This sounds like a classic situation where the insurer is not accepting the construction cost realities in a California mountainous region where both material and labor costs are higher than urban and suburban areas. You have several options for breaking the logjam/getting unstuck.
You likely have been following our guidance to communicate in writing with your insurer, and have been laying out the facts as you see them, providing supporting documentation and asking for the specific settlement you are entitled to. You’ve given them an estimate but they don’t agree that it’s detailed enough.
Safeco has a continuing obligation to bring about a settlement of your claim, and it’s been nearly two years since your fire. There’s an argument they’re acting in bad faith, but their counter argument will be that your estimate is not realistic. Someone needs to convince them otherwise. We lay out some options below, and you can contact one or more of the public adjusters, lawyers and/or dwelling loss valuation professional sponsors in our Find Help directory to follow up.
Your options include:
- Initiating an in-person meeting between the builder who gave you the estimate and your current Safeco adjuster where the builder can explain any aspects/costs that the adjuster takes issue with. You may have to pay the builder for his/her time to prep for and attend the meeting.
- Asking Safeco to provide you with the name and contact information for a reputable builder who would rebuild the home you had for $328 a square foot. There’s a provision in CA law that requires them to do that. Invite that person to come to an in-person meeting with the builder who prepared your estimate and try and get them on the same page.
- Hiring a public adjuster or lawyer to invoke the “Appraisal” provision in your policy that provides a dwelling replacement cost dispute resolution process that’s designed to be cheaper and faster than litigation. You can learn more about it here.
- Hiring a public adjuster or attorney on a contingency fee basis to take over the negotiations and get another estimate that’s more detailed and/or backs up the $638 psf estimate. We suggest contingency not hourly because it’s the most affordable way to battle an insurer for what’s fair. https://uphelp.org/claim-guidance-publications/hiring-professional-help-for-an-insurance-claim/ You can hire a lawyer by the hour if you prefer.
- Hire a construction estimator to do an independent calculation and have them put it into the same format the adjuster used for their $328 psf estimate. Chances are the adjuster used “Xactimate” The main problem with Xacimate is that it is “unit cost pricing” while real life builders don’t estimate that way – they use sub bids to generate their estimates. A sub bid estimate can be re-organized into unit pricing – it just takes time.
As you probably know, this CA law gives you the right to collect in full for what it would theoretically cost to rebuild both properties and use those funds to buy a replacement home without a deduction for the value of the land under that home:
CA Ins. Code 2041.5
(c)(1) In the event of a total loss of the insured structure, a policy issued or delivered in this state shall not contain a provision that limits or denies, on the basis that the insured has decided to rebuild at a new location or to purchase an already built home at a new location, payment of the building code upgrade cost or the replacement cost, including any extended replacement cost coverage, to the extent those costs are otherwise covered by the terms of the policy or any policy endorsement. However, the measure of indemnity shall not exceed the replacement cost, including the building code upgrade cost and any extended replacement cost coverage, if applicable, to repair, rebuild, or replace the insured structure at its original location.
(2) Notwithstanding any other law, for a residential property insurance policy, the measure of damages available to a policyholder to use to rebuild or replace the insured home at another location shall be the amount that would have been recoverable had the insured dwelling been rebuilt at its original location, and a deduction for the value of land at the new location shall not be permitted from that measure of damages. However, the measure of indemnity shall not exceed the cost, including the building code upgrade cost and any extended replacement cost coverage, if applicable, to rebuild the insured structure at its original location.
Good luck, hope this helps!