Jim Hicks Home Improvement

When Disaster Strikes, This Home Restoration Ally Goes to Bat for the Client

by Gail Kent

Your kitchen floods due to a faulty dishwasher. A hurricane blows a tree through a wall. Hail damages your roof. Not to worry, you think. I have homeowner’s insurance!

But not so fast, says Jim Hicks, of Jim Hicks Home Improvement in Yorktown. Your headache just began. “Insurance companies will fight you tooth and nail to keep you from getting the actual cost of replacement,” says Hicks.

Hicks is president of the general contracting company with two divisions, remodeling and design, and roofing and exteriors.

After attending the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and serving in the Gulf War, Hicks started The Roofing Company in 1998, expanding into the remodeling space in 2007. Hicks built a reputation for quality and congeniality that followed him when he decided to make a significant transition.

“I wanted to focus on remodeling without having any business partners to hold me back,” he shares. So in 2011, Hicks founded his company, Jim Hicks Home Improvement, a move that allowed him to have control over the quality of work that he expects from projects that would carry his name.

Custom kitchen remodel

Hicks explains that there are two types of work in his industry: remodeling paid directly by the customer and restoration work paid by insurance. Many contractors—including Hicks at first—have little interest in restoration work because it means dealing with insurance companies. “All my interactions with them were exceedingly insane,” he says. “It’s like we were speaking two different languages.”

In a typical restoration scenario, the contractor gives an estimate to a customer, say, for $40,000 to repair a flooded kitchen. The insurance adjuster, however, estimates the job at $20,000. “How is the homeowner supposed to find a reputable contractor to do the work for half what the job actually costs?” Hicks says.

The first 20 years I was in business, I was like other contractors who had no idea how the insurance process worked,” he says. “Every conversation with an adjuster was just a flat-out brawl.”

Five years ago Hicks took a continuing education course that taught him about the adjusting process, which was “the most bizarre experience ever” but gave him a perspective from “behind enemy lines” of how insurance companies operated.

“I decided I was going to go to bat for the customer. We work until we reach a settlement with the insurance company for the right job at the right price on the front end, so the customer is secure in the knowledge they’ve got all the money up front before repairs begin,” he says.
Hicks backs up his scope of work with written quotes from vendors showing the actual cost of the cabinets, floors and other items needed to complete the work. He spends many hours on the phone with adjusters explaining the estimate and rebutting their arguments and denials.

Hicks uses a baseball analogy to describe his process. When he meets with the client and discusses the job, he calls that home plate. “First base is the hardest base to get to. So, I define first base as full indemnification, or the insurance company paying all the money they owe to restore the customer to pre-loss condition.” This can take a lot of time and effort.

At second base, a customer can decide to complete the original repairs with the settlement amount, invest in upgrades or additional changes to their home with personal money, or “take the money and run to Mexico.” The work begins on third base and it is completed back at home plate, Hicks says.

“By contrast, non-insurance work is actually preferable to me because the clients are excited about their project, and research shows they have been thinking about a project for an average of 18 months prior to calling us,” Hicks explains. “It’s like the difference between buying a new car versus having your car hit and needing it restored to pre-loss condition.”

But Hicks has found a niche with his expertise, and now about 60% of his business is insurance-based restoration work. “It’s almost like we are 50% law firm and 50% construction now. When the client sees how tenacious we are with their insurance claim, I hope they see how serious we are about looking out for their best interests.”

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