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Last Post 10/25/2016 10:15 PM by  HuskerCat
Fire in CA
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cowboy26995
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10/25/2007 7:33 PM

From most of the reports coming out of E Cat and A.M. Best it appears that the traditional markets will be less involved than the specialty markets. The big ones State Farm,Farmers,Nationwide apparently had lessened their risk assumption in certain areas that were affected. Some of the larger exposures would be covered by Lloyds or the surplus markets. Be interesting to see what comes of this situation. We could all use the work I'm sure. I will for one second some of the comments in this forum. If you are not experienced at this type of loss do the victims a favor and stay home. This is not the time to learn to adjust a total fire loss.

Marc Dubois E.G.A.

Marc Dubois
Executive General Adjuster
M.G.D. Claim Services Inc.
"Your Commercial Claims Solution"
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Catman 101
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10/25/2007 9:11 PM

I got word today that E. A. Renfroe, Eberls, and one other large adjusting firm got the call from State Farm to each send 10 adjusters. It seems that their is some work out there for IA's. 

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Leland
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10/26/2007 7:27 PM
My insured and I are not allowed into the neighborhood yet as of Friday. Maybe by Sunday. East of San Diego. Several Cities have lists of damaged homes which could be used to send advances, my insured's home is not one of those cities.

I also have claims for FRV due to evacuation. Dwelling policies, no ALE.
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HuskerCat
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10/26/2007 8:44 PM
Posted By Leland Coontz on 10/26/2007 7:27 PM
I also have claims for FRV due to evacuation. Dwelling policies, no ALE.


Being sometimes acronym-challenged, I assume you mean your losses are from owner/landlords claiming loss of Fair Rental Value, in the absence of actual fire/smoke damage.  And, DP's (or the Calif equivalent) with no ALE for the tenant.   Am I understanding your comment correctly?  If so, it's surprising that those types of losses would be assigned to the field when the area of evacuation is well-documented and a lease agreement could be supplied to the carrier.  Not much different than the Biz Income losses associated with Katrina & Rita evacs when there was no damage at the insured premises.     

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Leland
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10/26/2007 10:25 PM
My apologies for using an acronym. I have several Dwelling policy claims where the insured is the resident and I have been asigned to adjust the Fair Rental Value. On these policies the insured is paid Fair Rental Value based on a formula: Coverage A times 10% divided by 12 equals maximum monthly payout for the shortest possible time to reconstruct OR the market rate the dwelling would rent for if it was rented WHICHEVER is less. (I tried to simplify the formula) So for example if mountain cabin has a $150,000 limit, it wasn't damaged, the Fire department made the homeowner leave, and they stayed away for 3 days (regardless of whether they slept in shelter or stayed at the Ritz), the policy would owe zero. (150,000.00 x 10% = $15,000.00 /12 = $1250.00 per month /30 = $41.66 per day x 3 = $125.00, $125 is less than the deductible. This is a dwelling policy, a bit different than a HO, no ALE for the insured homeowner. However the insured can get paid (once the deductible is met) even if the place was empty (as long as it was vacant less than 30 days or they bought a vacancy endorsement).What they paid for food or housing is totally irrelevant. If you get any claims from surplus carriers you might see these dwelling policies as primary coverage- they are very common in the fire prone areas. Many movie stars and famous people have these policies because of where they live. I prefer not to say who the carrier is, thank you, I hope this is helpful. I was confused at first when I first heard about these dwelling policies. If you work for a regular carrier the term "dwelling" makes you immediately think of the policy a landlord has on a rental property. There are certain carriers, however, who have "dwelling" polices for all residential properties, owner occupied or not. The landlord and the homeowner both get the same policy. If you have a 3 million dollar mansion in a fire zone it will probably have such a policy as the primary coverage (named peril) and the second policy will cover things the first one does not, with higher limits, and a exclusion for everything the first one is supposed to pay. One time I had this situation and the HO policy paid the whole loss and my carrier decided that we really should have paid it instead, they just beat us to the punch, so we paid the claim by sending the check to the other insurance company. It was a small loss and I'm not sure if the HO carrier knew or cared that we were primary. It was also a movie star, albeit a small one. I doubt if any CAT adjusters will get these dwelling claims but they will likely get losses where the dwelling policy is primary because HO carriers don't even offer primary policies in many of these areas.

