My Parents’ House Was Struck By Lightning And Burned Down. What’s Next?

When you’ve escaped from a late-night fire and lost your home and all of your belongings with it, what do you do next? That’s what Rudy wants to know, on behalf of his parents. Last week, their house caught fire hours after being hit by lightning. They got out alive, and are about to begin rebuilding their lives. But first: the insurance claim. An adjuster from Allstate is coming today. Rudy wonders whether the Consumerist Hive Mind have experienced this kind of catastrophic loss and massive insurance claim, and have any advice for his family.

Rudy writes:

My parents’ house was stuck by lightning at 6-7 PM last night. Around 11:30 PM, my Dad woke up due to the hot water tank falling through the attic to find the whole house on fire. My mom got dressed, then went into the kitchen and fire was crawling down the stairs. My parents quickly made it out alive with only the clothes on their back. Attached is what is left of the house.

My parents have a home insurance policy with Allstate which covers lightning, explosions, and fire. It also covers an amount of things inside the home that are destroyed. They filed a claim today and the adjuster is coming on Monday. Do you or any other Consumerist readers have any advice for my parents in terms of dealing with Allstate (or similar insurance company) in terms of the loss of a home due to fire?

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  1. Opdelt says:

    Gee, you can’t wait to see how Allstate handles this first? My advice: Stop asking for advice from Consumerist readers unless you actually have a real problem. Allstate has defined processes for handling these matters. If they screw up somewhere, then that would be an appropriate time to ask for advice. Otherwise, continue working with Allstate. On another note, take care of your parents and get off the damn internet!

    • godaiyuhsaku says:

      If he/she/they have never dealt with a claim of this support, then how are they supposed to know when Allstate screws up?

      They are simply asking advice from a theoretically neutral party on things to be on the watch for.

    • Murph1908 says:

      This is a pretty big issue for the OP.

      Consumerist posters often warn people to be very careful when dealing with insurance companies. They are outright distrusted in many cases.

      Sure, Allstate has defined processes. That doesn’t mean these processes are in the best interest of the OP. Maybe their process is to try to underpay based on what can be proven to be in the house, so someone can give some advice on how to be prepared to address this situation.

      He IS trying to take care of his parents, by going into the claim meeting as informed as possible. You are on the internet trolling.

    • mergatroy6 says:

      Blindly following the lead of Allstate is probably not a good idea. They have a vested interest in giving you the smallest payout possible.

      My advice, start making a list of all the belongings that were destroyed in the fire. If you can, research the replacement value of each item. This way you have a baseline to judge Allstate’s settlement against. You should also try to obtain a copy of the insurance policy from their website or local office since I am assuming that the original was destroyed.

      • MrEvil says:

        I think your statement needs a bit of clarification. No insurance company is going to pay you “Replacement cost” for an item. They’re going to pay you based on the item’s depreciated value.

        • Kestris says:

          Exactly. THey take into account the cost of the item when bought new, how long you’ve owned said item/how old it is, and depreciate it from there.

          Which can be devestating in the event of things such as antiques. You’ll never get to true value of those from the insurance company.

        • mobiuschic42 says:

          That is actually not true. My renter’s insurance policy (from USAA!) actually has a provision that they’ll pay replacement cost for certain items.

          • jumbojeepman says:

            Really, only cheapskates don’t pay for replacement value policies. My renters insurance (State Farm) definitely pays replacement value for everything, not current value.

          • Kestris says:

            It depends on the insurance company. Ours, like I said elsewhere, we ended up having to get a lawyer after because they kept saying we didn’t have the collection of vhs tapes, comics and books, among other things, we said we did, despite photos. Our insurance company DID NOT give us the option to have replacement value added to our policy.

            Of course, being first time home owners, the house being brand new- it was 11 months old when it burn due to faulty electrical work- the policy was already written into the mortgage and we weren’t given the option to get different insurance. (This was also 18 years ago)

        • Opdelt says:

          Some policies do in fact cover the cost to replace.

        • sadie kate says:

          Not true. When my house caught fire, we were compensated replacement value for many items, including all of our kitchen appliances.

        • tbax929 says:

          You just proved that you have no clue what you’re talking about. If your policy doesn’t pay replacement cost, you need a new agent or carrrier. Most peoples’ policies do.

        • icerabbit says:

          Incorrect. The agent/broker should point out the availability of new replacement options. One broker I’m familiar with only underwrites new replacement policies with smaller insurers … unlike some of the big nationwide companies that default to fair market value.

          After being hit by a hurricane we made one claim and I learned a LOT about one of the biggest insurers in the USA. “Like a good neighbor” treated me like a criminal and low balled around every corner / denied many legitimate replacements and repairs. With photographic and written proof (home inspection, personal photos, receipts) of condition before and after the hurricane, mind you, and us having prevented additional damage with emergency repairs and remediation.

          Fast forward a few years. One of my neighbor’s unfortunately had an accidental / unknown cause house fire. Pretty major damage, though not catastrophic. The adjuster came out and was very compassionate. They were relocated for a few weeks, their house was repaired in short order and fully fitted with new furnishings, appliances, electronics, clothing, etc. Not one issue with used this, age that, …

          When it came time for policy renewal I switched to their broker and insurer; paying less for more coverage and it includes “new replacement”. From the bottom of my heart I hope we never ever ever need to depend on it, but I sleep better so to speak.

