One year ago today, the proprietors at Pynes of Somerset, a butcher’s shop in south west England, could hardly have known their premises would soon become the nerve center of a huge cleanup operation. But a few days after flood waters deluged the Somerset Levels, Crawford adjuster Steve Smout made a judgement call.
“I had been assigned to handle 14 properties which had been decimated by flood water and quite frankly, there was no chance I could help people quickly enough by putting on my waders and visiting each house one by one,” said Steve. “The only sensible option I could think of was to bring the homeowners to a safe place, which turned out to be at Pynes of Somerset. Of course everybody was distraught so I bought countless breakfasts, coffees and teas and did my best to ease people’s frayed nerves. It was initially just a case of listening to their immediate concerns; where would they stay, were their animals going to be okay? Could any of their possessions be saved?
“Having dealt with flood claims for many years, it never gets any easier to hear a person tell you they’ve lost everything to flood water.”
And so, the relationship between Steve and the 14 families began. From Pynes, he started a process whereby many of those same people continue to liaise with him to this day, thankfully with their claims settled and back in their homes.
One such homeowner is retired army Major Mark Corthine, whose property in Fordgate had already experienced a major flooding claim in the winter of 2012-2013. Then, having pumped out a few inches of water just a week before the inundation of Feb. 6, 2014, Mark and his wife were introduced to Steve, who would be handling their claim. “Sharon and I met Steve and from the moment we were introduced I knew this would be a very different experience to the one I’d had in 2012-2013. When we had been flooded before and the clean-up took place between January and April 2013 we dealt with four individual adjusters from another company, some of whom I met only once and one or two appeared to be a little out of their depth. The final adjuster assisted greatly but always by telephone. Steve quickly showed us that he knew what he was doing and to this day Crawford has provided us with help, assistance and most importantly, the funds to rebuild our home and lives.”
“Mark’s situation and those of his neighbors was pretty desperate,” adds Steve. “So my priorities were to find them all suitable accommodation and to begin the process of appointing contractors who could be ready to take on this kind of work. We also ensured there were interim payments made available straight away.”
Steve adds that from the temporary accommodation point of view, there were nearby holiday parks that had seen an opportunity to increase their rates. “Rates of £600-700 ($915-$1068) per week were being quoted by some operators, so we had to step in and negotiate but the idea was to bring some sort of static caravan on site once the waters had dissipated. This was particularly important for those who had livestock. After all this is a rural community and many people, even those not involved in commercial farming, had chickens or other animals to care for.”
Unfortunately 37 days passed until homeowners were able to return on foot to the levels, after which time their properties had been severely damaged. “It was very difficult to provide reassurance to customers when they were facing this kind of problem, but putting a realistic spin on it seemed appropriate. I wanted everyone back home by Christmas, so that’s the message I gave and that’s what we achieved,” says Steve.
Anyone who’s ever been involved in a building project will agree that quality surveyors are generally worth every penny and working closely with Crawford Surveying Services paid dividends. Mark confirms that Crawford’s appointment of an expert surveyor for the 14 homes meant that appointing contractors would be a much more straightforward task. “My role was to ensure the homeowners were dealt with properly by their insurers. The surveyors had to bring in contractors from outside the local area, because all the firms nearby were under huge pressure,” adds Steve.
“Steve’s approach was always to put the best people in charge of things,” adds Mark. “I had an advantage – being retired – so I could effectively project manage the restoration; I shudder to think what it was like for people who had this to deal with and had to go to work every day. From the caravan Crawford had secured for us, I was able to be on site, keeping control of the project and we’ve spoken to Steve probably once a week to this day as the house has been brought back.”
As one of Crawford’s most experienced adjusters, Steve has handled claims from almost every major flooding incident in recent memory. So what is it that made this situation unique and what has Crawford learned from it? “Access was the main problem,” he says, “and to bring the homeowners away from their properties was no doubt difficult for them, but it meant we could speak face to face and I could find out what they wanted straight away.”
“Were I to face this situation again, I’d ask for Crawford as my preferred adjuster and certainly Steve Smout by name,” says Mark. “He’s clearly a senior guy, but that kind of experience is essential for a complex claim like ours and I’m so glad to have had his help during the past twelve months.”