I highly encourage EVERYONE to read this. Regardless if you have lost your house to a fire our not...in the likely hood it does happen to you, there are few things that will save you time, grief and possible $100,000's of dollars. Seriously.
This is a living breathing doc. I will be adding to this as I think of new things or if questions are asked from others.
1.Take out your phone today and walk through every room in your house and video all of you contents. Go through every room, bathroom, closets, garage, patios, everywhere. Then send that video to 4 of your friends and tell them to please download this to their computer and save it in a 'YOUR LAST NAME' folder on their desktop for a rainy day. (no pun intended, yes I lost my house to lightening...ahhh!) REDO this video every 6 months.
2. Make sure you have Fire Extinguishers in your home. It might just save your home and possibly your life.
3. Have a plan...we have heard this since grade school. The reason we dont do it, is cause we think it will never happen to us...Im no different. As you read this, know my house got hit by lightening and burned to the ground...we lost everything. It can happened to anyone.
4. Know where your Insurance documents are. Buy a fire box, (a fire proof box to keep files in).
5. make copies of your insurance docs and send them in an email to a close family member to keep for you. (all my docs were in my upstairs office...yup, they all burned up...it was a journey from then start just trying to find the right person to call.)
Things to have someone immediately do for you. (just hand them this list)
1. Get Water. You will be more dehydrated than you think.
2. If you have kids, make sure they are taken care of. Talk to them first, let them know you (and your spouse) are okay and you are going to do everything you can to make it all better. They are scared for different reasons, safety, security, their toys, etc. Take them away from the situation if they are under 10 years old. The less their memories can remember, the better. You want them having good memories of the home, not the tragedy. AND remember, your kids will remember and react the way you do. Do your best to keep it together when are around them...as adults we have a difference level of logic around these type of catastrophes...our kids don't. So our high level of emotion in the moment, transfers in to potential long term issues with kids. Just be mindful of this when you are around your kids talking about your recovery.
3. Put someone on the task to start calling local restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores, etc and ask for gift card donations for you. We have a friend (Laura) that called around and helped us out so much! Many local restaurants, coffee shops, etc will be glad to to offer some free meals or gift cards. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are so many nights, for months when you are exhausted and don't want to cook, plus you with find many nights of frustration not having utensils or cooking pots in your kitchen yet. I remember about 2 months after we moved into our rent house, my wife went to make spaghetti and after boiling the noodles and getting the sauce started, we went to drain the noodles and didnt have a strainer...nights like that, is when its just so frustrating.
4. Call the Red Cross. They actually showed up on the scene immediately. They have a program to help people in your situation cover un expected, small medical needs like contacts or glasses. I don't remember the list of things, but it helped!
5. If you are a member of a church...have someone notify them. People will donate clothes to get you by the first few weeks...you will need it.
6. Check on a storage unit in case you will need to store some of your old burned stuff. (yes, you will go through your house and get things...docs, pics, jewelry, baby items, etc. you will need a place to put it temporarily until you have a rent house or a place to put it)
To do immediately: Shopping List:
0 - 4-5 three-ring binders with dividers and tabs. (preferably different colors)
0 - a pack of 8.5 x 11 note pads and pack of pens. 0 - the necessities to live for the next couple of weeks, toothbrushes, toilet paper, underwear, etc.
1. Call your insurance or have a responsible person do it for you. Be prepared to start taking a lot of notes. I suggest going to an office store and buy 4-5 big 3-ring binders, some dividers and tabs for them.
2. Talk to the fire marshal. get as much info from him/her as you can about the state of your home and what you need to do moving forward.
3. Ask your insurance if they cover any type of security for your home (i.e. temporary metal fencing). Depending on where you live, be prepared for your house to be looted. We received phone calls from our neighbors that people were in our house at 2am taking out tvs and stuff. Such a horrible feeling, especially when you know you have personal stuff, tax docs, cc info, etc etc etc INSIDE!
4. Get prepared to go through your home. Once the fire marshal approves the structure for safety and your insurance adjuster looks and documents the damage and contents, the house is yours. Go get what ever you can out of it! Go to Lowes or Home depot and buy some of those big back hardy bins with the yellow lids and fill them up with your stuff...you can go through it later.
5. Remember your brith certificates, marriage license, pass ports, etc. If you do get to go back through your home, try and find these...if you can't, put it on your immediate to-do list to make those calls and get the process of having these reprinted immediately. Out kids school started in 2 weeks and although luckily, it was a small community and people knew us, you will need this items before you know it normally at the worst possible time if you don't prepare.
