Curtis Phillips – ExactX Consulting
Hurricane Sally slammed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico into coastal Alabama in 2020, bringing inundating storm tides that surged as winds of more than 100 mph roared above the water.
As widespread damages amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, residents and business owners struggled to assess how much it would cost to repair the devastation—and how much coverage their insurance policies would provide.
Owners of a high-rise complex of three condominiums were confronted by 400,00 square feet of interior damage compounded by damages to the roofing systems, windows, exterior facade and decking. There was also interior cracking, water intrusion and the HVAC system needed replacing.
The owners were also confronted with repair estimates from insurers that seemed way too low at $11.5 million. So, they called Franklin, Tennessee-based building consultants ExactX, according to a case study on the company’s website.
Curtis Phillips, the managing partner and general counsel at ExactX, says his company was called in because it provides unbiased and thorough estimates of repair and replacement costs that are respected and accepted by its clients, whether they’re insurance companies or policyholders.
In this instance, the parties settled a claim for $30 million.
“So few people will ever experience such a significant loss that they won’t have heard of a building consultant,” Phillips says. “But for us, it’s very important that people trust our estimates no matter what side of the claim they may be on.”
A niche within a niche
Founded by Phillips and Managing Partner Jake Holt, ExactX has evolved from their prior building consultancy, which also featured two other partners. While Phillips and Holt wanted to continue in the niche industry, they also wanted to fill an even smaller niche by serving insurance companies and policyholders alike.
Phillips and Holt operate a compact team with Barry Runk and Cody Taylor as senior building consultants and Michael Phillips, Curtis’s brother, is a building consultant. While ExactX principally works in the Southeast, it does take on jobs across the U.S., and its staff holds numerous professional certifications in assessing wind and water damages to structures, building appraisals and for the Xactimate estimating software commonly used in the insurance industry.
Curtis Phillips adds ExactX also deploys state-of-the-art technology including Pro3 360 Matterport cameras for 3D imagery and thermal drones and cameras to detect damages behind walls, under floors and above ceilings.
The tools enable ExactX building consultants to create 3D models of damaged structures—Phillips says less than a decade ago, the industry relied on lasers for measurements, hand-drawn sketches and thousands of photos that would have to be uploaded when they returned to the office. These days, an ExactX building consultant can send data and imagery to a colleague who’s working remotely or just be able to load it into Xactimate software themselves.
Technology is their ally, but Phillips adds the team still faces some rigors and risks in his on-site work. They’re at risk in damaged buildings that may have weakened floors or unstable walls or roofs. Inspecting a structure that’s been destroyed by fire is challenging because they also have to piece together what condition it had been in with old photos and accounts from the building’s owner.
“For example, you can’t always see how pervasive water is,” Phillips says, adding that standing water, even from a clean source, can become so contaminated it’s like raw sewage after about 72 hours.
Understanding what’s covered
The certifications ExactX building consultants have need to be matched by knowing local building codes, and Phillips says he provides expertise in understanding the provisions and conditions in a customer’s insurance policies as well as legal research as needed.
Even understanding what a policy covers or doesn’t isn’t always clear cut, either. Whether damages are caused by wind or water can be a source of contention or litigation because of a policy, but Phillips says there’s also a domino effect that can occur in instances such as replacing shingles and baseboards. That’s because removing one can damage another—so what will be covered?
While ExactX provides unbiased estimates that help lead to claims resolutions (Phillips says the company can also provide expert testimony in litigation without being seen as beholden to insurers or policy holders), the work will always have a significant emotional undertone.
“These are people going through the real-world problems and you’re putting in an estimate,” Phillips says. “Everyone would like to settle it tomorrow although that’s not going to happen. We realize all sides are good people, but there are complicating factors.”
Experience creates accuracy
Instead of helping insurance companies and policy holders reach common ground on repair and replacement estimates, there was a time when Phillips envisioned himself helping NFL players and teams reach common ground on contracts.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Phillips earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 2004, from Campbellsville University while playing on its football team, too.
While studying law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Phillips also worked as a personal trainer. After earning his J.D. in 2007, he passed the NFL Players Association certification test to become an agent but discovered that the field was almost as difficult to get into as becoming an NFL player.
While Phillips began practicing family law in private practice, a friend who wrote damage estimates for insurance companies as a public adjuster recommended he check out the profession. In 2009, Phillips joined a public adjusting company as an attorney and general counsel. In 2015, he became a co-founder of a building consulting firm.
Phillips says working with insurers and policyholders in an unbiased fashion is crucial for ExactX’s success—and so is experience.
“I’ve been in the first-party insurance claims space for 13 years,” Phillips says. “You can’t start in this business and be an expert a year later.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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