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Adjuster Negotiation / Restoration / Sales & Marketing
January 2014

The Art of Estimating

Create a winning system and get the attention of agents and adjusters.

January 03, 2014
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Anyone actively involved in the insurance restoration game fully understands the importance of successfully marketing restoration services to claims adjusters and claims managers.

After all, it takes more than just knocking on doors in hopes that you score the coveted referral.  

Many restoration entrepreneurs take a generalized approach to marketing and sales, while others focus narrowly on points of high interest to the adjusters and <photocredit>ThinkStock/iStock/Geo Martinez</photocredit>claims managers. 

Whichever route the restorer takes, it is important to understand that getting your message to these groups in a timely manner with a message that is concise, to the point and crystal clear is of paramount importance.

By and large, insurance adjusters and claims mangers seek the same rudimentary attributes from their preferred restoration contractors.

Especially for the beginning restorer, you should ask adjusters that you work with and market to exactly what it is that they would really like to see in a restoration company. Then build your company to fulfill those needs. You’ll never know unless you ask.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of most wants and needs from most adjusters. Consider this a “hot button” list that your company should concentrate on providing.

  • Well-written, timely estimates.
  • Knowledgeable estimators.
  • Honesty and integrity.
  • Clear, concise communications.
  • Quality work.

This article is about the first in the list.

Well-written estimates

For those who don’t have a lot of experience in writing estimates, or if you have slipped into the habit of writing sloppy estimates, and don’t put much more than the basics into your estimates, then you are missing out on an excellent growth building opportunity.

Of all the things a restoration owner can do to get new business and to guarantee that the existing referrals continue to flow in, writing exceptional estimates is within the top three.

Many find the arduous tasks of writing estimates boring, complicated and confusing. Yes, they can be time consuming, and yes, at times they can become complicated; however, like every other aspect of the business, the more you practice the better you get.

A very central factor frequently overlooked by those writing estimates is that it’s not only the claims adjuster who reads the estimate. Most claims goes through an established chain of command. After the field adjuster has reviewed your estimate it will often be forwarded to his claims manager for review.

For the poorly-written estimate, this is where the scrutinizing begins. And once the scrutinizing begins, the price chopping axe is sure to follow. Always compose your repair estimate with the claims manager in mind.

It is important to always maintain leverage in your business when it comes to collecting payment for the work your company performs. For this aspect of the business, we maintain this leverage through our written, legally-binding contracts. When it comes to insurance restoration and repair, your experience, scoping capabilities and generating quality estimates are your leverage.

There are several estimating programs available to the professional restorer. The type that you use isn’t nearly as important as the content that you insert into your estimate. A well thought-out, hand-written estimate on a cocktail napkin is better than a 60-page, poorly-written estimate using one of the more popular estimating programs.

Writing an award-winning estimate

Once you have your estimating systems in place, you must take this and market it to all of your agent and adjuster contacts. For acquiring new adjuster referrals, it is best practice to arrange a face-to-face meeting with adjusters for the opportunity to showcase your scoping and estimating skillsets.

If you find yourself weak in the area of understanding the typical building nomenclature and structural components of residential and commercial construction, then it might be a good idea to bring someone into the company who is strong in that field. 

In line with the theme of this article, you should compile a collection of your previous estimates and even do some online research on what others in the industry are using. Then, with the details of this article in mind, develop a finely-tuned sample estimate. Really concentrate on giving it an award-winning look. Set it aside and revisit it a day or two later, and compare it to other estimates you have in your possession. Except this time, view it from the eyes of a claims adjuster or claims manager, and ask yourself the following five questions.

  1. How does my finely-tuned sample estimate compare to my usual estimate format? 
  2. If I were an adjuster reviewing one of my typical estimates, compared to my finely-tuned sample estimate, what would be my honest reaction?
  3. If I were the claims manager, what would be my thoughts? 
  4. If I were the insured, what would be my thoughts?
  5. Which estimate type or format do I feel is the easiest to read?

