Welcome to the Ask the Experts show, with local experts in the field of health, legal, financial, and home improvement. Now, here’s your host, Gary Knight.
Gary: And welcome to the show today. You know, there are few things as stressful and time-consuming as filing an insurance claim after a disaster. This is one of the primary reasons that many people chose to hire a public adjuster. That was off your website, by the way. It sounded pretty good, so I had to use it.
Welcome in to the show with Stephanie Corona. She’s a public adjuster. How are you doing today? Thanks for coming, by the way.
Stephanie: I am doing wonderful, Gary, and thank you for having us and giving us an opportunity to educate the public.
Gary: I’m pleased that you’re here, and we’re going to get on with it right now. What is a public adjuster?
Stephanie: A public adjuster is an insurance adjuster that is licensed by the state to represent the home or the business owner only. We’re not allowed to work for the insurance companies. We’re not allowed to represent anybody other than an actual insured in their fight against their insurance company.
Gary: How can they help?
Stephanie: We can help in a lot of ways. First and foremost, we do this every day all day long, and most of us have a lot of experience. So, we’ve surrounded ourselves with people and processes that make the insurance claims process that much easier.
Gary: I was mentioning how long you’ve been with the company. Fifteen years, is that right?
Stephanie: I have been an insurance adjuster for almost 20 years …
Stephanie: … Six of those years I worked for the insurance companies and 15 of those years I’ve worked for the homeowner or the business.
Gary: Amazing, and you still have that passion, huh?
Stephanie: I am very passionate about what I do. I feel that the community as a whole is not educated. They don’t know that people are available to help them. They try to handle the claims process on their own and a lot of times, they end up getting pushed around and they really don’t know what to do. So we try to get out there and educate the public and help if we can, and if we’re unable to help, we try to get them the help that they do need.
Gary: Should they phone … If they want to go with a public adjuster, how do they know who’s the right one for them?
Stephanie: Well, first and foremost, you need to probably check and make sure they’re licensed, okay? The Texas department of Insurance has a website where you can check their license number. And then, ask questions. Ask how many claims they actually are successful in closing out in the field without the assistance of an attorney. Ask them if they have a good group around them to support the job that needs to be done. A lot of times, we have to call in engineers, foundation companies, contractors to assist us in making a fair assessment of the damage of the property.
Gary: Do you, as a public adjuster, get involved with their insurance company?
Stephanie: We do get involved. We actually start with giving a letter of representation, signed by the client, which allows us to talk to the insurance company directly. That insurance company, unlike when dealing with a contractor, has to talk to us. We are licensed to represent that homeowner. They cannot shut us down. They have to open the lines of communication and provide us with all documentation of what has happened to date.
Gary: We’re talking to Stephanie Corona. She is a public adjuster, which means she is licensed, and their website’s ClaimsMate.com. Your number 281-231-9241, that’s 24/7, right, Stephanie?
Stephanie: It is 24/7, and believe it or not, I actually just called back a client at one o’clock in the morning the other night.
Stephanie: Somebody had a house fire and they needed immediate assistance, and …
Gary: You were still working?
Stephanie: I was not working, but my phone went off, I was on call that night, and I returned the phone call immediately. So, yes, we’re manned 24/7.
Gary: We’re still trying to clean up from Harvey, but in general, the question is, how long after the storm can they still assist you?
Stephanie: Any type of peril, they have up to two years to actually file a claim and get the process started. In regards to Hurricane Harvey, if you’ve opened your claim, which most people have, you have two years from the date of the last payment or the date that they denied you to pay part of your claim to still proceed forward in getting a full settlement from that insurance company.
Gary: Okay. Speaking of the insurance company, you say you have pretty good working relationship with them?
Stephanie: With most insurance companies, we do. It depends on the public adjuster out there. A lot of them go into the ring with fists blazing. We try to handle it a different way. We’ve got a lot of respect from most of the insurance companies because we are so thorough in what we do, and when you’ve got that respect, then it’s a two-way communication and things seem to go a lot smoother that direction than trying to fight them.’
