By Tomer Poran

Recently I sat in on an interesting discussion held during the Property Insurance and Restoration Conference (PIRC) on photo documentation standards. The participants of the discussion consisted of major restoration outfits, top-10 insurance carriers, major third-party administrator (TPA) firms, and leading technology vendors. The committee behind the discussion, of which I am a member, has been working on setting standards that all sides of the claim can agree on for passing photographic evidence of a loss between restorer and adjuster.

To me, a relative newcomer to the property claims world, this kind of interaction used to seem bizarre. Is this not a zero-sum game?

Isn’t one side trying to extract as much revenue from the loss as possible and the other trying to minimize settlement payouts? Why would restorers collaborate with adjusters to make their lives easier? Why would insurers help restorers avoid rejected line items due to poor photography?

Only after months of talking to adjusters and restorers did I learn the nuances of this co-dependent, albeit contentious, relationship—everyone’s goal is settling the claim in the fastest, most accurate way possible. Sure, there are some excessively difficult adjusters and some corner-cutting restoration contractors, but in general, these are outliers.

For the most part the industry is made up of hardworking contractors looking to do what’s necessary to get property owners back on their feet and get paid for the work they’ve done—nothing more, nothing less. And for the most part, you have honest, though heavily audited, adjusters that just want to pay out what the policy covers.

Photo guideline enforceability

It was clear from the PIRC meeting that accuracy of scope was what both sides had in mind, and photographic documentation of a loss through pre-mitigation, post-mitigation, and post-reconstruction was key to achieving that mutually beneficial goal.

During the discussion, the committee cast a vote—after much deliberation—and a two-page outline defining what kind of photos should be taken, where they should be taken from, when they should be taken, from what angle they should be taken, at what quality they should be saved, how they should be named, and so on. While the crowd was pleased overall with how these standards would improve what most participants described as the “complete chaos” of current photo documentation practices prevalent in the industry, there was some doubt cast on implementation:

Some raised the valid point that, while the PIRC forum is wide and representative, it still includes less than 1% of all restorers. Would others accept these guidelines that require them to learn new documentation rules and train their staff on them?

Others contested that some carriers and TPAs have set photo guidelines and may not be willing to adopt these new ones.

And possibly the most important point made was that the industry has upwards of 100,000 low-skill, high-turnover employees that could have a difficult time adhering to these guidelines, while the owners of the firms they work for would have a hard time enforcing them.

3D technology and documentation

“Reality capture,” 3D technology is a relatively new addition to the restoration industry, but it’s growing fast, and rightly so, as it offers users the ability to not only visually document any property, but also document dimensionally. Both carriers and restorers are adopting “3D scanning solutions” because of the greater transparency it creates.

Photo Documentation

3D image of a restoration jobsite. Images courtesy of Matterport

These scanning solutions automatically adhere to the standards set out by PIRC and go much farther. Adopting “reality capture” in a restoration company can solve the fundamental issues of implementing photo documentation standards while at the same time upgrading the level of transparency set by PIRC. Remember those hardball adjusters looking to “get you” at every line item and those estimate-inflating contractors I mentioned earlier? 3D reality capture misses no image and measures the property with no possibility for human intervention, making sure those with unscrupulous goals are unsuccessful in their endeavors.

PIRC’s Recommended Best Practices for Digital Photo Documentation*

Key takeaways

  • Use the highest resolution setting on a camera or phone and use good lighting.
  • Use the time and date stamp option, and the more photos the better.
  • When taking still photos from a video, be sure the image is not blurry and is high enough resolution.
  • Take photos in linear sequence as if walking into the damage.
    The following is the recommended order of photos:
  • Exterior, left to right,
  • Interior, 360 degree photos, starting at the left of the door,
  • Floor and ceiling,
  • Pre-existing conditions,
  • Cause of loss,
  • Resulting damage, least affected to most affected,
  • Contents, pre-existing condition and high-dollar items.
  • Take photos from farthest away to closest.
  • Generally, take all photos horizontally.

Steps for transferring photos (without capture software)

  • Take photos as recommended above.
  • Store all images in a single folder per project with subfolders for before, during, and after photos.
  • Rename photos to describe image, e.g. “Kitchen 1.”
  • Create a table in Microsoft Word with enough spaces for each photo and its label.
  • Drag images from folder to table slots with label next to it.
  • Describe each repair shown in a photo.
  • Save as PDF, and submit.

*This document is currently still being drafted, and changes are, therefore, expected.

 

What that means goes way beyond creating order in photo sharing. It creates transparency, which in turn, creates trust. And trust is big win for honest adjusters and contractors—and the industry as a whole.


Tomer Poran leads the insurance market at Matterport and previously led the company’s construction market, growing it to a multimillion-dollar vertical. Prior to Matterport he worked for DNX Ventures while getting his MBA at UC-Berkeley. Poran is from Israel, where he worked for Bain&Co, founded a startup, and served for 3.5 years as a naval officer. Reach him at tporan@matterport.com.