        • jasonq says:

          This is not completely correct – some insurance policies pay the so-called “actual cash value” (i.e. depreciated value), while others (I gather most others in fact) pay replacement cost.

      • Kestris says:

        The insurance company will/should provide them with forms for listing the contents of the home including the year item was purchased and at what cost when it was new.

    • 12-inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

      I don’t really see the problem with asking for advice from others for how the process works/dealing with the insurance company. Sure, Allstate has a process for handling these situations, but maybe there are some things others have seen in this situation that would be good to know ahead of time? Why wait until you are already neck deep in the process to ask for help if you could avoid issues by knowing what to expect?

    • Anathema777 says:

      Judgmental much? Asking advice for best practices on filing claims to find out the smoothest way to do so is a smart thing to do. And the OP is trying to take care of his parents by proactively finding out how best to approach the claims process.

    • Kaleey says:

      Hold on, he’s trying to be proactive here. He wants to learn from our mistakes.

      My advice would be to get the name of any adjusters you see, record the time and date of any meetings, etc, so that you have a record, especially if you have a question. If you have any records of property in the house that was lost, you might want to start assembling those if possible, since it will probably help in the claims process.

      Generally these things go smoothly, but every now and again, something goes wrong. Hopefully your family will be in the majority, and they will be back on their feet in no time. In the meantime, be a strong family member and help out where you can – the people in our lives are far more important than the things.

    • Quirk Sugarplum says:

      It’s prefectly understandable for someone who has never gone through this traumatic process to ask about what to expect from Allstate’s “defined processes”. I’m sure the OP would like to know what those are, how long they might take, what pitfalls to watch out for, etc.

      What isn’t quite understandable however is how your own parents raised such an inconsiderate offspring. It would seem they’re not finished childrearing yet.

    • George4478 says:

      Your big idea is ‘Wait until Allstate screws up. Then I’ll tell you what you should have done differently’?

      Almost all the articles here have “if only you had done X before Y happened” comments. Nothing wrong with an OP trying to get ahead of the OP-blame.

    • cactus jack says:

      You’ve never asked for anyone’s experiences when dealing with something new? Give the guy a break, he’s got a lot to deal with and is just looking for some answers.

    • quail20 says:

      I don’t think he’s worried about Allstate. He wants to know what other things his parents can do to help get their life back on track sooner rather than later.

    • 180CS says:

      Successful troll is successful.

    • Kestris says:

      Some homeowner insurance companies will attempt to screw the consumer from the get go.

      We had to retain a lawyer after our housefire, because our insurance company was refusing to pay.

    • Gotcha says:

      Maybe you like watching as others squirm and fight for the meager leavings that the insurance companies are willing to offer as people are devastated and bewildered when their home and possessions are destroyed. You have no human spirit nor do you have compassion for others misfortune. Maybe that is why you work for the insurance industry. You do not care about people. When you are unsure about how to proceed then you have a problem you moron. When there are people like you that have no human feelings that is a problem. If I could sit with you face to face,you gutless coward, then you would have a problem. Just go back to your cave and try and evolve or at least leave me your address and we can have an in depth discussion on what is considered a problem. I will guarantee that you have no conception of what a real problem can be when you spew your vile and ignorant opinion.

  2. SkokieGuy says:

    You may want to start asking other family members to look through photo albums and such. There me holiday photos on the home that will show some of the contents to help document.

    Keep very careful track of current expenses. Are you folks staying in a hotel? Buying replacement clothes, toiletries, etc?

    Don’t take the first offer presented to you. It believe it would be worth the cost of having an attorney review their settlement offer

    • Bsamm09 says:

      Good advice. I’d add don’t claim any cats that you didn’t actually have.

    • StatusfriedCrustomer says:

      I like the contraction “me” for “may be”. I might start using that. Good idea to document/keep receipts, etc. for everything. I also wonder if the claim cost is affected by recent facility replacements (gas heaters, roof, etc.) and maybe the owners should start getting documents of those costs, as they affect the home’s value.

  3. Tim says:

    The insurance policy covers lightning? Should be fine, then.

    But keep in mind general insurance protocol: Don’t say too much, lest you seem somehow at fault (e.g., I should have replaced that electrical box that kept sparking; why didn’t you turn off the stove before we went to bed?). If your parents (or you, your siblings, their friends, etc.) have any photos of the house and its contents before the fire, gather those up as evidence of what they had.

    • I look at both sides of the story says:

      “But keep in mind general insurance protocol: Don’t say too much, lest you seem somehow at fault (e.g., I should have replaced that electrical box that kept sparking; why didn’t you turn off the stove before we went to bed?).”

      EXCELLENT ADVICE. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.

      It’s amazing the stupid self-sabotaging things we say when we’re nervous. Be it when applying for a mortgage, talking to the police, your boss/client. Think twice before saying anything and reveal information that is only 100% relevant.

      That’s easy advice to give when one isn’t under great stress.

      • augiet65 says:

        I was going to say this as well. Anything you say to your can the need to report to the claims area. Remember you might think they are working for you, but they get their paycheck from Allstate not you. One line from my securities training is “Knowledge of the agent is knowledge of the company” The agent works for Allstate, not for you.

