Here's how to find a reputable public claims adjuster:
1. Poll the people you trust. Call your accountant, your lawyer and your neighbor. Ask if they've ever used a public claims adjuster or know anyone who has.
2. Contact the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. This trade organization, which represents 110 of the industry's largest firms, maintains a searchable database of members who have at least two years of experience and uphold a professional code of conduct, according to David W. Barrack, the group's executive director. In addition, the organization also offers a certification program. A Certified Professional Public Adjuster must have five years of experience and pass an exam, while a Senior Professional Public Adjuster must have at least 10 years of experience and pass a more rigorous test.
3. Once you get a few names that look promising, interview them. Ask about rates, references and credentials. Contact their references and quiz former clients on the adjuster's performance. Was the person effective? Available? Fast? Accurate? Did he or she deliver what was promised? If the adjuster claims any kind of certification, get the name of the accrediting body and call it.
4. Call your state insurance office. Many states license or regulate public claims adjusters. If yours does, make sure your prospect is in good standing, with no unresolved complaints. It won't hurt to call the Better Business Bureau while you're at it.
5. Ask your insurance agent. Sound like a conflict of interest? Not really. You're hiring an adjuster to represent you to the insurance company. So what is this person's reputation within the industry?
Money, moneyGenerally speaking, the fee is around 10 percent, and the percentage may vary with the size of the claim, says Barrack. But beware, some public claims adjusters are charging up to 50 percent, according to Farrell.
Even though shopping for price is important, "emphasize competence and integrity above fees," says Markham. "The ugly truth is that exaggerated claims can cross the line to fraud. And the fact that you have a public adjuster doing it doesn't absolve you."
Don't let the adjuster steer you toward particular contractors, says William W. Baldwin, president of The Baldwin Company Inc., a Charlotte-based public insurance adjusting firm.
"There should be no ties to a construction business," he says. "To me, there's a conflict of interest."
Wonder if your hired gun might damage your relationship with your insurance company, especially at renewal time? A more important question might be, "Why was it necessary to hire a public adjuster in the first place?"
"There has to be an element of trust and confidence here," Crowley says. "If you don't trust your insurance company, chances are at renewal time you should be shopping for someone you do trust."