Let the Structure Speak


We hear in insurance claim disputes that contractors and carriers should keep in mind who their client is. The inference being that they should hold the interest of the policyholder over all else. While this is true in a contractual sense, it isn’t the defining precedent when it comes to damage assessment, scope creation, or claims negotiation.  As the details of the project are being uncovered, all parties should be mindful in allowing the structure to speak for itself.

When the structure speaks, it’s motives are pure

When we think about motives, we have a tendency to be biased toward the purity of our perspective and suspicious of others. This is especially true when we perpetuate an us-versus-them viewpoint. The three parties, or the restoration triangle, is summed up by the restoration global watchdog, Pete Consigli. He defines this three party relationship as, “The one who’s payin’ (carrier), the one who’s damaged (policyholder) and the one who’s fixin’ (contractor).”

As I outlined in How To Suck Less At Estimating, each member of the triangle has a unique perspective and responsibility in the claims process. The policyholder has the unique perspective of what happened at their structure. The contractor is uniquely qualified to assess the extent of damages to the structure. The carrier has intimate knowledge of the policy language for the structure.

No member of the restoration triangle should be allowed to speak louder than the structure. Damage assessment, scope creation, and claims negotiations should be a reflection of what the structure is saying about its own condition. The structure doesn’t lie, it can be sneaky by hiding conditions, but it has no bias or agenda.

In a mitigation scenario – Letting the structure speak means understanding the source and extent of the damages so that a plan of action can be made.

In a repairs scenario – Letting the structure speak means documenting the site conditions and determining a scope for restoration.

Let the structure speak during damage assessment

Damage assessment includes physical observation of the conditions of the affected structure. Everyone will have an opinion on the source and the extent of damages. Allowing the structure to speak for a water damage scenario includes simple steps such as completing a visual observation, utilizing moisture assessment tools to confirm material conditions, and documenting the results. In our How To Suck Less estimating course, we call this Thorough Data Capture. This is the first element of the DYOJO formula for Defensible Estimates.

Thorough Data Capture (TDC)
+ Accurate Data Input (ADI)
= Defensible Estimate

The largest insurance company in the United States, recognizes the importance of a detailed process involving the input of a quality contractor. State Farm says, “The most appropriate way to estimate the replacement cost of your home is to hire a building contractor or other building reconstruction professional to produce a detailed replacement cost estimate.”

An adjuster or policyholder may have experience in the skilled trades that can help them contribute to the assessment. In complex scenarios or disputes, it may be helpful to include a third-party specialist. The goal of damage assessment should be to observe the structural damages and allow the structure to speak without undue influence of bias or opinion.

The policyholder can relay their recollection of the sequence of events surrounding the emergence of damages, but most often they are not familiar with structural specifications, industry standards, or the terminology of their policy. It is important for each party to speak to their area of expertise, while doing so in a way that does not silence what the structure is telling everyone involved.

Let the structure speak during scope creation

Determination of an appropriate scope of work is the foundation for determining the cost of any construction project. Insurance work uses industry terms like mitigation for the demolition and drying process as well as restoration for the rebuild and repairs process. Damage assessment and scope creation should be a reflection of what the structure is telling all of the parties involved.

To be clear, a homeowner can hire a contractor to perform any level of scope at any cost. Both parties can agree to terms based on a written contract, as long as the financial risk is clear. BUT, if either party expects the insurance company to bear some, or all, of the financial burden, there are two core elements at play in the determination of cost.

  • The language of the policy that the policyholder purchased with the insurance carrier.

  • The on-site evidence related to the source and extent of damages source and extent.

The opinions of the contractor, carrier, or policyholder should not override the voice of the structure when determining an agreed-upon scope. If all parties are willing to listen, the structure will speak to the source or sources of damages. The structure will speak to the extent of damages. The structure will speak to the necessary scope of work to restore itself to pre-loss conditions. Once the scope is identified, with the support of the structure, the discussions about reasonable costs will follow. While there isn’t time in this article to expand on this process, the structure has legitimate input on the cost as it relates to materials of like kind and quality necessary for restoration.

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Jon Isaacson

Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a general contractor based in Tacoma, Washington. He is the author of several moderately selling books and the host of the info-taining DYOJO Podcast. Content from The DYOJO aims to help contractors shorten their DANG learning curve.

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