Understand upgrades to avoid an unpleasant money surprise

Even a relatively minor ceiling water leak repair can call into question the issue of upgrades. In many cases, insurance will cover repair and patching in the immediate affected area. This isn’t always adequate, as some patch jobs will only partially blend—leaving an unsightly spot on the ceiling and a bad taste in the owner’s mouth.

That’s why it’s always smart to address the issue of upgrades when repairs are being done. As a rule of thumb, “The more extensive the damage, the more extensive the room is for upgrades,” says Purofirst Repair Division Coordinator Curry Palm. “The key is to make sure you get quality comparable to the pre-loss condition, and to know who’s paying for it—you, the insurance company, or another third party.

“In cases handled by property managers, limits generally are pre-defined. When a homeowner unaccustomed to dealing with this gets involved, it’s important to get clear about expectations before people arrive to do the work.”

Purofirst often serves as a go-between between an owner and insurance company when pre-determined limits do not exist. “First, we sit down with the owner and get specific about repair scope and associated issues. Then, an estimator will address wants versus needs, and drive owner decisions on the various items. Then, the estimator goes to the insurance company for approval,” notes Palm.

Palm emphasizes that upgrades need to be reviewed in light of several factors:

  1. Money. This is not always an all-or-nothing situation. In some cases, an insurance company might be willing to spring for a portion of the cost, with the owner footing the balance. It’s always worth running scenarios, both about the extent and type of upgrades as well as how costs will be allocated in different circumstances;
  2. Time. Depending on materials and labor required, upgrades can add substantial time to the schedule. It’s important to weigh the potential additional inconvenience and, if applicable, living costs associated with a longer stay off-premises;
  3. Common sense.  Evaluate the entire upgrade picture in light of expected return on investment. If an owner is likely to derive considerable enjoyment over a period of years, more extensive upgrades may be the best choice. If, however, the potential upgrade only adds marginally to property value or enjoyment, going the “standard” route may be wiser.

“This process can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” Palm points out. “In some cases, we go back and forth with the owner, insurance company, and internally to get to the best outcome. Sometimes, an upgrade decision changes when we do a pre-repair walkthrough and the owner reconsiders an original choice based on any number of factors. In the end, various Purofirst representatives will recheck information to make sure that the owner is clear and committed before the process gets underway. This saves wear and tear on everyone.”

Make it a policy to check your insurance policy

The time to confirm the level of your insurance coverage is NOT when water is gushing into your property, flames are leaping or other catastrophic events are occurring.  Know ahead of time what your policy does and does not cover. While the fine print can be difficult to understand or interpret, there are several key areas you can address reliably when it comes to issues related to removal, remediation and repair. Questions to help get clear answers include:

  • Will the insurance pay for content removal and cleaning? When contents need to be moved, there will be a cost associated with it. If insurance doesn’t pay, the owner or manager will be on the hook;
  • Does the policy contain content rider(s) that document and cover property upgrades? If not, you may only get compensated to replace the linoleum floor that was in that room before you installed the hardwood. If you want to replace with hardwood, you’ll have to pay the difference;
  • What about painting? Generally, insurance will cover 1-2 coats. But, if you want a darker color, extra coats may be needed—who’s going to pay for that? And, there’s the issue of painting corner to corner or just spot painting—which may not blend exactly with the surrounding areas;
  • What about such items as cabinetry? With cabinets, items are often discontinued. Then, it’s a matter of finding something comparable, paying for an upgrade, or attempting to get the insurance company to approve the upgrade;
  • Who covers living expenses if occupants have to move out while repairs are being done? Similar to an insurance company paying for a rental car while a vehicle is being repaired, know ahead of time who will be on the hook for hotel rooms and other temporary accommodations.

A recent report on KOMO Radio addressed the challenges of property insurance, pointing out, “Angie’s List recently polled its members and found that nearly one-third of those who responded hadn’t checked their home insurance policies for two years or more. That can cause problems.
‘It can lead to you not having the right coverage, not getting the best price you can, and neither of those are good outcomes,’ said [Angie] Hicks [of Angie’s List]. Remember, this is your responsibility. Your insurance agent doesn’t know if you’ve added a bedroom or remodeled the kitchen.”

As mold gets old, it becomes more bold

Mold will grow on you—not in a good way. While familiarity can breed contentment in some areas, mold only will breed contempt and possibly health issues.

That said, however, there are acceptable (translate “normal environmental”) mold levels of certain varieties. Much like bacteria, we will need to continue to co-exist with mold. Also like bacteria, there are some beneficial mold applications (e.g., penicillin antibiotic is derived from mold).

Mold on Wall
Example of Mold growing on basement cinderblock wall.

Here’s the rub: It’s extremely difficult for the untrained eye to know whether mold is dangerous and/or has spread beyond “acceptable levels.” A major exception is the type of mold that appears on shower tiles. Generally, this is not harmful and can be relatively easily removed.

