The methods insurance estimators use are a far cry from the way most contractors estimate, according to insurance estimator Vincent Campagna and public insurance adjuster Dick Tutwiler. Both agree that typical building and remodeling contractors are poorly equipped to take on insurance adjusters in the world of insurance estimating.
"It's a completely different mentality," says Campagna, who is based in Sound Beach, N.Y., on Long Island's North Shore. "Remodelers generally work on a square-foot price, and they provide allowances for the unknowns, and then if the customer wants to make changes they work off those allowances. But with insurance estimating, you don't have that kind of luxury. You need to exactly measure rooms, ceiling heights, footprints, and then give exact quantities of things that are in that room. How many outlets? How many lineal feet of casing? How many doors? What type of doors? What are the paint finishes? Are there different color paints?"
Estimates are extremely detailed, says Campagna. "If you're installing a door, you are going to itemize the pre-hung door unit; the casing on the door; the lockset on the door; you are going to paint the door; you're going to paint the casing; and you're going to paint the jamb opening as well. So instead of saying, ‘For 275 bucks I'll come by and replace the door and it'll be done,' you have to note down six or seven line items, just for one door."
"I have an estimator here who sits in a room all day long in front of three computer screens, writing these detailed line-by-line estimates for these properties so he can figure out what the loss is," says Tutwiler, owner of Florida-based firm Tutwiler & Associates. That has to be done. And these guys who are not used to it and can't conform to it are either going to have to learn it, or they are going to take the flood adjuster's estimate and look at it and say, ‘Well, I can or can't do it, based on this price.'"
Campagna says, "I work for some contractors directly. There are a couple of contractors I know that, when they have a job, they'll call me. In fact I have one I'm going to look at for a friend tomorrow. He does development work, builds high-end homes all over Long Island. He has a bad flood loss in a high end home in Long Beach, and he has an agreement with the flood insurance to run a dollar amount, but the adjuster wants the contractor to help him do his work, and provide an estimate that he can work from. And this guy doesn't write an estimate that way. I've done work for him before. He said, ‘Vinnie, I looked at a couple your estimates and I tried to put mine together like this but I just can't do it. I need you to come in and write this.' So the guys should either get a relationship with somebody like me who does insurance estimating, or with a public adjuster who will negotiate the whole claim."
Tutwiler says he is happy to team up with contractors. "We do two different things," he says. "I don't fix anything. All I want is to get the homeowner enough money to overcome my fee and give them enough to fix the house, or get close to it. And the contractor doesn't need to be dealing with the adjuster and everything they throw up — he needs to concentrate on doing the work and let somebody else who is sophisticated deal with the insurance nuances."
Flood policy's fine points aren't always written into the policy, says Tutwiler: "They issue memoranda that you won't hear about if you aren't in the business. For instance, in 2004 they issued a memo that said if a carpet over a finished floor was damaged, you could choose whether to have the carpet covered under the structure coverage, or under contents coverage, depending where you had the money. No homeowner is going to be aware of that choice."
And even where the flood policy offers little wiggle room, Tutwiler says he can often identify areas where the standard homeowner's policy should also pay out on the claim. "Even if the homeowner's insurance carrier comes by and says that it's all flood and they won't pay anything, to the trained eye — knowing what to look for — there is wind damage to a lot of homes that are being bypassed because people don't want to spend the time out there to actually go through and look for it. It's not catastrophic wind damage that you normally associate with a hurricane, but we see a lot of wind damage on the Long Island shore."
And some of Long Island's flooded properties may have homeowner's coverage for a sewer backup, independent of the flood coverage. Tutwiler says, "Virtually every neighborhood that got flooded out there had sewage backup before the flood waters came in. The coverage is policy specific, depending on the language. But any policy that has sewer backup coverage — there's a pocket of money to go after. Allstate, for example, has five grand for sewer backup in their standard homeowner policies. Some policies, like Chubb, may have no restrictions on it at all. So if somebody has a basement, he has a lot of furniture in it, sure he had a flood and the basement contents aren't covered — but guess what, it was full of sewage before the flood got there, so pay us on the sewage coverage. You just turned a pig into a prince."