Gary: And of course, you have the knowledge or jargon, what they use to get through there and get things going in a speedy way.
Stephanie: We use the words that they use so that they understand them. We also use the same software that they use to do their estimates. So I can look at an estimate even if you just fax it or e-mail it over and I can tell by looking at that estimate whether or not the insurance company’s adjuster has done their job properly.
Gary: Okay. What is the difference between hiring a public adjuster and an attorney?
Stephanie: Well, a public adjuster is there and we’re licensed by the state to protect the insured in matters of policy. So anything to do with your contract with your insurance company should really be handled by a public adjuster. That public adjuster should then do their job really well to either get your claim fully indemnified or at least build a case of breach of contract, bad faith, deceptive business practices. Once you form those three things, then it becomes a matter of law, and that is the time to hire an attorney. Attorneys typically will hire in on a contingency basis. Most of their contracts say that they will require 40% of the settlement. If those three things, or at least not one of them, have not been established before you hire an attorney, then that 40% may very well come out of your replacement cost funds as opposed to from the insurance company for not doing the things that they should have done to begin with.
Gary: How can you find a good public adjuster? We talked about that earlier off the show as well. I mean, do you just look in the yellow pages and …
Stephanie: There is … Texas Association of Public Insurance Adjusters has a lot of public adjusters on there, and that’s a good place to start. Another good place to start is just going to the internet and doing the search and then reading their websites. But you should have a very solid list of questions that you want to ask that public adjuster before hiring them. You want to talk to past clients. You want to know their close ratio out in the field without the assistance of attorney is upwards of 75%. You want to know that they’ve kept up with their continuing education. You want to know if they specialize in things, such as some public adjusters work fires really well. Some work floods really well. So you want to have a good list of questions that pertain to your claim ready whenever you’re contacting a public adjuster.
Gary: Which moves to the next question. What type of claims do the PAs handle?
Stephanie: Anything to do with property damage. We do not handle automobile claims. Most of us do not handle crop insurance or marine insurance, but there are some PAs out there that specialize in that.
Gary: Okay. What do they charge? Can I be blunt?
Stephanie: You can be very blunt. In the state of Texas, they’ve done a really good job of protecting the homeowner or the business owner against bad business practices.
Stephanie: We are not allowed to charge any fees up front. Our contracts read that we will charge either 10% of the total replacement cost after we have been successful in getting a settlement for you. Until that client has been paid by the insurance company, that public adjuster is not allowed to charge a dime.
Gary: We’re talking to Stephanie Corona, public adjuster. ClaimsMate is the company. Is that the company name?
Stephanie: The company name is ClaimsMate Public Adjusters, LLC.
Gary: How long have they been around as ClaimsMate? Way before you started?
Stephanie: No, no.
Gary: Okay. I’m just curious.
Stephanie: The name is new, but most of us that are working for the company have been around 10-plus years.
Gary: Wow. Very good. A lot of experience there between all of you.
Gary: When do you get paid? When do PAs get paid?
Stephanie: When the check comes in from the insurance company, typically a lot of the public adjusters’ names are on there. So we endorse the check at that time. We pick up a check from that client and typically hold it until their mortgage company releases funds.
Gary: Now, speaking of the money, when do they get paid? How long does it take for the client to get paid from the insurance company?
Stephanie: As most of the clients know right now, it can take a very long time …
Especially after a major catastrophe such as Hurricane Harvey. We have clients that are just now getting first checks. But a typical claim for hail or a burst pipe or a fire claim, Texas mandates that the insurance company needs to be there within seven days, they need to make a decision within 15 days, and then they need to be putting the check in the mail within seven days after that.
Gary: Well, very good. You’re all together there with that. That’s interesting.
Stephanie: That’s the way it should happen, haha.
Gary: Well, yeah, I know what you’re saying. Does my insurance adjuster handle my claim?
