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Top 5 documentation facts that might surprise restorers

As a restorer, your knowledge base is always expanding; there will never be an end-point when you know everything that there is to know about the industry and its best practices. With documentation requirements becoming more and more stringent, and so many software solutions available, it can be difficult to navigate the landscape.

We recently hosted a roundtable session with CRs Kris Rzesnoski (Vice President, Encircle) and Josh Miller (President, Rainbow International) on how to win at documentation. Here are some of the top highlights!

1. Experienced & trained restorers have an added challenge 🚨

That’s right — just because you’re a trained and experienced restorer, doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook! There are certain challenges that are unique to you that less trained and experienced restorers won’t face to the same degree. That challenge? Your experience itself!

Think about it this way; restorers who are new to the industry don’t know of anything except for the “new way” of doing things. The technology and program requirements that they’re being introduced to are the most recent, and so they are able to adopt it more quickly. Experienced and trained restorers, on the other hand, have to adapt to it. They have years of experience with older technologies and rules that may no longer be applicable in the current day and age. The ways that jobs used to be processed aren't how they’re being processed today, and restorers need to keep up with those changes and ditch any outdated habits.

Advice: Have an open attitude towards your work, recognizing that everything changes and that you’re going to have to change to adapt to the new ways of doing things. Stay in the know and ensure that you’re staying up to date on new strategies. Don’t worry, you can teach an old dog new tricks!

2. Your learning doesn’t have to be formalized to be effective 🎓

The documentation that restorers do is crucial, but it relies on something even more critical: education. There are three different ways that you can learn more about restoration documentation: formal courses, informal sources, and experiences on the job.

You may already be familiar with formal courses, such as certifications or continuing education credits (CECs) offered by the IICRC.

You’re probably also familiar with learning through informal sources, because guess what? You’re doing that right now! 🎉 Blog posts, webinars, or even industry events and tradeshows can be valuable sources of information that offer a wide range of insights.

Finally, the least informal, but perhaps the most impactful way of learning: experience. Unfortunately, education comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost comes in the form of mishaps in the field or in the office. Regardless of how many times we may hear a lesson in another setting, it doesn’t really sink in until you screw up and have a proper frame of reference. Whether it’s a technical mistake, communication error, low margins, or even problems with running a proper business, in restoration, sometimes you really have to live it to learn it.

Advice: Even if you’ve received training on a subject in the past, venture out there and seek different trainers to get knowledge from their experiences as well. The more perspectives you can get, the more you can learn from others’ mistakes and hopefully avoid them yourselves.

3. Work authorizations and contracts are not the same thing 📃

Although the two can be intermingled, these agreements are actually different from each other and serve different purposes.

A work authorization is usually a really skimmed down agreement that just lets you into the building and allows you to do some minimal work. This agreement is typically very limited, specifying only that you are authorized to work in this particular building, the type of work that you’re going to do, and authorizing you to do that work.

A contract, on the other hand, can be a lot more robust, and serves more of a legal purpose. If the term “contract” is being used, it’s usually safe to assume that it came from a lawyer. This agreement lays out all of the terms and conditions that they need, including methods of estimating and pricing and a draw schedule. Certain states in the US require an upfront cost on your contract, which means that you need to be aware of your location and the different lien laws in place.

But how does a contract help serve your legal purposes? Well, if you end up having to pursue somebody in court, a work authorization doesn’t really hold a lot of weight. Keep in mind that this type of agreement is much more bare-bones, and won’t be as reliable in court. On reconstruction jobs especially, contracts are far more enforceable, and they can protect both you and the client if a problem arises. If you ever find yourself dealing with disputed funds, a contract will be much more helpful to you in addressing that situation.

Advice: We also can’t stress enough how critical it is for restorers to get their documents drafted by a lawyer who understands the restoration industry and the local laws in the jurisdiction that they serve. We recommend Ed Cross “The Restoration Lawyer” who has dedicated his career to advocating for the legal and financial interests of the property damage restoration industry.

4. There’s a difference between good & GREAT documentation 🌟

Documentation is absolutely essential when it comes to restoring a loss; if you want to avoid conflicts with your adjuster, you need to be documenting right from the get-go and through every stage of the process. But what makes your documentation stand out?