I would appreciate it if any of the older farts would let me know more about how this works (2 or even 3 policies on one house) and if I have said anything incorrect please educate me. Thanks
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Leland
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10/26/2007 10:32 PM
By the way if anyone is really hungry for work there might be contractors who need estimators or project managers I might be able to pass on a resume. Everybody is still trying to figure out how much work there is. I hope I don't get overwhelmed with resumes! I know how slow it has been for many. If you are willing to get paid based on productivity and have some construction experience I bet you can get work even if it's not exactly adjusting. Better than watching TV. Plus maybe by the time you get here we'll finally have that earthquake!
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stephie76
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10/26/2007 11:06 PM
Posted By Marc Dubois on 10/25/2007 7:33 PM

From most of the reports coming out of E Cat and A.M. Best it appears that the traditional markets will be less involved than the specialty markets. The big ones State Farm,Farmers,Nationwide apparently had lessened their risk assumption in certain areas that were affected. Some of the larger exposures would be covered by Lloyds or the surplus markets. Be interesting to see what comes of this situation. We could all use the work I'm sure. I will for one second some of the comments in this forum. If you are not experienced at this type of loss do the victims a favor and stay home. This is not the time to learn to adjust a total fire loss.

Marc Dubois E.G.A.

I'm sure what you are saying is do YOU a favor. I'm sure the homeowners will be fine. I'm still shaking my head at the attitudes of some on this board. I guess you came out of the womb adjusting fire losses? Obviously not, you started somewhere.

If you are as good as you claim to be then newbies shouldn't be a threat to you. No, I won't be staying home. Sorry to break the news to you.

 

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Leland
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10/27/2007 12:19 AM
Oops, long day, what was I saying.... the correct statement is the place could be vacant for a year and they would still get Fair Rental Value. I was thinking about a vandalism claim on the same policy, those claims have a 30 day vacancy exclusion. Just shows how being tired messes up thinking. Anyway the Fair Rental Value on the dwelling claims I have is totally different from ALE (alternative Living Expense) on an HO policy. For example I never have to ask people what their home cooked meal cost is. What will be interesting if some of you cat adjusters have a secondary policy where the dwelling policy is primary- will the second policy subtract the Fair Rental Value paid by the dwelling from the ALE paid by the second carrier? How is it supposed to work? I'd love to hear from some experienced adjusters about how losses are correctly apportioned among different carriers. (see my previous post)

As far as beginners adjusting fire claims, many claims aren't that difficult. Quite a few are going to be paid at at policy limits. Another thing I notice is some carriers want estimates from TWO contractors on large fire losses, just to make sure that the loss is correctly estimated by someone who could actually do the work, not just the adjuster. Of course the adjuster can benefit from discussing the scope with an experienced contractor who the carrier trusts. Also there are always supervisors to help the beginners. There are so many ways that smart beginners can get the job done. In reality the CAT firms won't send any beginners anyway so its a moot point. Bashing new adjusters has always happened on this website and probably always will. It means nothing.

As you can see above, I certainly make my mistakes. Some senior guy on this website once told me I would never be an adjuster and I probably deserved it. But, as you can see, I am still at it. Still making mistakes, still learning. And I get paid for it, too. Good luck to all, beginners included. And if I can help anybody coming out here, let me know, I know that we are a community and that others have helped me and will again. Thats the best part of this business and the main reason for this website- learning and improving our knowledge.
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Medulus
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10/27/2007 12:21 AM
Stephanie,

I'm pretty sure Marc meant exactly what he said. None of us really think that a person springs to life as a full blown adjuster from a clam shell. And I won't try to interpret what Marc is saying, either. I'll leave that to him. But I will give you my take on it.

A total loss fire should definitely not be assigned to an inexperienced adjuster. The details that a family has to deal with after being displaced by a fire are legion. They need an adjuster who can hold their hand and lead them through the process, not one who is learning as he or she goes.

That being said, there may be a place for new adjusters on the California fires. Those who worked Katrina/Rita/Wilma as their first storms and those who have not worked on a cat yet will need to rethink how they go about handling a claim, though. This is not likely to be a "turn and burn" kind of a storm. Those who insist on trying to inspect and close ten claims a day are likely to be unsatisfactory for the situation. The Bubba-boy adjusters and profiteers are likely to cause as many problems as they solve.

