If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ll know that we are in the middle of what seems to be a never-ending involuntary kitchen renovation. We submitted a homeowners insurance claim at the end of November 2017. It is now July 2018 and we still have not finished! Today I wanted to share with you some things I wish I new before filing a homeowners insurance claim. This is definitely a post you want to pin or bookmark for when you embark on your own insurance claim.
Things I Wish I Knew Before Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim
Expect to Learn More About Insurance
What your neighbor’s policy covers may be different than what your policy covers. Our deductible (what you pay out of pocket) for this type of damage (which fell under All Perils in our policy) is $2,500 while our neighbor’s is only $1,000.
Had our water leak been caused by a hurricane (and not due to the shitty construction of our DR Horton home) we would have had a $7,000 deductible for all of these damages!
Also, keep in mind that the insurance company is in the business of not paying out more money than they need to. They have to indemnify you (fancy legal language for “making you whole aka returning the state of your home to what it was before the damage occurred”). If you feel that your legal rights are not being met, don’t be afraid of seeking legal counsel.
Lesson learned: make sure you know how much you pay in deductibles on your next home insurance policy renewal.
Prepare for Headaches
In the state of Florida, there’s complex construction laws. And, unless you live in the Orlando or Miami areas where there’s lots of construction, you will have a hard time finding a contractor.
When we initially filed our claim, we were left to our own devices. The insurance company did not refer us to a general contractor who would oversee everything. We were essentially our own general contractors, and the responsibility to screen and vet everyone, including getting bids approved, fell on us.
Cashing Insurance Checks
Once we actually had a bid approved, we needed to secure a lien waiver from EVERY SINGLE COMPANY. Why? So that sub-contractors wouldn’t place a lien on our home in case the contractor/company didn’t pay them. It’s a common problem in Florida. Roundpoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation, the company the insurance company hired to oversee the disbursements of our checks, held ALL of our insurance checks hostage until we submitted the forms for EVERY COMPANY INVOLVED in this catastrophe.
For example, we paid for our new cabinets on our credit card after insurance gave us our budget. Roundpoint would not release the check to pay for the cabinets until we provided them with a signed waiver from the cabinet installer. We didn’t have anyone lined up yet. All we wanted was to pay off the $10k charge for new cabinets on our credit card without paying interest. Despite getting the runaround from several Roundpoint employees, AND overnighting purchase receipts from the cabinet company, they refused to release the check for the cabinets. We eventually got them to release the check, but not without some SERIOUS words with them and threats of legal action.
This process shouldn’t have been an issue since we provided everything they asked for. Their management is a joke. But don’t take my word for it; read their reviews on Yelp.
Lesson learned: ask your insurance company for their preferred general contractor. You should not have to take on the headache of coordinating a construction project. That’s the job of a general contractor. Things have been smoother, albeit not without LOTS of setbacks, once a general contractor was on board.
Your sub-contractors have multiple jobs going on at the same time. You are not their priority.
There were times when our sub-contractors only worked 3-4 hours a day before leaving. I couldn’t understand why’d they left until later on in the process. They left our house to go work at another job site.
Since our project required multiple supplemental requests to our insurance company, work would cease for weeks at a time until the insurance company approved the requests.
Lesson learned: ask for a completion date. It keeps the pressure on the companies to not treat your project as an afterthought.
You May Need a Building Permit
By now every major city probably has websites dedicated to building permits, construction liens, and so forth.
When we asked our first contractor for proper permits he walked out on the job. This was a major red flag. It indicated he probably wasn’t licensed to do the work he said he could do. Even though we waited on his availability for two months, this was probably a blessing in disguise. Our home had structural problems that he may not have been able to resolve correctly. The last thing you want is your king size bed to fall into your kitchen.
Lesson learned: educate yourself on building codes or laws for your area and hold your contractors accountable. Our general contractor’s rep filed for a building permit but did not pay for it until we threatened to not pay them. Work began in March but he didn’t pay for the permit until the middle of June. This has led to even more problems.
Make sure you have all the resources to protect your home and your pocket. In the city of Jacksonville, if you don’t file an Intent of Commencement before the job starts, you can end up paying TWICE for the repairs in the way of fines. Thankfully, we filed this before repairs started.
Which leads me to my next point.
You Must Be Your Own Advocate
Neither one of us are general contractors. Neither one of us are in any way, shape, or form in the construction field nor have received training or education on what is correct or isn’t correct. However, due to the constant state of flux of contractors, and the terrible communication on behalf of our general contractor (the “preferred general contractor” by our insurance company) details often got lost in translation.
Bad Construction Practices
Stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you think they’re doing a job incorrectly. I’ve had to stop sub-contractors many, many times because I knew something off.
I’ve had to intervene on things such as:
- cabinet installations not following the plans I received (our fridge enclosure almost didn’t have all of the stability needed to prevent it from collapsing onto the fridge)
- crown molding installation not following the picture diagrams (and all the images on Google Search) for the proper installation method (sooooo many issues with this one!)
- sub-contractors suggesting ridiculous alternatives to floor tiling patterns to in order cut corners and finish faster (I legit had one suggest a mosaic of randomly cut sizes of tile instead of the uniform 16″ x 16″ tiles on the floor)
- backsplash tiling around outlets not supporting the stability of the sockets (and having to manually draw out the cutting pattern on back of subway tiles so the sockets wouldn’t fall into the walls)
- electrical lines getting nailed between the drywall and the wood framing
- pointing out cabinet pulls installed at a slant
- shoe molding improperly installed with caulk instead of Liquid Nails or a nail gun
The list goes on and on.
Trust Your Gut
Like I said, I’m no expert on construction, but there are just some things that will trigger your common sense. I acted from my gut, and each and every time that I did, I was right. Not something I’m boasting about, but I think it’s important to note because you don’t want to end up with regrets. I absolutely lost sleep debating whether or not to bring up my concerns with the sub-contractors the following morning. It’s been rough.
Did I ruffle a few feathers? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, this is my (hopefully) forever home. You should not have to put up with shitty craftsmanship because a sub-contractor wants to finish sooner (or on time).
Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to be a perfectionist. Some of the people on the worksite might not be skilled laborers, and sometimes only your diligence will point out the mistakes. Mistakes from lack of experience can cause structural issues, electrical problems, or destruction of building materials (i.e. crown molding) that may need weeks to replace.
Your Smartphone is your Best Friend
Take. Pictures. Of. Everything.
In a homeowners insurance claim (or any insurance claim), pictures are king. Thanks to my diligence, I had pictures to show the sub-contractors where the electrical lines should go after the wall was torn down.
Just a few days ago, we failed our building inspection. Thanks to my pictures, the inspector determined that the permit filed by the general contractor fell short of the scope of work. Our project required additional inspections to the final inspection they scheduled. We also needed inspections on the lathing, insulation, sheathing, and dry-in on top of the final inspection.
My pictures proved that no new electrical lines were added, so that saved us from needing an electrical inspection. In other words, having to tear down the newly tiled backsplash.
Most importantly: we learned that there were structural mistakes in how the framing of the new wall was completed. My pictures probably prevented a future structural collapse.
Lesson learned: take pictures even if you think it’s overkill. Create an album on your phone to house all of these pictured quickly in the event that an inspector wants to tear open completed drywall + tile work to see behind a wall.
I hope our experience with our homeowners insurance claim helps anyone in Florida. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I know of folk in St. Augustine who are stuck in homes that, last I heard, can never be covered by insurance again.