Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Corporate incest

I must have a naïve streak or something. Somehow, despite my years of experiencing the shaft from corporate misers and greed merchants, some little part of me really expects my next transaction to be done in the fullest flower of honesty and transparency. And invariably, I get shafted yet again.

We all know my hot water heater burst a week ago, sending 200 litres of steaming hot water into the guest wing of my house. The brand new hardwood floors were ruined and the ceilings were waterlogged and buckling from being saturated by the steam. Indeed, the entire suite…two small bedrooms and a bath…was like a steam room at a spa, water coursing down the walls and dripping off the doorframes, windows opaque with steam, water standing on the floor. My maid went up a ladder for me to inspect a particularly bulging bit of ceiling and when she touched it, her hand went right through the ceiling board!

We called our insurance company, the floor company, and our regular builder/renovator. Anthony the Builder showed up first and within hours had a quote to me for fixing the ceilings. The floor company arrived first thing the next morning and left me with instructions and the name of a company with dehumidifiers to extract the water; the insurance company’s inspector also came out the day after the incident to inspect the damage. He took a copy of Anthony the Builder’s quote for ceiling repair and asked us to have Anthony the Floor Guy call him as soon as he had a quote for repair/replace the floors.

Last night the insurance company called Hubby and offered to settle cash in the amount of Anthony the Floor Guy’s quote for replacing the floors…over the past week they have cupped, buckled and warped beyond any hope of repair. He was happy with that, but what about the ceilings, he asked. Seems that the inspector completely left the ceilings off his report!

So, last night Hubby emailed a copy of Anthony the Builder’s quote to the insurance lady, adding in his comment that the inspector had been given a copy of the quote at the time of his visit. Curiously, I received a call this morning from a woman from another company wanting to set up an appointment to come out to the house to inspect the ceilings!

“Wait!” I interrupted her babbling. “Wait! The ceilings have already been inspected! We gave a quote from our builder to the inspector who was here a week ago!”

The insurance company had called her just that morning, she said, and told her our ceilings needed to be inspected. Now this made no sense to me at all. First of all, an entire week has passed, a week in which extractors and dehumidifiers have been running 24/7 in those rooms. The ceilings are pretty well dried out now, with only about 25% of the actual damage visible to the naked eye. The original inspector was here while the water was running down the walls and dripping out of the ceilings. There’s not much to see now, even though the integrity of the ceiling panels are now thoroughly compromised. (We all know what happens to sheetrock when it gets saturated with water, don’t we?)

She insisted that the insurance company wanted her to come out to inspect. I again argued that there is little for her to see, that the man who came out a week ago saw the damage and the saturated ceiling panels, and that the insurance company should be speaking with him, not sending out a new inspector a week after the damage occurred. She said she would call the insurance company and get back to me.

I immediately called Hubby and told him what was going on. He called the insurance company and when he got back to me, the story was a very different one. Apparently the guy who was coming out was not an inspector from the insurance company, coming to assess the damage and submit a report, the guy was a contractor coming out to look at the ceilings and submit a quote for repairs! Why hadn’t that woman said so? I get competitive quotes…I do not get a second, clueless inspector being sent out a week after the fact to assess damage that is no longer clearly visible to the naked eye. Just because the sheetrock is no longer grey and swollen with water doesn’t mean it isn’t damaged. “Let the guy in,” Hubby said. “He is just supposed to look at the ceilings for a quote to repair.”

Mollified, I agreed and a bit later the phone rang and it was the woman again, wanting to set an appointment for an inspection. What?? I don’t know about you, but to me, an “inspection” for an insurance company…which is what she said she was trying to make an appointment for…is a far cry from a contractor coming out to take a look at a problem so he can prepare a quote for repairs. I asked for clarification of just what it is they wanted to do here.

She kept invoking the insurance company, saying they had been contacted to come out and inspect the ceilings. I told her that had already been done, the man was here on the day the ceilings were still wet, he took pictures, we gave him a copy of the repair quote. I suggested that she refer the insurance company to that inspector and find out why he didn’t include that in his report.

“Oh,” she said. “He was only there for the floors.”

What?? If that was the case why did he ask for the quote for the ceilings and take pictures of them?

I was a little non-plussed by this revelation, so I changed tactics. “Tell me,” I said. “Exactly what is it you want to do here? Are you coming out to inspect the damage and write a report for the insurance company? Or are you coming out to do a quote for repairs to the ceilings?”

“Both,” she said.

The light in my head finally went on.

“Both?” I asked. “Are you a contractor, a construction company that actually does this kind of repair work?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“But you also come out and assess damage and submit inspection reports to the insurance company?”


“I don’t get it,” I said, thinking about the requirement for arm’s length transactions to avoid the even the appearance of fraud.

“We’re on the insurance company’s board for inspection and assessing damages…”

YOW! Could the relationship be more incestuous? Shouldn’t the entity doing the damage assessment be one that cannot benefit from its own assessment? I mean, this company is going to come out and give an “objective” assessment of the damage to my home and then turn around and submit a quote to the insurance company in a bid to do the work and get the money? If that’s an arm’s length transaction, those arms are pretty damned short!

I let long silence develop between us and she finally broke it by asking when they could come out. Obviously she had not used the time to reflect on the inappropriateness of what she had just told me.

“I’m home all day,” I told her. “They can come anytime today.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out because, come hell or high water, Anthony the Builder is going to replace those ceilings, not the insurance company’s pet contractor.


  1. Oh the lengths insurance companies go to in order to pay out the least amount of money. I'm glad you are standing by your original contractor.

  2. Thanks for sharing this and you're doing the right thing - we're enjoying a CSR debate at flowers - corporates who ' care' but really is it just for the profits?

    Basic customer care suffers...

  3. So - who did the repairs??? You didn't finish the story! Love your writing.


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