Early in my insurance career, I received a phone call about 4:00 a.m. from a very distraught client.
“My house just burned down. We are at the fire station but don’t know what I should do.”
I told him to wait right where they were and I would be right there. After I arrived, he related the following:
“I woke up to the smell of smoke in my house and the crackling sound of wood on fire. I woke up my wife who ran down the hallway to the bedroom of our two children. She opened the window and had the children jump out of the house with the instruction to meet her at the front gate of our property.
She then got to the room where she had all of our private papers which she grabbed up and headed back down the hallway because the flames blocked her from exiting our home through the front door. Throwing them out the children’s bedroom window she had just enough time to put on her night robe before jumping out the window herself.
I quickly threw on my shoes and night robe grabbed my rifle and headed down the hallway after my wife. I got out the front door just as the flames erupted behind me and I could only see a wall of flames in our living room.
Grabbing the garden hose, I tried to spray water onto the fire hoping I might be able to control its spread when all of a sudden all the power to our home went out as the electric wires burned through from the intensity of the flames which had broken through the roof. I lost all the water pressure and realized I could do nothing more.
I went to our gathering place by the front gate and was so relieved and thankful my wife and two children were there safe from any harm.
This all happened so rapidly there was nothing the fire department could do when they arrived but spray water on our garage and trees in an attempt to preserve them from damage.
The fire department let us stay here but they are not equipped to let us stay for long.
I assured him his insurance could assist him and we could get through this traumatic experience.
A quick call to a local motel had the family a place to go to immediately with the insurance company picking up the motel charges. I told him to come to the office as soon as we opened and the adjuster after verifying coverage would give him a draft that would give him cash to buy clothing and food sufficient while the rest of the claim was being processed.
“Just be sure to keep all receipts for expenditures so we can be certain you are being reimbursed properly”, the adjuster advised.
“The next step is to fill out a loss notice describing what happened and what was lost. This will require an itemized listing of all personal belongings lost in the fire with their purchase dates and value where possible. The sooner you can get to this list the sooner we can get you up and running again.”
“Are you serious”, my client asked?
“Yes, it is necessary so we can justify the claim is being processed fairly and you are getting reimbursed for what you paid for.”
“That will take me forever. How can I possibly remember everything I lost? Why just trying to list all our videos and books will take hours,” my client lamented.
My thought as the agent was this scenario is comparable to ordering up a parachute while the plane is already coming down. It is almost impossible to list everything you rightfully should be compensated for at this time of loss but it has to be done in fairness to the insurance company and yourself. If the project I am proposing could have been completed all this consternation could be avoided. In fact, it could be a fun experience as opposed to a dreadful task.
I can assure you if you have an inventory of your personal belongings before a loss the happier you are going to be and you will not have to get a high blood pressure medicine to calm you down.
In this high tech environment the inventory process can begin with just taking your cell phone camera and while slowly rotating yourself in the center of a room pan 360 degrees you can get everything that is exposed then all you have to do is open drawers and closets to get most of the rest of your personal belongings. Something as simple as a yellow pad can be used to itemize items documented on the pictures. Don’t forget outdoor appliances like garden tools, hoses, fertilizers, firewood, sporting equipment, etc. while completing your list.
Point of interest- make sure you have a policy which covers your personal belongings for replacement cost because you will not have to identify when purchased or get depreciation taken at time of loss.
Don’t think you need to do this before loss? Try a little experiment right now by closing your eyes and itemizing all the personal belongings in just the room you are sitting in. Bet you five bucks you left out a lot of items!!!
Be assured, the insurance company does not want to underpay you nor do they want to overpay you so this list will go a long way in meeting your ability to replace in some cases a lifelong accumulation of personal items. You will be glad you did. Oh, by the way, put your list and pictures in some fireproof appliance so it will endure a fire. Some have done their list and pictures, wrapped them in plastic and put them in the bottom of your freezer. Kind of a nifty secure place! A safety deposit box is another good place to store them.
Well, still some time on your hands? Maybe it’s time to start on your own personal journal.