It is unlikely that a rookie adjuster will be assigned one of the total losses, anyway. But any new adjuster who receives such a claim would be very wise to call up a seasoned adjuster and ask the experienced adjuster to meet with them and accompany them to the loss site. Then I would suggest letting the experienced adjuster walk you through the process. I would suggest doing this even if it means sharing a percentage of your billing with the other adjuster. It is possible to get in a world of mess by trying to handle a very complex claim that you do not have the knowledge to handle. I actually had an experienced commercial contractor who was investigating becoming a catadjuster walk me through some complex losses when I first began. This was a person other than the contractor who was performing the work so there would be no conflict of interest. A rookie adjuster might learn more this way than from all the adjusting courses in Texas.

There are elements of handling claims in California which are different than most other states. The litigation atmosphere is different. The consumer advocate atmosphere is different. Ralph Nader and a disgruntled former State Farm employee actually held seminars in the San Fernando Valley after the Northridge Earthquake. The purpose of the seminars was to help insureds maximize their claim settlement. I decline to comment on the content of some of these seminars in a public forum because the information I have is second hand. I did not attend the seminars to hear it for myself. I was too busy handling earthquake claims. The documentation standards in California are different than most states. The correspondence and claim settlement deadlines are at least as stringent as Florida. And that portion of the media hellbent on ferreting out "the abuses of big insurance" have their headquarters here.

All these things need to be taken into account while handling claims in California. Adjusters are needed - whether they have been adjusters for one year or thirty years - who can take the time to do a complete job, catch all the details (the devil is indeed in the details), and forget about cutting corners. Commitment and dedication to something more than making a lot of money real fast is imperative.

Again, there is a place for new adjusters in an event such as this. But a new adjuster must be willing to measure every room, every offset, notice every molding and feature of the house - even on a smoke claim because smoke doesn't stop at the obvious features of the house. This may mean that you are only able to scope two or three houses in a very long day. And you may be too tired to go back to the room and stay up all night closing those two or three claims, so the writing up of the claim may have to wait until the next day. It would be counterproductive for an adjuster to assume this is like a hailstorm and they can inspect 120 claims (or 60 or 30) before beginning to write them up. A new adjuster has to slow down and make sure the job is done right. This will lead to satisfied insureds, satisfied carriers, and happy claims that remain closed. If a new adjuster is willing to do the job right, I am glad to have her or him on the team. If the Applebees parking lot guy shows up to brag about how he can close ten smoke or fire claims a day, I will have no time to listen to him.
Steve Ebner CPCU AIC AMIM

"With great power comes great responsibility." (Stanley Martin Lieber, Amazing Fantasy # 15 August 1962)
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HuskerCat
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10/27/2007 12:37 AM

Leland...thanks for your replies.  FVR was what I thought it was, but it threw me off with the mention of "dwelling policy" and ALE.  Makes more sense now after your explanations.  That's a different program than the norm, with both the owner & tenant having coverage under the same policy.  Was there a Civil Authority order involved in a majority of the area, or was it left up to peoples' own good sense?  

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BobH
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10/27/2007 12:53 AM
Posted By Steve Ebner on 10/27/2007 12:21 AM
Stephanie,

Those who insist on trying to inspect and close ten claims a day are likely to be unsatisfactory for the situation.

I was very fortunate to learn fire damage estimating during "normal times" just doing day claims. A half burned house can take a full day to fully scope and do the estimate the same day.

I'm talking about every cabinet measurement, does the tile have a morter bed, figuring out if you need a full electrical run or just the outlet - it is the details as Steve said. Lots of them.

I missed lots of details on some of my first fires, and if you live in the same area then you learn from the supplements pretty fast.

Stephanie I think you will do fine. Take a second and look at my post on page 2 of this thread on the basic technique for handling the smell of smoke in a fire loss - that is your stable point of reference for the confusion you are going to walk into. Handle the smell.

If it's a house with just a portion of fire damage, that got up into the attic framing at all, that means getting all the insulation of out an attic and sealing the framing and any drywall (that isn't already being replaced) for odor control. That would be overkill for some light hit homes, but just mentioning it because that is the focus on a partial fire loss - the smell.

