Quote of the Day

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Owners Can Document Losses Without Really Trying

The older couple looked more worried now than they did when the tornado ripped the roof off their home. I had just presented them with the invoice for repairing and replacing their roof, it was nearly $12,000.00. I laughed and said, "You only have to pay your $250 deductible, the insurance has already paid the rest."

The husband stammered, "We haven't seen any checks from the insurance company."

"Are you sure? The adjuster told me he sent the checks."

"No, we haven't received any checks."

I grabbed my phone and called the adjuster. "Are you sure you sent the checks?"

"Yes," he stated. "They went out over 3 weeks ago. They should have them."

I suggessted to the owners that we look through all the correspondence they had from the insurance. They found opened letters on the counter, some envelopes on the top of the fridge and some other papers on the desk. Half of the envelopes had not been opened. We started with the unopened envelopes. In the second and third ones, we found a check in each. 

I asked why they hadn't opened these checks? The owner said he had stopped reading them because they didn't make any sense and he was tired of being confused. 

While insurance losses can be confusing, Owners have a responsibility to maintain proper records for losses. It not only helps you understand what is going on, but can make a world of difference later if you end up with legal issues. You should ask for copies of all documents you sign from both the insurance company and any contractors. Having in your file what they have in their file, prevents documents from changing.

Keep All Documents in One Place - During an insurance loss, owners are inundated with paperwork. In fact, the adage is really true, "He who has the most paper work usually wins." There will be contracts from everyone, estimates from everyone, satisfactory completion documents, change orders, insurance policies, letters from the adjuster, invoices, etc., and that is if the job goes well.

Create a file, a large envelope or a box that "everything" related to the job goes in. Keep it in the same place. This way the papers will go in and they will still be there when you need them.If there are legal proceedings, the mountain of paperwork will continue to rise. If you don't have a way to organize and retain it all in one place, you will lose critical documents and may lose your case.

I knew one family involved in a lawsuit against a large construction company, who received 20,000 pages of documentation from the opposing attorney. All of it needed to be read to determine if it was accurate.

Prepare for the worst,
Expect the best, and
Take whatever comes.
If you just follow the first phrase and only prepare for the worst, bad things will happen to you all the time. The Law of Attraction is real and we usually receive exactly what we expect.

I had a judge/attorney with a water loss who spent the first 45 minutes I was there telling me about all the lawsuits he had over his home. I innocently asked him, "Should I expect to be sued as well?" He was flustered, but assured me that it wouldn't happen. He was a challenging customer, but since I thoroughly documented everything that happened, we stayed out of Court.

Sticky Notes - For a long time I carried a small spiral notebook in my pocket to record thoughts, ideas, assignments, etc. But then I found I would have so many new notes in one day, that the things I was supposed to do were hidden 5-6 pages back in the notebook. I also found that notes for different jobs were only in my notebook, notes for several jobs were all on one page or they were never in the job folder where I needed them months later. Then I discovered sticky notes.

The 2"x2" size became the hard copy of my brain. I would keep several pads in my car, on my desk and in my notebook. One thought or phone number per page. Then they were posted in the location best suited to be completed or saved; the dash of my Jeep, on the wall by my desk or at home by the phone. They all went into the appropriate job folder and months later I still had the phone number, address, or summation of a phone call.

In spite of technology and the Internet offering us text messaging, emails and other forms of communication, I still find sticky notes often the fastest way to initially preserve a thought, which I can then transfer easily to another medium when I have time.

Notes in the Cloud - There are many note-taking apps that are available for all the different I-Phones, Android Phones, Blackberries, I-Pads, tablets, etc. Most of these include the feature of storing the information on the Internet Cloud and then automatically syncing with multiple devices.

Many apps also enable you to verbally dictate notes that are then converted into text on the spot. This allows you to take quick notes on site or in a meeting and then when you return to your computer, you can flesh out the document, save it and then share it through texting, email, fax or other media.

I often take the notes of the meeting on my phone and send them to the other party at the conclusion so we both have exactly the same notes and written agreements. They can be organized and printed out later to preserve a hard copy.

Photos and Videos - There is no easier way for owners to document their contents, as well as the progress of a job, than with photos. In less than 2 minutes, you can take several pictures of a room and have concrete documentation of your possessions. In less than an hour, you can have a record of everything you own.

Taking photos is no longer hard nor expensive and often they can be shared, even while you are talking on the phone, enhancing the communication experience.

It is a skill to learn what to photograph. I used to go back through the shots I had taken and the item I was looking for was always just outside the frame. Lots of practice will teach you what will likely be needed later. The more photos you take, the greater chance you have of documenting what you need.

The best way to photograph is the way movies are filmed. 

     First take a wide shot of each wall,
     Then take closer details of each shelf, 
     Then close-up shots of items of greater value or interest,
     Possibly both front and back.

Videos are also great for documenting larger areas, such as the exterior of a building, large rooms or piles of content. It is important to pan slowly and remain for at least 5 seconds on each area or item or you will become motion sick playing it back or have to continually pause the video.

It is important to store an additional copy of your documentation at another location or on the Cloud. I had one client with several collections of rare and expensive items. Fortunately she saw a show on TV encouraging everyone to photograph their items. She grabbed her son's digital camera, went around the house and took about 600 pictures. Two weeks later, they had a fire that destroyed 90% of their home and all of her collections. We found the camera on the floor in her son's bedroom submerged in 6 inches of water. The SD card was undamaged and she was able to be compensated for all her years of hard work.

Whatever method or methods you use to document your loss, the better you do it, the less your chances are of ending up in court. Most of these ideas are simple and easy once you decide to develop the habit.  

Remember, he who has the most paper work usually wins.

It is Everyone's Job - It is important for each of us to take responsibility for our own documentation. The extra time spent properly documenting always saves you time and lots of money. Documenting responsibly and regularly is one of the paths to happiness and peace of mind.

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