Building Permits, Insurance Claims Slow Post-Tornado Recovery

A year later, Preston Hollow homebuilder talks about customer service challenges
John Hawkins

After the tornado sirens quieted and the rain let up last year, John Hawkins headed out that stormy Oct. 20 night to see how many of the Preston Hollow homes his company built remained standing.

He was confident that his Hawkins-Welwood Homes teams had crafted houses that could stand up to a lot – but a massive tornado in an area that took a direct hit? 

“We had two houses under construction, and I could get to one on Brookshire, but literally physically could not safely get to one we had on Pemberton,” he said. “There were electrical lines down, and a policeman just said, ‘Look, you know, you face a real danger,’ so I called it a night about 10:30.

“But then Monday morning with the benefit of light, all of our guys were checking up on all our homeowners that we had most recent experiences with.”

The company’s first goal was to get the homes secured from the elements. Then they ordered new shingles. Windows were next because they had the longest wait time. But in between waiting for that, the crews fixed damaged fences, trees, and landscaping and assisted homeowners with filing insurance claims. 

“We were at those houses as part of what you might call triage, where we were getting tarps and covering roofs,” Hawkins said. “It rained on either Tuesday or Wednesday after the tornado, so we were under a lot of pressure because we could see the forecast coming, and we had to get their roof covered before the rain because they were in pretty bad shape.”

But as it turns out, the biggest obstacles to getting families back in their homes wasn’t the downed power lines and debris – it was getting insurance claims squared away and obtaining permits to do the work.

“It was very difficult for both the homeowners and the insurance companies – the insurance companies want to settle, but they were so overwhelmed by the number of claims in a very small area,” Hawkins said. “And they don’t have enough personnel to really do it and do it well.

“In a couple of cases, we have had clients threaten to sue insurance companies, not because the insurance companies don’t want to pay, but they’re just so bogged down,” he added. 

Hawkins said his company was right there with a client when insurance adjusters arrived, helping document things like what materials used.

“We became kind of an advocate for the homeowner,” he said.

Hawkins said that builders are consistently coming up against significant delays in getting building permits from the city of Dallas, too. 

“It is so difficult to get a building permit in the city of Dallas right now – we’re waiting eight weeks to get a building permit on a new home, and it’s unrelated to the tornado,” he said. “It’s not easy to get a permit in normal time, but it’s been considerably worse with the pandemic.”

WINDED: Take a look back at the October 2019 tornado

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, former Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy.

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