Where it gets tricky is when mold gets insidious—hiding undetected until smells or health issues emerge. So, given that mold will be around, how do you know when to call in the professionals? There are three primary rules to live by when it comes to mold:

  • By the time a leak can be seen, it’s a safe bet that the leak is worse where you can’t see it (e.g., behind the wall). In these cases, it’s always worth a mold inspection because where there’s water and darkness, mold can’t be far behind;
  • When a qualified mold remediation specialist advises getting rid of it, pay close attention. It doesn’t go away by itself, and will continue growing as long as dark, wet conditions exist. So, dealing with it later really means more money, stress and possible threats to health;
  • Prevention is by far the best way to deal with mold threats according to Purofirst Repair Division Production Manager Hunter Pitts. For example, that’s why emergency crews will immediately cut away wet drywall and insulation—and dry everything out thoroughly. However, a key step in prevention is examination. It may be worth the relatively small investment to consider such preventive measures as examining accessible areas for any obvious signs of mold (e.g., crawl spaces and basements), as well as conducting periodic infrared inspections of such “invisible areas” as inside the walls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss…A common-sense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes. The common health concerns from molds include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm#Q1)

Bottom line: Be vigilant, observant and proactive when it comes to property mold—you’ll save money, lessen stress, and avoid unnecessary health hazards.

Property damage emergency expectations should be high

Where there is property damage, emotions and expectations both run high. Addressing expectations quickly and confidently can help keep emotions in check and everyone on the same page.

When a property crisis occurs, owners and managers should count on immediate response and professional assessment of the areas involved. This means both addressing the physical problem and reassuring the affected parties that everything possible is being done to expedite repairs.

Here’s what you can rely on from Purofirst:

  • Emergency response and remediation starting within 1-2 hours. As part of this process, Purofirst confirms its role through an emergency authorization form that “allows us to do what we need to, including dispatching the appropriate division to take care of the emergency,” says Curry Palm, Purofirst Repair Division Coordinator;
  • Discussion with lead technician on-site during this initial response to address the process and next steps;
  • Extensive communication from first contact through completion. “We would rather over-communicate than under-inform,” notes Purofirst President Robert Schattner;
  • Estimator arranged by/through Purofirst to examine and estimate needed repairs. In some cases, there is “assignment through a third party administrator that tells us what we need to do,” Palm notes. In other cases, Purofirst contacts the applicable insurance adjuster to address the estimate.

First and foremost, where we need the policy holder’s help and understanding is in the area of “insurance relations.” While Purofirst always attempts to work out the best win-win scenario for owners and managers in terms of insurance company coverage and outcomes, there are several areas where upfront planning can prevent holdups in an emergency.

“Insurance company approval and authorization can go very smoothly when policy holders confirm ‘rules of the road’ before a problem happens,” notes Palm. “Generally, this eliminates guesswork in the first responder phase of the job, and can go a long way toward minimizing later snafus that can take days or even weeks to resolve. “Of course, depending on the insurance company, policy, and scope of needed repairs, it still can take awhile to work out the bugs. And, that’s something we have to live with, as well.”

Fire in apartment building

Above: Photos from an apartment building fire affecting 12 units. There was fire and water damage throughout – walls, floors and appliances were all affected and restored or replaced.

The Calm Before the Storm?

As Mary Corton and her husband helped their youngest move into her new dorm room, Hurricane Irene moved ever-closer to their home six hours away. Anxious to preserve water supplies because of shutoffs after previous storms, the couple asked their 22-year-old to fill tubs and sinks.

Corton Flood Damage

In his zeal, he forgot to turn off the basement laundry tub, which resulted in about two inches of water covering the entire recreation room and basement area—along with a floating carpet.

On advice of their insurance company, the Cortons started contacting restoration companies, attempting to beat the hurricane bearing down on the city. Purofirst of Metropolitan Washington was the first to respond. Arriving at 9:30 PM with two large trucks, they worked for four hours suctioning excess water; and removing the soaked rug, floor boards, about a foot of drywall from the bottom of the walls, and any wet insulation. They cleaned up the area and set up large fans to dry everything completely over the next three days.

Corton Renovation

The following week, contractor 1st Source began reconstruction, handling drywalling, painting and carpet installation. “The entire project start to finish took about five weeks, which we thought was remarkable,” notes Corton. “We have never had to put in a homeowner claim in our 25 years of owning a home, but all parties involved, Erie Insurance, Purofirst, and 1st  Source worked together with us to make this process as painless as possible. For that we are extremely grateful.

“Plus, the final product was outstanding and the contractors were extremely professional. It was amazing to see how quickly and efficiently the Purofirst crew worked, even late on a Saturday night with a hurricane approaching!  We never smelled any mold or mildew. Our recreation room is better than ever and we are really enjoying the ‘new’ space!”