Thursday, October 14, 2010

Curmudgeon's house gets a new roof

We have an old house. It has an old roof. It was probably old when we bought the place and that's over 14 years ago now. Roofs wear out. I know it and insurance companies know it, too.

But we had a tough Spring in Chicago this year. Tremendous hail storms. And roofers have been everywhere since, soliciting business. Someone even knocked on our door and talked to Long Suffering Spouse. He wanted to make a claim with our homeowners insurance company on our behalf arising from hail damage during one of the storms in April.

Big hail storms, or wind storms or other disasters that affect a large number of people in a given area are called "cat losses" in the insurance business, "cat" being short for "catastrophe." Insurers assign extra personnel (the bigger companies bring in crews from out of state) to handle the claim volume. And even in this modern age, where insurers are able to print out estimates and sometimes even checks right from their cars in the ordinary course of business, the claim process may be streamlined still more when insurers are coping with a cat loss.


As an insurance lawyer for 30 years, if I know anything, I know that property insurance only pays for things that may happen; it doesn't pay for things that must happen. The fancy legal principle is called "fortuity." Insurance companies generally don't buy new roofs for their customers just because the old roof has worn out.

Thus, I looked at the roofing contractor prospecting for business with something of a jaundiced eye: It's an old roof, I thought. Past it's freshness date and then some, I thought. The adjuster coming to view the roof on the insurance company's behalf (and who has far more training in evaluating property losses than I) will no doubt arrive at this same conclusion and deny the claim.

On the other hand, I had no chance of putting a new roof on my house now or in the foreseeable future on my own. The family exchequer simply would not support such a stupendous undertaking. So -- I thought -- let the young man try. He would, I was sure, roll snake eyes but, as with the lottery, you can't win if you don't play. I resolved merely to stay away from the process -- because nothing I could add would help my cause.

And, sure enough, the roofer's first encounter with the insurance adjuster did not go particularly well. Yes, the adjuster agreed, there is hail damage. But it's an old roof. I can, he said, pay to replace shingles here, here and here -- and some siding, too -- but that's as far as I can go.

This all sounded reasonable to me, and consistent with my own experience and training. But the roofer was not satisfied. I could do just the work the adjuster approved, he said, but lifting shingles here, here and here, will cause all the rest of the ones in between to crumble like dust. "Because it's an old roof, right?" I asked. "Exactly," he said, sounding a note of triumph that I did not think appropriate to the circumstances. Still, when he asked for one more opportunity to plead his case to the insurer, I did not refuse him.

And thus, somehow, the young roofing salesman persuaded the insurer that nearly all of the roof had to be replaced. (The section over the 14-year old addition was not included, but, then, it was not nearly so old as the rest of the roof.) I suppose it is a function of replacement cost coverage: Having agreed that there has been a loss occasioned by a covered cause, the age of the property being repaired becomes essentially irrelevant.

At least that's what I think the thought process may have been. But, as I said, I'm not asking questions. Keeping my mouth shut, for once, got me a new roof.

Perhaps I should be quiet more often?

It'll never work....


sari said...

Hey! Selective mouth-shutted-ness. That's all you can aim for. :-)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

No more leaky roofs!

Dave said...

I love Adsense or whatever it is called, it thinks people are coming here for property insurance advice.

As to the actual subject of the post, I'd have had exactly your reaction.

And being in the construction law business, hold enough back and have someone other than the young roofing salesman inspect the job before you pay the retainage.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

oh good for you curmy!

smiles, bee