Stephanie: Your insurance adjuster is actually not your insurance adjuster.
Stephanie: That adjuster works for the insurance company. They are paid by the insurance company, and they are given instructions about what they can and cannot do by that insurance company.
Gary: Well, there are probably many types of adjusters. What are they?
Stephanie: There are staff adjusters that work directly for the insurance company. Those are typically salaried adjusters and they are trained specifically by that insurance company to follow their guidelines. There are independent adjusters, which usually work nationwide catastrophes such as flooding, large hail events, hurricanes, fires, and those independent adjusters work for different companies that hire out by the insurance company. Those adjusters are paid a little bit differently. They are paid a percentage of the claim amount as well based on a sliding scale. But they’re still paid by the insurance company and still are given instructions by the insurance company. Your public adjuster is what we are. We work directly for you. We are paid based off the amount of the claim, but we are not paid until you actually receive your settlement funds.
Gary: Huh. Now, can you use a contractor to handle the claim?
Stephanie: Not in the state of Texas anymore. The Attorney General has decided that whenever a contractor tries to negotiate with an insurance company, the client is not fully indemnified for their claims process. So if you have a contractor that comes in and does roofs only, they might not catch damage to gutters or to fascia boards. They might not catch damage that is inside or will occur inside. So they want somebody to come out that is going to look at your claim as a whole and your property as a whole, not just whatever that contractor specializes in.
Gary: How long does it usually take by the time you call a PA to get over to your place of residence?
Stephanie: Right after Hurricane Harvey, we were booked out about three weeks. Now, we’re usually there within 72 hours.
Gary: So, it has slowed down.
Stephanie: It has slowed down, but we are still, like I said, still busy and still going all the way from Beaumont to Port Aransas. I mean, this was a huge catastrophe …
Gary: Yeah, right.
Stephanie: … And we’re getting ready to hit hail storm season right now. A lot of the state has already experienced some massive hailstorms, so people will start to spread out again.
Gary: We’re talking to public adjuster Stephanie Corona, and we’ll be back … Let me give the number out one more time, 281-231-9242. That’s 281-231-9242, and they can call that number right now, right?
Stephanie: Yes, they can. Somebody will call them back very shortly.
Gary: Got more questions to ask Stephanie, so don’t go away. You’re listening to Ask the Experts on AM 700, KSEV, The Voice of Texas.
Gary: And we’re back to Ask the Experts here on AM 700 KSEV, The Voice of Texas. We’re talking to public adjuster Stephanie Corona. You look like you need some sleep, Stephanie.
Stephanie: It’s been a long season.
Gary: I can imagine. The number you can reach Stephanie … Is that you? Are you going to answer this number, or is somebody, an operator answers? An answering machine today?
Stephanie: An operator will answer, take down the details of the claim and send that information over to me or one of the other adjusters that are on call.
Gary: How many adjusters do you guys have all in one place?
Stephanie: None of us are all in one place. We’re kind of spread out.
Gary: I can imagine.
Stephanie: We try to cover the state of Texas really well, and we do have other adjusters that we work hand-in-hand with in, I think, 36 other states.
Gary: Wow. ClaimsMate.com, by the way, is the nation’s most trusted provider of private insurance adjusters. I get chills when I say that. Here’s a question. What should I do when I have a claim to my home or business?
Stephanie: The most important thing is to start documenting immediately. Make sure that you download some type of recording software to your phone because a lot of the conversations that you have, you will need to have proof of those conversations. Try to handle most of your communication in writing by e-mail, and make sure you take plenty of photos.
Your very first thing that you have to do after you let your insurance company know that a claim is being filed is you have to protect your property from further damage. That is one requirement that is spelled out in your contract with your insurance company. It doesn’t tell you how to protect your property from further damage. So a lot of times, you can call a public adjuster and they can answer that question for you without actually becoming involved in the claims process from the beginning. Or you can reach out to a contractor and find somebody that specializes in a roof if you’ve had hail damage. Or if you’ve got a fire, a company that is like ServPro or John Moore to mitigate the damages to try to get the water out and the smoke damaged items out.
