Karen Schiffmiller – President of FAPIA
In this episode, Paul Beers, CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants talks with Karen Schiffmiller, President of FAPIA, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, the largest public adjusting association in the country. They’ll break down the claims review process for hurricane property damage and how FAPIA helps their policyholders.
About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.
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Paul: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Paul Beers, CEO and managing member for GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I’m really excited to have as our guest today Karen Schiffmiller, the president of FAPIA, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Karen, welcome.
Karen: Thank you, Paul. I’m glad to be here.
Paul: We’re glad you’re here too. You know, we’re scheduling this…it’s right before hurricane season starts. And I know we tried to do this about a month ago and you were busy up in Tallahassee with the Florida Legislature and the yearly fun and games that go on up there. So I’m glad we were able to push it back a little bit, and I’m really excited about having a nice chat about things today.
Karen: I am as well, thank you.
Paul: Great. So before we get started, maybe you wanna tell our audience a little bit about yourself and then we can start talking about FAPIA and insurance claims and things like that.
Karen: Sure. I would love to. I originally moved to Florida from New York in 1994. I was a paralegal for a long time, my whole career, and I decided my love of helping people is what made me switch gears and change my career to becoming a public insurance adjuster. So I’m also an insurance appraiser and an umpire, and I’ve been for over 15 years. And it’s just my passion. I just love helping people. It’s what I do. I’ve been that way since I was a child, so here we are.
Paul: Great. It’s always fun to be of service as opposed to just grinding it out every day.
Karen: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Paul: So tell us about FAPIA.
Karen: So FAPIA is the largest public adjusting association in the country. We have almost 800 members. And we offer our members such amazing educational opportunities. You know, we have such interesting topics. Our speakers are always well-informed. If I’m not mistaken, I believe you have not only attended, but you’ve, you know, spoken at our conferences and presented so, you know, we always have…
Paul: I have. Yeah, it’s great to get in front of the adjusters and all the other folks in the industry and kinda let them know what we’ve been up to. So FAPIA does a really good job with the educational programs, which lately have been virtual and before that, you know, were in person.
Karen: Well, yes, unfortunately, because of COVID, we had to cancel our conferences last year. And we usually customarily have two conferences a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. And again, due to COVID, we had to cancel, but what was really exciting for us, we were able to launch our first-ever virtual conference back in December. And it was really well-received. It was kind of like almost a live virtual event. It was the most amazing event because I had attended other virtual events that did not compare to what FAPIA put on in December. That was an amazing event. And, you know, you do what you have to do with what you have to work with, so we were doing it virtually and it was really fun.
We also launched our PA Academy for our members, which allowed our members that couldn’t partake in the December virtual conference to still get their CEs and keep up with their requirements with DFS. So we were able to do that, and it’s just…we’re going to continue on with PA Academy as well. But we’re still gonna get back to our in-person conference this October, and we’re really looking forward and excited to be back in October and see everybody. And we’ll be launching registration very soon for that. So we’ll keep everybody informed.
Paul: That’s great. Yes. I wanna give a shout-out to the Executive Director, Nancy Dominguez. She put this…or I know was instrumental in the virtual conference, and I was a speaker so I got to, you know, do the rehearsals, see behind the curtain a little bit. And I thought it was really fabulous too. And her passion and excitement and the way she put it all together, I thought was really, really good. And as you say, these virtual conferences can be horribly boring and maybe not, but this one was really done well. And it had, you know, like, exhibit Paul and all these lounges and rooms and everything, and it was very slick and very well done and a good reflection on FAPIA.
Karen: I thank you. We really, really put our heart and soul into that. And I have to, you know, say, Nancy is phenomenal. That goes without saying. Nancy is amazing. And her whole team, I mean our IP director, everybody involved, it was a collaborative effort and it really, really turned out well. So people don’t really realize what goes on behind the scenes at FAPIA and that you got to see a little glimpse of it. So I’m glad you got to see that and be part of it.
Paul: Yeah. Doing something that well doesn’t happen by accident.
Karen: No, no.
Paul: Margin and effort and…
Karen: Months of preparation.
Paul: Exactly. Exactly. So how did you become involved with FAPIA?