Let’s start with the basics — take lots and lots of overview photos, pre-existing damage, resulting damage, source of loss, cause of loss, contents, any PPE being used etc. Essentially, you’re trying to capture the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the loss for the adjuster who isn’t there to see it for themself. Tell the story of the loss and explain the work that needs to get done in a straightforward and professional manner, not making any assumptions about what they may know. The goal is to have your report be so organized and easy to understand that it reads like a children’s picture book.

It’s also important to point out that you’ll want to document the pre-existing conditions of both the affected area and the surrounding areas that you’ll be going through. Documenting the affected rooms where there’s damage is relevant for the insurance carrier since it affects the coverages, but documenting the surrounding areas is relevant to you specifically. Why’s that? It all comes down to liability and protecting your business. If there are damages that you did not cause in the affected area, you don’t want to be accused of causing it. Similarly, if there are damages that already existed in an unaffected room that you happen to be passing through, you don’t want to be accused of causing it and be forced to do unnecessary repairs either. For example, say there’s an oil patch in the driveway that was already there when you first arrived on the property — document it immediately to prevent having to repair that entire driveway! Better safe than sorry!

To make your documentation truly fantastic, consider the following inclusions:

  • Use video in your scoping: To truly bring the adjuster to your job site, do a walk through with your phone to record the loss and explain why you’re going to do certain repairs. Learn how one customer utilized Encircle’s video feature and moved up preferred vendor ranks quickly, going from average, middle of the pack, to top 10 in the entire U.S. Contractor Connection network here.
  • Sketches and floor plans: Having the room dimensions is necessary, but actually seeing how the property is laid out helps the adjuster visualize how each room relates to each other. Provide the full picture! Encircle has an upcoming feature that will allow restorers to get same day floor plans, in under 6 hours, with just their phones.
  • Testing: If you need to perform tests during the remediation process, be sure to document it. For instance, if you do ATP testing, document it to show that there was a contaminant that you removed.
  • 3rd party documentation: If it seems applicable to the loss, getting independent readings from third parties such as Phoenix or Omnisense can help elevate your report.

Advice: Field technicians don’t always provide the best documentation — partly because it’s not their top priority and the stressful situations that they’re in make it difficult — but also because they might not know the bigger picture. If you’re the owner of a restoration business, make sure you communicate to your entire team why documentation is essential to getting paid!

5. Preparing for CAT work is a whole other level ⛈️

If typical restoration jobs are the regular season, CAT work is the playoffs — the intensity is drastically increased, and you need to have a solid plan in place in order to succeed, and be profitable.

There are many different factors to consider when preparing for this type of work. Ask yourself, do you have consistent processes and procedures already in place to ensure a consistent job flow? Furthermore, do you have a culture where people follow that job flow, and are they empowered to make decisions to improve that job flow if there are any mistakes? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, you may be on the right track to tackle CAT work.

Next, consider if you have enough cash on hand to fund this type of work. Even just deploying technicians to these job sites can be costly, so it’s important to have sufficient funds to handle it. It’s very likely that you will have long delays in getting paid for doing CAT work — some commercial jobs can take anywhere from six months to a year to pay you! Residential claims are also going to have some delays, especially since the adjusters are also having to deal with homeowners’ additional living expenses in the face of the disaster. To combat these delays, make sure that you are upfront about everything; have your work authorization or contract ready, and be ready to discuss how you’re going to get paid, how they want the job estimated, and how they want you reporting to them.

Finally, communication is key! It’s important that you’re communicating with the adjuster quickly and professionally. If you’re wanting to get paid what you’re owed faster, you need to be communicating with them faster — get your reports to the adjusters before anyone else does. And if you’re someone who communicates with the adjuster in a professional and respectful manner, they’re going to be calling you back a lot quicker. Just be courteous and recognize that this is a very busy and stressful time for them as well.

Advice: Have somebody who isn’t in the field assigned to all of the follow-up that comes with CAT work. There’s no way that your field technicians are going to be able to keep track of all of this as they’re running around, so having this other person can be a total life-saver.

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