House-Fire; one step at a time...
After a house fire you are going to be in shock and feel lost and confused for quite some time; making decisions is very difficult (at a time when lots of important decisions have to be made ). I am sharing my experience here in the hope that what I learned from my own house fire, will help others in these unfortunate circumstances.
On July 1st 2011 my home was devastated in an electrical fire.. the structure remained in tact, but the whole house had to be gutted, including new roof, new a/c, and complete rebuild inside.
Here are the practical steps you must take after the fire:
NOTIFY YOUR INSURANCE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. They will advise you to board up any open windows, doors or openings caused by the fire ... you must secure your home - they will give you the contact number of companies in your area who can do this for you.
Initially your insurance company will allot a temporary adjuster and give you a claim number.
You are then given the name of your Field Adjuster who can advise you of your policy limits for Displacement, Additional Living Expenses, Loss of Use etc on your policy. If you don't have friends or family to house you, (if your house is condemned) then you will have to move into a hotel for a few days.
Insurance companies cover this under "Additional Living Expenses". Be sure to save and photocopy all receipts for the hotel, food and drink, before sending them in to your adjuster. After a few days, you will be advised to find a rental (again depending on the length of time it takes before your home is habitable ). Your insurance covers this under "Loss of Use" up to your policy limit.
You should receive an emergency check within the first week or two (anything from $5,000 to $10,000) to help you out with expenses during this period. (This upfront payment comes out of your content check later ).
I was lucky enough to have an extremely helpful and efficient adjuster; David Rafeld of Citizens Insurance, Florida, who was polite, helpful and responded with compassion, understanding and prompt payments. I am very impressed with Citizens; (they had a bad rap about 5 years ago when Florida was hit with a slew of destructive hurricanes, but since then they have become one of the leading companies ): I can honestly say they have been outstanding in every way with my claim; and in my opinion are the most reliable insurance company and are government backed.
When I was in the initial stages of the process myself, I moved directly into a hotel as it was the holiday weekend. We followed all above instructions, got the name of our Field Adjuster and made a time for him to view the house with us.
Any adjuster will want to be at the damage site for several hours, so its best to stay a short time with him and then go off for a while because the smell in a fire-damaged property is horrid.
The adjuster has been trained to estimate the damage and obviously to keep the costs to the company as low as possible. It is down to you then to find at least 3 good contractors who are licensed and with excellent references in your area (especially those who deal mainly with fire damage ). These contractors usually take up to 3 weeks to write up estimates of the damage as will the adjuster; you will learn patience through this experience!
It's important to chose the right contractors. (depending on your insurance company, some may have their own contractors ). If you are choosing yourself, check references, reputation ~ see if they are members of the Better Business Bureau, or Angie's List. See if they have extensive experience with fire damage etc. Ask for verbal and written references and also photos of previous work done.
(Regardless of how much due diligence you have done, during the process of rebuild, you may occasionally regret your choice of Contractor. If you have a lot of damage, your relationship with the contractor is going to be long-term and can be fraught with frustrations. Its been a long haul for me and not always easy, but I am hoping for a good outcome and a complete job done)!
The estimates from the contractors are then compared to the adjusters initial estimate. That's the time to make your final decision about which contractor you want to go with, and have them work with your insurance adjuster. There will be a middle ground where they can work on an agreed price for the repairs or rebuild.
Following the visit from the adjuster and contractors, your insurance will send around an Inventory Specialist. (Citizens sent a representative from a company called Enservio). They spend a couple of days making note of all the items in your home. You need to make sure this list is accurate; but that isn't easy when it is difficult to be in the home; either because of heat, soot, smell, cold, mold etc. (I didn't have an itemized list of things in my home, but I wish I had because its hard to remember all items, dates of purchase, price paid etc ).
In some cases, you may have to do this inventory list yourself. Either way, I highly recommend you keep a list of all the items in your home, the year purchased and the value, as well as photos. Keep these in a fire and flood proof home safe (or bank deposit box ), because you'll need to know these fact if your home is devastated.
Take photographs of your things left over after the fire, (before they are moved into storage by your contractor ), especially salvageable items which you won't be compensated for by the insurance.
Next step, your insurance adjuster will advise you to call in a company who are experienced in Dry Cleaning smoke damaged clothes,shoes and fabric items. In some cases, the adjuster will organize this for you. These companies use a special ozone room to detoxify clothing and textiles from soot damage, then they dry clean for you. My adjuster called in a company called CRDN.
This cleaning process can take up to 3 weeks, however they will rush certain items to you. NB: wish I'd been less in a fog when they came around because they took items I'd rather have thrown out and they are VERY expensive. The cost comes out of your Contents check, so don't let them take items you are not bothered about having cleaned .
So, this is my story .. for the first 3 days we stayed in a Hotel, and then lived in a friends island rental for almost two weeks..now we have a furnished rental on a month by month basis. My "Loss of Use" is $20,300. I will keep updating this hub as the story unfolds.
NB: Your contractor will suggest all kinds of upgrades..You pay "out-of-pocket" for all upgrades...(including granite, lighting, tile, sinks and more ). Make sure you have all upgrades priced and in writing (or that can quickly get outside of your control ).
UPDATE! Its now Christmas Eve (same year ) and I'm due to get back in my home at the end of this month or early January. Its been a fraught and frustrating time...the house is looking good; but not finished. I just hope the contractor completes the job so I can finally "go home."
Good luck to you all...and I hope you NEVER have to go through this.