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Filing claims for damage from the Gulf oil spill

I am a real estate appraiser who specializes in marinas, and I have some basic advice for marina owners, fishermen, hotel owners and others damaged by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

As if hurricanes, fuel prices, closed fishing areas and a recession weren’t enough, we now must face an oil spill — just as things are looking up. The hope is that BP should make good on damages, but care must be taken to thoroughly document claims.

First, go to the Florida Sea Grant Web site and check out “Finding Economic Relief” under “Florida Oil Spill Resources.” There are links to several valuable sites that describe how and where to file a claim. If you have an immediate need and do file a claim, be certain you are not waiving future claims by doing so. If there is any doubt, contact an attorney.

Gather your financial records and business logs. If possible, go back five years. Imagine having 10 minutes to describe your business, what has happened and how much your business has been impacted. But while your story may be spell-binding, it hardly matters if you don’t have financial records to back it up. The more the better. Large marinas with sophisticated accounting programs should have much of what is needed, but the small businesses may need to start digging out records.

For marinas, make note of occupancies, rental rates, service revenue, and fuel and boat sales. For the last few years, document the size of boats, the propulsion, number of launches and when. Survey your customers. Find out where they are from, how far they drive to the marina, what they do when they get there, and where they go, such as fishing out in the Gulf. And ask how their habits changed after the oil spill. Did they cut back or completely stop use of the boat? Were they simply nervous, or were their fishing or cruising grounds closed by the government?

Hotels should do the same, documenting occupancies, ADRs (room rates), advance bookings and cancellations. Survey your customers, particularly those who cancel. Where are they from? Have they been doing this trip each year? How far did they drive? Why did they cancel? Keep restaurants, bars, gift shops and other departments separate.

For charter boats, note days booked, head counts and length of trips. What are you fishing for? How many did you catch? Are the middle grounds closed and you wound up bay fishing? Make less money? Have to relocate to better waters? Survey your customers, particularly those who cancel.

For commercial fishing boats it can be easy, because you may not be able to go out at all. You made a little bit last year and nothing this year. But some are going farther south or into the Atlantic to try to find fish, so keep careful records of both your expenses as well as revenues. Chances are you will be spending more money to go farther and sell fewer fish at lower prices.

Once you have your records together, prepare projections for 2010 and 2011 and beyond, based on conditions before the oil spill. In other words, what were you expecting business to be like this year, before the oil spill? Be realistic.

Although it can be done by hand on bookkeeping paper, its best to create an Excel chart on your computer. Then you can add or subtract categories and add calculations and comments. QuickBooks and most other programs can export to Excel, or we can send a blank form if you ask.

Make it easy to read. Make a column for each year, with income and expense categories down the left side, with historic 2008 and 2009 information to the left and 2010 to the right. For projections, monthly columns are best so you can record the actual numbers as the months go by, then total them to the right. So two columns for each month, budget and actual.

More details of how to file a claim will be coming soon from many sources. Of course, some were negatively affected from the first day, but many have yet to experience a downturn and may not. Just be prepared if it happens.

Linwood Gilbert, MAI
President, Urban Realty Solutions
Tampa, Fla.
(813) 876-1808



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