged,’” Brown said. There are some kinds of damage that aren’t as obvious and that people might not be aware of.

Modern double-paned windows can be easily damaged; though there might not be a crack or other obvious damage, the windows could end up fogging. If your windows are older and need to be reglazed, it might end up costing the same amount to replace them with a new vinyl window, he said.

If a tree hit your home, look for more than just the obvious damage, Brown said. There is an energy transfer from that massive hit, and that energy goes somewhere.

“If it was a downward force, you need to be checking underneath the house,” he said. While some people may think the only thing damaged at their home is the roof, it’s important to look closer, he said.

“You need a general contractor when it comes to structural issues, not just a roofer,” he said.

Framing in the attic can be damaged, or pulled loose in a wind event, especially if the roof has high gable vents, he said.

And always be on-site when any contractor or adjuster is looking at your home, Brown said.

In every homeowner’s policy, the burden of proof is on the homeowner, according to Brown.

“That means it is up to you to prove it,” he said. So when your insurance adjuster comes you, “you’re going to walk around and you’re going to show them all the damages. That is your proof and they’ve got to discredit you,” Brown said.

When meeting with your adjuster, skip the small talk and only focus on the damage, Brown said.

You don’t have to take the first offer

When the insurance company comes up with an offer, it’s not final. “You don’t have to take their first estimate, by any means,” Brown said.

He recalled a case where the insurance company offered $80,000. “I said, ‘This is every bit of a $120,000 claim,’” he said. If people don’t know the process, they might not know how to go after the payments they deserve, he said.

In another case, the adjuster got there early, and was already gone before Brown arrived to meet with him. The insurance company offered $76,000. “It was well over a six-figure claim,” Brown said.

People should be aware that it’s not lawful for a contractor to offer to “eat” the deductibles. “That is insurance fraud,” Brown said.

When older homes have severe damage, building codes can come into play. Sometimes, the electrical system will need to be upgraded. If enough of the house has to be rebuilt, other things might have to be brought up to code. Some policies have better coverage for those code-related issues than others, Brown said.

When it comes to temporary housing, policy holders can’t use their insurance benefit to buy housing – such as a camper or other temporary dwelling. But they can use it to rent a temporary dwelling.

Another thing that can be tricky is a reverse mortgage when a home is severely damaged, Brown said.

To reach the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner’s Office, call 404-656-2070 or visit https://oci.georgia.gov/ .