It seems like yesterday when Hurricane Charley came ashore and devastated our area. Call it complacency or just lack of experience, but I haven’t come across anyone who thought that storm was going to take a right-hand turn into Charlotte Harbor and create the devastating damage that it did. Perhaps it was due to having a Governor whose brother was the President of the United States at the time, but the speed at which our area was back on its feet was miraculous, and one that was well-documented in the media. The community came together and with the help of a master planner, our city came back better and stronger than anyone could have imagined. What struck me most was the heartfelt compassion so many had who came to our rescue. Those who tried to gouge, or take advantage of us were quickly dealt with, while others came from all over the country to lend their support.
Our friend and insurance agent was Bill Martin, who owned the State Farm Agency in Punta Gorda at the time. I remember seeing him manning the makeshift State Farm command center that was set up in the Publix Shopping center parking lot in Port Charlotte. People were searching for answers on what to do, still somewhat in shock from the devastation that came upon us almost without warning. Watching Bill handle each person with such style and grace was like having your security blanket. You couldn’t help but feel his sincerity that we would get through this together. For us, it was a seamless transition, as the field adjuster who came to our home was equally caring and conveyed that same feeling that we would be well taken care of, and we were.
Having a home 15 ft. from a seawall doesn’t give you much hope if a storm surge is in the forecast, and just like Charley, we weren’t expecting to come back to a home with Hurricane Ian either. Fortunately for us, we were spared however, our sense of being in good hands was to be short-lived.
Most would agree, Hurricane Charley, inflicted more damage to our area than Hurricane Ian. Perhaps it is due to newer building codes or after going through one hurricane we protected our homes and businesses much better, but overall I think for the exception of some, most fared a bit better. Having dodged a bullet of sorts, I felt based on our past claim experience with Charley, this would be handled with the same compassion. Unfortunately, Bill had retired and the field adjuster we had this time had an agenda. It was very apparent from the outset his goal was to help us as little as possible in recovering from the loss we incurred.
I’ve never been an ambulance chaser and don’t believe in cheating the system to claim things we are not entitled, but when you don’t put in for claims and still get increases in your premiums, it is a hard pill to swallow when in your time of need you are treated like the adversary.
Having been a Realtor for 18 years, we’ve helped many clients over those years navigate inspection reports and repairs so they can enjoy a smooth closing. We’ve learned a great deal from inspectors and contractors alike, and the difference between a repair and replacement. So you can imagine my frustration when our insurance field adjuster went on our 18-year-old roof and after surveying all the broken tiles said, “This can be repaired.” When I asked him about all the loose tiles he missed he replied, “Let me know if you see anything and I’ll add it to my report.” Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t like heights. Unless my roof was the height of my dining room table I wasn’t going to climb my roof to point out all the tiles he missed….thus began my “Art of War.”
Sun Tzu’s, “The Art of War,” is a philosophy that war should be avoided and if it can’t it should be fought psychologically and strategically to minimize loss or damage. Having worked in cut-throat industries in New York City, applying the principles of Sun Tzu’s approach would be the last thing I would have been taught to consider. Do I take the field adjuster’s ladder away and leave him up on the roof so he can see all the damage the roofers who did go up on the roof point out to me? Do I toss him up a stronger pair of glasses? Maybe I even ask if he’s even done this before? I’m sure those approaches wouldn’t work in my favor, but when your insurance company tells you that you need a repair and the suppliers for roofing materials they gave you say “Your tile was discontinued a “long, long time ago,” you realize you have to fight for yourself. So like many, I now have to fight my battle with contractors I have little or no experience with, and for someone who doesn’t know where to turn, this can be frightening.
How do you know which roofer is being honest with you and not just looking to gouge the insurance company, when all you need is a repair? What about all the other damage to your pool cage or other items that were destroyed? It starts with having a good insurance broker who can guide you through the claims process. Then if you aren’t fortunate enough to get an adjuster who is keeping your best interests in mind, you have to get as many opinions and references as possible before signing anything. Whatever you do, don’t sign over your benefits, otherwise known as A.O.B., and not to be confused with New York Congresswoman A.O.C.
A.O.B. is the acronym for “Assignment Of Benefits” and some people have unwittingly fallen victim to signing these over to a third party, who can be a roofing contractor or someone claiming to be working in your best interests. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, by signing over your claim benefits you are now on the outside looking in as all decisions and reimbursements will be going to the third party. You are no longer in control of your insurance benefits or reimbursements. In Florida, you do have a 14-day rescission period in which to cancel that agreement, but it is best to seek the advice of an attorney or your insurance broker before signing anything. Some people will automatically engage the services of a public adjuster to fight their battles. I look at this as more the last option than my first. Public adjusters on average will make ten percent of the total claim. If the insurance company doesn’t reimburse you enough to cover their “commission” you are on the hook. If you have a deductible of $5,000-10,000 and you have $60,000-100,000 in damages, and the insurance company is only looking to cover the cost for damages and nothing more, you could be out of pocket another $6,000-10,000 on top of your deductible. Another thing to consider is the contract you are signing with a roofer. Are you bound to them regardless of whether they get enough money to complete your roof repair or replacement, or are you responsible to make up the difference? Questions you need to ask aside from getting a quote and an estimated time of completion to complete the job are 1. Is there a cancellation period in the contract should I decide to terminate this agreement? 2. Am I bound to you if the insurance company is unwilling to agree to your estimate?
While I’ve been sharing my experience with a roofer and an insurance company that seems more concerned with their interests than helping us through this time, there is a reason many of you may be experiencing what we are. Ask any insurance broker how many questionable claims for new roofs were submitted years after Hurricane Irma impacted Florida. They’ve shared with us the weather-related causes we just didn’t experience, but that it was cheaper to pay the claim than battle in court. As a result, insurance companies are now insuring roofs for less time than the projected lifespan from the manufacturer. On average, an insurance company will insure a shingle roof for 10-15 years, a tile roof for 20-25 years, and a metal roof for 25-30 years before requiring you to replace it to continue coverage. The question becomes, “Is the insurance company looking to “repair” when you need a replacement, knowing in a few short years you’ll need to incur the cost of replacement yourself?” The important thing to keep in mind is to get several estimates from respectable contractors who have good reviews and standing with the Better Business Bureau. For those living in the general area, you can always reach out to the Charlotte Desoto Building Industry Association otherwise known as the CDBIA. They are comprised of local contractors, lenders, and related trades and services that can give you guidance and resources when needed. While none of us want to wait for a prolonged period to get our homes put back together, don’t feel pressured to sign a contract until you’ve thoroughly researched the company and the contract. Our understanding is you have up to a year to file a claim, but check with your insurance broker to verify the details of your policy.
Despite going through a major storm for the second time in 18 years, we are safe and just like last time, our homes and our community will come back better than before, and we’ll all grow a little closer to each other.