Bob H
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HuskerCat
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10/27/2007 12:54 AM

Posted By Steve Ebner on 10/27/2007 12:21 AM
Stephanie,

I'm pretty sure Marc meant exactly what he said. None of us really think that a person springs to life as a full blown adjuster from a clam shell. And I won't try to interpret what Marc is saying, either. I'll leave that to him. But I will give you my take on it.

A total loss fire should definitely not be assigned to an inexperienced adjuster. The details that a family has to deal with after being displaced by a fire are legion. They need an adjuster who can hold their hand and lead them through the process, not one who is learning as he or she goes.

Truer words have never been spoken, Steve.  Throwing someone new into a fire loss by themself is a big mistake and can be a confidence killer.  Looking back, I can say the first several fire losses handled were more difficult than even some fatal auto accidents I handled.  Often times, what seemed like a minor fire or smoke damage claim would come back to haunt you more than once.  People can be very fickle, and they will have you coming back because they can "still smell that smoke".  Maybe you will, or maybe you won't be able to smell it yourself.  It takes several losses to learn what to look for, how to anticipate the potential problems, and avoid the reinspects and multiple supplements.   Bob H pointed out a lot of this earlier, on things to look for. 

Late note:  I see Bob has just posted again.  We seem to have some of the same thoughts.

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stephie76
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10/27/2007 12:57 AM

Bob,

I added your post to my notes that I'm taking with me. Very informative. Lots of things I hadn't even thought about. I have a partner that I am going to be working with so hopefully I won't be totally lost at first. Partner has been an adjuster for 4 or 5 years.

Thanks again for all the tips and info.

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BobH
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10/27/2007 1:00 AM
Yep. BTW, this new forum software is really hard to do the "quote" (I liked the old CADO forum software). The trick with this one is to click on the "source" icon, so the formatting code is visible. You can start typing AFTER the code symbols on the quoted text, and it will come out OK. Otherwise you are putting your words into the quote... and that happened to me at first.
Bob H
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Ray Hall
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10/27/2007 1:36 AM

I was thinking most of the "dwellings" were one, two or three family dwelling eligable for Homeowners and this would be the dominate policy. If some of the dwellings were seasonal or rental property a lease agreement will be the important document on the fair rental value adjustment. Lake Arrowhead should have a fair amount of claims on this item alone.

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Medulus
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10/27/2007 1:57 AM
If my memory serves me correctly many of the state "fair plan" type companies use dwelling policies as their main policy, so that a DP2 or DP3 or its equivalent is the basic homeowners policy while a DP1 policy may be used for a rental property or additional property owned by the insured.
Steve Ebner CPCU AIC AMIM

"With great power comes great responsibility." (Stanley Martin Lieber, Amazing Fantasy # 15 August 1962)
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BobH
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10/27/2007 10:12 AM
Posted By Mike Kunze on 10/27/2007
Throwing someone new into a fire loss by themself is a big mistake and can be a confidence killer

Yep. Let's go over some other stuff to lend them a hand.

Board-Up & Chain Link Fencing
If the house is damaged to the point it cannot be locked up securely, it's not unusual to be asked to allow chain link fencing around the property.  The carrier wants to avoid the liability of a vacant structure attracting people who go in, get hurt, then sue.  You would allow several months temp fence rental until you get a better grip on the actual time needed.  If the house is not total loss, openings should be boarded up to keep out the weather.

Obvious Total Loss
You get the footprint measured as accurately as you can, and be alert for smaller detached footings such as deck and stair supports.  I have had fires where I saw those things, didn't measure how far away they were from the structure, then "hit the wall" doing the estimate.

I had a carrier insist on a stick-build estimate on an obvious total loss.  My first reaction was "I'm not an architect".  I found it wasn't all that hard because at least there is no argument over the scope of repair.  You can start with a Sqare Foot valuation, print it out, and scrutinize the "breakdown by trade".  See where your sheet may be missing some trades (did you insulate the exterior walls, allow for an electric service panel, etc.)  There is a "rewire per Sf" item in Xactimate ELE-REWIRE.  Does not include outlets or switches.   There is also an Xactimate plumbing code PLM-ROUGH Includes: Supply and waste lines and installation labor.  Priced per square foot of floor area 

If the homeowner's photos burned in the fire, ask them to check with friends and family.  Even interior shots at X-mas can be very helpful.  See if the builder has the blueprints, see what the building dept has on file for the original construction.

