Seeking advice on what to do after serious house fire.
November 24, 2010 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone had experience with house fires?

I've been renting my home to a celebrity for a couple of years now. It recently caught on fire. Severe damage throughout, but restorable. I'm hoping restorations will not exceed the limits of my insurance policy, but since this was an historical home, much of it will need to be treated with special care to bring it back to its original detail. To complicate matters more, I rented it fully furnished and my furniture was mixed up with her furniture; she moved quite a bit of my furniture into her storage vault without my permission. One further complication: I'm living out of state and have not been able to be on hand for day-to-day damage control, but have had trusty friends and neighbors on the scene. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

I have so many questions it is unbelievable. First, I guess, is how do you present to the insurance company proof of lost contents if a) items were burned beyond recognition and all you have are pre-fire photos of house contents, and b) tenant has removed some of my items after the fire, along with hers?

Second, how do you assess a value on items that were lovingly collected and given to me throughout the years, but not purchased through traditional channels of antique dealers or other retail vendors?

Third, what kinds of things do people do to boost the importance of their belongings to the insurance company, since much of what I lost are my treasures that cannot be replaced and have no monetary value, per se. For example, tintypes of naked women given to me by a friend who I've lost touch with over the years. Vintage recording equipment from an early 1930's recording studio built into the home (i.e. valuable speakers built into the walls of the studio that were never photographed). Who thinks of these things? I could go on.

Fourth, everyone was covered by insurance, but this incident is certainly going to put my family's plans on hold for at least the next 6-9 months and drastically change everything. Insurance covers lost contents, structural damage and loss of rental income. But what about our time spent commuting, arranging care for our kids while gone, hotels while there dealing with contractors, restoration specialists, making design decisions, replacing an entire houseful of contents, etc.? This is a huge inconvenience that will greatly disrupt our family life. Bear in mind we do not have conclusive evidence of cause of fire, but preliminary investigations indicate it wasn't caused by arson, an electrical short or kitchen appliances.
posted by zagyzebra to Law & Government (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
We had a serious house fire a few years ago -- serious enough that we were had to live in an apartment for a year while our house was re-built. We had replacement value insurance, and in order to be reimbursed, we had to inventory the entire contents of our home and assign a monetary value to each item. This took months, and we were not compensated in any way for our time. The only way to maximize our payment from the insurance company was to be painstakingly thorough in our inventory, including even the smallest of items. For collectible and sentimental items we had to scour the internet for comparable items to present to our insurance adjuster. Unfortunately, sentimental value didn't add any real value to our claim. For example, a chest built by my great-grandfather wasn't assigned any more value than a comparable wooden chest, even though it had more value to us personally.

We hired a disaster services company to board up the house. They also boxed up the entire contents of the house (even burned and charred items) and moved them to their warehouse. I spent weeks going through the boxes making lists, and the boxes were also available for the insurance adjuster to see had he requested to do so. For the items that were completely gone, the adjuster took our word for the most part, and we were treated very fairly.
posted by MelissaSimon at 2:09 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best answer: This can be tough. It may be a long road, sorry.

My parents went through this a few years back. Negotiating with the insurance adjuster, purchasing new items, getting reimbursed for them, talking with the fire renovation contractors, etc... was a full time job for mom for the better part of a year. Mom was only ever able to get them to agree on replacement at cost or a cash payout based on purchase price. Sentimental value did not figure into the insurance contract. For photos, for example, the major reimbursement was for the frames. If we had copies of the pictures to duplicate, they would pay for that. For the loss of a photo album, full of family pictures, only the cost of the album replacement.

Some things are very policy dependent. Mom and Dad were able to end up with a rather nicer home than the one the started with by paying careful attention to their bottom line and pushing the replacement values on the insurance. The adjuster was quite generous with claims, as long as they clearly fell under the policy. Mom was able to get my 6-year-old niece to claim a fee for looking after their cats for a year, for example. Apparently getting the first invoice written in crayon made the adjuster's day.

It was a huge amount of work and any receipts or pictures or previous inventories will help a great deal. If you can't prove that an item was there, it can be very difficult to get the adjuster to reimburse you for it.
posted by bonehead at 2:34 PM on November 24, 2010


You need to read your policy. Generally you can expect that the insurance company will reimburse you for the actual cash value of replacing items; they are entirely uninterested in the sentimental value. They will also not reimburse you for the time spent documenting those items (which can be extensive) or the time spent dealing with the insurance company (which can be almost as extensive.) It also depends on your policy whether they will reimburse you for a hotel or apartment as an out-of-state non-occupier owner.

This is a huge inconvenience that will greatly disrupt our family life.

Yes it will. Unfortunately, insurance mitigates against financial loss, not inconvenience.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:20 PM on November 24, 2010


Had a small fire at my house a few years back. Basic routine: submit an inventory of what was damaged and/or needed to be repaired. Hope the value of that stuff doesn't exceed the limits of the policy.

As for your tenant's stuff, it might not be covered by your insurance. Might have to be covered by their renter's insurance.

Second, how do you assess a value on items that were lovingly collected and given to me throughout the years, but not purchased through traditional channels of antique dealers or other retail vendors?

Third, what kinds of things do people do to boost the importance of their belongings to the insurance company, since much of what I lost are my treasures that cannot be replaced and have no monetary value, per se.


Probably nothing, unless they were specifically mentioned in the policy. Policies usually cover "ordinary" home contents. A few TVs, books, a Thomas Kincade or two, etc. Anything of greater value or number needs to be added in.
posted by gjc at 6:48 PM on November 24, 2010


You need to find out if there is any coverage for your contents. The normal expectation when you rent out a home is that your personal property will be removed, and the tenant's moved in.
posted by yclipse at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2010


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