        • travel_nut says:

          “Anything you say to your can the need to report to the claims area.”

          I don’t even what know say you trying to here.

      • Kestris says:

        I was burying my pets after my housefire, talking to my neighbor and trying to keep from completely breaking down. The fire marshall was helping to dig the hole, when my neighbor said, look at the bright side, you get all new furniture!

        I said something along the lines of, yeah, all I had to do was burn my house down.

        To which the fire marshall said, you really shouldn’t say things like that around me.

        Fortunately, he understood the circumstances and we were able to laugh it off. Of course, him being a retired Marine and me still in my uniform(the only clothes I had left) while trying to dig a deep hole might have helped a bit too.

    • Parnassus says:

      I’ve heard that it’s best to be careful when talking about water damage (such as caused by Fire Services or broken pipes) because some insurance companies will automatically push this damage into flood damages. It seems obvious that the water damage is because of the fire but insurance companies don’t always agree with “obvious”. If the policy covers “lightning, explosions, fire and flood”, that’s one less thing to worry about.

  4. KathyD says:

    While not all of this is about insurance, having also suffered the lost of my home to fire here is my advice.
    1) Document the site in as much detail as possible, photos and video, so you can refresh your memory on contents that were lost.
    2) Make a list (a spreadsheet if possible) of all the lost items and their value – some losses in excess of insurance coverage may be tax deductible. (And get a copy of the fire marshal’s report when available.)
    3) Remember the the only items you can’t replace are artworks, items of sentimental value and lives. You will miss all your stuff, but you are safe and that is the most important thing.
    4) When meeting with the insurance people, take notes, don’t just rely on your memory since this is an emotionally challenging situation.
    5) Don’t make any decisions in a big hurry, a certain amount of shock is to be expected.

  5. crashfrog says:

    I had something like this happen. There was an apartment fire in my building, and it spread up through the pipe chase. As a result, the firefighters had to come into my unit and tear most of the ceiling down. It was pretty rough to stand out there on the lawn and see smoke pouring out my front door, but it actually wasn’t that bad – I only lost about half my stuff, the other half was able to be recovered and cleaned.

    We had Allstate insurance, too, and the process was fairly painless. The claims adjuster will talk you through it, and he or she should, for the most part, be able to suggest values for the things you might not think to value – how much is all the food in your fridge worth? What was the value in your medicine cabinet? That sort of thing. Our coverage included accommodation and meals for quite a while. Of course, it’s a reimbursement process so you’re out of pocket for the time being. But we were well taken care of, I would say. The claims adjuster made the arrangements with the recovery company and we had our stuff ozoned and delivered to our new place. We were only in the hotel for 3 weeks.

    You’ve suffered a total loss, looks like. My sympathies to your parents, I’m glad everyone is OK. If it’s literally the clothes on their back, then step one is to get some new clothes! Remember, these replacement costs will probably be covered, so start keeping organized receipts for everything you buy. Get an accordion folder or a receipts book or something. Hopefully they have a place to stay lined up. Get a burner phone; they’ll need a way to keep in touch with their claims representative. I assume that their phones were lost in the fire.

    At this stage in the game, it’s about dealing with the worry and the stress. What they’ve lost will hit them later. Oh, and start canceling services now. We kept putting it off and my experience was that the phone and cable companies were reticent to give us any credit for the time after our apartment burned down.

    The best thing they can do is take care of themselves. The claims adjuster will talk them through their losses when the time comes; one’s first instinct is to consider only the big-ticket items, but the bulk of their losses are actually all the little things that add up – replacing all your clothes, filling a new fridge, reissuing all those prescriptions, and so on.

    The “rookie mistake”, I guess, is assuming that because one’s wedding photos, baby books, etc. are “priceless”, that the insurance company is supposed to pay a lot to replace those. The thing is – if it can’t be replaced, the insurance company won’t pay you anything for it.

  6. keith4298 says:

    If everything goes according to plan, you have nothing to worry about. So, clearly the only thing to focus on is everything that can get screwed up. As others have mentioned, record everything (and let the adjustor know that you are doing it).

    When you first meet the adjuster, ask him to spell his name, so you can jot it down in case you remember anything later. Don’t make him think it’s confrontational – just that you are very diligent.

    Review all the policy docs ahead of time so you aren’t just taking their word for whether something is covered or not.

    If they say something that doesn’t seem right, ask them to a) explain it and b) point out where it says that in the policy because you didn’t think that was the case. There’s nothing wrong with being inquisitive. If they get annoyed, just explain that you are feeling very overwhelmed and appreciate them explaining things.

    Take photos of EVERYTHING – more documentation can only help. And remember, your goal is to hope for the best and expect the worst. Be polite, yet firm – best advice I could give.

    • Kestris says:

      I still have he photo album we put together of the contents of my house before our housefire and the aftermath of said housefire.

      Its a poignant reminder of how diligent we need to be in keeping records of what we own now.

  7. TheWacoKid says:

    Man oh man, I cannot emphasize this enough: hire a PUBLIC ADJUSTER to represent your interests when determining the value of the claim. The adjuster sent out by Allstate is an employee of Allstate and represents their best interests – that is, in getting you to accept the least amount of money possible to settle the claim

    DO NOT let them tell you that they are sending an “independent adjuster” – that just means that the person is an independent contractor, not a full-time employee of Allstate; but they are still being paid by Allstate and will represent the interests of the insurance company. Do you think Allstate will keep using that adjuster if all the claims he/she handles come back at the high end? No, they will use the ones who can get claims settled for the least amount of $ possible.

