In my over 25 years experience in helping homeowners deal with fire and water damage repairs I have always found it to be true that providing the customer with timely and useful information is of great benefit to them.
Good decisions are based on good information.
What I have seen on the fire jobs in particular, is the customer is inundated with public adjusters, contractors, and even lawyers. Most of what the consumer is told is how horrible insurance carriers are and only if they sign a contract right now will they be saved. It is sales by fear not sales by service.
The process of recovering from a major property loss has many steps and each one is made far easier if you are allowed (or demand) all the time that you need to understand the process and what is in your best interest in having the repair done.
There are a few areas that you really need to understand in order to successfully navigate the restoration process:
Contents: This is your personal property: clothing or "soft goods" and other items such as electronics, jewelry etc. Anything not physically attached to the house is considered contents.
A "restoration company" helps you to deal with the contents as well as the initial clean up any drying of the structure. All of your affected personal property will have to be evaluated as salvageable or needing to be replaced. A good restoration company will accurately evaluate this.
An area of VITAL concern is this: Make sure you do not pay to have something restored that really needs to be replaced. If you do, you end up paying twice for the same item and your insurance policy has a limit as to how much the insurance company will pay for contents. You do not want to have a major portion of this limit spent cleaning things that should be replaced.
Structure: This is the house itself and anything physically attached to it. These are things like the foundation, framing, electrical and plumbing systems of the house.
The adjuster’s job is to supervise the claims process and to see that a fair settlement is arrived at. To be sure, the adjuster works for the insurance company and adjusters are not contractors who build homes for a living. This can result in the initial settlement not being enough to do a proper repair. But it does not have to as long as you have full understanding of what really needs to be done.
Note that I said “initial settlement”. Most people do not understand that what the adjuster comes up with as their estimate is just a list of the things he or she was able to observe are damaged and these damaged items are priced using a price list from a computerized estimating program. This means that the pricing is not actually verified as correct for your home.
So how do you make sure that your settlement is fair?
This is where the insurance contractor's expertise is totally valuable. A contractor who specializes in fire and water damage is has worked on hundreds of damaged homes and that experience and specialized training means that he will be able to observe and estimate what is really damaged and build a proper construction plan and budget. There can be hidden damages that an experienced fire and water damage specialist will see that others might miss.
Another thing that a contractor specializing in this type of work will do is be able to document the estimate and present it to the adjuster in a format that makes sense to the adjuster and his management team. There is a lot of specialized paperwork that if done properly will make the entire process very smooth.
When a contractor approaches you, find out what his experience is with this type of work. Take your time getting to know him or her. Walk through the project and get their opinion on what needs to be done and how they would approach the job. In doing this you will get a sense of how comfortable you feel with this contractor.
Remember, knowledge is power, make sure that you gather all the information you can before committing to any repair person.
It will be time well spent.