The answer is maybe. Every situation is different but it depends on your claim, the public adjuster, and the agreement you are asked to sign. With destruction and devastation rampant in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in the wake of Hurricane Sally, many property owners have already taken the first step in reporting their claim to their insurance company. You have done what you can to prevent further damage by tarping your roof and drying out the damaged property. And, most importantly, you have taken plenty of photos and videos of the damage to document your damage.
Now what? What about all the calls and flyers from public adjusters telling you handling your own claim alone is like going to court without a lawyer? Well not really—especially in the beginning.
It May Be Best to Wait for Your Insurance Company's Estimate First
In many cases, you should wait to receive your insurance company's adjuster's first estimate before hiring a public adjuster. If you are satisfied with the amount the insurance company has offered, there is no need to pay your public adjuster a percentage of monies your insurance company wants to pay you without any dispute. When you hire a public adjuster, you are agreeing to give them a percentage of the money the insurance company pays for your damage—typically no more than 10%. The value of a good public adjuster is their ability to find errors in insurance company estimates or other damages not addressed by the insurance company.
After the first insurance estimate, a public adjuster can then step in and supplement the claim if you were not fairly compensated. An exception to the suggestion to wait to see what the insurance company will do before hiring a public adjuster is if the public adjuster is willing to not take a fee from the first offer made by the insurance company. Many of the reputable public adjusting firms structure their fee agreement this way. Just make sure whatever you and the public adjuster agree to verbally is then reduced to writing and included in the contract before you sign it. There may be times when hiring a public adjuster immediately makes sense like when the claim is large, complex, or may have coverage issues—but only if it is the right public adjuster.
Be Wary of a Cold Call Sales Pitch
If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is—especially things said during a sales pitch. When you are pitched by a public adjuster, especially one you found through their advertisement or cold call, they are tying to sell you their service and ultimately “close you” by getting you to sign their contract. A good and fair public adjuster is not going to tell they will get you more money faster than anyone else. In fact, hiring a public adjuster can slow down the claims process because the insurance adjuster now has to communicate only with your public adjuster who may be managing hundreds of claims—not just yours.
Be wary of the public adjusting firm if the person in your living room trying to get you to sign the contract is not the person who will be handling your claim or is himself or herself not licensed by the state of Florida. If your actual adjuster doesn't have time to meet with you up front during the crucial first impression when people tend to be at their best, chances are they will not have time for you during the handling of the claim when things get stressful. Avoid large firms with assembly-line processes if you like personal attention and meaningful communication.
Be Sure to Vet the Public Adjuster Before Hiring
Public adjusters can have very different levels of experience and reputations. Do know, every public adjuster has a reputation with the insurance companies. Public adjusters who have a reputation for inflating claims carry very little weight when they submit a claim on your behalf. In fact, there is more than one public adjusting firm in Florida whose reputation alone will cause your insurance company's desk adjuster, and their supervisor, to literally roll their eyes when that particular adjusting firm's name appears on your claim package. You want to a hire a public adjuster who has earned a reputation for being tough, thorough, knowledgeable but also reasonable. After all, you are legally responsible for what is submitted on your behalf by your public adjuster. An inflated claim submitted by your public adjuster could earn you a call form the Florida Department of Financial Services Fraud Bureau.
You wouldn't let anyone cut your hair simply because they had a barber's license. You shouldn't let anyone handle your claim just because they have a public adjuster's license or a persuasive sales presentation. Our number one tip is to vet the person, and their firm, that you are considering hiring. What do the online reviews say about the public adjusting firm (avoid looking at just the better business bureau)? How long have they had that phone number with an (850) area code (before Hurricane Michael and Sally or after)? Ask them what they did before they became a public adjuster. How many claims are they personally handling? Where do they actually live and what ties do they have to this area? Were their answers genuine or a bit too rehearsed? Trust your gut and know you have options. Above all, avoid feeling pressured to make an immediate decision.
Ask the Public Adjuster: What Happens If My Insurance Company Does Not Agree to Pay What Is Owed?
The number one question to ask any candidate asking to be your public adjuster is, “what happens next if the insurance company does not agree to pay what is owed?” (after the public adjuster submits the claim and more than 60 days have elapsed). If the insurance company disputes the public adjuster's estimate and refuses to pay the claim in full, what generally happens next is the property owner may have to hire an attorney to get the courts involved to enforce the policy and likely will have to pay both the public adjuster and any attorneys' fees not covered by the insurance company. How the public adjuster answers the question will reveal their character for truthfulness. Be wary of answers implying they have their own attorneys or work with certain attorneys located in other parts of the state. Alarm bells should ring if they tell you that if you need to hire an attorney their fees will be paid by the insurance company and it will not cost you any additional money—this is a gross oversimplification of how Florida law works. Also be wary of the public adjuster who implies that their claims are always paid or throws around the term “bad faith”—suggesting the insurance company can be sued for bad faith if their claim is not paid. Such a suggestion is another gross simplification of Florida's bad Faith law.
Read Any Contract They Ask You to Sign Carefully
After you vet the public adjuster, you need to pay attention to the contract they ask you to sign—as if your claim depended on it (because it does). Does the contract contain all the promises made to you during the sales pitch? Contrary to what you may be told, you can not add to the contract later after it is signed. Does the contract prevent you from providing negative online reviews? (If so, run away immediately). Does the contract seek to take a percentage of all money the insurance company pays under different coverage types under the policy or just the coverages the public adjuster works on? For example, why should you give the public adjuster 10% of your contents claim if they did not prepare a contents estimate for you? Do they plan on handling your ALE (additional living expenses) claim for 10% of the money paid under that coverage type? What does the contract say about the public adjuster's fee if you have to eventually hire an attorney?
Not all claims require a public adjuster just like not all claims require an attorney. Unfortunately, insurance companies all too often make business decisions at the expense of their policy holders, and these bad decisions and actions by insurance companies make public adjusters necessary. There are many public adjusters who are very skilled at what they do and end up paying for themselves several times over with the results they obtain. Unfortunately, many more are not and see your claim only as a means to enrich themselves. Hiring the wrong public adjuster is a decision you will regret through the life your Hurricane Sally claim. When needed, hiring the correct public adjuster will end up saving you money.
If You Have Questions About Hiring a Public Adjuster, Contact Us
If you are considering hiring a public adjuster or have questions about a public adjuster you have already hired, contact us. We would be happy to discuss your rights regarding public adjusters and how we work in conjunction with public adjusters to protect your interests. In addition to our free After the Storm Guide, we have put out a few articles offering tips before hiring a contractor to make repairs and tips on filing an insurance claim to ensure you file a timely and complete claim for your damage from Hurricane Sally. We also always want to make sure policyholders are aware of all resources available after a storm.