House fire update

 

I intended to make this a fun and entertaining post, laughing at how ironically hilarious this all is, but this whole process has squeezed the breath and fun out of me, so it’s pretty much a downer. Read on at your own risk.

We’ve just reached five months since the fire of our house. We’ve been in this apartment for three months. Our battle with the insurance company has been both epic and frustrating. Here’s where we are as of today:

1) Building/construction: A dollar amount has been agreed upon. It’s about $15,000 less than our contractor wants to put into the house (closer to $25,000 less if we completely gut all the drywall in the house, which is what he strongly recommends because of the water/winter/smoke damage), but it’s within some kind of reasonable distance so we said OK. The money goes as follows: The insurance company sets a number, X. It immediately depreciates X by about twenty percent, and gives you X-20%. This check needs to be signed by a whole bunch of people and goes to the company that holds your mortgage. It is never given directly to you. The company that holds your mortgage releases about 1/3 of the money to your contractor, who does a third of the work. Then you apply for the next third, do the next third of work, etc. 

Once you use up the entire X-20%, if you can prove that you had to spend more, you can make the insurance company release the 20% back to you. So eventually you DO get up to the full X amount, but the layers of beaurocracy and the time you have to wait for people to give you dribs and drabs of money is astounding. This is the reason that our contractor is predicting a full four months of construction, although it’s technically about an 8-week job. 

Status: The first check (X minus 20%) was written and is now at the bank. This is THRILLING, but we have no timeline for any of the money being released. It could still be multiple weeks.

2) Code Upgrades: This is a separate piece of money because it was an add-on piece to the homeowners insurance policy. This is the money that’s supposed to pay for ceilings being ripped down, electrical replaced, ductwork, plumbing, etc., because even though most of those systems (with the exception of the electrical) are intact, they are old and the building inspector won’t let us back into the house if they’re not brought up to code.

Status: We have a dollar number on this from our contractor, but no agreement from our insurance company yet and no check in sight.

3) Alternative Living Expenses: This is the money that our insurance company agrees to pay so we could live in a hotel for two weeks, rent an apartment, board the dogs, etc. We received a $5,000 ALE “advance” about three months ago. So far our actual ALE expended is close to $19,000. I know this sounds impossibly huge but it’s because hotels and rent around here is so high and because boarding is so expensive. We’ve actually recorded as ALE expenses only the bare minimum; we ate VERY cheap, we’re stuffed in a 1,000-sq-ft apartment, etc. The biggest expense, honestly, has been boarding! I insisted that the dogs being boarded be able to go to daycare every day, since that is their only way to have any interaction that’s healthy, so a ton of money goes into that. 

Status: We have been verbally approved for the money and an estimate of further money to July 1; we will have to fight further to extend it to September or whenever we can actually get back in the house. We’ve been promised a further advance “any minute.” No final papers for the entire amount and time have been signed, and there’s no final check in sight. 

4) Contents: What we lost. The fire destroyed two rooms but the smoke damage pretty much ruined everything else, especially considering that Honour has severe allergies and respiratory issues. We can’t just wash stuff and re-use it. We got an “advance” on contents in the first weeks after the fire; we’ve used that to pay for rent and boarding. Other than a vacuum, dishes, dog crates, and a stroller, we’ve replaced very little else. We’re all still living in hand-me-down and donated clothes and all the furniture is rented. 

What happens with contents is that a company goes through the home and inventories what they can see. They give you a spreadsheet with everything they saw, and then you add everything else that you can remember were in those rooms. This SUCKS and you forget tons and tons of stuff. Values are assigned to the items based on some giant database in the sky, and you have to tell them how old each item was. 

The insurance company goes over the huge spreadsheet and fights over individual items or groups of items. For example, if you declare a certain type of TV, it asks you or your public adjuster to prove it. This process involved WEEKS of going back to the house and sifting through trash and pieces of rubble. Again, sucks. 

Once the items are approved, the dollar amount is depreciated by how old the items are and the insurance company finally writes a check. The contents money is the most crucial number for us right now, because we need to use a portion of it to pay our contractor to make sure we get everything done that needs to be done. I WISH we could look at that and say “Yay! New leather couches!” but the fact is that we’ll be scrimping and saving every penny of it to put more into the house. 

Status: We do not even have an approved number yet, much less a check. 

The bottom line: We’re going to be fine, but at this moment we are OUT of money. We’ve used just about every penny of every advance and rent/boarding is looming. We’re still paying mortgage and utilities (except for electric) at the House of Fire, and that stretches us to the max all by itself, so we cannot cover thousands of dollars a month additionally. We’ve been promised a huge check “any minute now,” but my blood pressure is through the roof at this point. 

Additional crap: As I mentioned earlier, our insurance company is dropping us as of June. They’re dropping us while the claim is still open, and it’s going to be open for a LONG time still. We have contacted literally every insurance company in MA and NH, and not a single one will write a policy for us while we have an open claim. We’ve talked at length with the insurance commission and they can’t do anything for us. That has thrown us into having to pay for the insurance that our mortgage company provides, which is bad insurance for a price that makes me nauseous. We’re currently petitioning our original company to at least continue to cover us until the claim closes. After that we’ll be in the “surplus” market, which means we’ll pay more for a few years, but it’s not as bad as the mortgage-supplied policy. So, if you don’t mind, please pray for a merciful underwriter and a few more months of coverage.

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3 thoughts on “House fire update

  1. Oh, I’m so sorrry! What a nightmare for you. My thoughts are with you – I don’t pray but I will be hoping hard that something good happens immediately, and that things work out well in the long run. Hang in there Johanna! And please take good care of yourself. I can’t imagine how exhausted you are with the stress from battling the ins. company and money troubles, as well as dogs/kids/(plus breastfeeding, and you homeschool, right!?)/keeping such a small space neat/working..

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