(Chip’s Note—This is the second post of a weekly feature of this blog which I am writing to obtain perceptions from experienced and leading public adjusters in the public adjusting profession.)
Want to learn something from a public adjuster whose firm has been in existence and helping policyholders with their property insurance claims for nearly 100 years? Stephen Sarasohn of Sarasohn & Company is my spotlight public adjuster this week because his firm has stood the test of time. Further, his father, Ira Sarasohn, was somebody I knew closely, and as a leading public adjuster, I would suggest others should aspire to emulate.
Steve Sarasohn is a prolific reader of this blog. I love the private responses to blog posts because they personally suggest new topics for follow-up. Steve writes private and public responses to posts all the time. His public comment to The History of Public Adjusting—Samuel Milch v. Westchester Fire Insurance Company stated:
My grandfather had a fire in his business in Newark, NJ in the early 1920s. There were no public adjusters in NJ at that time. However, he was approached by Goldstein Affiliates from NYC, and he hired them to assist with his claim. Goldstein was founded in 1885 and was, to my knowledge, the first public adjusting firm. My grandfather was sufficiently impressed with the results that he became the first public adjuster in NJ in 1924. We’re looking forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary next year.
So, when I asked Steve Sarasohn about the history of his public adjusting firm, I was not surprised that he told me the following:
In the early 1920s, my grandfather, Emanuel Sarasohn, had a fire in the clothing store he owned in Newark, New Jersey. At the time, there were no public adjusters in New Jersey. However, a public adjusting firm in New York City, Goldstein Affiliates, learned of his fire and offered to assist. Goldstein Affiliates, founded in 1886, was the first public adjusting firm in the country. In addition to developing an expertise in insurance claims, public adjusters were helpful at that time because so many recent immigrants had a limited command of the English language. Dealing with the insurance companies was difficult for many. Goldstein did a great job adjusting that claim.
My grandfather became enthralled with the concept of public adjusting. He wanted to learn to do for others what Goldstein had done for him. In 1924, Emanuel Sarasohn started his own firm, Sarasohn & Company. He became the first public adjuster in New Jersey. It was because of the positive experience he had with another public adjusting firm.
Over the years, I’ve heard similar stories of insureds becoming successful public adjusters because of their initial interaction with their public adjuster. Bob Lucurell, in the Pacific Northwest, comes to mind as one of those public adjusters.
In 1934, while still in Weequahic High School, Emanuel’s son, Ira, got his driver’s license. Ira started literally ‘chasing’ fire claims in the evening and the weekend for the firm. The following year, Ira’s brother Roy joined the firm. After going to undergraduate school at Chapel Hill, then John Marshall Law School (Seton Hall), and then the United States Army in World War II, Ira returned to the family public adjusting business after his tours of duty in World War II. Roy re-joined as well after his stint in the military.
In 1951, Will Goodman of Baltimore sought to create the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. My grandfather Emmanuel was invited to the inaugural meeting in Atlantic City. He was unable to attend. So, Ira went in his stead and became a founding member of NAPIA. He and my uncle Roy later served as presidents of NAPIA.
How did you get started in the family public adjusting business?
I graduated from college at Farleigh Dickson and began working for Sarasohn & Company in 1970. I was not particularly excited about working in the industry at first. But I immediately fell in love with public adjusting when I saw how much help we provided for our clients. It is impossible to get bored doing this work. Every claim has something unique. My dad and Uncle Roy kept expanding the firm until we had 12 offices around the United States, an office in Puerto Rico, and an affiliate in London.
In hindsight, my dad told me that if he did it again, he’d have kept it smaller. Ira was a big proponent of keeping the overhead low. He discussed the cost of incremental overhead from having extra locations versus maintaining a smaller presence and taking fewer cases in faraway locations.
In 1974, I moved to Florida. I briefly attended law school. I hated law school but loved Florida. In 1979, I moved to Chicago and helped start our Chicago office. A year later, we opened another office in Milwaukee. However, after two years of missing the warm weather, I moved back to South Florida. Have you ever been to Chicago in the winter?
In 2018, my son Bernard became a fourth-generation public adjuster. In 2022, my son Nathan gave up the real estate business in Colorado and became a public adjuster in Boca Raton, FL.
We are looking forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary next year.
Tell me about your involvement with the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.
