Accurate forecasting

A realistic approach to timescale and work involved is essential if the industry is to better manage customer expectations following weather-related claims, says Graham Burgess

An increasingly important part of dealing with weather-related claims is managing customer expectations. And it is vital for representatives of our industry to be realistic about the work that needs to be carried out following a flood or storm.

Being overly-optimistic about when a customer can move back into their home is sure to backfire on you. Not only will the customer soon realise that they have been misinformed, it will create negative publicity about your service and, ultimately, you may lose them.

In terms of repair time, a bad flood is perhaps one of the worst claims a householder can make. The extent - and, as such, the expense - of the damage can be far worse than fire because of additional factors that need to be taken into account, such as contaminants and sewage from a flooded river that gets into the flood waters entering the house.

The risks of modern construction

Modern construction methods can also influence drying time and homeowners are increasingly exposing themselves to a risk of flooding - perhaps without even knowing it. For example, many modern houses use lightweight blocks, which are full of air gaps, to provide good insulation. However, this means the blocks are like sponges, which can soak up vast amounts of water.

The construction of modern houses lends itself to the absorption of huge amounts of water, and this affects the extent of the damage. In addition, modern housing has increasingly been built on flood plains in recent years - areas developers would have previously neglected.

One of the most important jobs when dealing with a flood claim is to spend time with the householder to explain what repairs are going to be carried out. A loss adjuster will need to examine a host of factors before coming to a decision about how long the work will take to set the house right. These include the depth of the floodwater and the length of time the house was submerged (sometimes water is not in the house long enough to be fully absorbed).

Effective drying off times

A householder would be extremely unlucky to be out of the premises longer than a year, but at the same time, the work is never going to take just a week or two. People often do not realise how far you have to strip back the construction before you can start to dry the premises effectively and then go forward with flood repairs. For example, decoration such as wallpaper will have to be removed, and carpet and floorboards lifted. In many cases, wall plaster will need to be removed and any stud walls will need to be stripped in order to fully dry the premises.

The chances are you will need to get a temporary electrical supply in place to power dehumidifiers and air movers, and the homeowners will more than likely need to move into alternative premises as the dehumidifiers make a considerable amount of noise.

Perhaps the most challenging scenario that we, as loss adjusters, deal with involves people who keep returning to their property, despite having moved temporarily to alternative accommodation. In one case, an owner returned to their flooded house, but could not work because of the noise of the dehumidifiers and so they turned them off during the day and just turned them back on in the evening, which delayed the whole drying process.

One of the biggest risks of flood damage repair is that different sections of the work are allocated to different companies. This creates the real risk that things will get overlooked, as everyone concentrates only upon their own section of work, unless someone is overseeing the project. For example, carpet specialists may be required to remove the flooring, while another company cleans the clothing, and yet another firm dehumidifies the premises. However, this carries the risk of things being missed - for example, that a company is needed to remove antique furniture to a place of safety so it is not damaged while the works are taking place.

There is no substitute for having a knowledgeable overseer in control of the whole project and an experienced loss adjuster is ideally placed to take on this role.

Assessing the situation

Properties behave differently and damage varies depending on the severity of an incident. An experienced loss adjuster can assess the situation and work with the damage management companies. For example, they can ensure the contents are taken out and saved where possible, that the methods to get the place dry are appropriate, and that the most competitive pricing for the works is obtained.

Some of the big insurers work very carefully towards what is best practice. But what is done depends in part on the experience of the people looking at the site. As a result, some things are not picked up or dealt with in the appropriate way, but steps are being taken to combat these. For example, most insurers have been looking at how they can reinstate properties so they will be less prone to future damage, such as putting new electrical sockets in higher up.

Insurers and their suppliers are increasingly turning their attention to managing the sensitive area of customer expectations - and rightly so. Steps are being taken to iron out inconsistencies in approach across the industry, and to help ensure that customers understand the full implications of repair works required. Transparency, honesty and a dedication to customer care are vital if the industry's reputation is to improve.

Graham Burgess is UK technical director at loss adjuster GAB Robins UK.

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