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Two months after Hurricane Irma, reporting damages to insurance companies turned out to be the easiest part of the recovery process for many Florida homeowners.
Setting the cost of repairs and getting workers out to fix the most severely damaged properties is requiring a lot of patience.
Carlos Villanueva is still waiting for his insurance company to determine the cost of repairing roof damage, 16 structural fissures and resulting mold and moisture at his coastal Miami home.
“The process has been inefficient and riddled with levels of incompetence,” Villanueva said. Seven adjusters - most of them contracted by his insurance company from third-party providers - have inspected his home.
Several times, the insurer decided that an adjuster it sent didn’t have enough expertise and dispatched another adjuster.
Tarps have been installed on his roof four times, but each came loose and needed to be reinstalled.
“There are so many third-party adjusters involved,” he said. “Coordination has been difficult.”
Not all Hurricane Irma claims have been so difficult to resolve. But many have been, industry officials say, and the biggest headaches most likely stem from the shortage of adjusters available after hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck Texas and Florida in quick succession.
According to state data, 809,306 claims worth an estimated $5.6 billion were filed with property and casualty insurers across Florida as of Nov. 3, the most recent reporting date.
Of those, 264,409 were paid out and closed and 180,787 were closed with no payment - usually because the damage did not exceed policyholders’ hurricane deductibles.
Yet nearly half - 364,110 remained open.
“Immediately following Hurricane Irma, the insurance carriers excelled throughout the claims reporting process,” said Ryan Papy, president of Miamibased Tom Gallagher Insurance and Keyes Insurance in Pompano Beach. “The service was top-notch and claims were filed efficiently.”
After initial damage inspections are complete, the focus turns to settlements and repairs.
“The second phase, which we are in currently, is the assessment period which primarily is carried out by third-party adjusters,” Papy said. “This process has been frustrating to say the least for many insured. Many property owners have dealt with delays, multiple different inspectors, and an overall lack of communication on their claim. There is a lot left to be desired.”
Nancy Dominguez, executive director of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, say she has taken numerous calls from policyholders frustrated with their insurers’ responses.
Unlike adjusters who work for insurance companies, public adjusters are hired by policyholders to work with insurers on their behalf to determine how much money should be paid to repair damage.
Calls for help from public adjusters usually peak about two months after a major storm, Dominguez said. “They say, “I tried to deal with the insurance company directly and they sent me a check for $1,200. What can I do with that?”
Much of the post-irma frustration stemmed from dealing with catastrophe adjusters quickly trained and supervised under Gov. Rick Scott’s Sept. 4 emergency authorisation allowing suspension of normal credentialing requirements, Dominguez said.
One such adjuster was dispatched to an English-speaker’s home despite not knowing how to speak English, Dominguez said.
After Hurricane Harvey, “the cream of the crop” of independent insurance adjusters headed to Texas to work for insurance companies there, Papy said. Then, when Irma looked likely to strike Florida, insurers here were forced to compete to secure services from adjusters who didn’t go to Texas.
“By the time residents of South Florida needed them, there were slim pickings,” Papy said.
Papy said he understands why homeowners forced to wait weeks for their insurers to send adjusters to their homes turn to outside help like public adjusters and attorneys.
“Insurance companies want to control who goes to the home, and I understand that,” Papy said. If they set realistic expectations for how long homeowners will have to wait for adjusters, most homeowners would remain patient, he said. But when adjusters repeatedly fail to show up when an insurer says they’ll show, people lose confidence and seek outside help, he said.
Yet, Paresh Patel, CEO of Homeowners Choice Insurance, one of the state’s largest insurers, says involvement by public adjusters has caused claims-handling delays at his company.
“We’re seeing people who signed up with public adjusters and we’re having trouble getting to that claim because the public adjuster is backlogged,” Patel said. “We got 300 new claims last week and those have not been seen yet.”
For Patel, the biggest roadblock to getting past Hurricane Irma is the shortage of construction workers.
Builders were complaining about a lack of skilled workers before the storms hit. Now the problem is worse, they say.
Carol Bowen, lobbyist for the Florida East Coast Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., said demand for workers to fix homes after Irma is squeezing labour availability for commercial builders.
Mario Mandieta, owner of Mandieta Roofing Corp. in West Palm Beach, says all roofing companies he knows are suffering from a shortage of labour. Eight roofers currently work for them, completing about three to four jobs a week, he said. If he had six or 10 more, his company could complete up to 10 jobs a week, he said.
“It’s very difficult to find good roofers,” he said.
Villanueva, who says he’s still waiting for his insurer to send a contractor to install a fifth temporary tarp on his roof, recently received one piece of good news from his insurer:
Even though it hasn’t yet accepted responsibility for the structural damage to his home, it told him it would cover the cost to install a new roof.
But because of the backlog, he was told, that work can’t start until January or February.