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Published by OREP, E&O Insurance Experts | February 2013

Playing the "Not Readily
  Accessible" Inspection Card

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If you are going to respond with your side of the story, to either a disgruntled client or to your insurance company, there are commonsense basics to keep in mind.

> This story is excerpted from the new Working RE Magazine- Home Inspector Edition. If you haven't already, take a look!

>>Cover Story: Playing the "Not Readily Accessible" Inspection Card

Rebutting Complaints

By David Brauner, Senior Broker at OREP.org

First, contact your insurance agent right away. Why not get the help of the insurance company pros when responding to a complaint?  Get the experts on your side.  Not only is it smart but it is typically required: most insurance policies obligate you to notify the insurance company immediately and prior to responding to the complaint directly, as a condition of coverage.  Having said that, if you are going to respond with your side of the story, to either a disgruntled client or to your insurance company, there are commonsense basics to keep in mind.

When a dissatisfied homeowner dashes off a complaint that is heated, insulting, inaccurate or not very well thought-through- maybe just a belligerent phone call, it is human nature for us to take it less seriously and to want to respond in kind: garbage in, garbage out.  But that’s a mistake.  No matter how crude or “stupid” a customer’s complaint seems, your response must be professional; after all, it is your livelihood on the line not theirs.  Think twice before dashing off an angry reply to an emailed complaint especially; most of us regret not exercising better judgment and patience before hitting “send” at least once or twice in our lives.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot
Many professionals damage their own defense by ill-advised,
half-baked responses to complaints.  It’s called shooting yourself in the foot.  Not taking every complaint seriously is how it happens.  Often, shortly after receiving a homeowner’s irrational, undocumented and half-baked complaint- one that seems not even worth considering, the formal notice arrives on legal letterhead, usually via certified mail, from his cousin Joe the attorney. When this happens, you’re a whole lot happier if you have kept your powder dry and your mouth shut.

 If you ever do have occasion to respond to a complaint, either to the client or to your insurance company, it is important to remain rational, unemotional and professional. Below is a good example of such a response. A good rebuttal/response letter doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome, but it does help you avoid doing any unnecessary damage to your own defense.

What’s professional? Proper spelling and grammar are givens. Avoid profanity and not taking the complaint seriously and/or dismissing the client as an idiot or scammer or something along those lines. If you are unable to put together a rational, thought out, clearly-communicated response or don’t bother to verify as accurate what you’re saying, what does that say about the kind of inspector you are and the quality of your service/product? And what does that tell the insurance company about the kind of risk they are taking on by insuring you for $100,000 or $1,000,000?

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If you did something wrong, admit it. Whether you made a mistake or not, try to learn from the complaint.  In your response, note any routines or procedures you will set in place to avoid the same situation happening again, if possible. (After all, innocent or guilty, responding to a complaint costs you time and money. If it can be avoided in the future, everyone is happier.)  Here is an example of a prudent response: “While I clearly never said anything like that to the client, and my report bears that out, I understand how discussing an issue of that nature with the client opened the door to this type of complaint.  To avoid this happening in the future, I will take notes of every verbal conversation of this nature or avoid them altogether and put everything in writing, into the report.”

Sometimes the insurance company claims adjusters will not ask for much beyond a short statement and your report and contract.  Usually your report and contract contain most of what they need to know.  If they need more, they might conduct a verbal interview with you over the phone.  This may seem informal but again, be on guard-everything you
say matters.  Be truthful and careful.

Whether you respond over the phone or in writing, the same rules apply. Be prepared. Have the facts at your fingertips.  Document everything you say. Don’t guess. If you don’t know, find out before answering.  Never be pressured into making a decision or to respond before you’re ready. If you’re uncomfortable giving responses verbally, request the questions in writing so you can take your time preparing your written reply. Some people think on their feet better than others.  You can always say, “Please send me the questions in writing so I can be as accurate as possible in my responses.”

Click to read the rest of the story in the new Working RE Home Inspector Edition: a complaint letter from a homeowner, alleging the inspector did not properly inspect the chimney and roof, and the inspector's "winning" response. Click to read (story pg. 13).

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