Karen: Well, I became a member back in 2007 for all the reasons that I mentioned, the great educational opportunities and all of the benefits. You know, we have an amazing form library for our members. You know, knowing that I can make a difference…well, I’m the kind of person I always feel that I have to…I’m always there to help people and I always wanna, you know, do better for our industry. So I had joined the board back in 2014. I think many people know aside from me being the current president, I also chair the community affairs committee, which is an amazing committee and it’s all about paying it forward and giving back, and helping those less fortunate. So it’s just been part of my nature and part of why I joined such a great organization. And really, you know, I’m not just saying that because I’m the president. I have been a member and joined the board and have become their president, but I’ve been involved for many, many, many years, and it’s really a phenomenal organization. And I highly recommend that if you’re not a member of FAPIA, that you definitely go to fapia.net, F-A-P-I-A.net and join and look at our website and see all the amazing, you know, work that FAPIA does for the industry, for consumers, and for all of our members.
Paul: So obviously, public adjusters are members of FAPIA, are there other membership classifications?
Karen: Well, there’s associate members as well, which our associate members are attorneys. So we have associate members and that the primary membership are public adjusters, but we do have some associate members as well. And I’d like to give a big shout-out to them because they were very instrumental as well as our sponsors in providing the great educational opportunities that we provide. And, you know, if it weren’t for all of them, you know partaking and sponsoring and being so involved…they’re a big, big part of FAPIA’s success as well.
Paul: So, for public adjusters, are there any special requirements to join FAPIA?
Karen: Well, our by-laws require that all of our members are, you know, in compliance with regulatory requirements including their license [inaudible 00:07:56]
, their appointments, they have to be in good standing with DFS. So there is, you know, through our membership committee, we really review applicants and we, you know, go through a vetting process to make sure…and that includes our associate members as well, you go through a vetting process to make sure that they meet all the criteria to become a member.
Paul: And what about people that are trying to get into the industry like apprentices and whatnot, can they join FAPIA?
Karen: Absolutely. We encourage all apprentices to join FAPIA, especially for the training program. You know, we develop this training program specifically for apprentices and newer public adjusters, and it’s available in our webinar library along with some other amazing resource materials like form letters and, you know, stuff to help them in the industry. So we encourage them, you know, to get involved and to learn the right way. FAPIA is very big about, you know, educating the industry and doing everything right. And we have such a strict ethical protocol as well. So I highly recommend it. Yes.
Paul: So if one of our listeners was interested in this career path, shall we call it, to be a public adjuster, what would one have to do to eventually become a public adjuster?
Karen: Well, you do have to go through an apprenticeship first. So you would have to apply through the Department of Financial Services and you would have to go through an apprenticeship, which is a six-month apprenticeship, and be trained and under another public adjuster. And then FAPIA is very big about connecting people together. So a lot of times we’ll have apprentices call looking to do an apprenticeship and we try to put them in touch with public adjusters in their area and certain public adjusting firms to facilitate that as well.
Paul: Great. You mentioned the committee that you were on before you were…when you first started getting more involved with that and before you became the president, so can you sort of talk about the committee work that members volunteer to perform?
Karen: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so important for a member to join a committee because if they ever have future endeavors to get on the board, you have to fulfill a commitment to serve on a committee for a certain amount of years. So I encourage, you know, our members to actively get involved with committees because they do make a difference. We have the community services committee, which again is all about paying it forward and giving back, our public relations committee, our membership committee, our ethics committee, we have an unlicensed activity fraud committee. I mean, there’s so many more committees to get involved with and we really ask our members, you know, to volunteer and make a difference. I mean, that’s why I joined FAPIA and I’ve always been on a committee. And when I joined FAPIA, I never intended to get on the board, but I realized I can make more of a difference, so I did, and here I am as the president. But I definitely encourage everybody to get involved in a committee. You really can make a difference.
Paul: So you got the president job right through COVID too, huh?
Karen: Yeah. I was so lucky. Well, you know, like I said, it is what it is, you know, you workaround, you do what you have to do.
Paul: Yeah. So, well, COVID raged on, I believe we’re on the way out of it now, there were still hurricanes, the Florida legislature was still doing their thing, so messed up your meetings, did I miss anything?
Karen: I’m sorry?
Paul: I said, did I miss anything…
Paul: …through your challenging term?
Karen: It was a very challenging term because I came into my presidency toward the end of last year. And that’s when I started my presidency and it goes for a one-year term. So I’m president through the end of October. And we were battling with these, you know, again, decisions and having to have that first-ever virtual, you know, conference. We were just about entering legislative session, which was very contentious this year. And it was a busy, busy year. And, you know, it was a challenge, but we prevailed. You know, we have an amazing legislative committee, I chair that as the president and we were hands-on throughout the entire legislative sessions. We have an amazing lobby team. So I couldn’t thank them enough for all the work they do. Our ambassadors, our ambassador committee, our ambassadors took the time to meet with their local legislators and form relationships and inform them and make a difference, you know, with all of their local representatives. So that’s a big key, that’s a very important committee as well. You know, throughout session, it was difficult, but we kept our members up to date every step of the way. When we asked our members to step up to our calls to action for advocacy and outreach, they absolutely stepped up every time we asked.
