Rebuilding Your Life after a Home Fire
By Ted Ricasa
VIDEO: Fire Insurance Victims Tell Their Story
Fire is the disaster that does not discriminate. No matter where you live or the age and condition of your home, there is always the chance that a fire could occur at any time and for any number of reasons. Most homeowners realize this – in fact, it is probably the most common nightmare among people when they purchase their homes. However, when fires actually do occur, few homeowners are prepared for the consequences.
If your home was recently damaged by fire, we hope most of all that you and your loved ones were able to escape unharmed. We also understand the range of overpowering emotions, from frustration to anger to sadness, you are experiencing right now. Even when fire spares lives, it can destroy a lifetime of precious memories and irreplaceable possessions.
Among the most valuable of those possessions was certainly your home, itself. If you are like most homeowners after their homes have been damaged by fire, you are probably wondering what to do next. Although it may seem unfair – and truly, it isn’t fair – that you should have to make important, life-altering decisions during such a confusing and emotionally charged time, the sooner you make these decisions, the sooner you can rebuild your life and return to normalcy.
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What is the first thing I should do after a home fire?
First and foremost, do not enter your home until you are given explicit permission from the fire department. Even if the cosmetic damage to your home is minimal, essential structures may have been compromised, and fires often re-ignite even after they appear to have been extinguished.
If this is the first resource you are consulting after a fire damaged your home, please contact your insurance company or agent immediately. Your insurance agent can advise you of the most important steps to take in the hours and days after the fire. These steps may include:
- Doing whatever is necessary to minimize damage to your home, including covering windows, doors, and other openings and pumping out water
- Possibly putting up a temporary fence around your property to prevent vandalism and theft
- Being certain not to turn on utilities until the fire department advises you that it is safe to do so
- Making a list of those items damaged by the fire, accompanied by what you paid for those items
- Locating temporary housing, whether you stay with friends or family or find an apartment complex that offers special rates for those displaced by disasters
- Hiring a professional home inspector to assess the structural damage to your home
It is very important to establish with your insurance agent what your policy does and does not cover. Some of the steps listed above can be very expensive; you will want to know whether your insurance company will cover some or all of these costs.
If you own your home (that is, you do not have a mortgage) and you do not have insurance, you are regrettably responsible for all of your costs and losses. Depending on the condition of your home, you may still be able to cover at least some of your expenses by selling your home. Fast Home Help may be able to make you an all-cash offer on your home, even if it has been damaged by fire.
What can I do to replace daily necessities, such as clothing, food, and toiletries?
It may be possible to secure an advance from your insurance agent on your future claim. Ask your insurance agent whether such an advance can be delivered immediately to wherever you are staying. If you are able to secure an advance, be sure to keep your receipts and keep your replacement items reasonable. You are not entitled to “upgrade” unnecessarily from your lost possessions.
Keep careful track of your expenses while you are unable to live in your home. You will be entitled to recover the difference between your normal living expenses and the extra expenses you incur because of the loss of your home. This may include the full cost of your apartment or hotel bill, as you will continue to be responsible for your mortgage payment and taxes on your property.
Again, it is very important that you understand precisely which expenses your insurance company will and will not reimburse before you spend money that you may not get back. If in doubt, contact your insurance agent and ask.
Who else do I need to contact after a fire?
If you have a mortgage on your home, you should contact your lender as soon as possible. Likewise, you should contact your local post office, utility company, credit card companies, and any other lending institutions you’re dealing with. During times of personal tragedy, companies and agencies are often willing to work with people as long as open and honest communication is maintained. You may even be able to have some payments lowered or deferred until you get back on your feet.
If you lost essential medications in the fire, be sure to contact your physician as soon as possible. If you have children, you will want to notify their schools.
Even if you are able to return to your home after it has been inspected and cleaned, your home may be unoccupied for days, weeks, or even months. Contact your local police department to notify them that your home will be vacant.
