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When to use a public adjuster for hurricane insurance claims

Posted September 14

Anyone who suffered damage from hurricanes Harvey or Irma will be thankful if they have homeowners or windstorm coverage and flood insurance . But much work lies ahead. Filing claims for major damage can be a full-time job because you must document every loss and negotiate a fair settlement. Omissions and missteps you make can mean a lower payout.

If you have a claim, report it to your insurer right away so they can send their adjuster. But while insurance company adjusters represent the insurer's interests, public insurance adjusters represent you. These professionals manage the claim for you in exchange for a fee or percentage of the insurance payout. Their job is to get you every dollar to which you're entitled.

"We provide a service so you can get back to your kids and your jobs," says Diane Swerling, vice president of Swerling Milton Winnick Public Insurance Adjusters Inc. in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.

WHEN TO CONSIDER HIRING HELP

Public adjusters generally work on large, complex claims. Recovering after a hurricane can be especially challenging because it often means filing claims on different policies. If the wind ripped your roof off as floodwaters rose, you'd file a homeowners or windstorm insurance claim and a flood insurance claim.

You could also face tricky questions like this: How much of the water damage was due to rain coming in through the torn-up roof and how much was due to flooding? The water damage related to the roof would fall under a homeowners or windstorm policy; the flood damage would fall under a flood insurance policy.

"It can be very, very complicated," says Darin Checchia, regional vice president of Adjusters International/Basloe, Levin & Cuccaro. "We would work to get the best use out of both policies."

Some claims are too small and simple to warrant hiring a public adjuster. And, if you don't have enough insurance to cover all the damage, some are too big, Swerling says.

It wouldn't make sense to hire an adjuster for a few damaged roof shingles, Checchia says. And it's better to handle the claim yourself if the damage far exceeds your insurance limits. In that case, the insurer likely would pay the maximum amount allowed under the policy.

The most a National Flood Insurance Program policy pays out is $250,000 for the structure and $100,000 for personal belongings . Limits on homeowners and windstorm policies vary.

PROFESSIONAL HELP, NOT MIRACLES

Filing a large insurance claim requires more time and energy than most people realize, according to United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group in San Francisco. Public adjusters help level the playing field because they know how to document claims, interpret the policies and argue for a fair settlement.

But they can't perform miracles. A public adjuster can't ext ract more money from the insurer than you're entitled to receive under the policy.

Public adjusters usually charge 5% to 15% of the total settlement, according to United Policyholders. Some states cap the fees, and they're generally negotiable.

HOW TO FIND A GOOD PUBLIC ADJUSTER

Quality and experience of public adjusters vary, so choose carefully. Follow these tips:

— Get referrals. You can find adjusters in your area through the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters .

— Make sure the adjuster is licensed in your state. Many state insurance departments, which regulate public insurance adjusters, let you verify licenses online.

— Check if any complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau

— Ask for references and check at least three if possible

— Read the contract and understand the fees before hiring the adjuster

— Stay away from anyone demanding an upfront fee or pressuring you to sign a contract. Disasters bring out scam artists — unqualified people who pose as public adjusters and take advantage of vulnerable people.

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This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet. Barbara Marquand is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.

RELATED LINKS

NerdWallet: Understanding flood insurance options

https://nerd.me/flood-insurance-options

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