Lifestyle

A Tell All: The 11 Months Post-Fire.

January 14, 2020  —  Written by Julia Marcum 

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It’s been 11 months (and a couple days) since our cabin burned down our cabin burned down and a monumental thing happened over the weekend–we finally got a check from our insurance. It actually arrived on the 11 month mark and there was a lot of relief that came with it, too. There’s not a lot out there on what happens after a fire and in many ways, what happened after was just as hardl as what happened that awful day last February. So I thought it would be important to write and share. No one EVER thinks that their house is going to burn down and there are a few things that you should definitely do on a yearly basis (that we had thankfully done because of the nature of our job) that will hopefully help keep you covered in case of disaster.

The day of the fire.

The morning of the fire, as Chris was driving Greta to school, he received a video via text of the cabin up in flames. It was from a mechanic in the area that was scheduled to fix the bobcat parked on our property that was keeping our snow cleared. It was a terrible text to receive (the actual words of the text were delayed – just a video came in from an unknown number) but we rushed up to the property an hour and ten minutes away as fast as we could.

When we arrived, the fire department had already been there for an hour and the cabin was completely gone. The Fire Marshall asked each of us to write a statement about the series of events leading up to the fire. I remember my hands were shaking so badly I could barely write but I wrote down everything in detail because I knew my memory would fade, as memories do.

Chris emailed our insurance agent before we drove up to the cabin that morning and they called back within an hour to give condolences for what had happened and let us know that we should start making a list of everything that was in the cabin.

The following weeks.

Before any insurance money is paid out, the scene of the fire has to be investigated to determine a cause. From what I understand, normally this is done as soon as possible so that the evidence is still fresh. In our case, it was February in the mountains and the snow wouldn’t stop. Our insurance (and the insurance of the people working on the cabin) both decided they would need to wait until the snow melted to really investigate.

Almost immediately we started getting a lot of mail from personal adjusters. Our insurance assured us that they would be sending an investigator, but I learned that that investigator works for the insurance company. Legally, they have to represent us, as well, but it doesn’t always go that way. We did have a conversation with a personal adjuster but he said because our cabin was very well documented, we should be okay.

The following months.

While we were all waiting for the snow to melt, our insurance company sent us an excel sheet to fill out detailing everything that was in the cabin. Down to the ziplock bags in the drawers! I can’t even imagine trying to do this for our primary home. At the cabin, we were living light but I still couldn’t think of everything that was in the utility closet, for instance. We went room by room. We looked at all the videos we took. We referenced the many photos on our blog and my phone. We had so, so much documented, and thank goodness for that.

My advice: Take a yearly, personal inventory video. Open every cupboard and every drawer. Go slow. Take photos of your receipts when you buy things for your home and import everything into a trackable, updated file. 

This was a very excruciating part of the process, realizing over and over what was up there. But also trying to remember. We also had to list how old the items were, their retail value and the condition they were in–nearly everything was new or like new because we had just started bringing things up 2 months prior.

There are, generally, two insurance checks that you receive–one for the structure and one for the personal property. Around May, we received a check covering the the structure and it was small. Not even close to what we PAID for the cabin a year and a half previously, not even factoring in any renovations we did.

It was heart-breaking and confusing, but before we go any further, another very important note on insurance is to make sure you notify your insurance when you are making major improvements to your home. They will note it and after completion, they will send an adjustor out to adjust the coverage for your insurance. It’s different for each policy, for ours, we had to notify our insurance within 3 months of renovations starting to extend our coverage–fortunately, we have email records of doing that the month our renovations started.

Our original coverage covered the appraised value of our cabin at the time of purchase, but it was worth more now with some of the improvements we made. But even if it wasn’t, it was definitely worth at LEAST what we paid for it. We pushed back and it turns out they were going by original building plans, which excluded about half the cabin as “finished space,” and they said an increased settlement payout was possible after the investigation.

The Snow Melted in May

By May, the snow had melted enough to get the heavy equipment needed up to the cabin to lift the collapsed metal roof off the structure so it could be investigated. To us, it was obvious it had started in the furnace room—the window well was melted in only in that space but they pulled everything out and took a lot of pictures, mumbling to each other and pointing at things discretely. They didn’t seem very pleased that we were there, but you as a home owner have every right to be, so long as you aren’t in danger.

