Quote of the Day

Monday, September 16, 2013

How Restoration Companies Document Jobs Without Really Trying

"David, Please look this case over and tell me what you think." The attorney handed me a folder, 1.5 inches thick, filled with Complaints, Disclosures, Responses to Interrogatories, Responses to Responses to Interrogatories, etc. 

I quickly scanned through the pages. It was a simple water loss that had gone south and the owner was suing because they thought the restoration company was responsible for the mold that was now in their house.

I found the estimate from the restoration company. It listed 48 fans days and 8 dehumidifier days. Did that mean there were 2 dehumidifiers for 4 days with 12 fans or since the owners claimed the fans seemed to run forever, was there only 1 dehumidifier for 8 days with 6 fans? Or did they start with 15 fans and remove some as areas dried? 

There was no mention on the cover page of when they were called out, what the source of the water was, or any other information relating to the loss. There were no drying logs or follow-up notes of any moisture testing.

The owner's claimed in the Complaint that they had the home tested for mold and there was a lot of mold, but they couldn't remember the name of the company and there was no mold report. The insurance company, owner, and restoration company all had different dates for the loss, which incidentally occurred over 3 years earlier. 

What a mess. I not sure I could  figure out what really happened, even with a divining rod!

Documentation typically is a nightmare for everyone. There are so many phone calls, abbreviated emails, texts, and face to face conversations and agreements that weeks or months later, the ice cream hits the fan as everyone tries to place blame for the problems. It really isn't that hard to leave a paper trail that will help unwind the tangled webs we do so often weave.

Following is a list of items or practices that Restoration Companies can use to help document jobs more thoroughly. These ideas work as well as you work them.

Contract & Authorization to Work -This is one of the most important documents you can produce. Without a signed contract guaranteeing payment and authorizing you to work on the property, you are left to the good graces of the owner or a judge to receive payment. In order to be valid and enforceable, contracts must contain certain elements.

1. The names of all parties involved.
2. The date the contract was signed by each party.
3. A description of the work to be performed or services to be rendered.
4. The total cost of the work or services to be performed.
5. If the total cost can not be determined upfront, a schedule of hourly rates or unit costs for equipment, personnel and services is a must.
6. The dates by which the work or services are to begin and end.
7. The dates or conditions when payments are due.
8. Means to be employed if conditions are not met, i.e.; work stoppage, interest charges, withholding payment, legal action, etc.

Information sheets - Every company should have an information sheet, along with their owner contract, that is filled out the day of the first contact. This form will be referred to constantly as the job progresses. We always insisted that our techs could not start the job until all the forms were filled out completely. The information sheet should include:

1. Owner or representative's name.
2. Address of the loss.
3. Additional addresses of the owner or representative.
4. Phone Numbers, the home number as well as all cell phones.
5. Insurance carrier or liable party.
6. Technicians, estimators or coordinators working the job with contact numbers.
7. Source or cause of the loss.
8. Other notes, including; items discussed or promised
Work Orders - If there is a written work order form that is given to the techs before they go to the job, several good things happen.
1.  The techs have all the contact information, including the address of the property, phone numbers, time of appointment, etc.
2.  The techs know what work is required, where to do it and what equipment or supplies are needed so they come prepared.
3.  Any additional work that needs to be done can be added to the work order.
4.  The owner can sign the work order upon completion, accepting the work.
Satisfaction Completion Forms -This is a simple form that the owners sign after the final walk-through accepting the work and guaranteeing payment. If you have a pile of completed work orders and a final Satisfaction Completion Form, each signed by the owner, you are well on your way to receiving payment for the work as well as protecting yourself against any disagreements.

The owner should receive a copy of all of these documents for their own file as well.

Call the Office - Most estimators and coordinators are so busy running here and there, answering phone calls, and putting out fires that there doesn't seem to be any time to write down work orders or any other documentation.

We actually wrote software that stored all our projects online. We could access it through our smart phones or computers from anywhere and enter notes directly to the project. These were available for everyone associated with the project to see. (There are other products on the market now that do much of what our software did.) It worked very well, but even then, I found it difficult to enter all the notes needed.

The solution was to "Call Tanya". As I drove to the next job, I would call the office and dictate to Tanya the notes we needed to record. She was always in the office and next to the computer.

The jobs with the least amount of documentation usually end up with the greatest propensity for legal liability. 

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 of the meeting 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 - I used to always carry a camera with me and took boatloads for photos of each job. Now nearly everyone has a phone with good to excellent cameras. Taking photos is no longer hard and often they can be shared, even while you are 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.

Whatever method or methods you use to document your files, 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, the jobs with the least amount of documentation usually end up with the greatest propensity for legal liability.

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