Following Up on Insurance, Post-Irene

Thursday, September 15, 2011

J. Robert Hunter, director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, follows up on how the insurance industry is reacting to the damage and flooding from Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Irene.


J. Robert Hunter

Comments [13]

Every homeowner needs to know that a Public Adjuster is there to help them. We are here to help the homeowner navigate their insurance claims. And do whatever we can to get them what they deserve. We strive to make sure fair treatment is received.

Watch our new video about Public Adjusters:

Sep. 15 2011 12:13 PM
Bob from Pelham, NY (Westchester)

A few more points:

1. It was nice to hear an insurance expert with the consumers' perspective, rather than the industry flack you had on right after Irene (the one who acted surprised by the existence of the sump pump rider which provides coverage even if no flood insurance -- I believe her comment was: "Gee, that's good to know." Some expert!!)

2. The two storms will be considered separate events by the insurance companies, with two separate deductibles for each event's claims. (Ironic this comes so close to the Sept 11th anniversary, as the WTC owner spent years litigating with his insurers over whether each plane impact was a separate event, with separate deductibles).

3. A hard-learned corollary to the real estate "Location, Location, Location" rule is: Stay away from houses near streets with "brook", "dale", "hollow", "pond", "creek", "river", etc. in the street name -- often those names have a real historical/geographical basis. The land may have been reshaped, culverts may have been added, but the streams come back to life with enough rain. (e.g.: the flooded Bronxville H.S. is on Pondfield Road; I live on Pelhamdale Ave; the street behind me is Highbrook Ave, and the town's old maps (which I didn't see until after I moved in) show a stream called High Brook meandering between where the two would be laid out.

Sep. 15 2011 11:23 AM

Part Two

After my hideous experience, I learned about PUBLIC INSURANCE ADJUSTERS, companies which represent the insured in dealing with the insurance company adjusters. They take a percentage of the final settlement, but, based on talking with people who used them, they found it was well worth it.

If only I'd know about them....

For information on public adjusters, check this Wiki entry:

Best wishes to all suffering losses and also good luck. I would have been far bette offr if my entire house had been written off. ItI would have saved time, money, and the mental suffering of dealing with those good hands choking me.

My house has never been the same as prior to the flooding.

Sep. 15 2011 11:14 AM

Part One

I can attest from painful experience that on large claims insurance companies work to pay out about 40% of the actual loss and replacement value. I had interior flooding from burst baseboard hot water heating pipes.

When I first called my insurance company, I was told I would not have to worry about finding a contractor as they had their own who would do the rehab work. Since it's very difficult to find good contractors, I was so relieved.

Except, when the cost began rising, suddenly the insurance company had no contractors available. I said I could wait and was told there wouldn't be contractors for months. When I said I could wait, they simply refused to use one of their contractors.

When I called the original adjuster who'd told me about the contractor provision, my on site adjuster threatened me with cutting off all assitance. I was angry, and frightened.

My friendly neck strangler company paid out a lot of money for what seemed to be overkill on mold remediation. Initially they demanded that I throw out everything in the house that might have spores on or in it; however, as the remediation costs increased, they then abrubtly said they could HEPA vacuum items and clean them off with some mold killing solution.

Alas, yard equipment I'd really found useful was gone and I was never able to replace some of the items. They just weren't available any more. I still miss the "lady" sized leaf blower with its three different power levels....

Then, when the replacement estimate came in from them, they had stunningly low costs for both materials and labor.

When I got actual quotes from contractors, the insurance company's amount came out on average to 40% of the actual costs (it was later listening to a book on how insurance companies work on Lopate's show that I learned that's the industry goal.). They also valued things like very high end ski boots at a replacement cost of $20, high end skis at $25, just a couple examples that stand out in my memory of how they low-balled things..

When I tried to contest the amounts, they told me I had to get 3 detailed estimates from contractors -- which cost me $200, $350, and $300 to obtain. I was told they were extending the deadline for replacement purchases, as I had no place to put anything. The lower bidding contractors didn't have the wherewithal to provide the detailed quotes, and I had to use contractors who regularly worked with insurance companies. That was salt in the wounds.

On the personal property lowballing, they demanded I find proof of the cost for replacements for my lost items by printing out ads or other sources of the item and its cost, developing a package covering each contested item. It took a lot of work and printing time to get the needed documentation..