Partial Burns
Smell is the big deal with fire claims. Every neighborhood has some story floating around about the person who's house was repaired after a fire, and "whenever they opened the closet door they could still smell the smoke".

That means you have to "think" like smoke, all the little cavities it can go into. When a house gets fumigated for termites, they say after 24 hours the gas gets everywhere, into the stud walls, etc. Fire smoke is like that, and often under some degree of pressure and much more heat than fumigation. 

For odor control you have to pull drywall off one side of the studs so you can spray sealer into the stud wall and on the back side of the drywall that you are leaving in place. Those are the judgments you make when you are standing at a fire site, often one part of the house is obviously damaged and the shades of gray get lighter and lighter as you leave the point of origin. 

I'm not saying to go overboard.  You can have a serious fire - yet a distant bedroom had the door closed and it can be thoroughly cleaned and painted.  You can tell if the door was open or not.  Avoid the temptation to measure all the rooms and leave, because 1/2 of the site inspection isn't done yet.  Decisions need to be made.  You don't want to make them sitting at your desk when you receive a contractor estimate to restore that house.  If his estimate is double the one you already sent in, and you personally are not certain about the degree of removal that needs to occur, you are not in a position of strength.

With a bad fire, you will remove damaged material, heavy cleaning of surfaces that you have exposed, and if needed - spray sealer.  Wood framing and concrete are porous and can retain the smoke residue.   I have gone up in attics to inspect a leaking roof and seen the entire attic, including the underside of roof decking sprayed white.  For a moment you wonder "why did they paint their attic".  Then you realize that house had a fire in the past.  And I did not smell smoke.

HVAC
If only a fraction of the house burned and it's going to be restored, it's easy to overlook the ductwork if it's your first fire.  All you see is the darkened registers in the ceiling, but the problem went up into the ducts as well.  If it's a small fire, like something burned too long in the kitchen and got the cabinets on fire - but put out quickly, you can simply clean the ducts. 

If the fire went up into some of the attic framing, may as well pull the ductwork because the insulation around them + cleaning the inside of the duct will total that run.  With significant smoke residue everywhere in the attic, the central forced air unit up there will have smoke grime inside all the metal panels, the blower, etc.  It is a mater of degree, if it is a light dusting of particles you would at least allow for a service call to check out the forced air unit to CYA.

Insulation
This will retain the smoke odor.  If fire got up into the attic then all of the insulation needs to go.  We all know that "heat rises".  The hard-hit rooms will have darkened paint above the center of the walls, and of course the ceilings will be the darkest - often black, and sometimes the paper is burned off the drywall.  Of course that drywall has to be removed, and the insulation will come down with it.  

If the room was hard-hit with darkened paint, look at the exterior walls (insulated).  Pull the cover off the outlet plates.  Sometimes you can see darkened insulation to justify why all that drywall and insulation needs to come off, and seal the wall framing.

Doors
You have seen how a pre-hung door is secured to the rough opening, with "shims" adjusting the gap where the inner jamb is nailed to the framing.  The outer casing hides all of that, but does not act as a good seal when there is a fire.  If the room you are standing in had significant smoke exposure and is darkened, you need to realize that smoke particles and residue was forced into the gaps and is inside the wall.  We mentioned on page 2 that "light" hit rooms can be washed, sealed, and painted, but a harder hit room needs to have at least one side of drywall pulled from the frame in order to seal the inner framing and back side of drywall (if it remains from a lighter hit room on the other side).  What are you going to do about the door openings?  It is a judgment to make while you are looking at it, not at the computer.

If the room is seriously darkened, you have to replace the complete door package, especially if it is stain grade.  Really hard to restore a pre-existing door and make it match new casing and jamb that didn't come as a set because you think you can save the door slab.  Sometimes you can - depends how hard the room was hit.  Figure it out on-site.  Often the hinges that are lacquered have been affected, and these will come with a pre-hung door replacement.  The lock-set won't come with it, and if the room is hard-hit you may not be able to detach-reset the old one.  If you left the hardware off completely, you will have a supplement.