    Note that this is perfectly rational behavior by the company; they are in business to make money, so they want to close your claim as cheaply as possible. So you need to have an experienced person on your side. Do you really know how to determine the value (either replacement or depreciated) of everything in an entire house? If the insurance company said it was $100k, how does that sound? Or $200k? Maybe $450k? This is an area where most people have no idea what they are doing (naturally, since generally speaking people’s houses do not burn down multiple times in a lifetime) and the insurance company is very, very experienced. Which side of the table has the advantage there?

    Note that I am not a public adjuster and have no interests in that industry, but I do have EXTENSIVE experience with insurance claims and companies and REALLY, REALLY encourage you to hire one. Simply doing so, and telling your insurance agent that you are, will signal to them that they need to take you seriously and you are not going to just take whatever they offer.

    • TheWacoKid says:

      I do not mean to sound like some conspiracy-theory nut, but the comments that run along the lines of “the adjuster will walk them through it,” “it will take a while so see what happens with Allstate,” etc. are very dangerous. Allstate is not your rich, gentle grandpa who will hug you and make sure that you get every penny you should (nor are they Simon Legree out to screw you no matter what). They want to settle cheaply, period.

      Waiting until you see what they come back with could be a disaster. What if the house is bulldozed by then and nothing is left?

      Get someone on your side, working for and paid by you, who knows what they are doing. Right now.

    • tracilyns says:

      Exactly. My husband’s parents are going through the claims process on their own house fire, and this is the single best thing they have done. Their insurance company is trying to low-ball them, even to the point of denying the claim at one point, but their adjuster has been their advocate every step of the way. AFAIK, they haven’t had to pay anything for the adjuster, but the adjuster gets a cut of the settlement $$ in the end. But if the adjuster can get them a higher settlement, it’s entirely worth it.

  8. SirWired says:

    My advice:

    Get a copy of the policy and the declarations page now; you can get one from the insurance agent. Read every last eye-straining word. This should tell you what to expect.

    Start the process of documenting what was lost, in as much detail as you can scrounge.

    Prepare yourself to collect far less than you think, especially if they don’t have Replacement Value insurance. It may help to hire a 3rd-party adjuster to counter Allstate’s estimate if the estimate comes in crazy-low.

    But you don’t need to worry about most of this now… the claims process takes weeks; let Allstate do their thing, and see what they come up with.

  9. Blueskylaw says:

    “My Parents’ House Was Struck By Lightning And Burned Down. What’s Next?”

    Bunk of America will repossess it accidentally?

  10. jsodano says:

    DO NOT HIRE A PUBLIC ADJUSTER. They will take a percentage of your claim payout as payment for their services, and I have found that the amount they secured from the insurance company for a claim payout pales in comparison to their fees.

    Your parents should work diligently with the Allstate adjuster. Avoid the pitfall of futility that often hits when dealing with insurance companies and dispute anything that doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’. If the final settlement does not pass muster, hire an attorney. But, please, don’t hire a public adjuster.

    • TheWacoKid says:

      Yes, public adjusters get paid, by a % of the settlement. My experience tells me that they value they provide, especially in catastrophic losses, far exceeds their cost. “Final” settlements going up 40%, 50%, or more.

      If you feel that you are in a position to “work diligently” with the adjuster and can accurately value the contents of the entire house, and work through the tangle of the process by aggressively negotiating in your own interest, then perhaps hiring a public adjuster is a waste of money.

      But if the final settlement does not pass muster and you hire an attorney, the first thing they will do is hire a public adjuster. They will then tell you that they could have done more for you if they had been working for you from day 1.

      So there is a risk/reward on both sides. Hire one, and if it ends up that you would have gotten the same (or similar) payout without it, and you have wasted $ paying for a public adjuster. Don’t hire one, and you risk having left significant $ on the table and not knowing it. Unfortunately it cannot be known which will play out in advance and obviously there are advocates of both sides.

      I would encourage you to consider the risks involved, financial motivations of all parties, and available research on claims handled by private parties vs. those assisted by public adjusters, and make your own decision.

    • nofunick says:

      I would say it depends on the vibes you get from the adjuster at the first meeting. I know that homeowner’s insurance is handled differently than flood insurance, but with flood insurance, the independant adjuster is actually paid a percentage of the claim amount (your federal tax dollars at work). This makes it to the adjuster’s advantage to make the claim as high as possible.

      I have a cabin on a river that floods every 6 years or so. The adjuster maxes out the policy on the cabin and the contents every time in order to get his percentage as high as he can. A neighbor got a public adjuster because he thought he could get a larger payoff. The contract adjuster from FEMA actually lowered his claim just for spite.

  11. Invader Zim says:

    Rudy
    Sorry about the troll. Almost every forum has a few. Looks like someone has already taken pictures so hopefully there are pictures out there somewhere of what the home looked like before and maybe even showing what was in it before, Keep receipts for everything that is bought or used (hotels) as a result. Have more than one person there to meet the adjuster. Get everything in writing. Keep written records which will help them to remember details.

