UPDATED: NOVEMBER 02, 2022 | 3 MIN READ
Public adjusters are individuals that the insurance company doesn’t employ. Instead, they are typically retained as a third party to help settle disputes between customers and insurance companies. There is a wide variety of reasons why homeowners might need the services of a public adjuster.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the insurance company and its adjusters will do everything possible to avoid paying out any money. Public Adjusters represent you and your property during negotiations with the insurance company. They fight tirelessly for what you deserve: fair compensation for your losses.
What is a Public Adjuster?
Public Adjusters are experts in assessing the cost of a loss and in the fine print involving the terms of your homeowners’ policy. They’re independent contractors and don’t work for insurance companies. They represent (and are paid by) you, the insureds.
Public Adjusters are licensed and certified in 46 out of 50 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are the exceptions) and typically are required to complete continuing education courses to retain their license.
Once a Public Adjuster is engaged, the insurance company is notified, and all claims discussions and negotiations are then directed exclusively to the Public Adjuster. If this sounds like the Public Adjuster is acting as your attorney, he or she isn’t.
They are experts; just like a CPA knows taxes, these adjusters know insurance and advocate for their client (you) in claims matters. They aren’t legal advisors.
Why Would You Need a Public Adjuster?
Public Adjusters usually get the call after a homeowner has already entered into a contentious debate with the insurance company.
However, there are several reasons for enlisting the help of a public adjuster:
Your claim is part of an area-wide disaster.
Insurance companies get swamped with thousands of claims when a hurricane or wildfire rolls through. Stretched to the limit, getting prompt service from your insurance can be difficult in these conditions.
Smaller claims, in particular, may get overlooked. A public adjuster can help by doing some of the work your insurance company’s adjuster would do, making it easier and more streamlined to process your claim.
Your claim is big, and you need help cataloging it to get a total payout.
Most people are underprepared for a disaster. If you don’t keep a list of essential or valuable items in your home, it can be overwhelming to catalog your belongings amid a crisis. On top of this, you may have to juggle work, your insurance company, and finding emergency housing.
The public adjuster can take some of this off your plate. For example, they can research the brands and models of your destroyed belongings to ensure you get the correct maximum replacement value.
They can also do a walkthrough of your home to ensure that all the relevant damage is included in your claim. Properly itemized damages get you a higher payout than estimated damages.
Your claim is in dispute, and you need to find a loophole.
Many insurance claims require damage to be “sudden and accidental.” But the definition of that term can be somewhat subjective.
If you believe your claim qualifies, but your insurance company doesn’t, the public adjuster can help present your claim in a way that’s more likely to qualify for coverage under your contract.
What will the public adjuster do?
If you decide to use a Public Adjuster, you should take the same caution in selecting one that you would take selecting any other professional. Like all businesses, some are better than others. Make certain they are licensed and up to date on their certifications. Get referrals and scour the internet for reviews.
A Public Adjuster can help ensure you get what your policy says you’re entitled to.
When engaging a Public Adjuster, the homeowner gets a thorough, knowledgeable review of the insurance policy, consultation with local or regional resources regarding costs, collation of the data, and preparation of the claim documents for presentation to the insurance company.
That begins the negotiations for a settlement.
The Public Adjuster’s job is done when an acceptable offer is made to the homeowner.
A Public Adjuster can’t create new coverage for you.
You may be surprised that there are certain limitations or exclusions on property that you thought were covered but isn’t.
How Do Public Adjusters Get Paid
Public Adjusters work on a fee basis. Usually, a percentage of the claim is received. This incentivizes a public adjuster to get you the biggest claim possible because that will also increase their paycheck. Usually, the bigger payout the public adjuster can deliver you is enough to cover your repairs and their fee.
Some states have limits on what that percentage can be during declared emergencies and maximums for all other times. While fees are negotiable, they generally run 10% to 20%. If you’re looking at a major loss, that’s a fair amount for the professional service rendered.
Are there any downsides to hiring a public adjuster?
They’re not good for small claims
Hiring a public adjuster for a small, straightforward claim is not usually necessary. The payout is often not worth it for the adjuster, and the payout size may not justify their fee. Therefore, some public adjusters refuse even to take on small claims.
They need to keep you in the loop
It’s important to ensure that the public adjuster you work with is ethical. Public adjusters handle all communications with the insurance company for you, which can be helpful.
However, the homeowner risks being shut out of the loop. You want to be made aware of any decisions the adjuster makes throughout the claims process on your behalf. For example, your public adjuster should consult you before involving a lawyer in your claim.
They could lengthen the time it takes to process your claim
Your claim will be settled faster if you use the insurance company’s damage estimate and accept the first payout the insurance company offers you.
