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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Extinguishing the Flames Is the Easy Part

What’s the single worst call a property manager can ever get?

It’s from an emergency service operator in the middle of the night saying that a property you manage is on fire.

When you get to the scene, what’s going on?

Typically, the police are already there. The fire department, the fire marshal, and the arson squad are also there, and the utility companies have cut off gas and electricity to the building. The manager arrives at that point to try to help the board, or building owner, assess the situation. If the Red Cross has not yet come, the manager will call the Red Cross, who will help house people who have been put out of their homes. The manager will call a restoration company, and once the fire marshal has the fire under control and is sure that it won’t rekindle, the restoration company will secure the property, and lock it up, and per-haps bring in secu-rity to guard it.

After the crisis settles, what happens?

Well, the first 24 hours are nonstop. Then, the board and the manage-ment company need to decide on what course of action they’re going to take. There are multiple ways that they can proceed.

How does a board decide on the next step?

The first thing in the recovery is deciding whether you’re going to go with professionals you’ve worked with for years – attorneys, manage-ment, engineering firms, people you know and trust to put together a package that will restore the prop-erty. The management company will provide the name of multiple engineers, and the board will decide which engineer they want to use. The attorney will review the engineer’s contract, and once that’s approved, the engineer can spec the work and bid it out to multiple contractors – people the engineer knows, who have done fire restora-tion before and can do it effectively and quickly and get people back into their homes.

Do public adjusters come into play here?

The public adjuster is a turnkey solution. He, or she, knows engineers, contrac-tors, vendors, and expediters who can move the process along. The downside of the public adjuster is you’re working with somebody you’ve never worked with before and prob-ably – hopefully – will never work with again. You don’t know the contractors and vendors the adjuster is going to introduce. It could work out great, or there can be pitfalls.

Walk us through some scenarios.

In the last couple of years there were, unfortunately, two buildings that we manage that had major fires. In one situation, the board decided to have its attorney quar-terback the process, and manage-ment got bids from engineering firms. The chosen engineering firm bid out to multiple contrac-tors, one of whom had tremendous experience in rebuilding buildings. It took less than a year for all the families to return to their homes, and we received complimentary letters from owners thanking us for how great the engineer and con-tractor were. After all is said and done, those are the same people you’re going to continue to work with in the years ahead.

And the other scenario?

The other board decided to go with a public adjuster who guaranteed that he would be able to rebuild the building for whatever the insurance settlement was. It looked attractive, but the attorney and management suggested proceeding with caution, because in order to come in at a certain number, you may have to cut corners, you may not get the products to restore your property the way you would like it. That doesn’t mean that it will go that way, but that was the concern. Once the public adjuster is gone, that’s where it ends.

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