  12. dogmaticman says:

    Insurance nuances can be quite tricky. One of my neighbors had a single panel of her fence and post knocked down from a storm. The insurance company came out, looked at the fence, and told her the whole thing would have to be knocked down in order to file a claim and that one panel/post was not covered. She ended up having to pay her own way to get it repaired. Luckily she had a handy son, but it is just an example of how home insurance is not quite that straightforward.

    • icerabbit says:

      One actually shoots themselves in the foot filing small insurance claims. You have a deductible and get a claim on your record.

      I’ve helped several neighbors with minor damage from a storm or where somebody drove into a fence or garden; who were set to call the insurance to get it fixed or repaired. Really minor stuff. The stuff where an arborist would only charge for a house call and an hours worth of his/her time to trim some branches; where a handyman / contractor would get xyz repaired in a couple hours; …. All things well below the cost of a $500 – $1000 deductible.

      So, yes, for a single fence panel costing $25-250 dollars depending on the type, a post and some install work, it is better to just call a handyman or a fence contractor.

  13. atomix says:

    I am going through the insurance claim process for a total-loss fire that my in-laws experienced earlier this year.

    Check the laws for recording conversations in your state – one party vs. two party laws. Record every conversation in person and on the phone. Take notes and take names for every conversation. We have had more than one probably-well-meaning adjuster give promises that the insurance company later would not keep.

    Find out if any strings are attached for temporary housing. My In-laws have been paying out-of-pocket for a rental house, when they were promised reimbursement. Now the insurance company is stuck in limbo investigating whether the rental will be covered. A hotel room – even at 10x the price – would have been covered 100% without any out-of-pocket expense.

    Ask if you need to continue paying the mortgage and insurance on the old house. Ask how long you need to continue paying, and for how long.

    Ask who is responsible to pay the demo and cleanup costs for the old house

    Ask who is responsible for taxes at the old house.

    Evernote has been invaluable – We got a Doxie scanner (because it’s so portable, and you may need to be mobile for a while) and scan every receipt, and file it by date in case the originals are needed. If the receipt is ever needed, you can search for it on evernote (it has very good OCR) to find the date, and dig up the original from your files.

    Collaborate with family to gather pictures of the house. We used a shared evernote to dump all the pictures we could find that were taken incidentally or intentionally of the house. Start a Google Doc spreadsheet based on your insurance company’s inventory worksheet. Whenever your family has a few free moments, go through each picture, enter the item in to the spreadsheet as completely as you can. Make a field in that spreadsheet “room” and fill it with the name of the room – “Living Room,” “kitchen,” “Bedroom 1,” “Office,” etc. so that you can sort the spreadsheet later by room, remove duplicates, and add the last few things you can remember.

    While you’re working with pictures, if your parents lost all their photos, get some quick prints from Walgreens or similar from copies that you or the family may have stored digitally. We had scanned many of the family photos shortly before the fire for a project, and my in-laws were thrilled to have old pictures to look through. Having printed pictures seems to be especially important to their generation.

  14. quail20 says:

    Do your parents have a church they attend? Contact them and let them know what happened. Many churches are networked and have resources to people who can guide a family through a tragedy like this one — help with finding inexpensive housing, donations of a few clothes, a counselor to walk them through the process, etc. The Red Cross can do the same thing but I’ve heard the quality can vary depending on where you are and how committed the volunteers are in your area.

  15. truthandjustice says:

    On the subject of replacement value — having been through the arduous post-hurricane-Katrina claims process, replacement value ONLY APPLIES if you indeed REPLACE the lost/damaged goods within 2 years.

    Because we downsized post-Katrina, on perhaps 50% of our household contents, we literally got pennies on the dollar, presuming we could document the original purchases. Isn’t it interesting how insurance companies UP-SELL without telling you the finer points of the reality? Our policy was a pamphlet (perhaps 32-pages, printed in 6 point type, on onion-skin thick paper) small enough and light enough to fit in a No 10 envelope.

    But the REAL policy with all the zigs, zags, and GOTCHAS, was thoroughly covered in the 5-inch-thick, hundreds of pages, three-ring binder that the claims adjuster shows up with AFTER your loss.

    Be forewarned!

  16. DjDynasty says:

    As someone who has had Allstate for large claims before, Let me first state this.
    if your house is insured for 100,000.00 Your personal affects will cap out at 80% PERIOD unless you had a separate rider.
    Also You are limited to $300 in Cash, $1000 in Jewelry and $5,000 for Computers. They consider smart phones, and flat screen TV’s to be computers.

    Also, They will give you a list of the items approx replacement cost, this will be low, and most of the time be off. You can appeal this list. I once had a Motorola Droid on Verizon stolen, the replacement device they came back with was a milestone GSM unlocked version from Tiger direct for t-mobile/at&t.

    Appeal every single item on that itemized list, and trust me, the list for personal affects will get long, the longer it is, the longer they will take to appraise it.

    SAVE EVERY SINGLE RECEIPT! If you pay someone cash to do clean up, make out a receipt for it. PAY YOURSELF FOR DOING LABOR!

    • spartan says:

      This isn’t bad advice, but it may not apply here. Some states have stricter laws to help the consumers; others pretty much allow the insurance companies to do whatever.

      In any case though; the advice to save every receipt is absolutely necessary. Don’t even think whether you should save a particular receipt. Save it.