So you’ve got to protect your property from further damage and you’ve got to document everything that is happening with photos, e-mails, voice recordings.
Gary: Well documented. Does the property owner … Well, they can call their home insurance company, correct?
Stephanie: They can. They definitely should call their insurance company and notify them as soon as possible that there is a possible claim there. I would recommend that their next call be to a public adjuster. It’s kind of like if you’re fighting the IRS, you’re not going to try and fight them by yourself and keep calling them after you’ve had an initial bad reaction. You would hire a CPA or a forensic accountant. Same thing if you’re going to get a divorce. You would not talk to your husband or wife’s attorney, you would need an attorney on your own.
So we kind of step in and we try to handle the process in the way we know is effective from the beginning, and it keeps down on the stress with that family that is already stressed out because their greatest investment has been damaged.
Gary: So this would probably be a crazy question. You’re saying they can contact the homeowner’s insurance that takes care of their home. Can they ask the question, “Can you refer me to a great public adjuster?”
Stephanie: No. Most of the time, they’ll be told either by their agent or the insurance company that a public adjuster is not needed and that we’re just trying to take half of their money, and that is not true.
Gary: They don’t play favorites.
Gary: Well, it was a good ask. No question’s stupid. Does my homeowner’s policy cover flood?
Stephanie: Your typical homeowner’s policy does not cover flood insurance.
Gary: That’s an add-on.
Stephanie: And that is an add-on, and it’s usually underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is controlled by FEMA. So it is a government-run pool, and the guidelines and the terms are a little bit different. Now your homeowner’s insurance company can cover things like burst pipes or overflows from appliances, but that is usually an add-on. It’s called an endorsement and you have to pay a little bit extra for that coverage.
Gary: Believe it or not, some people are not aware of that.
Stephanie: They are not aware of that, and they’re not aware of a lot of the new items that have been placed in the policy. One of the new wordings that we’re seeing out there is the policy does not cover wind-driven rain, which means if your window wasn’t broken, your door wasn’t blown open, you don’t have a hole in your siding or in your roof, then any water entry that would have come just from high rains and high winds would not be covered. A lot of Harvey victims are experiencing that right now. Their claims have been denied completely, due to that wording. But that does not mean that we cannot get around it and look at the policy. Fortunately in Texas, we are still a contract of adhesion state, meaning that the wording must be easy to understand. If the wording is ambiguous in any way and can be interpreted in multiple different ways, then that policy wording can be argued and won. So anybody with a rain-driven wind exclusion, anybody with a cosmetic damage exclusion should still be reaching out to a public adjuster to assess that policy and the language in it.
Gary: You got a big hole in the roof, and it has rained since Harvey, a lot of rain, and as you said, it probably took them, what, about a month or so to get to them? In the mean time, you better find somebody to put a top over it or you’re going to get more major damage in your second floor or first floor.
Stephanie: Exactly, and a lot of times, the tarps that are put up, you have to be careful because if you’ve got damage to a small section of your roof and the roofing company comes in and tarps your whole roof, well they’ve just destroyed your whole roof with a thousand roofing nails. The insurance company may still only want to cover that small portion that was damaged. So when they tell you you have to mitigate your property from further damages, it’s very important that you make sure that whoever is doing that work only covers the area that is covered by that storm. So there’s a lot of ways to go wrong right now.
Gary: We’re talking to Stephanie Corona at 281-231-9242. ClaimsMate.com is the website, and you can call anytime, 24/7. A question I’ve been meaning to ask you, Stephanie, my claim, it’s been denied. What do I do about it?
Stephanie: Pick up the phone and call a public adjuster. If it’s been denied and they’ve given you a reason and they’ve documented the policy wording to back that up, you still have not proven breach of contract, delay of claim, bad faith, deceptive trade practices. Those things need to be proven before you reach out to an attorney. A good public adjuster will already have put a complete file ready for that attorney.