I never heard back from them after I'd mailed the huge package to them. When I called I was told that my case was closed.

Working with my insurer was pure hell.


Sep. 15 2011 11:05 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY (Westchester)

Our basement also flooded twice. We were ready for Irene, got 18 inches of water in basement but moved rugs and everything else out or up in time, and dried out ourselves with neighbors' help afterwards. Second storm caught us by surprise in the middle of the night, barely got brand-new car (one day!) out of garage in time, rugs already under 6 inches of water. Good news is that our insurance company USAA says we are covered, and that they are waiving the hurricane deductible (2% of coverage amount) in NY and applying regular deductible ($2,000 for us). Also, if water damage caused by sump pump failure, deductible will be only $250. USAA also arranged for a cleanup service to start getting water out of the wallboard without waiting for adjuster's inspection (scheduled for tomorrow).

Sep. 15 2011 10:58 AM
Gloria McLean from NYC

One reason you are not hearing from devastated towns further upstate, like Margaretville and Arkville which were very hard hit, is that the radio reception does not extend up there. I am now in NYC and listen to WNYC often but when driving up you lose the station about an hour outside of NYC>

Sep. 15 2011 10:44 AM
Mitchel from Hollowville, NY

My home is in Columbia County, NY. We have a small stream in our back yard that became a roaring river during twice over the past two weeks. We were able to control the basement flooding enough to avoid any real damage, but the stream in a foot or two closer to my barn now, putting the barn practically hanging over the stream. And the rushing waters damaged the footing of the barn making it less stable. One of my neighbor's barn was pulled into the stream during Irene which worsened the flooding in the whole neighborhood, causing the need for some evacuations, until it broke up and went down stream. FEMA is active in Columbia County and I have visited their site to check on how to make a claim. All I see are low interest loans. Do they give grants for repairs as well? I did not have flood insurance at the time of the flooding.

Sep. 15 2011 10:44 AM
Amy from Manhattan

How is damage to crops due to flooding not flood damage? Why do people need separate insurance for this?

Sep. 15 2011 10:43 AM
Nancy from Bergen County, NJ

My basement carpet (and the pad underneath) was ruined from Irene. My insurance company said they are not responsible b/c we have no flood insurance and no french drains or sump pump. Should I contact FEMA for assistance? Is there no recourse with my insurance company?

Sep. 15 2011 10:41 AM

I met a person who does not live in a flood zone whose concrete basement floor was cracked by pressure from the water table, which apparently had risen during all the flooding.

They heard a loud noise in the basement, went down to see what had happened and encountered a geyser hitting the ceiling. Eventually their basement filled with water.

At the time I spoike with him he had no idea what coverage he might have.

Is Federal flood insurance available to people outside mapped flood zones?

Do insurance companies offer flood insurance to houses outside flood zones?

Would either Federal flood insurance or private insurance company cover something like this?

Sep. 15 2011 10:36 AM
Michelle from Peekskill

We had a home office in our basement that was essentially destroyed: the computer, desk, bookcases, books and other related items. We needed to re-sheetrock and rip out carpet. Our insurance company isn't covering anything even though we have a rider for the office equipment because they said it was due to surface water. The adjustor said even if we had a sump pump rider (our pump failed due to loss in power), it wouldn't have covered any of the office material. How can I insure a basement home office in the future?

Sep. 15 2011 10:31 AM
Pat Bankowski

A tree fell on my house last Thursday due to the volume of rain water saturating the tree roots. I called the Insurance company right away and have a claim number but have not even received a call from the adjustor. When I called back I was told they were inundated and I would have to wait. I have had the tree removed and the roof tarped and had contractors in to look it over but don't know if I can or should proceed until the adjustor comes. I took a ton of pictures. It has been frustrating. Oh I had also been without electricity for the week before the tree fell. I think there is a dark cloud over my house right now.

Sep. 15 2011 10:27 AM
margot from greenpoint, zone A

meeting with a FEMA adjuster tomorrow about my 3 ruined and replaced water heaters in my flooded greenpoint basement. the guy on the phone wanted to know what the serial #s were for the discarded water heaters... i of course dont have those! will i be covered for what i spent replacing the water heaters? (i do have flood insurance).

Sep. 15 2011 10:27 AM

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