Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yo, Noah!

We returned home from vacation last week to discover that our part of the city had suffered a flash flood of Biblical proportions while we were away, so sudden and overwhelming that it flooded and closed the expressway a few blocks from our house. It’s shocking to come home to a house that smells like a mouldy beets in a large cat box, but what can you do? So, we got out the camera and began snapping pictures of our wet basement and sodden belongings, and called the insurance company. Why, I don’t know, other than that’s what you’re supposed to do when you own a home and it gets damaged.

If you’ve ever wondered why our insurance premiums are so high and we get so little for it, I’ll tell you why. It’s because insurance companies waste a lot of money and time and extend those costs to you, the consumer. Listen to this:

I called our insurance and explained the situation but since I was calling after hours, I wasn’t speaking with an insurance agent of any sort, merely a very pleasant operator who couldn’t do anything more than take down my information and tell me not to touch anything and that an adjuster would call the next day and that they’d be sending out a damage restoration contractor soon after. Okay, fine.

Over 2,000 homes in the area were affected, many severely (houses condemned as floodwaters wash out foundation walls, etc), so I was trying to be patient while also creeped out by the amount of wet crap just sitting there, rotting, while I was at work the next day. When I really hadn’t heard anything, I called them. Again, I didn’t talk to an actual insurance adjuster, just a very nice operator who sympathized and told me to just follow the process through and wait for the adjuster to call and the restoration guy to come over. Okay, fine. At this point, I was hoping to find a copy of our policy so that I could read it for myself but that was proving impossible in the oversized hamster nest we call a home office.

However, other than giving me a craving for crawfish etouffe and blackened catfish, I figured living over a swamp was less than optimal for us and decided to begin the clean up a.s.a.p. Fans and dehumidifiers were set up and several loads of laundry were done to save the clothing that had gotten soaked in the flood, and a box of TSP was purchased to help sanitize hard surfaces that had gotten soaked by stormwater (and possibly sewage) that came up the floor drain.

By the time the insurance-company-hired- damage-restoration guy was able to come over on Friday (four days after the first call to the insurance company), the basement was actually looking pretty good. Yes, we’d lost boxes of personal, sentimental papers. Yes, we’d lost about 4 cases of wine. Yes, there were books and cds and dvds and our huge magazine collection (we’re hopeless packrats and great lovers of all things magazine) that were irreparably sodden and destined for the recycle bin and/or landfill (boo!), and yes ,the subfloor was going to have to come out. But, all things considered, it wasn’t bad. The fans and dehumidifiers were doing a great job and the house didn’t smell like beets/cat box any more. I was feeling pretty upbeat and lucky about the whole thing.

So you can imagine my surprise when restoration dude (who, I cannot stress enough, was sent to us by our insurance company) told me that anything that had been touched by stormwater (which likely was about 10 inches in depth during the flooding) would have to be destroyed and that he’d have two guys in to start the job within 30 minutes.


In seconds, I went from feeling like a survivor to feeling like a victim. Was the flooding really that serious? Was my home in danger? Was water, at that very moment, threatening the very underpinnings of our home? Were they really going to start demolition that fast? And, more importantly, was this all going to be covered by insurance???

I was assured it was. All of it.

And then I snapped back to my senses and began to question the whole thing. So, restoration dude was going to demolish my entire basement and throw everything out? Oh, hell no. There was something wrong with this picture. Yes, I agreed the subfloors would need to go, absolutely, because they’d probably trapped water beneath them. But what little drywall there is in the basement wasn’t displaying a whole hell of a lot of capillary action water damage and might need, at best, a few inches removed, not a whole two feet or more. And what about the few precious (to me) pieces of furniture that were being temporarily stored down there? I’m not throwing out a Danish modern loveseat from the 60s when all it needs is a little refinishing on the feet. It seemed like a whole hell of a lot of overkill to me.

And, more importantly, I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be covered by insurance. Although no adjuster had actually called to discuss our policy with us during the week, a cursory look at their website indicated that unless you had specifically purchased a special policy to cover water coming up your sewer drain, you weren’t covered. And no one had ever tried to sell me a specific policy to cover water coming up my sewer drain. In fact, I hadn’t known such a thing existed.

So, in the time it took for restoration dude to leave and his crew to arrive, I called the insurance company again. When I finally got through to an actual person, I was told that no, we don’t have sewer back up insurance so none of this demolition would be covered.

Are you $#%@ kidding me?

What makes me crazy about this story is not that we don’t have coverage because chances are we’d never have been able to get it in the first place, as this sort of flooding has been known to happen in our area before. What makes me crazy is this:

  1. That the insurance company could have saved itself and me AND THE OVERWORKED RESTORATION CREWS a lot of time if they’d just had an adjuster call us and say No, You Don’t Have Coverage For This Type Of Damage, Sorry. Then we would have really gotten into the clean up immediately, instead of only doing the minimum in order to keep things in place for the adjuster to see.

  2. That the insurance company sent the restoration guy over without checking to see if we were covered by this also means that, had I not been outraged by the waste (see point #3, below) and questioned the process, his crew would have gone ahead and demolished everything and we would have been on the hook for the bill. Without knowing ahead of time how much this kind of work would cost us! Who buys any service without knowing how much it will cost ahead of time?

  3. That the restoration company was ready to just destroy everything in our basement (I’m presuming this would have included our fully functioning washer, dryer and furnace as they were also touched by storm water) and toss it all, and then invoice their total cost to the insurance company. This makes no sense, given the limited damage we (luckily) suffered. What a waste of money to destroy salvageable items! Yes, there were many basements that were completely decimated by water that rose up to 5 feet in depth, and then stood there a long time before draining – BUT OURS WASN’T ONE OF THEM!

All of this is a huge waste of time and money that eventually trickles down to us, the consumers. We bear the brunt by having to pay increasing premiums for insurance, because the insurers are incurring larger costs by not paying attention to the details. And it’s bred a weird attitude in people, a weird “What does it matter, let insurance pay for it” culture that denies the very fact that in the end we all still pay for it through increased premiums and decreased coverage.

So, take this tale as a warning, gentle reader, or just a reminder to take care of yourself and your belongings by:
a) Finding and reading your home insurance policy, and purchasing extra insurance while you still can
b) Keep valuables of any sort in waterproof containers (or, profit from our loss by purchasing Rubbermaid stock)
c) Never trusting a story that seems too good to be true (What? You’re going to rip out this subfloor that I’ve been planning to remove myself and rebuild it all for me, and insurance will cover it? Hot dog!)

Now, where did I put that crowbar? I’ve got some anger issues to deal with and luckily, there’s some subfloor that needs some attention.


PS For those who were wondering, the archive of homemade naughty snaps (http://kate-and-kara.blogspot.com/2009/03/treasures-of-home-renovation.html) found during renovations did, in fact, survive the flood. Of course. THOSE were above high water, while my husband's early columns and various other bits were not. Sigh.

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