Gary: When is it too late to hire a PA?
Stephanie: After you’ve hired an attorney, it is too late hire a public adjuster. That attorney must hire us in as an expert witness and we belong to the attorney, not to the client. It is also too late to call us if it’s been two years since the date of denial or the date of the last payment to you.
Gary: Okay. Do you go to court ever for this? Any of these things that ever happened, have you ever been at court?
Stephanie: I have been in court and I get deposed often if it’s ended up at an attorney. I also do work for some of the law firms as an expert witness where I’ve never even met the client. So, yes, I sit in courtrooms a lot.
Gary: Okay. Will my insurance agent be looking out for my best interests when I suffer a claim?
Stephanie: Unfortunately, what we’ve found is that most of the agents do not know all of the wording in the policy. The policy is about 60 pages, front and back, and a lot of them do not know each and every thing that has been put in that policy or changed over the years. So your insurance agent, while they may be your best friend or family member, doesn’t always know the proper process to take after a claim has been filed. They sell insurance, not do claims.
Gary: Exactly. What’s the difference between a company adjuster, an independent adjuster, and a public adjuster?
Stephanie: We talked about that earlier. Like I said, the staff adjusters are on a salary. They’re trained by that company for that company’s guidelines. They’re not trained so much for that policy and what the wording is in it. Your independents travel all over the country. They typically specialize either in hail claims or flood claims, but they have no vested interest in your community and how it looks after they’re gone. Your public adjuster’s normally going to be somebody local to your community. We’re vested in making sure that the community comes together and gets repaired as a whole so that it’s made back into the place it was before the storm.
Gary: If they contact your website, ClaimsMate.com, there’s information they can file there, isn’t there?
Stephanie: Yes, there’s a link that they can fill in and let us know kind of what’s going on, and we typically respond to that in under 12 hours. We send out additional information, we make a phone call, and we try to assess whether or not we’re able to still help you and how we’re able to help you.
Gary: Okay. Your number’s 281-231-9242 for ClaimsMate. A public adjuster will get back to you as soon as possible. How many days usually when you make that call right now?
Stephanie: We usually get back with you within 12 hours of you either hitting us on the website or calling into the phone number.
Gary: Okay. We’ve got three minutes left. Do you have anything you want to bring up that’s important to the folks listening right now?
Stephanie: I just want to say that, you know, even eight months after Hurricane Harvey, we still have people calling us and saying that their home doesn’t smell right, that their children are getting sick.
Stephanie: It is very important after a flood of this magnitude that your home is repaired in the proper method. If you weren’t paid for things up front such as removal of your tubs, removal of your tile, removal of your outside siding to get to the backer board and moisture barrier, then yes, it is fully possible that there are microbes and nasty things living under those areas, and those things still need to be addressed for your family to be safe. If you’ve got elderly people living in that house, if you have infants, if you have children with asthma, if you have anybody with a high instance of allergies, then those things that you’re feeling right now are very probably caused by an improper repair method that was done on the home.
Gary: You know, I’m looking at great deals on houses, and unfortunately from the storm. But I don’t know what to do because these people are letting them go. How do I know what’s … Like you say, there may be mold behind those two-by-fours …
Stephanie: Ninety percent of the time, there will be. All the houses that are being purchased by the investment companies that were flooded are making repairs in an improper method, and we call it putting lipstick on a pig. You need to make sure that whenever you do your homeowner’s inspection through your realtor that that inspection is done thoroughly and things are checked to make sure that they are living up to the seller’s disclosure.
Gary: Time’s up already. Stephanie Corona, I really enjoyed this conversation. Hope we do it again very soon.
Stephanie: Awesome, Gary. We should be back here in less than a month and we’ll look forward to taking calls that time on the air.
Gary: Speaking of calls, you got to get to that phone. Call 281-231-9242 right now, 281-231-9242 for ClaimsMate, and the public adjusters waiting for you right now.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Gary.