You will also want to replace any vital documents you lost in the fire as soon as possible. These might include:
- Your driver’s license
- Your passport
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates
- Money that has been damaged (the Treasury Department will exchange undamaged currency for damaged currency)
- Bank records
- Military records
- Your school records
- Savings bonds
- Tax records
- Your Social Security card
- Your vehicle registration
- If applicable, your permanent resident (“green”) card
Finally, you will want to investigate the possibility of receiving help from whatever form of disaster relief, such as the Red Cross, exists in your area. Disaster relief agencies may be able to provide you with temporary shelter, food, water, medication, and other vital resources.
When will I be able to return to my home?
Under no circumstances should you return to your home until the fire department tells you that it is safe to do so. Even then, you will likely be allowed to return to your home only to gather essential documents, irreplaceable items such as photos and heirlooms, and other possessions that can be quickly retrieved.
On entering your home, use utilities such as electricity and water only if the fire department tells you that it is safe to do so. If any utilities have been turned off, do not turn them on yourself.
While you are in your home, be sure to take as many photographs as necessary to document the damage for insurance purposes. It’s also a good idea to take detailed notes about items that were lost or damaged, and to collect as many receipts for these items as you can find.
Sometimes homes that appear completely safe after a fire can conceal damage that is invisible to homeowners. It is important that you have your home thoroughly inspected by licensed, experienced professionals.
What will a thorough inspection of my home entail?
It is unlikely that a single inspector will be able to conduct all aspects of your home investigation. More likely, you will require the services of multiple specialists, including a structural engineer, an industrial hygienist, and a plumber.
A thorough home inspection should evaluate:
- Pipes and other plumbing fixtures
- Air quality
- Windows (if any are intact) and window frames
- The roof
- Electrical circuits, switches, and wires
- Lighting fixtures and fans
- Steel and iron structures
- Siding, stucco, and concrete
- Tile and wooden floors
- Interior walls
- Heating systems
- Mechanical systems in the basement (e.g., pumps, furnaces, water heaters)
- Doors and door frames
- Any area of the home that could be damaged by fire, smoke, heat, or moisture
- Any area of the home that is susceptible to mold
During every stage of the inspection process, you will want to maintain open communications with your insurance agent. Your insurance company will send an adjuster to your home to evaluate the damage; however, the adjuster is unlikely to perform an inspection that takes into account all of the areas listed above. Further inspection by licensed professionals, whether covered by your insurance policy or paid for by you, is almost certainly in your best interests.
You should not consider a permanent return to your home until all necessary repairs have been made. If these repairs are not adequately covered by your insurance policy, or if you simply do not want to invest your time and money into salvaging your damaged home, the professionals of Fast Home Help can suggest alternative options, including the possibility of selling your home as-is for cash.
What are the advantages of repairing my home versus selling my home?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, which will vary from case to case.
These factors include:
- The extent of the fire damage
- The scope and cost of repairs
- Your immediate financial needs
- Your current living situation
- Any emotional or otherwise personal attachment you have to the home
- Whether you have sufficient insurance coverage, or any insurance coverage at all
- Whether you own your home outright or have a mortgage
If it is feasible – financially and otherwise – to repair your home, and you wish eventually to resume the life you were leading prior to the fire, then you may well want to keep your home. You may be able to secure a personal loan or work with your current lender to find ways to finance repairs that are not covered, in part or in whole, by insurance.
If you would like to sell your fire-damaged home immediately, we encourage you to request an all-cash quote from Fast Home Help today. It may be possible to sell your home “as-is,” thereby avoiding costly repairs and cleaning, hassles with your insurance company, inspections, and other headaches. If it makes sense for both sides, we can purchase your home for cash, and you will have money in your bank account within ten days. You can put the past behind you, and start your new life right away.
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For further information about the options available to homeowners whose property has sustained fire damage, please contact Fast Home Help today.
Ron Meyer bought my property and solved all my problems of selling in one day. There weren't any surprises or games and I received exactly what I was promised, to the penny. Ron completely eliminated the worry about if or when my property would be sold. I received the cash I needed in 5 days and set the move out date to one that worked with mine and my family's schedule. It was a pleasant, professional transaction from beginning to end. - Luis C.