First came the weather warnings for Hilton Head, Bluffton and the Lowcountry corridor. Then came the mandatory evacuations. Then came Hurricane Matthew and its Category 2 winds of 105 miles per hour and rain.

Then came the uncertain return home to survey damage after the evacuation order was lifted.

The return was followed by layered emotional distress, frustration and the phone calls to family, friends, neighbors – and insurance companies.

Some homeowners who sustained damage to their homes, property and contents opted to contact public adjusters, a relatively unknown service industry whose clients are homeowners who hold wind and water damage policies with insurance companies.

These professionals work as advocates for the homeowners on a commission basis and can retrieve upward of 40 percent more than what insurance companies initially offer in damage settlements.

Here’s the process, according to Jim Pfohl, a licensed public adjuster for WorldClaim who has clients on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton.

“If a client agrees to use our services, we will meet with the insurance company within four or five days after the event, on the property, to begin to frame what insurance adjusters take on the loss,” he said.

If the public adjuster and the insurance company adjuster can’t agree on a dollar amount, they’ll compare notes as part of an appraisal process.

“Eighty percent of the time we agree on the scope of work,” he said. But the hangup can be the dollar amount and bottom-line details for recovery of damage.

“Generally speaking, a public adjuster’s estimate will be more comprehensive, longer and in greater detail,” Pfohl said. “It will use the policy wording to define its scope … and will use accurate market pricing to determine what the dollar amount is.”

After reviewing the damage and policy details, public adjusters will quote a potential client a commission percentage, typically 8-12 percent of the total amount paid out.

Homeowners should keep in mind deductibles on their wind damage policy. The catch is, if the damaging storm had an official “name,” as Matthew did, you’ll have a higher deductible because of high risk of damage – anywhere from “2 to 5 percent on the face value line item of the insurance,” Pfohl said.

For instance, if a $500,000 home has a 2 percent deductible on wind damage, it will have had to sustain at least $10,000 in damages before homeowners will get a cent in return. The first $10,000 of repair will have to be paid out of pocket.

Meanwhile, the town of Hilton Head is staring straight ahead at an estimated $55 million in hurricane recovery bills, which could deplete its cash reserves, but will recoup 75 percent of that from FEMA sometime in the future, according to the town’s website. There’s an off chance the state might chip in the remaining 25 percent. If not, there might be a property tax increase to offset costs. The landscape is still littered with debris cleanup and dumping sites, waterway distress, beach renourishment, and private community debris removal.

All 19,688 structures on the island have been reviewed, and 14.5 percent of those suffered some damage; 248 of those received substantial or significant damage.

(Editor’s note: To view comments and exchange ideas with other homeowners affected by Matthew, visit the Hilton Head & Bluffton vs. Hurricane Matthew group page on Facebook. For general and specific insurance information, contact the South Carolina Department of Insurance at For information on licensed public adjusters, contact the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters at

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.