What I’m about to share with you could change your life, and hopefully will save you from some of the terrible experiences that I had to go through. On June 20, 2011, my life took a direction that I did not expect. At 8am that morning, my dream home was struck by lightening. I heard a boom, and a shake, and my daughter’s toys turned on by themselves and started making noises from all the energy passing through the room. To say it was freaky was an understatement.
Then, the house caught fire right above my 5 year old daughter’s bedroom. Thank goodness it was morning and we were all awake. It scares me every time I think about what would have been different if we were all asleep. Thankfully, we all got out alive.
The fire department had 3 trucks and about 10 men there for 8 hours trying to put out the fire. And it was raining that day too. So the fire was quite strong. Once the fire was out, the house was still standing, and most of the belongings were still inside. It was dangerous to go in there, but everything was still there. All of our furniture and belongings were ruined by water or fire damage.
So even though the house was still standing, everything inside that my husband and I had worked for decades to buy were just gone in less than 8 hours. The good news is that it’s just stuff, and you can always buy more stuff. But you can’t replace a loved one.
Then The Insurance Battle And My Nightmares Began
After the fire, we notified our insurance company and started the process of settling our claim. I learned that when you have a disaster, the insurance company doesn’t just write you a check for your policy amount. You have to actually provide reasonable evidence – item by item – to show what you owned that was damaged.
Sure, the insurance company sent out their own people to go through the rubble of my belongings and document what was in the home. But here was the problem. Like many successful business owners, I had a lot of specialty items collected from my years in software, publishing, and from traveling to over 26 countries with my husband. So I knew that their inventory contractors would have no idea what most of the items in my house really were, or what they were really worth.
So I did the unthinkable. I spent weeks wearing a hard hat, boots, and gloves and digging through the rubble myself photographing and video taping all of my destroyed belongings. I then received the list from the inventory contractors and added over 200 items that they had missed in my house. I also hired a public adjuster to help me understand how the insurance settlement process works. The public adjuster helped me research and rebut the pricing for nearly 15,000 items in my home so I could be fairly paid for what I lost. I learned some extremely valuable lessons that I now share with anyone who will listen, so I can help others avoid what I went through. I’ve broken down my lessons learned into steps you can take immediate action on.
3 Key Action Steps
1. Check Your Coverage Annually
Each year, it is critical that you review your insurance policy for the following things:
• Is the coverage amount adequate to restore and rebuild the house from a disaster? It often costs more to restore than just building it new because of the cleanup required first. • Do you have a “loss of use rider” that would be adequate to pay for similar housing elsewhere while your home is being restored?
2. Document Your Belongings
Have someone go through your current home and office and take photographs and videos of your belongings in every single room, drawer, and closet. This will give you evidence to show what you owned, plus something to jog your memory on what exactly you have if you ever have to submit an insurance claim. Then, upload copies of your photos and/or videos to a secure online storage site as a backup.
3. Backup Your Data Files
Make sure you create periodic backups of your important papers and electronic files and then store those backups separately from your home or office. You should update your offsite backups at least twice per year. If your home is ever destroyed or damaged, the documents and data files can be ruined in just a few hours by water or fire, like happened in my house fire. I’m so lucky that I had backups of my data.
TIP: If you ever have a house fire or similar disaster, I strongly recommend that you hire a public adjuster like I did to help you resolve your claim.
And, most importantly, please follow my advice so YOU don’t have to dig through the rubble like I did!
After the fire, when I got moved into my new house, the first thing I did was go through the entire house and take pictures of all the new furniture and household goods that we just purchased.
I now go through the home every 3-4 months and take new pictures of anything that has changed, such as if we bought more furniture or several more items that were not documented before. I recommend that you follow a similar process of maintaining photos and/or videos.
In addition to taking photos and/or videos of your belongings, you should also keep receipts of anything that is highly expensive or unusual. Common items are easy to find pricing for if it is ever damaged, but specialty items that are rare or expensive may be harder to track down later. So just keep a file that you have someone scan a few times per year to keep your online storage vault updated consistently.
It only takes a few hours the first time to photograph and/or video everything, and then updates are super-easy!