Two months went by, and we actually heard through another party’s insurance company that the cause of the fire had been ruled “Undertermined.” Again, it was confusing and frustrating to hear it through the grapevine and it provided no closure (something we’re still looking for in some ways). Even though the source of the fire definitely looked like it came from the furnace room, they started arguing that they couldn’t say the cause WAS the furnace because other things existed in the room, like light switches, etc.. We were so hopeful for answers, but unfortunately the fire burned too long and too hot and destroyed everything.

It was around this time that we also got word back from our insurance that looked over our personal property (which totaled around $148K) that they were looking to categorize all of our personal property up there as business property, due to the nature of our work. This would allow a $4000 total maximum payout for all of our belongings, because the cabin was insured by a personal insurance plan (we purchased it under our names, not the business).

Fortunately, for us, our taxes proved otherwise. We didn’t deduct things that were there. We didn’t rent the property out. We treated it (and our primary home, for that matter) like personal property across the board. Being a home blogger as a career definitely made things tricky though.

Examination Under Oath in August

We were summoned for an examination under oath at the end of August. I was initially VERY excited about this because we had nothing to hide and everything to prove, but the closer it got, the more nervous I became because I had never been in a high-pressure situation like this before. They were going to put Chris and I in separate rooms and ask us about everything that was in the cabin. We had NO idea what they were going to ask. We were told it could take about an hour each. We decided to consult with a lawyer and have him prep us for the examination, and I’m so glad we did. He was able to bring up a lot of potential questions that we were going to get asked and you know the whole “anything you say can and will be used against you?” well I’m horrible at that. I tend to GUESS things. Numbers. Give my opinion. So having someone to coach me on simply saying “I DON’T KNOW” when I didn’t know was incredibly valuable.

The main point of discussion was showing that our cabin and the contents in it belonged to Chris and Julia Marcum, not Chris Loves Julia, LLC. We had receipts, shipping labels, and letters from many of our partners saying that the items in the cabin belonged to us and not our company. And our Insurers looked at all the information we provided and came to that same conclusion.

Determing the Structure’s Real Value

Chris also worked endlessly with an architect in Jackson (which is just around the mountain from where our cabin was) to come up with plans for our cabin and what the cost to rebuild it would be in an effort to recoup back some of the structure costs. This cost us around $5000, but we were hoping the return would be worth it.

Chris spent August and September gathering every piece of information on our renovations that he could. He found the original appraisal for the cabin when we bought it, showing the value of the structure separate from the land, and how it was significantly higher than the first check our insurance company had sent. He delivered the appraisal, as well as a detailed list of improvements and video evidence of each (like how we added heat to the home when it previously didn’t have any, as well as an extra bathroom and bedroom etc etc).

In October, after all the back and forth and emotional turmoil, we heard from our insurance company that they would increase the payout for the structure, as well as cover all the contents of the home minus any relevant depreciation. It was such a relief and we felt like we could finally breathe, though the numbers we were given still left us in the hole.

Clearing and Selling the Land.

In October, we paid a little over $30,000 to have the land cleared. This was reimbursed by our insurance but we were in charge of scheduling it and paying for it up front. We’d already taken such a big hit at this point, emotionally and financially, that in November, we decided to sell the land in order to close the gap and hopefully come a little closer to breaking even. We had two offers to buy the land but then the holidays happened and Chris started second guessing the decision. While I felt more sure (just TOO much grief and anxiety attached to it) we decided to wait.

11 Months Later, we received two Insurance Checks

And now we come full circle. Over the weekend, 11 months after the fact, we received two insurance checks covering the structure and our personal belongings. It wasn’t the full amount but it was an amount we feel at peace with. I think we’re both ready to move on from this chapter. We learned so much from this past year about ourselves, about insurance, about protecting what we have and what we feel.

I know this was a lot and probably not relevant to everyone, but if you are living in a building, whether renting or you bought it or it’s a vacation home–insurance is extremely relevant. Even if you aren’t a home blogger (chances are you aren’t) document everything you have. If we didn’t have all the documentation we did, we would have had to walk away with such a small settlement. There were many instances our insurance wanted to see RECEIPTS!

