Some of you may remember about 10 months ago we had a big fire in our neck of the woods...the Station Fire. Ever since then, virtually all the homeowners in the area have been getting junk mail ads for attorneys or companies offering to help you get any insurance settlements that are owed to you as the result of smoke, soot, and ash damage. I know several people who've gotten sizable settlements through these companies, and they've all told me that we should do the same. For some reason, it seemed fishy.
A few weeks ago I finally contacted our insurance agent, and asked if we had grounds to file a claim. Yes, we did, and since our neighborhood was declared a disaster area, they still had catastrophe teams working to file claims for their clients. I got a call shortly after from a claims adjuster, and he made an appointment to come inspect the house and take some measurements, since the settlements for cleaning were partially based on square footage of the house. He told me then that the inspection would be brief, since he's seen enough of the houses in my neighborhood and he knew exactly what he'd find and where it would be.
Today he came by and did his inspection and measuring. He was right...the inspection was pretty quick, and he had a laser measuring 'tape' to get a quick square footage of every room. He'll take those numbers and run them through a CAD program that'll give him (and us) a blueprint of the house and a basis for the settlement. And no surprise, he found signs of ash and soot everywhere he looked, so it's pretty much a slam-dunk, no questions asked settlement. What surprised me is the extent of the repairs they are planning to pay for. There's cleaning everything: floors, walls, inside cabinets and closets, all furniture, clothing, ceilings, roofs, rain gutters, paved surfaces, and all the HVAC ductwork. They will also be removing and replacing all the blown-in insulation in the attic, which is 12" to 16" deep. Just guessing, he said we were probably looking at between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of work. The settlement will be paid in two checks...one that has our mortgage company as a co-signer (for exterior and infrastructure cleaning), and another that's strictly to us for interior cleaning, so we can decide how much of that work we want to pay for and how much we want to do ourselves. (For example, I don't think I'll pay someone to sanitize my shop.)
The adjuster also filled us in on how the "claim settlement" companies/lawyers work. This is probably old news to those of you who have been through large-scale catastrophes (floods, tornadoes, etc.), but it was still a new experience to me, since I'd never had a homeowner's insurance claim before, particularly after a disaster event. The companies contact the insurance companies to file the claim, then follow the inspectors around to make sure they inspect everything they think should be inspected. The settlement ends up being the same, since they're all going by "blue book" rates, and a reputable inspector is going to come up with the same numbers whether he's followed around by a lawyer or not. The only difference is that the settlement company/lawyer gets to keep 35% off the top of any settlements paid. According to our adjuster, there's one prolific outfit in the area that's making in the neighborhood of $200,000 per month scamming people out of their 35%. I'm glad I didn't follow the neighbors' advice and call any of the companies they suggested. My advice if you're ever in a similar boat is just call your insurance company and let them do what you pay them for.