Paul: Was that effective?
Karen: It was very effective, very, very effective. I cannot tell you the amount that we had an amazing response from our membership, and when we asked them to reach out and step up, they did. You know, FAPIA is very big about keeping up to date with the pulse of the insurance industry to make sure that consumers, our members, and the industry as a whole are protected from overreaching regulations. So we made a very, very big attempt to follow every bill, you know, in real-time. And when I said it was a busy legislative session, it was because bills were changing, literally, things change minute-to-minute, and you can look at something 1 minute and then 10 minutes later it’s changed, you know, so it was very effective and our members, you know, were as well.
Paul: So I heard you say, consumers. So FAPIA, obviously, as a membership of public adjusters, but their clients are the policyholders. And so how does the work that FAPIA does benefit the policyholders?
Karen: Well, you know, we get calls constantly, FAPIA does, you know, we get calls from consumers looking for help all the time, looking for a public adjuster in their area, trying to understand, you know, about a public adjuster. Interestingly enough, we get some complaints from consumers, but the complaints are never, they think it’s about a public adjuster because they think they’ve hired a public adjuster, but it turned out these people were never licensed public adjusters and they were, you know, unlicensed individuals pretending to be public adjusters. So, you know, we were able to try to help and assist those consumers that, you know, were not happy and that were not being treated very well with individuals that were unlicensed. So we were able to really assist them as well.
Paul: So I did a podcast recording with Chip Merlin, who’s an attorney I know, one of your sponsors, and he had just written a book about insurance claims and insurance companies and whatnot. One of the things he said in the book loud and clear is that, you know, if you’ve got an insurance claim, a property insurance claim of any magnitude, you really need to hire a public adjuster to help you and make sure that you don’t miss anything, you meet all the complex requirements of the insurance policies. And I’ve tried to read my homeowners policy and it’s like, wow. So it was really insightful to hear him, you know, really promote the public adjusters as the starting point for claims and basically made the point that, you know, attorneys can come in later if necessary, hopefully, it’s not necessary.
Karen: Right. And sometimes it isn’t. Chip, yes, he is, you know, one of our sponsors, but he’s a big advocate for public adjusters as well. And, you know he was up in Tallahassee with us too. And I thank him for everything he does for the industry because he is a true consumer advocate as well. But you’re right. You have to, you know, hire the right public adjuster and you have to make sure that they’re qualified to assist you. Every claim is different, no claim is alike.
Paul: That’s right. So this was in 2021, just in case somebody’s listening to this podcast a few years from now. This was a 2021 legislative session that we’re talking about. Can you kinda maybe give us a synopsis of what was going on and how things ended up?
Karen: What happened during legislative session, the initial bills that, and again, there were many bills that were filed, but there were some initial bills that were filed that would have really harmed consumers, not so much commercial policyholders as much as residential. And the residential policyholders, they were trying to put some roof depreciation schedule into that bill. And if you owned your home and your roof, let’s say, is 25 years old, you have a tile roof, 25-year-old tile roof, and no issues, it’s in good condition, the insurance companies wanted to put a roof depreciation schedule. Thereby, if a hurricane came through and you had a claim, they wouldn’t be responsible for replacing the entire roof, they would be able to depreciate it by the age of the roof. And that isn’t good for consumers. You know, unfortunately, we were able to get that language removed from the bill, but regardless, you know, if things like that happen during legislative session that they stick some things in there, then it gets removed, it gets put back in, it gets removed.
Thankfully we were able to get, you know, that removed. And that’s where the protection of consumers comes into play. Because a lot of times, if you have a claim, you know, Paul, being in this industry, it can take sometimes years to get remedied and to get a proper settlement of the claim depending on the complexity of the claim. So there was some other legislation, they were trying to put some statute of limitations that when you had to file the claim by, you know, and lessen it from three years to two years and, you know. It was a pretty difficult session, but I think, in the long run, it turned out very, very well and consumers are still protected. And even though you may have two years to file a claim, you can still in the repair process that has been extended a little bit longer or for supplemental claims. So, therefore, if you’re going through repairs and there’s additional damage that’s found you have three years to be able from the date of loss to be able to, you know, file for those additional damage. So, you know, there were a lot of good things that came out of it as well.
