Roof Envy: Insurers pay to fix thousands of hail-damaged homes, but some neighbors are feeling left out

November 13, 2006

After an April hailstorm caused widespread damage in central Indiana, an epidemic slowly and quietly began spreading through tree-lined streets and cul-de-sacs.

As contagious as the common cold, "neighboritis" is contracted through casual contact with friends and neighbors, even by the simple act of driving by a house topped with sparkling new shingles.

Those infected often experience an initial wave of optimism and euphoria, sometimes followed by a crash that leaves them feeling dissatisfied, even betrayed.

The cause of the malady: new roofs costing thousands of dollars-paid for by insurance companies-on their neighbors' homes but not their own.

"If you put five people on a roof, all five will see a different level of damage," said Randy Judd, vice president and co-owner of locally based Bone Dry Roofing Inc. "And different insurance companies have different standards on what is severe-enough damage [to replace a roof]."

Insurance industry officials say the neighboritis sweeping through the area is commonplace in the months after a natural disaster-especially one on the scale of the April 14 hailstorm.

The storm ranked among the biggest ever to hit central Indiana in terms of damage to homes and vehicles, insurers say. Since then, Hoosiers have filed 245,000 claims for $795 million in damage, according to the New Jerseybased Insurance Services Office.

In the first weeks after the storm, calls came from property owners with obvious damage-broken windows, leaking roofs, pummeled siding.

Now, more calls are coming from those who think they might have damage because some neighbors did, and had their roofs replaced.

Often, those roofs have less-obvious damage, or none at all, depending on who's looking.

When Bone Dry sends out estimators to check out roofs, they sometimes find clear damage, Judd said, and sometimes find none. Other times, he said, "it's somewhere in the middle. The number of those calls is increasing."

Other local roofing companies report the same trend. In such cases, they hand over their findings to the property owner's insurer, which ultimately decides whether to pay for a roof.

In Fishers resident Rick DeCastos' case, the answer was "not," even though several of his neighbors got new roofs and siding.

DeCastos said he called his State Farm insurance agent six to eight weeks after the April storm, after one neighbor got a new roof and new aluminum siding.

"I didn't want to have leaks [later], so I thought, 'Gosh, I'd better call,'" DeCastos said.

Initially, the adjuster indicated DeCas tos might be eligible to have all his vinyl siding replaced because of difficulty in matching the color of replacement siding to the existing siding.

After follow-up inspections, however, the insurer ended up paying for only a new roof on a mini-barn, plus minor repairs to the house.

DeCastos said his past experience with State Farm had been good. However, he said he wonders how his house-in the insurer's opinion, anyway-escaped significant damage when his neighbors' didn't.

He said the experience led him to believe that, if he had called immediately after the storm, before State Farm was deluged by claims, it might have been more likely to pay.

That's not the case, said Missy Lundberg, spokeswoman for the Bloomington, Ill.-based company. The insurer evaluates claims case by case, regardless of when calls come in, she said, and the company has a reinspection process when disagreements arise.

Someone getting a new roof in a neighborhood does, she said, typically spark more calls from that area.

"People think that if there's damage right next door, they must have damage, too," Lundberg said. "A lot of the time, we find that's not the case."

As of early October, Illinois-based State Farm, which insures more Indiana homes than any other company, had received 43,054 homeowner claims resulting from the storm. More than 90 percent have been settled, with the insurer paying out over $201 million, most of it in central Indiana.

Another big insurer of central Indiana homes, locally based Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Co., also has settled more than 90 percent of the 6,581 homeowner claims it has received since the storm, paying out $46.5 million.

Both insurers report they are still receiving new claims resulting in partial or total roof and siding replacement.

Carmel-based independent insurance adjuster D'brook & Co. has handled more than 600 claims since the April storm. Inspections have not found damage about 20 percent of the time, said owner Thomas E. Donkerbrook.

Donkerbrook's adjusters are still discovering new pockets of the Indianapolis area that were hit hard enough by hail to result in damage serious enough to warrant roof and siding replacements.

"It's slowing down," Donkerbrook said, adding that he and his team have been working seven days a week since the storm hit, processing claims for four insurers.

Myriad factors influence how much damage a roof sustains in a hailstorm, including its slope, the type of roofing material, and the amount of tree cover, said Doug White, owner of locally based Coomer Roofing Co.

"It's hard to believe neighbors on both sides had damage and you didn't," White acknowledged, but it's not uncommon. Some disbelieving homeowners, he said, will call multiple roofers until they find one who reports hail damage, but they still may run into a roadblock with their insurer.

Such scenarios may leave homeowners unhappy, but few have taken the step of submitting formal complaints to the Indiana Department of Insurance.

Since April, the Indiana Department of Insurance has received fewer than 50 hailstorm-related complaints from property owners, "not as many as I would have anticipated," said Bettye Foy, deputy commissioner of the Consumer Services Division. And complaints are decreasing, not increasing, as time goes on, she said.

"Of course, people are not always going to agree on damage, but I think the insurance companies have handled this catastrophic event pretty well," Foy said.
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