1. If your like me and your docs all burned up, have the insurance email you your entire policy so that you can start to review it and learn the numbers inside of it. I am no insurance expert, so I had to study. I will say I had a great agent help me through this process, but let me also advise you, insurance companies are not in business to just give you all the money you deserve without asking for it, the less you ask for, the better for them. Not saying any ill will here, just know thats the rules of the game. So be prepared to be on the offensive and defensive at all times. Dont let any anyone tell you what you deserve or dont deserve without you reading it for yourself.
2. DONT SIGN ANYTHING without having someone that you respect and trust review the document. Listen to me please, I was a 37 years old man with 2 kids and one on the way, I am a business owner and normally am very detail oriented about everything. Thanks to my brother in law, his wise words to not sign anything unless he looked at it saved me a few times on some big issues.
3. There are different types of home coverage, some that cover things site unseen, some that are partial and some that require more documentation to recoup your money. Make sure you get clear on which you have so that you know what exactly to do as you move forward in this process.
WILL YOU REBUILD OR MOVE?
This is an important question you will have to address. I opted to move, but I have some dear friends to opted to stay and rebuild. We want to help you understand your options.
There are pros and cons to both options. This section may be lengthy, but we will do our best to help you understand both situations to its fullest so you can make the best decision possible.
- Each situation is different, but what is important here is that you know your options. In our case, we were actually better off moving somewhere else, let me explain. Some insurance programs offer a % clause, that basically means you have wiggle room that if your rebuild cost is more than the value of your home, you will be okay to rebuild your current home and not have issues, even thought it will cost more to rebuild. That % of extra money is non cash value, so it can only be used to build with. But the other portion of coverage can actually be turned building a new home. So lets say your house is worth $250,000, but the rebuild cost is $315,000. So that means you have $315,000 to rebuild your home, wherever that is. If they rebuild your $250,000 home for $270,000 you technically left $45,000 on the table. Which is perfectly fine if you want to rebuild your current home...all is good, no problems. But if you want to move anyways, or like us we had dreams already of moving, God just decided it was time, you can possibly take the $315,000 and go build somewhere else (after previous mortgage is paid off), PLUS you will still own the burned home at that point, so you can sell it. And yes, there are people that will buy it. I had 3 offers within days! I almost signed the wrong deal cause I wasn't prepared for it. None the less, that is additional funds to think about.
- There is a difference between the value of your home and the cost to rebuild, especially if you have been in your house for while. Naturally, building material pricing goes up over time, so make sure you focus on this point. I actually ended up hiring a 3rd party appraiser that works directly in this arena. It was a God send for sure...but you can find them. (I might be able to refer this guy...he was amazing) So, the insurance appraiser gave us a rebuild value that I didn't know if it was high or low, how would I. I paid this 3rd party person to do his own appraisal of what the rebuild cost would be. He measured all the way down to each trim board in the closets. It was about a $40,000 difference! He even negotiated with my insurance for me. Why is this important, cause this in the magic number, what ever is determined as your rebuild costs it what everything stems from moving forward. So take your time doing this right.
- Bottom line, always remember, you have options. Ask a ton of questions and make sure you are comfortable moving forward. I remember having the pressure of making decisions fast due to kids and just plain old 'tired of dealing with it', I get it...its hard, find a good balance. Make wise decisions in a quick pace, but always make wise decisions.
Be prepared to go through your burnt home soon.
1. I remember the first time I heard this, I thought to myself...so way am I going in there. First of all, I had no idea what to expect about the safety of going in and second, I wasn't to sure about seeing my home in that state, our life, our history, our children's rooms, etc...It hit me in the heart kinda quick. But I will say, I am so glad that I did. I rallied some of my buddies, men in my family and went to walmart and bought the cheapest, most rugged boots we could get along with some of the highest quality air masks we could find and prepared to go into the home. (consult your fire marshal before you do anything...make sure it is safe to enter the structure first.)
First things first, the first time to go into your burned home, take your phone with you and video tape EVERYTHING! Whether its for your memories or liabilities...record everything.
We went through our house for a few hours, 3 or 4 days in a row.
Go through every room, your closets, your office, everywhere and have different people go through each room, they will look differently at things. Understand, everything will be nasty and covered in soot, insulation and water, so you won't necessarily recognize a lot. Plus, depending on the type of fire and how much water was needed or where the pressure form the hoses was shooting into your home, realize a lot will look different, so dig around.