  17. patty says:

    You may have to sign contracts be sure to have them checked by an attorney if you can’t understand the legal language.

  18. energynotsaved says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. You may also want to look to the mental and physical needs of your parents. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to face this loss. Try to get your folks into their family physician. S/he can replace any necessary medication and check for stress related issues. If needed, a referral to a mental health profession would also be obtainable at the visit.

    After Katrina, I downloaded all my account numbers on loans/creditcards/insurance policies/etc, pictures of my house, pictures of my belongings, etc. and emailed them to me. I figured I would be able to reach an internet connection faster than I could get into a bank lock box. Now, with the resources of various “cloud” storage systems, data is pretty safe and available anywhere. While this is not going to help the OP’s family, it is a thought for the rest of the readers.

  19. hills says:

    Never been through this, but I’d suggest checking your parents’ policy to see what type of temporary housing is covering during a rebuild and for how long – I think my policy is limited to 6 months in a nearby rental with same # of bed & bath….

  20. Brianna says:

    I don’t know anything about insurance, but they should contact the Red Cross if they haven’t already. A friend of mine’s house burned down in the middle of the night and she lost everything; ie. she happened to find a swimsuit in her car that she was wearing as underwear under the pajamas she left in. Because she lost her purse, ID etc. in the fire, she wasn’t able to access her money either until the cards were replaced, so the Red Cross gave her a gift card to Walmart or K-Mart or somewhere like that (I think a total of about $200), which helped her to buy some very basic clothes to have to tide her over.

  21. rudyrobbob says:

    I greatly appreciate you guys input, past experiences and advice. I have advised my parents to go to a neighbors to read this page and the comments provided. I just didn’t want them going into this blind.

  22. janeslogin says:

    I don’t think it is an apples and oranges comparison. It is more like a red apple to a yellow apple comparison.

  23. geargutz says:

    After reading all of this, I am thoroughly HORRIFIED of this ever happening to me. As a result, I now feel the need to take the time to document everything I own in a spreadsheet itemizing replacement pricing and photograph it.

    My OCD is screaming at me now, so thanks for that, but at least I’ll be prepared if “the worst” ever happens. 0_o

  24. friesentl says:

    I’m so sorry for you and your family. A few years ago, nearly the same thing happened to my aunt and uncle. Lightning struck through the chimney, which brought the chimney down onto the entire house…it looked pretty much like your photos.

    My advice is for everyone else, who is looking at this and thinking about how they could prepare. After my aunt and uncle lost their home, they realized how difficult it was to piece together what they owned from a few family photos. I suggest doing a walking tour video of your home, calling out the brands and model numbers of expensive appliances/electronics, opening jewelry drawers, everything, then storing the video in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe. My family did this, and we update it pretty frequently, so we can ensure that if something did happen, we could watch the video and use that to list out what we lost.

    • jumbojeepman says:

      I took pictures of everything in my house, then uploaded them to Photobucket in a private folder. I can access it from any computer anywhere.

  25. Kestris says:

    Your insurance company will have you make a list of the contents of the home- the cost of the items new and when you bought them. You’ll have to list each item seperately as well, you can’t combine items, such as books or cds or dvds.

    They will then prorate the items as they see fit, to determine how much you get compensated for your loss.

    This is where, if you were smart, and are lucky, you have photos, etc of the contents of your home to back up your claims of what you owned. If you’re extremely lucky and/or smart, you’ll have had that evidence off the premises or in a fireproof safebox.

    Meanwhile, find a place to stay while you wait for the insurance adjuster and fire inspecter to sift through the wreckage of your home.

    Be prepared to have to defend some of the items you list on the list of contents. Especially if you have a large collection of books or cds or dvds, etc. In my case, when we had our housefire, we ended up having to retain a lawyer to get our insurance company to pay up, despite having more than ample evidence of our books, vhs collection, cd collection, and comic book collection. Those photos helped us get the most money for our loss and helped us rebuild our lives after our loss.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll have a check in your hands within a week.

    • msbask v2 says:

      This is where, if you were smart, and are lucky, you have photos, etc of the contents of your home to back up your claims of what you owned. If you’re extremely lucky and/or smart, you’ll have had that evidence off the premises or in a fireproof safebox.

      Everyone should take this paragraph and email it to everyone they own, because most people think, “Oh, I’m insured for $100,000 of contents in case of a total loss”, fully expecting that if their house burned to the ground, the insurance company would simply write them a check for $100,000.

      That is absolutely, positively, 100% not true. If you can’t prove you owned it, you never owned it and won’t collect on it. Do you really want to find that out while you’re still waiting for your house to stop smoldering?

  26. The Porkchop Express says:

    I would check state laws to see if this would be a total loss and if the state law requires the carrier to pay out the full coverage amount in these cases.

    They probably will pay the full coverage amount for the home, possibly even the deductible. But I don’t know about the contents, contents are a bit tricky to determine the value of when they still exist, forget about destroyed beyond recognition

  27. sadie kate says:

    OP, my condolences to your parents for their loss. Even in a situation where everyone survives, a fire can be a really devastating emotional experience.

    My house caught on fire due to faulty wiring two years ago. While it was not structurally damaged to the extent that your parents’ house appears to be, the kitchen was totally destroyed, and many of our items were declared total losses.

