New business helps residents ace insurance claims after disaster strikes

Posted at 1:02 PM, Nov 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-09 23:44:43-05

Sitting in his living room, Steve Seldowitz, smelled something funny. He headed to the bedroom and immediately he couldn't breathe.

The room had a yellow, green haze and he noticed it was coming from his watch winder.

"I grabbed the watch winder, which is a little wooden box, and threw it out the front door. I couldn't get the batteries out of it, because the back was screwed on and I sat there and was smashing my watch winder against the walkway to try and stop the violent gases that were coming off," Seldowitz said.

The lithium-ion battery was the cause of the problem, destroying not just the watch winder, but the inside of his armoire, suit jackets and watches, totally about $5,000 of damage.

Seldowitz worked for an insurance company for decades, but after filing his initial claim, his own company didn't want to pay what the items were worth.

He said luckily he took photos of everything in his home, including the serial numbers and brands of each item.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I received an email eight minutes after I sent the pictures," Seldowitz said his claim was accepted.

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Seldowitz realized a need that he could fill as a business owner. Photo File LLC, launched in 2012.

Four years later, Seldowitz now has a couple hundred clients, helped in at least four losses, and is in several states along the East Coast.

Teri Philosophe, just had her home cataloged, after going through two losses. She, her husband and their four kids moved into their forever home in 2012 and had another home they were trying to sell.

In 2014, teenagers broke into the home they were selling and had a weekend-long party. Chandeliers were smashed, paint brought up from the basement, splattered on their wood floor and across oriental rugs.

Philosophe was devastated.

"It's heartbreaking, you're emotionally overwhelmed, you're stressed out. It's really hard to think straight and even know where to begin," Philosophe said.

She said she heard from friends, family and insurance agencies that she should document her belongings in case something happens, but said no one prepares you with the detail photos should hold.

"Not everybody saves every little receipt from every purchase that they've made, or every oriental rug," Philosophe said.

Then in February of 2015, an electrical fire ruined the home. An older couple moved in three weeks before and were renting from the Philosophes. They were downsizing and planned on retiring in three years.

"Everything is just ruined mostly from water damage if not from the fire," she said they walked around in a daze.

The couple had a really hard time, both with the loss and from the insurance claim. The couple now lives elsewhere and the Philosophes hired an independent claims adjuster to help with the loss.

After that, Philosophe said this was not happening to her family and looked into Photo File.

"It's something that everyone thinks isn't going to happen to them, or you can't even begin to imagine what it's like to get through that situation until you're actually faced with it," Philosophe said.

She said watching the employees catalog every item and detail in her home helped her learn what is important in filing a claim.

The employee also gives the homeowner tips on where to keep the thumb drive with their photos, what to do if they need to file a claim and offers "touch-ups" when you buy new items that need cataloging.

"We sleep better at night knowing we have everything organized and covered," Philosophe said. 

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