Shortly after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 and with your help, about a couple dozen public adjusters, including my dad and myself, formed FAPIA. The Florida Department of Insurance had proposed legislation that would have severely limited, if not eliminated, our public adjusting profession. We knew we needed to band together and act on behalf of our common interests. I drove up from South Florida with FAPIA’s soon-to-be first president, Steve Lessor, for the inaugural meeting in Orlando, Florida, in early 1993.
At first, I wasn’t sure if our small group could actually be effective. It seemed more closely like a David versus Goliath match with the small number of our public adjusters compared to the large number of insurance industry lobbyists. But we learned that we could achieve our goals with a great deal of persistence and being on the side of angels.
FAPIA has been helpful in protecting our industry from harmful legislation. It has promoted greater educational and ethical requirements for public adjusters. From that small group who first came together for a workshop at the Department in Tallahassee, we now have the largest state association of public adjusters in the nation. We have more members than the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. As FAPIA’s size has grown, the benefits of membership have grown exponentially. We now have influence in Tallahassee.
As much as I love public adjusting, I enjoy teaching my sons even more. I hope that with the help of FAPIA and NAPIA, the public adjusting profession can strengthen its position within the insurance industry. The challenges thrown at us by insurance industry lobbyists seem never ending.
What have you seen as a major change in public adjusting in your career?
The business of public adjusting has changed. New public adjusters have changed because while a lot of my business has been coming from referral business, the new public adjusting firms are doing different marketing based upon internet marketing and other forms of marketing rather than reputational word of mouth advertising.
What do you think that Ira Sarasohn would say would be the major change he would have seen from the time he first started as a public adjuster?
I think my dad would say one of the biggest changes is how diverse the policies have become. The policies contained the famous ‘165 lines,’ and most policies were very similar, even identical. The goal was standardization to policy form and consistency of interpretation. Today, the policies vary widely from carrier to carrier. Some insurance companies change their policies every year. For my first 35 years or so in this business, my dad answered 75% of my questions with the same answer, ‘Read the policy.’ Every time I read your blog and listen to you saying, ‘RTFP,’ I can hear my dad’s voice.
Tell me about a unique loss that you remember.
My insured was an old Navy man who built model ships for a hobby. He made the models from blueprints, not kits. His ‘magnum opus’ was a 12-foot-long model of the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. It was on the cover of Fine Scale Modeler with a six-page article and foldout. His logbook showed a total of 30,000 hours were spent building and modifying the model. Every time the real Forrestal was refitted, he modified the model to match. A water heater burst on the floor above, and the water damaged the model. The insurance carrier sent ‘experts’ to inspect, but the only real expert was my insured. At the going rate of $95 per hour for such work, the RCV of the model was $2,850,000. They offered $34,000. We settled for $150,000 to repair the model. The carrier now has a sublimit of not more than 5% of the personal property limit for any one item. With a Coverage C limit of $600,000, the insured couldn’t have collected more than $30,000 today. The model now resides at the United States Naval Academy.
What does it mean to you to have worked with your father?
I was lucky beyond words to have my dad as a mentor. I hope to provide the same for my sons, Bernard and Nathan. Ira built a fabulous reputation in the public adjusting industry over a long period of time. I strive daily to maintain the same high level of integrity and expertise.
When do you expect to turn the business over to the next generation, Bernard and Nathan?
When people ask when I’ll retire, I chuckle. I tell them I should have been retired for my first five or six years of practice when I barely knew what I was doing. Now, I’ve got far too much knowledge and experience to waste. I am really good at what I do. Getting to this level does not come quickly. Experience means a lot in this business. My dad passed away shortly before his 89th birthday, and I inherited the 22 open files on his desk. I expect my sons will someday inherit the open files on mine.
How many new people to public adjusting and new to helping policyholders do you see advertising on social media? Effective social media marketing does not equate with being great in anything other than appealing to people who watch social media. At Merlin Law Group, we trademarked that we are “contenders, not pretenders” because we believe in the maxim, “Esse quam videri” meaning “To be, rather than to seem.”
Who has true credentials? Who has true experience over decades? Who has stood the test of time and has the respect of peers at a high level? You do not see successful and true professionals like Steve Sarasohn posting daily on social media bragging about recent wins.
Learn from the best. Go to the trade conferences where the best attend. If you do so, you will have roots in a lasting public adjusting business helping policyholders. Steve Sarasohn had the benefit of learning from his father, who was one of the best. You can find many mentors at established public adjuster trade organizations if you attend and participate.
Thought For The Day
That’s what we’re striving for, making us a contender in every race.