Paul: That’s great. Yeah. That roof thing, if you only get paid for part of the roof and you need the whole roof, I mean, the whole point of insurance I thought was to, you know, keep you from having to come out of pocket beyond your deductible for a legitimate thing. So what’s the point of having insurance if it’s not covered fully?
Karen: Right. Right. And, you know, listen, there’s a lot of things, you know, and the insurance industry is, you know, there’s some carriers that are pulling out, you know, and don’t wanna write insurance in Florida or pulling out of certain areas in Florida and no longer writing policies. You know, and, hopefully, the new legislation that has come forward will be able to turn that around and, you know, keep the good carriers where they need to be, writing insurance in Florida.
Paul: Yeah, no, so I’ve been around a long time starting with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and everybody left after that. And, you know, I think citizens had virtually all the policies residential for, you know, a while or a large amount of them and, you know, then free enterprise, you know, companies started coming back in again. So you always hear everybody’s gonna leave, but it doesn’t seem like that actually happens, so.
Karen: Well, let’s hope that the changes that are taking place will, you know, have a good impact for the industry. And let’s hope that that changes and insurance rates don’t continue to rise and they can come down and we can pay more realistic insurance rates because there are people that, you know, some of these…let’s, for instance, an elderly person that can’t afford to replace their roof or can’t afford to make certain repairs for their home or pay their insurance. So, you know, they’re on a fixed income. So we’re hoping that the industry repairs and it gets repaired sooner rather than later.
Paul: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about insurance claims. I mean, hopefully, there won’t be a lot of activity this year. We certainly had plenty of it last year. It’s kinda crazy, in fact. So we’re due for maybe a little bit of a slowdown this year, although that’s not what’s being predicted, but prediction and reality, you know, may not be one and the same. So with your membership and…I mean, your membership being public adjusters and claims and whatnot, what can FAPIA do or what kind of advice would you give them around putting together insurance claims?
Karen: I’m really, really big…and I probably scream this from the rooftops. You know, when a client calls us, so when a client is reaching out, my advice to an apprentice, to a new public adjuster, to an old-timer, any public adjuster, you know, when a client is reaching out for our help, they’re vulnerable, they’re overwhelmed, they need help for a reason, you always, always, always have to do the right thing and put your clients first. That is first and foremost, and that’s what my business partner and I do in our firm. We make our clients our priority. They must be. You have to keep them well-informed, you have to keep them up-to-date. If there’s no change in the status of their claims, tell them anyway, give them a status, keep them informed and always return their phone calls and answer when they need you.
Paul: Good communication. That works in everything, I think. Yeah.
Karen: Yeah, it’s key. It’s key. You don’t want your client upset with you that you haven’t returned a phone call or, you know, giving them an update, get ahead of it. Don’t have them make that phone call to you, give them an update on a weekly basis.
Paul: So as you’re helping someone with a claim, what do they do and what do you do? And, you know, and how does it, you know, putting all the documentation together, how does that work?
Karen: So, you know, documenting your file is key. You couldn’t ever assume that your potential client never had a claim before, so you have to make sure you ask a lot of questions. Ask them if they’ve ever had a claim, if they have, review the documentation from their prior claims. If they’ve had a prior claim, make sure it didn’t affect the area in which you’re going to discuss with them at that time. Make sure if we have done repairs, that they have receipts for those repairs because a lot of times the insurance company wants…they have records of prior claims.
Very important to review the insurance policy. Read it again and again and again, and understand the entire policy, highlight things because in one section of the policy, there’ll be something that’s covered and then there’ll be an endorsement added into the policy that removes the coverage or changes the coverage. So you need to read your policy in its entirety, understand it, highlight, read it again and again, and make sure you understand that policy. Documenting the file…
Paul: So I…
Karen: Go ahead.
Paul: No, you finish then I’m gonna.
Karen: Documenting your file, make sure you have detailed photos, notes, videos if necessary. Infrared. We have an infrared camera. We have a Matterport 3D camera. We have a drone. That doesn’t mean…having a drone doesn’t mean we don’t get up on roofs. You have to document your file well and you have to backup everything that’s in your estimate. So when you’re asking the insurance company to pay X amount of dollars, you need to show the support and backup to what you’re asking for. A well-documented file is always key to a successful claim resolution.
Paul: I’ll throw in one more thing, just from my experience, it’s good to have good documentation about the condition of the property before a loss. So like, you know, that would be a good thing to do as hurricane season starts just go around, take pictures of everything, you know, show your roof’s intact, and doesn’t have a bunch of cracked tiles or shingles missing and, you know, take pictures of each room and windows and doors and exterior walls and anything you can get because when I come in as an expert after a loss, how do I know what the condition was like before the storm? I don’t. So I’ve gotta, you know, do detective work to try and figure it out. And it makes it much, much, much, much, much easier when a client has good documentation. Oh, and also any maintenance records, caulking, painting, you know, you mentioned those, repairs, things like that, keep everything and it really helps a lot.
