“I learned there’s a whole IT industry out there building convincing websites and fabricating glowing Google reviews to order,” writes “Whimsey” columnist CLIVE WILLIAMS.
“There is a time in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” –William Shakespeare
THIS article is a cautionary tale for anyone unfortunate enough to have their property flooded.
In April, I had a flood experience and it certainly did not lead on to fortune. Quite the opposite in fact.
Our small, one-bedroom, ground-floor flat in Sydney was flooded when a hot water tap was turned on by something falling against it. Hot water flowed through the flat for several days before steam set off the smoke-detector alarm.
I learned of the flood problem from my brother who had gone to check on the flat for me. At the time, I was on a train between Yass and Melbourne with intermittent phone coverage, so I asked him to go ahead and do what was necessary to deal with the problem.
He went online and found a flood remediation company that claimed 4.9 Google stars out of five and 158 glowing reviews. Its website claimed that for 27 years they had been delivering fast, reliable, and affordable water damage restoration to Australian homes and businesses.
It promised to be on the scene within 60 minutes. They were there in 30.
The company’s project manager said that they worked all the time with my insurer, NRMA, and that NRMA would have no problem with them starting on the remediation work.
But they could not start work until my brother had agreed to their “Terms of Trade” – which ran to six A4 pages. During a brief train stop in Albury, I gave my brother the go-ahead to do what was necessary. He agreed to the Terms of Trade and the flood technician started work.
After I got to Melbourne and had phone coverage again, I was eventually able to get through to NRMA Claims (it was Saturday night). The NRMA Claims person told me that NRMA had no knowledge of the company my brother had engaged, and I should get them to stop the remediation work as soon as possible. NRMA’s approved remediation company would then take over the work.
I soon learned that the Terms of Trade included financial penalties for termination before four days – and before “the IICRC dryness standard” had been reached (which could take a week – or up to 20 days). Despite repeated requests for a rough estimate of the ongoing cost I could not get one; I was referred back to the very complex Terms of Trade. I reiterated NRMA’s demand that they stop work.
After three and a half days, the company pulled out their 11 air blowers and two dehumidifiers. In due course I received two invoices totalling $12,953.44. I was given seven days to pay the main invoice of $12,623.44.
I queried the main invoice because it contained inaccuracies and was padded with lots of unverifiable charges. I got no response. The company followed up with threats to refer the matter to a debt collection agency and their legal team, incurring additional costs.
They eventually offered a compromise – if I paid within five days, the cost would be discounted by 30 per cent to $8836.41 otherwise, they would withdraw the offer and I would incur additional costs.
At that point I paid because they were pressuring my brother for payment, and it was affecting his health.
I have since reported the company to NSW Fair Trading to try to protect future flood victims from similar exploitation but NSW Fair Trading has a backlog of several thousand cases, so nothing is likely to happen anytime soon – if ever.
The consumer lessons to be learned from my experience are: not to engage a flood remediation company without first clearing it with your insurer, and don’t believe what service companies’ websites tell you – or what you read in their Google reviews.
I learned there’s a whole IT industry out there building convincing websites and fabricating glowing Google reviews to order.
For the record, I am still waiting for an insurance payout.
Meanwhile, an engineer and a lawyer are talking at a Trump $10,000-a-plate fundraising dinner. The lawyer says: “I can afford to be here because a fire burned my house down, and the insurance company gave me a generous payout.”
“That’s a coincidence,” says the engineer, “I’m here because my house was washed away in a flood and my insurance company gave me a generous payout, too.
The lawyer comments: “That’s very interesting – how did you start a flood?”
Clive Williams is a Canberra columnist.
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