Ultimately, Home is a feeling. It’s not things. It’s not any of the sofas or rugs or lights or ornaments or stockings or even photos. And despite the toll a massive insurance claim like this can take, our memories of that beautiful place came out unscathed, and for that we’ll forever be grateful.

 

 

 

What do you think?

  1. My heart aches for what you went through. But I am glad that you are moving on. I can see that this decision is good and right. You will make wonderful memories elsewhere. That is for sure! Thank you for this information.

  2. Rachel says:

    I just bought my home in January and just over the last month had to put about $15K into it (surprise to me!). So after I read your first few paragraphs I paused, picked up my phone and called my insurance agent to let them know of the improvements I had to make. I’m glad your family is at peace with where you stand but so sorry you had to go through with it. <3

  3. Eileen says:

    This is truly invaluable information you’ve provided! I wish we had found it 4 months ago when we had our house fire but nonetheless, your experience and suggestions are really helpful even now as we are in the midst of our ordeal. You’re right, there isn’t a whole lot of info (raw, candid info) on what the after process is like, especially dealing with insurance, adjusters and etc. The cataloging of personal items is grueling and heart-breaking but necessary. One suggestion I might give for anyone going through an ordeal like this is to consider getting a public adjuster. We didn’t know there was such a thing but thankful we were able to find one we trusted. Our fire broke out during the middle of the night while we were sleeping and when we woke up to the alarms and smoke filling our house, we literally grabbed our kids and ran out of the house with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I know public adjusters have the reputation for being like ambulance chasers but honestly their help and knowledge of the steps following the fire -whether dealing with insurance or more practical issues – was such a Godsend for us. There are some good ones out there! They were able to walk us through all the steps you have to deal with (yet no one tells you about) after a fire – like boarding up the house (ours is uninhabitable and needs to be gutted and rebuilt from the ground up), what to look for when walking through with the insurance adjuster and making sure they catalog ALL things, being there when the investigators come out to determine cause, walking us through cataloging our personal belongings, etc.. And thank you for sharing your story. We know too that it doesn’t get necessarily get easier each time you tell it but it does help bring peace and healing nonetheless. Each time we share ours, we’re reminded of how lucky we were to get out safely, how things could have been so much worse or ended so much more tragically. For us, we do believe that all things happen for a reason (although we might not know why for a long time) and as devastating as it has been to lose most things in our primary home, we’ve also been able to see so much good come from our “bad”… beauty from ashes, if you will (no pun intended). But thank you for helping us see the light at the end of the tunnel!

  4. Val says:

    I was an insurance adjuster for years and the thing that I loved about that job was being there for people, helping people who were dealing with a terrible loss. It could be so incredibly rewarding to feel like you were able to, in a small way, help make things right. But it got harder and harder as the years went by because our company constantly undermined our ability to do that. Cutting staff, overloading adjusters with too many claims at once, coming behind you and second-and-third guessing every decision and every payout…it got to be just miserable. It was terrible not being empowered to help a person in need, but still having to answer that phone every day.

    I’m so sorry this happened. This is such valuable info for people to have. I have no doubt it will help many of your readers. I’m glad you were finally able to get a settlement you were comfortable with and I hate that the process was made so needlessly awful.

  5. Arielle Wright says:

    The inventory excel is something I learned about from a reddit post. Someone said they worked reviewing house contents lists for fire insurance and often times people would just say “toaster, computer mouse, sauce pan” etc and they had an inventory of low walmart quality costs that they’d pay out based on this info. Which obviously for most people would be an underestimate! But in a lump sum may seem liked enough. This user said that if someone could provide details on what was bought and a price often times they would approve it to work quickly.

    Once I read about that I started inventorying our house contents semi-regularly. I started with anything I could find an email receipt with and even have inventoried everything I have ever bought on amazon (that is in my house that is). It may seem very paranoid but it’s also pretty interesting to see!

  6. So sorry you went through this but thanks for sharing it! I am a blogger (craft blogger) and you cemented what I had been contemplating after another recent thing I read. I need to call my insurance agent to make sure my policy includes my work stuff in the home. We’ve always been very conscious of insurance because we live in hurricane territory but it had never occurred to us that my craft stuff might not be covered!