Karen: I agree with you. And my business partner and I, we do pre-work property inspections. We offer that as well, where you heard all the equipment that we have in our little arsenal of tools, but we actually go out and do a lot of pre-loss property inspections where we’re documenting the exterior, the roof, like you said, the windows, the doors, the interior, the contents we’re documenting all that for, you know, just in case, because as you know, like you said, you don’t know the condition before you were hired as an expert to come in and inspect it. So it is important, and that’s a good tool that we provide people so that they can have that and say, “Look, this was the condition of our property before this happened, that damage wasn’t there, here, here’s the video,” or, “Here, here are the photos.” You know, so it’s important and I agree with you 100%.
Paul: Yeah. Well, the pre-loss surveys are really, it’s a great idea because that could make such a difference, really smart to do that. And if someone has the opportunity, so that’s a really great service. How could somebody get in touch with you if they need your service around an insurance claim?
Karen: Like I said, we’re not just public adjusters, we’re also insurance appraisers and umpires and we offer those pre-loss property inspections and the, you know, documenting the condition, not just to residential property owners, but to commercial property owners as well. And you can call us, we’re Reliant Insurance Adjusters. You can reach us by phone it’s 561-288-6434 or you can visit our website at reliantpa.com, that’s R-E-L-I-A-N-T-P-A.com.
Paul: Great. You reminded me of one other question I wanted to ask you. [crosstalk 00:28:02]
Right in the very beginning when you said you’re an adjuster, an umpire, and an appraiser, can you tell the listeners what the difference is between those three roles?
Karen: Yes. So a public adjuster is a claims advocate. We represent policyholders against their insurance companies when they have insurance claims for residential property or commercial property owners. A public adjuster has to be licensed and appointed. As an appraiser, although I am licensed as a public adjuster, I am not acting as a public adjuster, I’m coming in when there is a dispute as to the amount of the loss sometimes, the scope items involved in the repair process. So a policyholder would appoint me as their appraiser to advocate…not so much advocate, but to come in as a neutral party and look at their damages, look at potentially either their public adjuster’s estimate and to come to some kind of an agreement with the insurance company’s appraiser to come up with the value of the claim and what is owed on the claim.
As an umpire, you’re called in when the two appraisers, the appraiser for the insurance company and the appraiser for the policyholder, do not come to an agreement. They would then call the umpire in to make a final determination on the claim. So there’s lots of inspections that take place, and it could, you know, sometimes it gets resolved between both of the appraisers, sometimes it doesn’t and you have to call the umpire in. So we work in each capacity. We’re public adjusters and we’re appraisers and we’re umpires. And, you know, we pride ourselves on our fairness and our honesty and integrity, and we have a very good reputation in the industry. We’ve been doing this for over 15 years.
Paul: Great. Yeah, there’s a lot of complexities right from the moment the event hits until, you know, that the claim’s finally resolved. Unfortunately, it’s not easy, so it’s great to have people that can help policyholders along the way.
Karen: Right, right, right.
Paul: Yeah. So really interesting, really interesting discussion. And I actually learned a few things and I’m sure the listeners did as well. And, you know, FAPIA, I’ve always had a good respect for as an organization that really tries to do the right thing and for the good of the industry and for consumers. So thank you so much for being a guest today on the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.
Karen: Well, thank you so much for having me. It was truly a pleasure and I look forward to seeing you very, very soon.
Paul: Yes. Well, I think we’re both going to the Windstorm Conference next week.
Karen: Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. So we’ll connect then and we’ll catch up a little bit more. I’d love to.
Paul: Yeah. One other thing, how can our audience contact FAPIA if they’re in need?
Karen: They can reach our Managing Director, Nancy Dominguez at (866) 235-6489 and you can also visit fapia.net F-A-P-I-A.net. And we have a lot of information on our website that can assist our members as well as a future member. And if they have any questions, we’re a great resource for public adjusters and the consumers in our industry.
Paul: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Karen.
Karen: Thank you so much. I really appreciate.
Paul: So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today, and I invite you if you’re happy to take a further look at GCI Consultant Services if you’re in need of help with exterior building envelope, windows, doors, roofs, and things of that sort at our website, www.gciconsultants.com. And this is Paul Beers saying so long, till next time.