Before the hailstones have even melted, storm-chasing contractors are out in full force competing for roofing business. Unfortunately, not all of them are ethical—much less qualified and reliable. They talk about getting around insurance deductibles in positive terms like “rebate” and “waive” or “deductible assistance program.” Some even call the rebate your payment for advertising their company on a front-yard poster. It doesn’t matter how cleverly they dress up the promise of a “free roof,” what they are asking you to do is commit insurance fraud. Let’s take a look at what is really going on.
Every homeowner’s policy is a binding contract that includes legal protections for both parties. Any difference between the billing to the insurance company and the billing to the homeowner is a breach of contract, whether or not it was facilitated by a contractor. Beyond a violation of contract law, falsifying information is insurance fraud—which is a criminal offense. One retired claims representative with 35 years in the industry said it simply: “Experienced adjusters can smell ‘fudge’ a mile away, and they waste no time turning the claim over to the fraud unit for investigation.”
One roofing contractor tells about his experience at a car repair shop where he jokingly asked the cashier if there was any “wiggle room” in the deductible. She shot back a flat “Nope.” He laughed and said, “I’ll bet some body shops would play that game.” Without looking up from her work, she said, “That’s true if you don’t mind the paint peeling in six months.” He loved her answer because he constantly battles for business against unethical contractors who play a game of smoke and mirrors by advertising a “free roof.” That deductible never comes out of their pockets—or profits. They make up shortfalls with second-rate labor and shoddy workmanship, inferior products and insufficient materials. Four or five years down the road when quality issues start showing up, warranties are most often useless. In extreme cases, jobs can be left unfinished and contractors just vanish.
One of the tactics used by untrustworthy contractors to inflate their charges also gives them total control of the claims process: “Just sign right here and we’ll take care of everything.” Each year, thousands of trusting homeowners sign vendor contracts that include Assignment of Benefit or AOB clauses—usually tucked away in fine print and never pointed out or explained. Once that contract is signed, you no longer have the right to even inquire about your own claim. You may even be sued or face a lien for the difference between the exaggerated charges and what the insurance company legitimately owes.
The alarming trend of shady contractors who trade deductibles for repair work makes it tough for reputable contractors to run an ethical business and remain profitable. Some try to educate homeowners, but how many people take the time to learn about the insurance claims process, the details of a quality roofing system, and the importance of a stable contractor? In a competitive business with tight profit margins, what are the alternatives? No one wins when quality contractors go out of business or have to survive by cutting costs with cheaper labor and materials. From the insurer’s perspective, fraud losses drive higher rates—for everyone.
Let’s face it. Paying an insurance deductible is unpleasant and unplanned—and few of us are really prepared for sudden expenses. Some contractors have relationships with reputable lenders who make it possible for homeowners to make monthly payments on unforeseen expenses. You can also come up with your portion of the cost by dipping into savings, using a low-interest credit card or taking out a short-term loan with your own lender. Honest people have a way of finding workable solutions and honesty pays.
Take the time you need to check references and qualifications, and then select a company with a long track record of customer satisfaction. Know what you are signing and never allow anyone to put you in a position where you are breaking the law for a “better deal.”
This article is for informational purposes only and does not form a part of, replace, change or amend any terms, conditions, provisions or language within your Olympus Insurance policy. We encourage you to read your entire policy.