Q. From Reddit Our family of 5 lost everything in a fire yesterday. Would appreciate advice for the rebuilding ahead. (x/post /r/frugal) (self.personalfinance) OP
Reddit is “user-generated content” – and sometimes the language leaves a lot to be desired. But the information here is amazing! Personally, it’s my favorite social media site and resource. This thread contains a gem. Share it with everyone you know who is making an insurance claim. And remember, you have basements, lawn and yard items that need calculating. As well as the items that live in your car, and if you were really unfortunate, your attic.
Hey OP… I used to be the guy who worked for insurance companies, and determined the value of every little thing in your house. The guy who would go head-to-head with those fire-truck-chasing professional loss adjusters. I may be able to help you not get screwed when filing your claim.
Our goal was to use the information you provided, and give the lowest damn value we can possibly justify for your item.
For instance, if all you say was “toaster” — we would come up with a cheap-as-f*ck $4.88 toaster from Walmart, meant to toast one side of one piece of bread at a time. And we would do that for every thing you have ever owned. We had private master lists of the most commonly used descriptions, and what the cheapest viable replacements were. We also had wholesale pricing on almost everything out there, so really scored cheap prices to quote. To further that example:
If you said “toaster – $25” , we would have to be within -20% of that… so, we would find something that’s pretty much dead-on $20.01.
If you said “toaster- $200”, we’d kick it back and say NEED MORE INFO, because that’s a ridiculous price for a toaster (with no other information given.)
If you said “toaster, from Walmart” , you’re getting that $4.88 one.
If you said “toaster, from Macys” , you’d be more likely to get a $25-35 one.
If you said “toaster”, and all your other kitchen appliances were Jenn Air/Kitchenaid etc., you would probably get a matching one.
If you said “Proctor Silex 42888 2-Slice Toaster from Wamart, $9”, you just got yourself $9.
If you said “High-end Toaster, Stainless Steel, Blue glowing power button” … you might get $35-50 instead. We had to match all features that were listed.
I’m not telling you to lie on your claim. Not at all. That would be illegal, and could cause much bigger issues (i.e., invalidating the entire claim). But on the flip side, it’s not always advantageous to tell the whole truth every time. Pay attention to those last two examples.
I remember one specific customer… he had some old, piece of sh*t projector (from mid-late 90s) that could stream a equally piece of sh*t consumer camcorder. Worth like $5 at a scrap yard. It had some oddball f*cking resolution it could record at, though — and the guy strongly insisted that we replace with “Like Kind And Quality” (trigger words). Ended up being a $65k replacement, because the only camera on the market happened to be a high-end professional video camera (as in, for shooting actual movies). $65-thousand-dollars because he knew that loophole, and researched his sh*t.
Remember to list EVERYTHING
Remember to list every — even the most mundane f*cking bullshit you can think of. For example, if I was writing up the shower in my bathroom:
Designer Shower Curtain – $35
Matching Shower Curtain Liner for Designer Shower Curtain – $15
Shower Curtain Rings x20 – $15
Stainless Steel Soap Dispenser for Shower – $35
Natural Sponge Loofah – from Whole Foods – $15
Natural Sponge Loofah for Back – from Whole Foods – $19
Holder for Loofahs – $20
Bars of soap – from Lush – $12 each (qty: 4)
Bath bomb – from Lush – $12
High end shampoo – from salon – $40
High end conditioner – from salon – $40
Refining pore mask – from salon – $55
I could probably keep thinking, and bring it up to about $400 for the contents of my shower. Nothing there is “unreasonable”, nothing there is clearly out of place, nothing seems obviously fake. The prices are a little on the high-end, but the reality is, some people have expensive sh*t — it won’t actually get questioned. No claims adjuster is going to bother nitpicking over the cost of f*cking Lush bath bombs, when there is a 20,000 item file to go through. The adjuster has other sh*t to do, too.
Most people writing claims for a total loss wouldn’t even bother with the shower (it’s just some used soap and sponges..) — and those people would be losing out on $400.
Some things require documentation & ages. If you say “tv – $2,000″ — you’re getting a 32” LCD, unless you can provide it was from the last year or two w/ receipts. Hopefully you have a good paper trail from credit/debit card expenditure/product registrations / etc.
If you’re missing paper trails for things that were legitimately expensive — go through every photo you can find that was taken in your house. Any parties you may have thrown, and guests put pics up on Facebook. Maybe an Imgur photo of your cat, hiding under a coffee table you think you purchased from Restoration Hardware. Like… seriously… come up with any evidence you possibly can, for anything that could possibly be deemed expensive.
The fire-truck chasing loss adjusters are evil sons of bitches, but, they actually do provide some value. You will definitely get more money, even if they take a cut. But all they’re really doing, is just nitpicking the ever-living-sh*t out of everything you possibly owned, and writing them all up “creatively” for the insurance company to process.
Sometimes people would come back to us with “updated* claims. They tried it on their own, and listed stuff like “toaster”, “microwave”, “tv” .. and weren’t happy with what they got back. So they hired a fire-truck chaser, and re-submitted with “more information.” I have absolutely seen claims go from under $7k calculated, to over $100k calculated. (It’s amazing what can happen when people suddenly “remember” their entire wardrobe came from Nordstrom.)