Bamboozled: After flood, a deluge of money woes

It’s been four months since Hurricane Irene’s floodwaters poured into the Manville home of Mike and Cheryl Dworak.

The couple’s three bedroom, 2 1/2 bath cabin-styled home took on water that filled their 8-foot high basement, and it kept rising until the first floor had nearly a foot of water.

Knowing there was a danger of flooding, the couple left a family wedding to move their belongings to the second floor, saving much of their personal property.

Still, they lost their furnace, hot water heater, washer and dryer and suffered lots of structural damage to the basement. On the first floor, they lost kitchen appliances and their cabinets needed replacing.

Luckily, the couple had insurance. But not so luckily, their mortgage bank — Wells Fargo — has been holding on to the insurance money, forcing the Dworaks to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for the extensive repairs.

“It’s really been a nightmare,” said Mike Dworak, 26. “At first I understood there’s a lot of red tape, but now it’s ridiculous. I would not wish this on my worst enemy.”

The Dworaks are trying to keep their sense of humor. The newlyweds, just married Oct. 16, have been staying at Dworak’s mother’s Woodbridge home since the late August flood.

Dworak likens their new lifestyle to a very long episode of the television show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but there’s nothing funny about the couple’s quest to get their insurance money.

Here’s what happened:

Within a week, adjusters from the Dworaks’ homeowners insurance, flood insurance and FEMA came to inspect the damage.

Next, the Dworaks had contractors, plumbers, electricians and others come to give estimates for the repairs. In all, the fix would cost about $75,000.

Quickly, their homeowners policy paid $5,000.

Their flood insurance policy agreed to pay $42,309. Rather than hire pros, Mike Dworak decided to do most of the work on his own, lowering repair costs. They agreed to the payout.

“The adjuster’s worksheet for the flood insurance was going to take some time,” Mike Dworak said. “Because of this, the insurance company issued a $20,000 advance payment check, which is the beginning of all the problems we are currently having with our mortgage company, Wells Fargo.”

Dworak said he was told any checks exceeding $15,000 needed to be signed by the homeowner and sent to Wells Fargo. The bank would then disburse funds in one-third increments based on how far along the repairs were.

Dworak said he received the $20,000 advance check in mid-September, which he immediately endorsed and mailed to Wells Fargo.

Dworak said Wells wouldn’t release any money, saying it needed the insurance adjuster’s worksheet first. Dworak said he forwarded letters from the adjuster, which explained the $20,000 was an advance check because there would be delays in completing the adjuster’s worksheet.

Dworak said his request was reviewed three or four times, with each review taking three to five business days. Each time he called, he said someone told him it needed to be reviewed again.

Finally, on Oct. 24, the couple received a $10,000 check from Wells.

“When I went to deposit it to my bank, there was an extended hold on the check. I was able to use the full $10,000 in early November,” Dworak said. “By this time, I had already spent $10,000-plus of my own money.”

On Oct. 25, Dworak received the remaining $22,309 check from the insurance company, accompanied by the adjuster’s completed worksheet, which Dworak immediately faxed to Wells. He also sent Wells the new insurance check.

Around the same time, Dworak said the mortgage company sent an inspector who determined Dworak was 65 percent complete with the repairs, which meant the Dworaks were due their second one-third of the insurance money—$14,103.

The Dworaks were also still waiting for the remainder of the first one-third of money, $4,103.

So they waited some more.

“I sent in receipts showing I had spent the $10,000 the week before Thanksgiving,” Dworak said. “Called five days later, [Wells] never got them. Resent. Couldn’t read some of them. Resent.”

On Dec. 1, Dworak said he was told he’d receive the second third, plus the remainder from the first third, and the checks would be sent on Dec. 5.

By Dec. 12, the Dworaks still hadn’t received any checks, so Mike Dworak called Wells.

“They told me the checks were cancelled due to an error on my adjuster’s worksheet,” Dworak said. “Turns out there was no error and they would work on it.”

Wells said he’d receive a $14,103 check on Dec. 14.

Wondering where the other $4,103 was, and not confident any money would arrive, the Dworaks contacted Bamboozled.


We reached out to Wells Fargo on Dec. 13.

Dec. 14 came and went with no checks.

But the night of Dec. 14, the Dworaks got a call from an executive mortgage specialist at Wells Fargo.

“She reassured me that a check in the amount of $17,000-plus is to be delivered by Friday [Dec. 16],” Dworak said.

He said asked the rep why it wouldn’t be $18,206, the amount he’s due.

“She was not sure why,” he said. “She also told me they were sending another check for half of the remaining balance in my restricted escrow account.”

Dworak was previously told the final one-third would not be released until the repairs were 100 percent complete, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How can a homeowner complete a job without the insurance money? Unless, of course, they pay out-of-pocket or make a contractor wait for payment.

We had a few questions about the process.

Wells spokesman Jim Hines said the first payment made to the Dworaks followed basic protocol, but the company could have done better with the other payouts.

“To be honest, in this situation, the lack of the adjuster’s worksheet did impact the processing time of this claim,” he said. “The subsequent disbursements we could have made with greater efficiencies.”

He explained the Dworsaks would receive a check for $17,501 on Dec 15, which represented 65 percent of work completed.

On Dec. 16., he said, they’d receive a check worth half of the final third as a good-will gesture, an exception to the standard procedure.

But what about the process in general?

Hines said it’s fairly standard for claims that are more than $15,000 to be so-called monitored claims, which disburse one-third of the money at a time “to protect the borrowers and ensure that the repairs get made and that the home is repaired to the condition it was prior to the damage occurring.”

As to why a job has to be 100 percent completed before the final third is released, Hines said most contractors accept this as standard.

And as promised, the Dworaks received the two checks. All that’s outstanding is the final half of the final third, which they’ll receive when 100 percent of the work is done.

While the Dworaks are glad to have received the funds, they say they’ll never feel they were treated fairly.

“Last night we saw two houses that were just starting to be gutted,” Mike Dworak said. “That means people are just getting started, or they’ve been waiting for money to come.

“We still in our hearts feel bad for the hundreds of people who are still waiting,” he said.

“The people who have kids, it’s a lot of money to shell out-of-pocket or put on credit cards, just to get insurance money that’s already in your name, but you can’t get it.”

We’ll let you know when the Dworaks get the remaining insurance money.