If you have a large property claim and are considering a public adjuster, ask yourself two questions: First, is your company acting quickly to replace your losses? Second, have those efforts been effective and fair?
"Is the company out there within 12 hours, or has it been a week since the fire and no one's come?" says Lambert, also vice president of Early, Cassidy & Schilling Inc., an independent insurance agency in Rockville, Md. "Most good companies are going to come out there pretty quick."
Most well-known companies also are going to play fair when it comes to claims, he says. But, Lambert admits, in today's economy when companies are hurting, "Some are going to play hardball."
There are also a few other instances when it could be practical to hire a public adjuster:
- You've sustained a partial loss. Half the house burned down. Now you've got to document which of your possessions survived the fire, which burned and which are damaged beyond repair.
- You don't have the time to follow up on your claim. Whether you're a two-income couple with kids or a busy professional who travels frequently, filing a claim and following it through will take time, especially if you don't have a record of your possessions and their value.
- You had loved ones injured or killed in the incident. If you're spending your days at the hospital or mourning a family member, you may not even want to think about the claims process.
- The loss is business-related. Rather than assign an employee to handle the claim, some companies will outsource the job.
Even though you'll want to move fast, you still have to do your homework before you hire a public adjuster.
"It's delegating," says Farrell. "You're hiring their knowledge and expertise. It looks good on paper, but it's easy to get ripped off."
And while it should go without saying that you don't hire the public adjuster who knocks on what's left of your door after a fire or tornado, plenty of desperate folks have done just that and really regretted it.