A funny thing ensues when a well-written estimate is compared next to a poorly-written estimate. The reader may wrongly assume that the well-written estimate comes from a better company. Obviously, this isn’t always the truth, and this doesn’t imply that a poorly-written estimate means that the company is poorly run. However, first impressions are lasting impressions. Your estimate is the first impression the reader experiences regarding the internal workings of your company.

Well-written estimates will emphasize the importance you place on details. It is this ability to draft well-written estimates that will serve to differentiate your company from the rest of the pack.

Timely-submitted estimates

An estimate submitted within a reasonable period of time is another one of the top three wants of the typical adjuster. Even if you’re dealing with a company adjuster who has written his own estimate, he still needs to see your estimate to come to a final conclusion on the total estimated repair cost.

For some of the smaller mutual insurers, time becomes significant as they must have an estimate to aid in establishing reserves which are required by law to be set aside to cover the loss.

If you were to ask an adjuster his reaction to an estimate coming to him later than he expected, he will likely tell you the restoration company was too small for the scope of the job, or the management of the company lacked required and necessary organizational skills.

Like everything else that your company offers, if you don’t take advantage of your estimating skills by marketing it, then you are wasting an opportunity.

The look and content

Remember, the first part of your well-written estimate has huge value in selling the job. Use the deck or top page of your estimate to highlight your efficiencies and capabilities.

Following are some details of what should be in the initial page or pages of your estimate. You will have to make your own version graphically appealing with your own artwork and logo, etc. This list gives you a good start and you may add as many pertinent details necessary.

  • (Your company information)
  • Insurer: State Farm
  • Insured: John Smith
  • First Notification of Loss (FNOL): 04-06-2013 at 3:14 p.m.
  • Arrived onsite: 5:45 p.m.
  • Response time: 2 hours 29 minutes
  • Estimator: (Name of your employee with his credentials)
  • Estimate reviewed by: (Name of your supervisor with his credentials)
  • Estimate submitted: 4-09-2013
  • Fire classification: FDR Level 2 (your company should set damage parameters and timelines for estimate submission based on classification of fire, water damage, mold, etc.)

An example of a parameter could be as follows:

Fire Damage Restoration Level 1: Light to moderate smoke damage throughout the structure with repair work limited to less than 5 percent of the structure.

Fire Damage Restoration Level 2: Moderate to heavy damage with 25-50 percent of structure impacted by smoke and fire.

These are simple examples, but the purpose for using classifications is to allow the claim manager to understand that you have preset time lines (which you will have to develop) for scoping and estimates based on classifications. Obviously, a property that has suffered heavy damage from a fire will not be scoped and estimated within one day, especially when multiple trades will be involved.

Every time an adjuster or the claims manager receives your estimate they cannot help but to take note of the times. You will also use this opportunity to establish benchmarks.

Think about this. Let’s assume that you were to adopt a program in terms of guaranteed estimate submission times. Now assume that you have been marketing to an insurer and have been providing these estimates. But that insurer has overlooked your firm and goes with one of your competitors.

You have marketed your turnaround times to every agent, adjuster and claims manager within this particular company. Even if they are currently not referring you, the next time they run into a situation with a competitor where they basically have to pull teeth to get the estimate submitted, whom do you think they will be thinking of? You, of course.

Obviously, this type of program only works if you are committed to making it work. To make this type of program work will require a major commitment from management in allocating available resources to make it work. There are many restorers who accomplish consistent turnaround times by employing laptops, tablets and modern technology for in-the-field use.

So get to work. Create a system of writing estimates that gets the attention of agents, adjusters and claims managers. It may very well be the best marketing system you will use to successfully build your restoration company.

Ivan Turner is a veteran restoration contractor and the creator of the Show Me Marketing Solutions program. He is the author of several publications on the topics of restoration marketing and business building best practices. Visit his website at www.ShowMeMarketingSolutions.com or e-mail him at Ivan@ShowMeMarketingSolutions.com.

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