The public adjuster can likely get you a higher payout, but it requires some back and forth. If settling your claim as fast as possible is more important than getting the best settlement, it’s usually better to work directly with your insurance company.
They’re not lawyers
If your claim has already been closed, it’s too late to bring in a public adjuster. At that point, you’ll need a lawyer to recover your settlement. The lawyer works similarly to the public adjuster in that they only get paid if they win your settlement, and the money comes from the insurance company.
They work differently than a public adjuster because their fees are usually hourly and negotiated separately from your payout.
Should I Hire a Public Insurance Adjuster?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before finding a public adjuster:
How much are the damages going to cost?
For a claim that’s $5,000 or less, it’s probably not worth it to hire a public adjuster. If your damages are estimated at $20,000 or more, it may be a good idea to have a professional help you file.
How much repair money needs to come from the insurance company vs. personal savings?
It may surprise some homeowners that an insurance payout will not necessarily cover the full cost of repairing your home. It may also only cover a lower quality of repair than you want (e.g. paying for odor-suppressing paint instead of replacing smoke-damaged drywall).
If you could afford some of the repair costs alone, getting the maximum settlement from the insurance company is not so important.
However, if you can only complete your repair by getting the maximum amount of money possible from the insurance company, a public adjuster is a vital ally.
Does my insurance company’s damages estimate match my contractor’s estimate for the repair?
Your insurance company will send out their adjuster to record the damage. They may send out their contractors to estimate the cost of repairs. These professionals work for the insurance company, not for you. Therefore, they are incentivized to minimize the damage and keep repair costs low for the company.
You can use these contractors to do the work for you. However, you may prefer to use your own contractors, especially if you have someone you already trust.
If all the numbers match, it’s a sign that your insurance company is likely dealing fairly with you and you won’t need outside help.
There’s a wide gap between what your contractor or remediation company thinks the repairs will cost vs. what your insurance company is estimating. They may say that your policy excludes some damages, or they may fail to account for something in their estimates.
In that case, it might be time to bring in the Public Adjuster to review your policy and confirm.
Is my claim likely to be covered under my policy?
If you have windstorm coverage and a tree branch hits your house, there is no question that your insurance will cover it. But what if it hits your fence instead? Is that covered? How about a leak? Pipe leaks, roof leaks, and other kinds of leaks may be covered in some cases but not in others.
If your claim is not clear-cut, you could benefit from having a professional in your corner who can understand your policy.
Has my insurance company been helpful and responsive so far?
You can faithfully make insurance payments for years, but it’s hard to know how your insurance company will treat you until you file a claim.
If your insurance company has been slow to respond, rude, uncooperative, or giving you the runaround, it may be helpful to have an advocate in your corner.
Can I remain in my home during the repairs?
If you’re displaced from your home due to the damage, you must spend valuable time finding last-minute shelter, and it is harder to manage the claim. In this case, it’s helpful to have some extra manpower.
Can I call my insurance company daily to check their progress?
Your insurance company has people whose full-time job is to review your claim. They’re incentivized to save the insurance company money, so they’ll review your policy to find loopholes that will lower your payout. Once they settle on a payout, they’re not necessarily in a rush to deliver it.
On the other hand, you’re dealing with a crisis – meeting with contractors and remediation companies, managing the repairs, and even finding temporary housing. You also have to manage your daily responsibilities to work and family.
If you hire a public adjuster, it will be their full-time job to follow up with the insurance company and ensure your claim is moving along quickly.
Can I provide a thorough and itemized list of damaged belongings, including brand, model, and sometimes year-made?
Depending on your policy, you will get either depreciated cost or the full replacement value for your items. Regardless, you want to ensure the insurance company estimates these costs accurately.
If you tell your insurance company to replace your “toaster,” they’ll assume you had a cheap toaster and adjust your payouts accordingly.
If you provide them with the make and model of your toaster, they will compensate you based on your actual purchase amount. For electronics, such as a fancy TV, providing the year, you purchased it can also help.
Some dedicated homeowners make lists of their belongings before a crisis to have them on hand in an emergency. However, if you’re not prepared, an adjuster can help you research your belongings and provide an itemized list with payout suggestions to your insurance company.
Do I have the expertise to provide a thorough and itemized list of damaged property and estimates of invisible damage, such as mold?
If the ceiling collapses in your bathroom, you may not be thinking about whether your built-in soap dish is damaged. A good public adjuster will notice small details like this and include them in your damage estimate (along with the big things).
With their expertise, they can also guess what hidden damage might be lurking behind cabinets or under floors, which may prevent you from having to file a second claim later. They then create a report of all the damages and deliver it to your insurance company for you in a format easy for your insurance company to process.
If you’re handy and you’ve done many home projects around your house, you might be well equipped to catalog the damage in your home. If you’re less knowledgeable, it may be helpful to bring in an expert.