Are you getting a rental home?
1. Remember this is possible part of your coverage (Insurance Declaration Page Defined below). You have a coverage called Loss of Use. It basically is an amount of money that is there for you to live on because you 'loss the use' of your home. It is there to get you back on your feet.
2. Know the number. Know how much you have to work with. It will determine how long you can get a rental for, which impacts the rebuild allotted time. It also impacts what monthly rent you can afford. Sometimes there is wiggle room in there for rental furniture too. Be careful on that, I almost was dooped into spending $6K - $7K on rental furniture. They were going to stock my whole rent house, living room, bedrooms, kitchen, the whole 9. It sounded amazing, but when I realized I could use that money for other things, I opted not to do that and instead negotiated a cash payout for me to buy my own furniture. (now we didnt buy a lot cause we didnt yet know where we were going to live, but things like out TV's, new mattresses and such, I would rather own those with that money than rent them. make sense) We got with family and even shopped online garage sales for things like, sofas, kitchen tables etc. things we could get by with until we knew what to use that money for.
3. Again, dont sign anything without another set of eyes reading it..
Replacing your contents. (this is busy work, be prepared)
1. There are some difference here in how companies work and it depends on the 'type' of insurance coverage that you have. Some pay cash on retail replacement costs, some pay cash on negotiate depreciated value and others pay depreciated value but dont pay out till you buy the new replacement and you submit a receipt. While still even go further and offer you the ability to recoup your depreciation if you submit a receipt for the difference. Bottom line is...learn what game you are playing so that you know exactly what to do.
2. I actually built out an excel sheet that has a table of contents page and pages for each room. It takes time to do all this, but you cant get out of it. This will probably be your most time consuming part of the process...just accept it and stay diligent.
3. Depending on your 'type' of coverage and how your insurance will pay out on your contents, if you are dealing with depreciated value, you are going to want to work on about 60% value. Meaning that, of all of your contents in your home, expect to get paid back an average of about 60%. So if you have a content coverage of $100,000, youre not going to want to turn in just $100,000 worst of contents because you will only get back $60,000 of that money to rebuy everything that you need. You would want to hit around $167,000 to get your full $100,000 of coverage paid back. $167,000 times 60% is over the $100,000 mark. Hope that makes sense. Now obviously, this is just an example, so again, make sure you know your numbers and be diligent.
Insurance Declaration Page Defined: (always get your own explanation to all these terms and numbers, Im not a insurance agent or pro, estimated numbers for explanation purposes) - Property
Coverage A - Dwelling - your home
- Other Structures - things such as sheds, play sets, etc not attached to your home.
Coverage B - Personal Property - better know as 'Contents' - all your belongings inside
Coverage C - Personal Liability - if someone gets hurt
Coverage D - Medical Payments - medical coverage
- Loss fo Use Coverage - For instance, this would cover your monthly rent of your rental property while you rebuilt. This is important you pay attention to this amount. If it takes you the 12 months to build your home, this has to last all that time. If your house takes 18 months to rebuild (it shouldn't), you want to plan it out to make sure it lasts. - In some cases it will cover meals until you get into a rent house, within a 'reasonable' time to get settled. (make sure you ask you agent details on this...it can be located as immediate cash) - Due to the loss of you home, this money is available to any living needs directly connected to the fact your loss the use of your house.
If you have read to this point...wow, you are probably a little overwhelmed. I'm sorry if it is a lot to comprehend, I know it is. This entire process just sucks. I know it is hard to understand sometimes, but know that I do offer help for people that need it. You can comment to me here and I will do my best to respond or you can follow my blog page to get updates to this page as it grows.
If you have just experienced a house fire, I sure hope this has helped out. Our house burned down in 2015 and without scaring you, 3 years later and we were still recovering. Not in any major way, but just the remnants of not having your stuff, looking for those things you use to have and being reminded of your fire, our children dealing with lightening issues and the memories you lost. I will say one fo the biggest things that you do gain out of this, is a new perspective on life. Treat this as a gift. You will seem to value things way differently, questions your spending habits differently and just have a different perspective on life and stuff. It has been a gift for us, we are limiting so much in our life, mainly because we know how fast it can go, and it makes us focus on other things more too. So although it really tough right now, there is light at the end of the tunnel.