  7. Karen stone says:

    I have a cabin at Island park. Fire is my biggest fear. Your information is fantastic. Thank you so much. PS. I believe Your sister bought my parents home in thorton. Karen

  8. Cristie says:

    Thank you for bring awareness to such an important topic! The day you posted this blog I received my homeowners renewal declarations and realized how little I understand my policy. I called my agent and immediately made an appointment to discuss concerns and thoughts.
    Today we met with our agent and reviewed our policy and concerns. At the end of our conversation she asked what prompted this conversation and I said well “I read a blog that recently shared a very intimate and personal tragedy of a home fire…” and she immediately says “Chris Loves Julia!!!” And I said “Yes!”
    She had just read your blog with her fellow agent that morning and they discussed it for a half hour. We are all so thankful for you bringing awareness to consumers. She even an agent hadn’t thought about some things you shared. We plan to use the snow storm this weekend to stay inside and document our homes.
    Although we are deeply saddened about your loss, you have turned it around and impacted so many by educating us on how to navigate through stormy waters. Thank you!

  9. Vicki says:

    I still get emotional when I think of reading about that morning and what you lost…there was so much of your hearts in that cabin. It was so beautiful and I loved every minute of reading about and seeing your improvement. i am so glad you have the videos and lots of photos to help recall the memories in years to come. Insurance can be nightmare in even the smallest claim. I’m sorry you had to go through all that but I’m glad you finally got it all settled and it is behind you.

  10. I appreciate your story so much. We bought out current home in July/August 2017 and in March 2018 we had to replace the roof due to leaks caused from weathering for 14 years. It was such a horrible process (we STILL have a half-patched hole in our master bath) and at the end we only received ~$200 AND we had to pay for a new roof. I feel ya and will make it a point to document our home in 2020. Thank you for the insight and advice! Love you guys.

  11. Catarina says:

    Julia, thanks so much for this article. It’s incredibly timely as I’m about to switch insurance carriers in less than a month. This weekend I plan to create an Excel sheet documenting everything and back that up with photos. My issue is that I downsized and built a 1000-square-foot cabin. Problem #1, I have a replacement value policy, but no real proof of costs because my contractor walked the job about three-quarters way through. He has the receipts and has since left the area. My tax valuation is nearly $30,000 LESS than what I actually paid. Any suggestions? Problem #2 (and I’m betting lots of us are in this boat), my personal items are an accumulation of things, many of them purchased literally decades ago. (I’m 70.) No receipts exist. All I can do is take pictures. Problem #3 Many of the valuable things in my house are pieces of art — large canvases, pottery etc. Also collected over a lifetime and so no receipts. Your article was a huge wakeup call for the future, but I fear I may be on the really short end of the stick since my big-purchase days are behind me. Still, I plan to photograph the heck out of things this weekend and send a flash drive to my insurance agent and keep a copy in my bank lock box. Thanks for the wake up call!

  12. Marissa says:

    You mentioned that the insurance company required receipts for certain items. Can you give an example of the type of item this would be? Thank you for being so honest in this post. It was definitely eye opening.

  13. Darcie Moore says:

    This is interesting and disturbing. I am wondering if the experience caused you to shop for new insurance? Also makes me wonder if my personal property is underinsured!

  14. Stacey says:

    Was your policy for the contents ACV or replacement value?

    That is distinction a lot of people don’t understand. For a homeowners policy you always want replacement value over ACV(actual cash value).

  15. Ellen George says:

    I remember having to reread your post like 5 times that morning of the fire before I could even understand what you were saying! I cried for you and your family and my heart still hurts for your loss. Thank you for taking the time to share the painful process with us. I’ve add a home walk through video to my to do list!

  16. Saltlife_Inc says:

    So emotional!! Great advice.

    We moved from Australia to Austin, Texas, only brought 4 suitcases + baby, and purchased everything local for our home/new life, had a FLOOD (sprinkler head and pipe burst) when we were away on holiday, returned to find 90% of our home was damaged and had to be thrown away! Did I mention I was pregnant with my second child?! We had to start over, file with insurance claim, inventory everything, prove the cost of everything, and then we discovered we only had 10K renters insurance. Now that we are home owners we won’t make the same mistake!