Windows
Heat is not kind to windows.  If it isn't broken, you have to figure out if you can save it or not.  If you can see a darkened region in the upper 1/2 of the room, the house is telling you it got hot, and this can damage the membrane between the dual pane windows.  This is one of the judgment calls you want to make on site, not sitting at your computer.  Look at it - be able to respond to questions about it.  Even with single glazed windows, the smoke residue of any significant fire can get into the extruded channels to such a degree that it is not cost effective to "restore".  If a baseball goes through a window, you can replace the inner panel.  With a fire, the damage also gets the outer frame that ties-in to the building.  If it's vinyl it is gone.  If it is aluminum you have to figure it out based on degree.  Just remember that replacing the entire window in the stucco homes that are common in CA will also require stucco repair.  There is an Xactimate code for LF of stucco repair around windows and doors, but that just leaves a brown "worm" around the opening.  If the house had been painted you paint that elevation, if it was virgin color coat then you allow for that to be applied (to the entire elevation).

As mentioned before, matching is a big deal in CA.  I have had claims where the old 1970's aluminum with brown anodized finish were no longer available.  I replaced all of the windows in a house, even a distant bedroom where the door was closed and that room didn't need it - but the elevation was hit somewhere else.  If your policy is from a sub-standard carrier that does not care about "customer satisfaction" then you may need to be aware of the line you have to walk between the law, and your client's needs.  Read the policy.  Read the fair claim reg's posted earlier.  Essentially you want to take the high road and "allow for a reasonably uniform appearance" when possible.

Current building codes may require dual glazed windows if they didn't have them, and you will run into lots of code upgrade issues.  You need to know for certain if they have that coverage. 

Code Upgrades

Call the local building department to see "at what point does the entire home need to be brought up to code" when damage is being repaired.  Obviously the replaced items should meet current code, but in the local area where I work if the ESTIMATE TO REPAIR DAMAGES = 75% OF THE VALUE OF THE STRUCTURE then the entire home must be brought up to meet current building codes.  In a kitchen alone that may require separate circuit breakers for dishwasher, large appliances, etc, and you could be looking at a 200 amp service panel if it is an older home with a smaller service.

 Electrical
With a significant fire, the utilities will be shut off pending inspection.  Visualize inspecting a dark cave, and bring a good flashlight.  RayoVac makes a belt mounted thing that holds 4 D batteries, with a wire running up to a light that straps around your head.  It is affordable, very lightweight on your head, and a great way to free your hands so you can write a floor diagram, etc.  You will have to go up in a dark attic, and you will get your clothes messed up no matter how careful you are

 If you aren't sure, pull the outlet plates and LOOK  at the inside of the outlet box and light switch.  How does the plastic sheathing around the wire look?  With a room at the opposite end of the source of fire, light hit, you may not see any outline in the paint around the cover you just pulled.  If it was harder hit, replace the outlet.  If there is concern of the integrity of the actual wires in the walls, you need to select the repair item that includes a wire run.  Homeowners are very spooky on this subject and you cannot respond if you didn't look at the issue while you were on site.  You can have Romex get very hot, possibly melt plastic sheathing inside, and there is a concern about wire not being properly insulated after such an event.

Ceiling lights will have an "always hot" wire running above the ceiling to that fixture, in addition to the "switch loop" that goes to the switch on the wall.  These are higher than the wall outlets, and more susceptible to heat damage.  Remember that ceiling light fixtures attach to a "box" - you will replace that box and it's run, as well as the switch and it's run of wire.  You may want to pull a light fixture to inspect the wire inside that box, where it got hotter than the wall outlets.  You will see Romex wire when you do the attic inspection.

Find the main service panel (usually the one with the meter on it) and visualize the wires running from that point to the far reaches of the house.  If there is a hard-hit area in the middle of the attic, it may have affected runs that extend to the rest of the house.  If you think you can splice a wire, just remember that you have to give them a junction box - and any junction box has to be accessible per code.  You cannot splice a wire in a wall and cover that up with drywall.  If you are replacing a run, the drywall needs to be gone so the framing is exposed - similar to a re-pipe.

