From Echo Summit Security:
Aside from condolences, we have only advice to offer those who have lost their homes during this horrific tragedy. As we finish dealing with the rebuilding of our own home, here are a few of the things we have learned:
1. Buy or borrow a digital audio recorder. You need this for two reasons...you need to record what insurance agents and adjusters say to you because you are probably in shock, and they'll be using terminology you aren't used to hearing anyway. There is so much going on, so much to pay attention to, you'll hear only half of what they tell you. Somehow we missed the fact that our "code upgrades" were not covered in our policy, and we ended up with an unexpected $5,000 expense at the end of our settlement.
2. Get a small office area organized as quickly as possible, and have a small portable file organizer with sections labeled for insurance information, contractor information, a calendar, receipts, cards and gifts from well-wishers, etc. You'll have lots of pieces of paper coming at you, and there is no place to put them. On the calendar, jot down any phone calls or appointments with insurance adjusters, including whom you spoke with and what the conversation was about. Your memory will be a complete fog, but the calendar can help bring conversations back.
3. There is no rush to make decisions about how a home needs to be rebuilt, which contractor to use for the rebuild, whether or not to rebuild at all, or how quickly a claim needs to be settled. For instance, our insurance company kept telling us we had six months to re-buy all our belongings. If you can imagine trying to buy over $200,000 worth of property in just a few months, we were completely panicked. Fortunately, somebody took the time to do a little research, and it turns out the actual requirement was that we begin buying back items within six months. There was no actual time limit for when we finish. Every insurance policy different, and each person needs to verify what adjusters tell them, especially if it sounds a little unreasonable.
4. As painful as it is, start making lists of possessions that have been lost. As time goes by, it becomes more difficult to remember things we own. We had to imagine standing in each room, looking carefully around the room in a clockwise direction, and writing down each thing we can see.
5. One of the most difficult lessons we learned was that we had to accept help in order to get this done. We are a pretty independent couple, and I would suspect that folks who live in the Sierras are quite self-sufficient, as well. This was a growing experience for us, and we really learned who our friends are.
6. As a side note, there were some components of modern technology that became critical for us during the first few weeks: cell phones and on-line banking, including automatic bill-paying. Thank goodness we each had a cell phone, paychecks were deposited automatically, and the bills paid themselves. This let us focus on more pressing issues. Our bookmarks were still there, and our e-mail accounts were web-based, so we could use computers at work or at a friend's home to get to our information. Also, when we called our phone company, we learned that they can forward our home phone calls to our cell phones. This was an amazing convenience as we worked on getting into a rental, and it helped to avoid missing some important calls. While our phones and answering machine were melted, our number still existed, so folks still expected us to answer.
7. A couple of questions came up regarding the fact that we couldn't use our home at all. First, did we have to continue paying our mortgage? Yes, of course. The bank still wants its money. Second, and perhaps a lesser known detail, is the matter of property tax. Our county was kind enough to contact us and let us know that while our home was not inhabitable, it was not subject to property tax. We still pay the property taxes as normal, but once we claim a specific amount of time when we could not live in the house, the county will send us a reimbursement check. This could be different from county to county, so you'll have to check on the laws for your area.
8. One of the most frequent heartaches we had to face was when someone asked us for our home address. Months down the road, after we had moved into a rental, we would have to fill out a form or some kind of contract, and there was a sting when we had to write down an address that wasn't really ours. It does get better with time, and we did finally get to come back home, but it's something to be prepared for.
Once again, our hearts go out to those who are dealing with this tragedy. We hope this information makes a little difference.
Jay and Gina Welden
ECHO SUMMIT SECURITY