By Donna Abemayor
It was late in the afternoon in May 2008, the temperature was seasonably warm, and the sun was shining. As James Bentor* approached his house, he noticed smoke from the roof. Inside the house, his son was doing homework, his daughter was playing, and his wife was reading the newspaper; no one knew that a fire had started in their home. Upon seeing the smoke, the Bentors evacuated their house and called 911. By the time that call was placed, a neighbor had already noticed the fire and the Chappaqua Fire Company was on its way…
What happened in this home could seemingly happen to any of us. A company was hired to paint and repair gutters. In an effort to solder the gutters, the workers set an open flame. Bentor urges fellow homeowners to ask questions when companies perform work at your home. “Many companies sub-contract their work and you may get workers that are not qualified.”
This open flame became a blazing fire that went from the roof, to the attic, and then to the second floor of the house. The Bentors lost their home and many possessions. All that remained was a couple of paintings and their cars. The community quickly rallied and offered “whatever (support) was needed,” food and clothing (including sports uniforms and equipment!) and shelter for a month with one generous neighbor. After spending two years in temporary housing, the Bentors returned to their home that was re-built in August, 2010.
The Bentors learned a lot through this experience. The children came to understand that although material possessions were lost, what was most important is that they were all unharmed by the fire.
Sound Insurance Made a World of Difference
Fortunately enough, the Bentors did possess proper homeowners’ insurance. The coverage provided funds for temporary housing, furniture rentals, and the costs to rebuild his home. Mr. Bentor reports that having a local insurance professional in the Chappaqua community made a tremendous difference. Ken Fuirst, a Chappaqua resident for 17 years and President of Levitt-Fuirst Associates, LTD, arrived on the scene within ten minutes of the fire starting.
Fuirst contends that the better insurance companies have no cap and will pay whatever it takes to rebuild your home to replace what you had. “No cap” means polices that allow you to replace your possessions and re-build even if the costs significantly exceed the limit listed on your policy.
“For example, if a major storm destroys homes in Chappaqua, and construction costs escalate to get the right contractor to quickly rebuild your home, and if the town has new building code, new fire sprinkler system requirements, and new septic codes, there should be no issue covering these costs.”
Also, be sure your home is insured to the proper amount. “The average rebuilding cost for a Chappaqua home is $350 a square foot!,” says Fuirst. “Better insurance companies inspect their homes and know what it really costs to rebuild. Other companies just use national construction cost averages to estimate, which are not realistic here.
Fuirst reports that often consumers view insurance as a “commodity, rather than a product that can be tailored to the consumer’s individual needs.” Levitt- Fuirst often videotapes a consumer’s home including contents to insure a permanent record. This helps consumers alot in case they need to rebuild their lives after a disaster.
Better insurance companies will waive the deductible on claims over $50,000and do not require you to rebuild–and will let you take the settlement in cash. This works in case you do not want to rebuild at the same location, or do not even want to rebuild at all, points out Fuirst. He also advises that homeowners be wary of any cap on how much it costs to rent a temporary house while your house gets rebuilt. It is usually a two to three year process by the time you redesign, get approvals, bid out, and then build a new home. Finally, it’s critical that you read your policies to understand the exclusions and limitations of any coverage.
Levitt-Fuirst, whose offices are based in Yonkers, can be reached at 914 457-4200. After hours, the 24/7 emergency number is 1-866-504-8269. For more info, visit www.Levitt-Fuirst.com.
Donna Abemayor is a frequent contributor to Inside Chappaqua.