insurance

Hiring a public adjuster

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Highlights
  • A public adjuster works for the homeowner, not for the insurance company.
  • The homeowner pays a public adjuster, usually as a portion of the claim.
  • Insurance settlements usually are bigger, but don't expect a miracle.

Filing an insurance claim after a disaster is a stressful process. To avoid having to deal with the hassle, and with hopes of getting more money from the insurance company, many homeowners seek the help of a public adjuster.

A public adjuster is an insurance claims specialist who interprets the homeowner's policy, assesses the damage and how much it will cost to repair, and negotiates with the insurance company on behalf of the homeowner until the claim is settled.

Public adjusters market themselves as professionals who act solely on behalf of the policyholder and help ensure homeowners get the money they are entitled to under the policy. They differ from adjusters hired by the insurance companies to assist with the claim because their compensation comes out of the homeowner's pocket, not the insurance company's.

Homeowners don't always need the help of a public adjuster, says David Barrack, executive director of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters in Potomac Falls, Va. But for many, the assistance is crucial, he says.

"It's a judgment call," he says. "You have to determine whether you need the service or not."

When do you need a public adjuster?

Some people decide to hire an adjuster simply because they don't have the time to deal with the insurance claim process, Barrack says.

The general rule of thumb is if you estimate you have losses of $10,000 or more, it's probably wise to hire a public adjuster.

"But it really depends on your circumstances and how the insurance company is reacting," Barrack says.

If your adjuster doesn't return calls or answer questions properly, or if you think the adjuster left any damages off your claim, you should probably get your own public adjuster, says George Skidis Jr., a public adjuster in Belleville, Ill., who worked as an adjuster for insurance companies for more than a decade before becoming a public adjuster in 1994.

"Insurance companies are reputable businesses, but they are only as good as the field adjuster looking at your claim," Skidis says. "If you're lucky, you're going to have someone with 30 years of experience looking at your claim. In that case, you're probably fine. But if not, you need to hire somebody who knows what they are doing to look at the damages."

How do you go about finding a good public adjuster?

One place to start your search for a public adjuster is the NAPIA website. The organization has a vetting process and requires members to be licensed and to have been in business for at least two years to become members. Keep in mind having a license alone is not a guarantee you are hiring the best, says Skidis.

"Go by prior clients and word of mouth," he says. "Check their websites, get a reference list and talk to some of their clients."

It's also helpful to check with your state's department of insurance to see if there are any complaints filed against the adjuster you're about to hire.

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