  17. Gy says:

    Why dont you tell the actual numbers?

  18. Cara says:

    This is such a great reminder for anyone with a roof over their heads. Thank you for the update- I’ve always appreciated the realness of your blog. I remember the empathy I felt for your family after you shared pictures of the cabin in flames. And just the shock that (I’m sure most of your followers including myself felt) we were JUST there watching you update that adorable half bath. What a blessing that no one was there. And wow I cannot believe the cljcabin has been gone for almost a year. I am just so glad you all finally have some closure ❤️

  19. Stephanie says:

    I’m so sorry you guys had to go through this. I was a fire investigator for years, so I have a couple things to add/explain. Post-fire (mainly if it’s is a primary residence), keep all receipts. Insurance will reimburse you for all the things you don’t think about- toothbrushes, clothes, toiletries, etc. Most fires are classified as undetermined. In this litigious society, they have to be able to prove without a doubt the cause. Most of the time we have an idea, but it can kill our credibility if it goes to court and we are proven wrong. It’s sometimes cheaper for the insurance company to pay out a claim than to send items to the lab or do extensive tests. Even if they determine say it was a toaster, legally it costs them a lot to subrogate the toaster manufacturer. The would be able to determine if the fire was electrical (the light switches); they just didn’t want to pay for an electrical engineer or an expert at arc mapping to come out.
    Technically the homeowner doesn’t have a right to be there during the investigation. The evidence would be thrown out because the scene wasn’t secured.
    I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to not know what happened. I’m so glad you are all safe and you can now put this behind you.

  20. Jan says:

    Six months after we built our down-sized retirement home two years ago, we weren’t fully settled, but my husband drove me sixty miles to the airport to fly across the country to Canada to visit our son’s family. I was in the plane on the tarmac before take off when he called in a panic to ask me to get off the plane because he had returned home to find a crazed intruder in our house. The stranger took a hammer to many of our belongings, appliances, televisions, etc. He spread liquid detergent and olive oil all over. Fortunately our insurance provider sent a clean-up crew that night and promptly covered the cost of replacing almost everything. As you explained, accounting for and recalling the items was not not easy. The experience lingers. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned and reminding us that we are all bruised in various ways, but we’re made wiser by the bruises.

  21. Tracie says:

    A good friend have mine lost their home about 12 years ago in a fire. they had recently had their hardwood floors refinished and the contractor had left rags in the garage inside of a trash can that spontaneously combusted. They were all asleep when this happened and woke up to fire alarms rushing out with their for kids and thankfully nobody was hurt. They battled with their insurance company and also had to do a testimony in court and to this day my friend says was the scariest thing she’s ever done even though she knew she did nothing wrong she felt like she was going to blow it somehow. I think it’s awful how much we pay an insurance and then when we really need it to kind of make it worse for us. I’m glad that you guys have landed on your feet and my project for this weekend is to make a Google drive with videos of our primary and our vacation homes so that I know I have that and will leave myself a calendar reminder to do that every year. Thank you for sharing your story it is so helpful. Much luck to you and thank you so much for sharing all your renovations. It is my favorite TV show at night!!!

  22. Karen T. says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel better–especially today when I’ve now submitted the same documents for the fourth time to our mortgage holder in an effort to get funds released for the damage that occurred to our house on Memorial Day. It literally feels like we are on a never ending loop with insurance, the many contractors, and the bank that holds our mortgage. Our damage was in the 100K range (from a mini-tornado that swooped through Chicago) and it suuuuucks so I can’t imagine going through what you did. We are so close to putting this in the rear-view mirror. Thanks for your post today.

  23. Sarah says:

    I am so sorry you all had to go through this on top of the heartbreak of losing your cabin. Thank you for sharing your story and your honesty. You all are quality people and I love following along with your journey.

    • Amber says:

      Wow. I can’t even imagine. Thank you for putting this all out there. My husband and I have been renovating a 70s beachside house for 3 years. We have had to evacuate for hurricanes every year since we bought the house, the first evac 3 days after we closed, with a Cat 4 bearing our way. We have been lucky each time, and in the same breath, preparing and taking inventory and praying is exhausting. Each evac pushes me more towards minimalism and simplicity…and gratitude. This post is a great reminder to not only prepare, but to consult with others when something happens. I am so sorry you all had to go through this and kudos to you for making meaning and purpose out of a tragedy to help others.

