If a tree falls on your house, your insurance company is supposed to pay.
In the old days, your insurer would write you a check.
But these days it's not so simple. And more and more homeowners are having trouble getting their money, with dozens of complaints online about insurance checks not being released for home repairs.
Insurance Says OK, But No Money
Bill Heulsman showed me the frame of what had been his garage until late June.
That's when a storm left his neighborhood looking like a war zone.
"The high winds came, and I heard a crack," Huelsman said. "The tree, I literally saw it crack and fall on top of the structure."
Luckily, he had insurance. "The adjuster came out, looked at the garage, and determined it was a total loss," Huelsman said.
But his excitement over receiving a check for $18,000 for repairs quickly turned to frustration, when he realized the check was made out to "me, my wife, and my mortgage company, PNC Mortgage."
Catch 22 Means No Repairs
That meant he could not cash it and use it to start making repairs.
The problem, he says, is that PNC gave him just $600 to remove the tree. He says without the rest of the money released, he can't fix the garage.
"They pretty much want me to do this structure and get it inspected before they release the money," he expained. "Well, I can't do that because they have the money I need to replace or rebuild the structure."
So we contacted PNC mortgage, and the bank agreed to release the rest of the check, saying it was a misunderstanding.
After we got involved, the bank promised Huelsman it would FedEx him a check immediately, so he can begin repairs.
But PNC says its now common for insurance checks to go to the mortgage holder instead of the homeowner, who sometimes keep the money and skip the repairs. This protects the lender, and makes sure the job gets done.
However, sometimes the release of money can take much longer than it should.
What You Can Do
To avoid a delay like this, you can ask your agent to direct the money directly to a contractor. That can ensure that you don't end up like the Huelsmans, waiting and waiting.
My advice: Before your insurance company cuts a check for a repair, make sure you come to an understanding with your agent about exactly how much money you'll be getting, and who will be receiving it.
That way you won't end up in a jam and you don't waste your money.
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