    In my case, the insurance adjuster was on the scene within 48 hours. While he wasn’t allowed to recommend any specific contractors for us, he did mention names of people he had worked with before. One of my dad’s good friends is a contractor who specializes in fire restoration, so we ended up working with him to find someone trustworthy and local. The adjuster also immediately cut us a $5,000 check in advance of our policy for living expenses including food, clothes and temporary shelter. Our policy also covered housing, so he recommended we find an apartment with rent in the same ballpark as our mortgage payment. If we could find something that was month to month he preferred it, but if we had to sign a yearlong lease, the insurance company was prepared to buy us out early or pay the full term of rent. We continued to pay our mortgage payment out of our own pocket while we were out of the house, and the insurance company reimbursed us on the rent for our temp apartment each month as soon as I emailed them the cancelled check (they did front us the money for three months worth of rent too, so that we were never truly fully out-of-pocket).

    The only room in our house that was structurally damaged was the kitchen; everything else was just soot and smoke damaged. Still, the walls had to be stripped and the AC systems had to be fully cleaned out and serious cleaning had to be done. We were out of our house from June to December; your parents will be out much longer. It will take some time for the insurance company to be able to determine the full amount your parents will be compensated. In my case, the adjuster walked through with our contractor who definitely argued and negotiated on our behalf for more money; I recommend your parents start looking for a reputable contractor with fire restoration ASAP.

    We received two types of compensation; one for contents, one for the house itself. The adjuster and the contractor really settled on the house money. My mortgage company was also involved in that process. We received the first third of the money up front. The check was made out to me and my contractor, and we had to cash it together so he could get access to the money. Halfway through the process, the mortgage company called me to make sure we were on target with the construction and within budget. Once that was confirmed through me and the insurance adjuster, they gave the go ahead to the insurance adjuster to send the second third of the money. Once again, we cashed it together. The final check didn’t come until me, my adjuster, and a representative from my mortgage company signed off that the house was satisfactory.

    The other amount of money we got was for contents. The adjuster recommended we work with a local company called PuroClean that specializes in restoring fire-damaged goods. They took the lead, restoring items like furniture and books, and they also oversaw smaller subcontractors like the dry cleaner that took care of our clothes, the art restorer that salvaged my art, and the electronics restorer who attempted to save my husband’s cameras. Anything that could be saved was returned to us after the house was rebuilt; anything that couldn’t was replaced in the contents check. We received replacement costs. For example, or refrigerator was from about 1994 (it was there when we moved in). PuroClean’s researcher found out what it was worth then, and gave us the equivalent cost for what a model with similar functions would cost today. We lost all our bedding and mattresses; those are rarely considered restorable. But we got back a surprising amount of clothing and personal belongings.

    My personal experience was very good, all things considered. Everyone I worked with was professional and compassionate. My coverage was good, and all told, I was only out the $1000 deductible and $800 worth of vet bills (two of my cats were inside when the fire started – they survived, but one needed two days of oxygen treatment at the vet). I can’t give much advice, because everyone who came to me was great. Just make sure your parents have an adjuster who will keep them in the loop, and that they make sure to get a trustworthy contractor. Also, make sure they write everything down. Things get really confusing, and you’ll want to take notes.

    Best of luck to your parents – I will keep them in my thoughts.

  28. shepd says:

    Get a lawyer, now. Insurance companies never want to pay. In this case they will most likely pay SOMETHING as this is too obvious to get away with not paying anything for, but if you want what you deserve, you need to lawyer up.

    I would never deal with an insurance company over an amount in excess of the cost of a good lawyer (say, $5000-$10000) without hiring a lawyer first. They have them, and are using them right now as you speak, why don’t you?

  29. crazyniece says:

    My parents’ house burned down fourteen years ago, and then eighteen months after that, my aunt and uncle had a house fire. We had State Farm with replacement insurance, and they had Allstate. I’m not sure if there’s was replacement insurance or not. They were satisfied though. Though State Farm tried to nickel and dime us(I was seventeen), My mom itemized everything that was lost or damaged, down to her underwear. It was all replaced, or we were given the money for it. The fire itself probably damaged 25% of the house but much of the rest of it had smoke damage. All of the furniture had to be recovered or restained. My room, the furthest from the actual fire, suffered the least damage.

  30. joshuack says:

    Same thing happened to my parents on July 8th. Here’s the beginners advice I pulled together:

    To summarize for pre-cleanup:

    • Get a Three-Ring Binder or folio. When you deal with an insurance company over a major claim, you need to be organized. Calls, emails, and letters can be crucial pieces of evidence if you and the company later differ as to who said what to whom, and when. Take notes during every phone call, and organize your communication in one section of the binder. Use other sections to store estimates, invoices, bills, permits, and contracts for repairs. Never part with an original document; if your insurance company wants to see an invoice or bid, make it a copy.

    • Take pics / record all damage before it gets cleaned up. Very important, as any later arguments about the degree of damage by willfully ignorant, company-owned insurance adjusters will be based on whatever post-fire photos exist.

    • Contact Mortgage company – fire changes value, and any change in value must by law be reported.

    • Keep records of motel costs – insurance may owe you the difference you spend above and beyond whatever estimate they/you have for normal daily costs. ie: $300 in groceries per week, and $400 on meals at motel – insurance may pay the $100 difference, if in policy.

