Flood adjusters – the evil enemy?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Local guys say they really are trying to help



LAPLACE — Listening to many homeowners right after a disastrous flooding situation occurs, it sometimes sounds like there may only be one thing scarier than the tragedy itself–the dreaded flood adjuster.

How many times have you heard homeowners talk about their concern when preparing for the adjuster’s visit. It almost sounds like the grim reaper is on the way.

Southeast Louisiana is currently (no pun intended) flooded with flood adjusters. Following back-to-back hurricanes named Katrina and Rita, it is estimated there are hundreds of thousands of flooded homes that must now be evaluated for insurance coverage.And those life-changing decisions about how much you will get from the flood insurers are all resting in the hands of the all-powerful flood adjuster. For most, it is a decision that could make or break their future since the largest investment most people have rests solely in the home where they reside.

But with flood adjusters currently making the rounds to the entire south Louisiana area these days, two of those very men begged to differ about their reputation.

Rick Preston and Barry Fyffe, now settled in Louisiana for probably months to come from their home in Paintsville, Ky., say they have to deal every day with the misconception that flood adjusters are out to stick it to the homeowners.

Both insist there is nothing further from the truth.

“There is a pre-conceived notion that the adjuster is out to stick it to you,” Fyffe said. “And they think the adjuster is completely on the side of the insurance company. That is completely untrue.”

Preston agreed, noting “our first responsibility is to the policy holder, then to the insurance company. We want people to know that we are there to help them and we want them to get back on their feet.”

Both men have been flood adjusters for five years, and are seasoned in the business through many disasters.

Preston said that he has seen so much heartbreak from flooding that he truly feels for the people he is attending to. As he talked about the people he sees, the 52-year-old began to tear up.

“It never enters my mind to be hard on someone. I feel for the people who are flooded. You can see they feel so devastated and they don’t know how their lives will return to normal. I find myself encouraging people so they know it will get better one day. But

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what they need to know is that we are there to help them get back on their feet. I know what a traumatic experience this is for them,” he said. “I’ve seen so much of it.”

Perhaps one thing most people don’t know is that adjusters are paid according to the claim they turn in. The higher the claim, the more the adjuster can earn. That, in itself, should make it clear adjusters are not out to squeeze anyone.

Fyffe said that the biggest problem they have in doing their job is that many people are not familiar with exactly what their policy is going to cover. And there is the normal confusion between flood insurance and homeowners insurance.

“I carry three policies with me to show them what the coverage is,” he explained. “But every claim is different, depending on what flooding occurred. We just have a lot of situations where people want things covered that do not warrant being covered.”

Some examples include kitchen cabinets where the water only got to the base cabinets. Many times the homeowner wants the wall cabinets covered as well so they can match. Then there is ceramic tile that may only need regrouting instead of replacing, since tile can take flooding and still be OK.

“And depreciation is part of your policy, so that is figured in,” he added. “People just want things that are not part of the policy. But as far as covering what is fair, I know that we always try to cover everything that could possibly be covered, depending on the damage.”

Another area of confusion comes with contents coverage on flood insurance. Policies have limits on things like fur coats and jewelry. The maximum coverage for any type of fur coat is $2,500, and the maximum for any jewelry is a lower set limit.

“If you have items that are worth a lot of money, you need separate coverage for that. But we get a lot of trouble from people wanting high levels of coverage, when the policy doesn’t say that,” he said.

Just getting set up to come into a devastated area to work is tougher for the adjusters than most people would know. The adjusters are required to completely find their own office space and lodging, which is almost impossible at times.

“We pay all our own expenses and are not reimbursed for any of them. So it is up to us to figure out where we can stay. This time we found an RV to rent in Gramercy, but we have spent many a night sleeping in our cars,” Preston said. “Then we have to call people and make appointments to visit them, and with the phone situation as it frequently is, you can imagine how hard that is.”

The men said they have been refused in a home many times by homeowners, simply because they did not make an appointment.

“We always try to call first, but you would think people would be happy to have us get to them,” Preston remarked. “But I’ve been told how rude I was to just show up, and that is only because I could never reach someone on the phone. So we have to reschedule.”

Considering that, the men said they can only do a minimum of six homes a day, and usually no more than 10, since all require considerable paperwork that must be sent in to the insurance company.

Both have run into price gouging situations of their own, like this present situation when they had a hotel reserved in Kenner for $70 a night, only to be told it was $220 a night when they were ready to arrive.

“Price gouging happens in every storm we go to,” Fyffe said. “Our boss said he was going to report the hotel on this one. But that is just one difficult aspect to what we do. We also have the gas problem in every storm, so we have to carry extra gas, and then we even have to do our own laundry and hang it up in our office. I just don’t think people realize what it’s like to do this.”

Preston, married with two kids, got his start as an adjuster after working in the millwork business, following some varied careers that even included a stint in the funeral business. He was a standout baseball player out of high school, getting signed to play catcher for the Baltimore Orioles and making it to double-A before a knee injury ended that hope.

Both men also worked in the coal business and Fyffe, 44 and single, spent 12 years as a draftsmen until being told about signing on as an adjuster.

“It sounded like a good job, so Rick and I started it together,” Fyffe said. “You have to leave your home and family for months at a time when this happens, and the work is spotty.”

Preston said that they usually can be gone for four months when a hurricane hits, but this time it will be longer.

“Even though you miss your home, I love the job, especially since you get to see new people and areas. And I can honestly say the people we have met on this trip are the friendliest we have ever met anywhere,” he added. “But it’s a good job and you can make between $60,000 and $70,000 a year, as long as you don’t go a long time with no flooding somewhere to handle. And then there are the snakes we always have to watch out for. That might be the worst part of the job.”

But on second thought, both men still just hoped people might understand that they are not the “evil adjusters” that they seem to have been made out to be.

“We even have people call us and get mad when we don’t come right away. They act like they are the only ones who flooded,” Preston said. “I know that we are seen as real SOB’s, but honestly we see so much devastation that we really are trying to help people get on their feet as quickly as possible. It’s just that most people don’t believe we really are on their side.”