Before House Fire Flames Are Out, Contractors And Adjusters Drum Up Business

When a house catches fire, there can be more than one type of first responder. There are the life-saving fire department and emergency medical services…and then there are the businesspeople selling repair and cleanup services, who sometimes arrive at the scene at the same time as the official first responders. Instead of hoses, axes, and ladders, these crews carry clipboards, contracts, and business cards.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel looked into the fire truck-chasing world of contractors and public adjusters who try to drum up business even before the flames are out. Homeowner isn’t on the scene? No problem: one fire victim reported that public adjusters were on the phone even before he knew what was happening to his house.

“Sometimes they get to a scene the same time we do. We’ve had to warn residents to be careful of these guys,” one firefighter told the Sun Sentinel.

Do these companies provide an important service? Sure. Most people have never been through a house fire before, and public adjusters can guide homeowners through the process of cleanup, restoration, and repair of their homes and help them to get a better settlement, in exchange for a percentage of that settlement. The problem isn’t that they exist or even that they offer their services to homeowners–it’s that they’re on the scene offering their services and urging homeowners not to speak to competitors before the victims have even had a chance to process what happened. Shock, fear, and grief at the los sof your home are not emotions that lead to good consumer decision-making.

That’s what Florida lawmakers had in mind in 2008 when they banned public adjusters from contacting victims for the first 48 hours after any disaster. The state Supreme Court decided that the law violated companies’ right to free speech, and overturned it a few years later.

House fires draw repair offers, even before smoke clears [South Florida Sun Sentinel]