There is a "rewire per Sf" item that can simplify your estimate if you have to replace all the wiring.  If you look up the code ELE-REWIRE in Xactimate, you discover that this allows for all the wire and boxes, but  excludes: Service cable, riser and weatherhead, meterbase, grounding wire and rod, main breaker panel and breakers, feeder cable between the meter base and panel, switches, outlets, covers or light fixtures.   If the house is not burned to the ground, count the switches and outlets in the room.  If you forgot to do that, modern code says "every 6 feet along the wall" and some estimating programs will place these for you automatically.

If the house had minor damage, you may want to allow for a trip charge for an electrician to check it out.  If the electricity is on, they can do a "Megohmmeter" check, which can determine any partial short circuits or problems that are not obvious to the naked eye.  If you look up the code ELE-MEG in Xactimate you will see this description: Megohmmeter and labor. Note: Diagnostic test to examine the electrical system in a damaged home for defective circuits.

I just did a claim for a house that was built in 1929 and the service panel was only 30 amps.  Houses built 20 years ago may have 100 amp panels, modern ones are often 200 amp.  Again you need to be absolutely certain if they have code upgrade coverage, is there a limit on it.  Some policies are very generous with guaranteed replacement cost, some are not.

Flooring
With a significant fire there will be "drop-down" and most of the flooring surfaces will need to be replaced.  If the room was hard hit you may want to allow for washing the slab after the carpet and pad are pulled.  If the concrete has visible dark staining then washing it may not be enough - and it should be sealed.  In a non-cat situation, the house is often soaked by the fire dept, then emergency services hauls out all the wet carpet and pad.  You may not be able to inspect the slab properly if the flooring is still in place.
 
Bathroom Fixtures
None of us want to over-pay.  If you aren't used to writing estimates over $100,000 you can start to feel like a Public Adjuster padding an estimate with all this expensive stuff.  Get over it.  Look at this one room at a time, and imagine it was your house.  Avoid the urge to "clean and save" everything.  If it is a back of house bathroom that does not have a darkened upper 1/2 of walls, then sure, clean the shower walls and toilet and so on.  If you lift a toothbrush off the top of the toilet tank and it leaves an outline that you cannot brush off with your finger, that fixture needs to be yanked out. 

If the bathroom is hard hit, the tub is going to have to be pulled (possibly refinish, possible replace) just to get to the large air cavity below it that will hold smoke residue and be an odor source - so you have to remember to allow to clean these SF of areas you are exposing as you do your estimate.  How's the medicine cabinet?  You have to look at everything.  If it is light-hit then these repair items would be overkill.

Truss- Framing
As mentioned before, you can have some framing that is lightly scorched that can be cleaned and sealed.  If it has any alligatoring on it then it has lost strength.  There can be borderline damage - which is resolved when the Insured selects a contractor and the building department is consulted as to "how much material can we remove from this wood".  I had a claim where a large timber needed 1/8" removed to get down to clean wood, and that was agreeable to everyone including the owner.

You get into truss issues, and even partial damage often means yanking the entire truss out, and all the decking and roof membrane above it.  Building Dept's will sometimes accept an engineered fix but usually contractors will want to replace a truss rather than get OK to patch up an existing one.  Don't forget all the drywall in all the rooms that may be attached to the underside of that truss.  You want to figure this out when you are on site, how wide is the area of drywall removal (about 2' beyond the last truss on each side).

Anytime you pull a truss, there can be plumbing, wiring, and HVAC running through the openings.  Again, you have to figure this out while you are on-site, and look at that truss from end to end.  Sometimes the access is very tight, and a bright flashlight to see where you cannot fit is vital.  I have a couple of boards 3 feet long that I take up with me into attics that have no sheathing - it gets hard on your shins to crawl in an attic.  If you can "inch" your way around with at least some sort of support that spans the framing you are less likely to cause damage to the drywall under you.

Permits
Permits will have to be pulled unless the damage is cosmetic.  If you have no idea what the permit should be and you are putting together a preliminary estimate, you should allow up to 2% of the amount of repair prior to O&P. Some of these fees vary by area, but that is going to put you in the ballpark. A call to your local building dept may give you a more accurate number for your claim.  You may have to pay architect fees depending on the scale of the project.