    • Take notepad and walk through rooms, itemizing everything affected, enter data into spreadsheet later.

    • Start spreadsheet with itemizing items damaged in fire, estimated costs, if evidence is available, and store it online. Perhaps Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365. Both need accounts.

    • Understand policy: choosing cash usually returns %50 of value, while you may be permitted to spend %150 of estimate to replace. Do not let insurance company close claim for at least 4-6 months. they will try to get you to agree to close as fast as they can, to deny anything further.

    • Debate getting an independent insurance adjuster, be careful of scammers

    • Cleanup itself should be done by professionals – too much damage, too many unknowns about repairs. There are possibilities about home improvements in the repairs, wasn’t able to find hard facts, though.

    Links and comments:

    US Fire Administration: What to do after a house fire
    Start: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/atf/
    Salvage Hints: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/atf/salvage.shtm

    Buying TSP (can remove smoke odor / stains from some clothes / surfaces) from Lowes: http://www.lowes.com/pd_124762-68-63004_4294965803__?productId=3010340&Ntt=DAP&pl=1&currentURL=%2Fpl__4294965803__s%3FNtt%3DDAP&facetInfo=DAP
    TSP Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trisodium_phosphate

    You’ll also need Bleach and some sturdy gloves – dangerous solution.

    http://www.usna.edu/FamilyServices/disastercleanup.pdf

    Independent Insurance Loss Adjuster: National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, the national organization that regulates public adjusters, at http://www.napia.com/ DO NOT USE ANY CLAIMS ADJUSTER THAT CONTACTS YOU 1st – LOTS of Scam Artists. Many call claiming to be insurance / fire marshals, etc. Check callerid, and google the numbers.

    NOLO: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dealing-with-insurance-after-disaster-29640.html

    United Policyholders: http://www.unitedpolicyholders.org: nonprofit organization that gives advice on dealing with insurance companies regarding home fires.

    The Insurance Information Institute: http://www.iii.org, is a news and information site with lots of specific advice for consumers, including how to file a claim.

    Red Cross: After A Fire: http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/getting_assistance/pickingupthepieces_fire.pdf

    Advice: http://voices.yahoo.com/recovering-house-fire-30459.html

    Good Luck.

  31. Yorick says:

    When my then-landlord lost his storage/workshop barn to a fire, he discovered that his insurance was completely inadequate to replace the contents. Too late for the OP’s parents, of course, but whatever insurance you think is enough, DOUBLE IT. If you have a lot of stuff digital-only, like MP3s, TV shows from iTunes, and photos, see about getting a special computer rider. (Also, back that stuff up and keep a copy off-site if you can)

    Meanwhile, that was six years ago, and I still haven’t completed an inventory of my goods. It took over two years to get the media done, because it’s not just a weekend project to make a list of every book, CD, and DVD you own (unless you don’t have many). I ultimately increased my renters insurance to 100,000 just to make sure, since I still haven’t valued everything.

  32. Robert Nagel says:

    Judging from the condition of the house the insurance company will probably just throw in the policy and pay the max amount. People generally do not have enough insurance so it won’t be hard to hit the maximum. the cost of replacing the house will be easily established and the damaged articles can be proven by sifting through the ashes.
    That said, get a lawyer. Fast. Pay him by the hour and if he asks to be paid on a contingency basis run, don’t walk to the next lawyer.
    There are also companies that specialize in handling this type of claim for you. However, like everything, they don’t work for free. Establish the cost in writing, run this past your lawyer, and decide if it is worth the cost.

  33. planetoid says:

    It’s unlikely that your insurance company will pay out a full policy without some sort of investigation. Depending upon the carrier the time will vary.

    You don’t need an attorney unless you encounter significant issues or resistance from the carrier. If you do have problems, you can always complain to your state regulatory agency. They take these matters very seriously, and the inquiry is free (any denials should have the information to voice a complaint).

    I would suggest contacting the company and asking for detailed information about the claims process, such as:

    Did your parents have additional living expenses on their policy? This would cover the cost of living in a hotel or rental while they sort out rebuild / repurchase.
    What are the policy limits for everything?
    Because this is a total loss, can they arrange for a copy of the policy to be sent to your parents? Do they have a claims guide or info sheet they can send also?
    Do your parents have a mortgage or own the house outright?
    Is there a mortgagee listed on the policy? If they own the house and there is a mortgagee this will have to be corrected before claim payments are paid out- you don’t want the bank getting your parents money (rare, but it can happen).
    How do they do inspection / appraisal?
    Do they have inventory forms for the home contents, if not do they suggest any in particular?
    Do they need to file separate auto claims?
    What is the expected time frame for the claim to be completely closed?

    This is a really stressful time- it’s ok for them to have a lot of questions. Allstate’s claim department should be prepared for this, and be sensitive to the fact that they have lost everything. Find out who their claim contact at Allstate is, it might help if they spoke to the same person each time. If they have an agent make sure the agent is giving them regular updates on the claim.

    I’m so sorry your parents lost their home, it takes a long time, but things will be ok again.

  34. iesika says:

    Seconding the suggestion to get a lawyer. There’s a lot of money on the line here, and while a lawyer is expensive, it’s not as expensive as getting screwed by the insurance company. Legalese is a difficult language to learn on the fly.