DP-1 Policies
In a fire-prone area you may encounter "ACV only" policies written by one of the non-admitted carriers, like within the Lloyds group.  If you are used to normal homeowner policies - and explain to the insured that depreciation is recoverable upon completion of repair - you will have a hard time when you discover that the policy is ACV only.  It is hard to suck the toothpaste back in the tube once you make a comment about recoverable depreciation - and that is a mistake I have made before. 

These "Fire Policies" are rare in modern subdivisions.  But you find them in high risk areas, and older homes that other carriers do not want to insure (old wiring hazard, collapse, etc.)  There is a huge difference between the DP-3 and a DP-1.  The depreciation is NOT recoverable upon completion of repair.  You may have trouble getting a copy of the policy to look at - it is not in the CPCU handbook of Ins policies.  If you are signed up with Wardlaw they have a downloadable Farmers version of the DP-1 on the Wardlaw site.

We get used to only depreciating the wearable surfaces in homeowner claims.  Paint, flooring, roofing.  If you are looking at a house that is burned to the ground and it was built 50 years ago, you need to realize that a carrier that could care less about customer satisfaction may be expecting you to depreciate that house based on a 100 year life.  That can include framing, wiring, plumbing.  We have all seen plumbing deteriorate after a few decades (slab leaks on older houses, homeowner does a re-pipe).  Termite damage, etc.

After the Northridge earthquake in 1994 there was litigation that eventually resulted in statutes that defined ACV in California as "Fair Market Value" UNLESS THE CARRIER SPECIFICALLY DEFINED ACV IN THE POLICY.  My State Farm policy specifically defines ACV as depreciation based on age, but these older DP-3 and DP-1 policies will be silent on that point.  The spirit of the litigation leading up to this was the concept that "my house is in a desirable neighborhood and the value has increased - not decreased".  It gets awkward, because we don't insure the dirt.  I have had carriers ask for licensed real estate appraisers to appraise the property as it would have existed prior to the loss, and separate out the land from the improvements.  That is an awkward dance, and the reason why many modern policies define ACV in their California policies.  This is something to pay attention to.

Some of these old "fire policies" mention contents coverage.  But you MUST LOOK AT THE DECLARATION PAGE to be sure they have that coverage.  If you don't see a limit for personal property you need to verify coverage before making any commitment or having them start an inventory.  And of course if the house is not owner-occupied, we would only be concerned with landlord's property.

Clothing
Bring coveralls, some are disposable, or at least plan for a change of clothes before getting soot all over your vehicle.  Rubber boots help, you don't want to track the stuff you are stepping in.  Bring some handi-wipes because everything you touch is going to get dirty, your scope sheets, etc.  If you have to spend much time in an attic, I wear a respirator because you stir up fiberglass (or whatever) and it can get pretty irritating. 

Bob Harvey, Adjuster 

Bob H
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10/27/2007 10:39 AM

Stephanie,

Good Luck out there!!! I have copied all the post from Bob, Leland and Steve they can be very useful for everyone!

Have a Safe trip!!

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10/27/2007 10:41 AM

Thank you, Mr. Harvey

I have been doing fires for several years, so I do much of this by instinct and experience.  But it is certainly not a rare occurrence for me to sit down to write up the fire loss and realize I forgot to include something in my notes.  So I frantically search my photos to see if I can answer my question without a reinspect.  I think I'll print out a copy of your post and stick it in my briefcase as a sort of checklist.  I may even use it and add a few other items like molding and trim, etc. to create an actual checklist for myself.

Steve Ebner CPCU AIC AMIM

"With great power comes great responsibility." (Stanley Martin Lieber, Amazing Fantasy # 15 August 1962)
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10/27/2007 10:59 AM
Posted By Steve Ebner on 10/27/2007 10:41 AM
...So I frantically search my photos to see if I can answer my question without a reinspect

Steve, that is a great point. The first thing I do with any BIG loss is take the usual "Risk" photo from the street, then the point of origin, then go to each and every room and take a photo from oposite corners. If your camera doesn't have a good wide angle lens and it is a small room you may even take a photo from 4 corners.

Remember - the contents are going to eat you up.  These photos will "freeze in time" what was present at the time of loss.  Most digital cameras today have the movie feature.  Get a big memory card, take some movies, and transfer them to your laptop hard-drive between inspections.

Bob H
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