  24. Ashley says:

    My home burned down on Christmas Eve in 2003. My siblings and I had just left the house with our Dad that night and two men broke in and robbed our home. They apparently left, but then one of the men thought he dropped his wallet, so they burnt the house down. He later found it in his truck. They were caught eventually, but unfortunately the house was insured for the square footage of the home when it was originally built 30 years prior. Needless to say it didn’t work out for my Mom and we were forced to leave our home. I’m just grateful that no one was home that night. I still cry when I think of the lights and snowflakes we had hung up for my Mom. We didn’t have much that Christmas, but we still cherished what we did have. It’s still bittersweet to this day.

  25. Eliza says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to give incredible advice that came at such a painful cost to you. We really appreciate it!

  26. Abby says:

    When we were in college, my husband’s family’s house caught fire and was burned so significantly that had to completely demo and rebuild. I remember the anguish of my in-laws’ as they say for hours upon hours trying to list every single item they owned and how much the paid for it in an Excel sheet. (And then, two years ago they had to do it AGAIN when their home flooded in hurricane Harvey.) I am so sorry you guys had to go through this. I am glad you finally have a bit of closure.

  27. Julie S says:

    This is so gross and makes me feel ill, thinking about myself in a similar position of having to fight so hard and so long after a big loss. And it was your second home – not your primary residence! We live in a high fire risk area like a lot of Southern Californians do and while we have an emergency plan and even know a couple people whose homes have burned in the past, we’ve neglected considering the reality of what would happen after loss of property. I’m talking to my husband about it tonight and taking a simple video tour asap.

  28. Laura says:

    I’ve been really curious, how this all worked out. After your experience with the insurance company; would it make you reconsider using them in the future? I always wonder how we would be treated by ours(insurance company) in an unfortunate event like yours. Thank you for sharing. Very helpful info.

  29. Denise Walker says:

    Thank you for giving your readers so much valuable information! After such heartache, I am so sorry you had to through so much more pain having to prove so much to the insurance company. We are about to start a huge renovation, and I will be sure to call our insurance company, and document all our expenditures.

  30. Jen says:

    Thank you for being so open about this whole process. I’m still in shock about the whole questioning under oath. Is that normal? This is very eye opening to people reading this too. I will occasionally take pictures of things in our home and I’m going to make it an effort to take more and I’m thinking if they ever asked my husband what was in the house we’d own about 2 things. I’m glad you can finally close this chapter and still have the memories to hold on to.

  31. Callie says:

    We had a catastrophic house fire a few years ago and thank goodness only half our house burned because although we had adequate coverage on the house we only had $20,000 in personal property coverage. WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH NOTHING. we had so many family and friends reading and rewriting policies after our fire. So sorry to hear of your loss-it is so so hard (but it was a good way to get rid of a lot of my husbands tshirts). Haha

  32. Lindsey says:

    Ugh…. so awful. My parents are going through insurance issues for the last year and a half. They had their oil tank spill 250 gallons in their basement which spilled in the sump pump that then pumped the oil out into the yard into local creeks and streams. And the year before my moms dad died suddenly. So they are headed to court with several insurance company’s. So I feel you on so many levels on my parents behalf. It sucks. But the bright side nothing compares to the love and support of family, friends and church family at times like this. Life is really put into perspective. Big love to you guys and your family!

  33. Talia says:

    My house burnt down while I was in high school 4 1/2 years ago. It was unimaginable living in a hotel for months and then moving into a rental home while our home was rebuilt. Our contractor that was rebuilding was dishonest and because of that my family had to give up on the house when it was finally completed because it was built so poorly and they finally had to move last month. They are still dealing with the insurance company every day, coming up on 5 years later in May.

  34. Jenny says:

    I lived through a fire, was home asleep when it started. My entire front room of our small apartment was engulfed. I feel lucky to be alive. To this day stories of fires are triggering, and I had real PTSD for a long while afterward. I am so sorry this happened to your beautiful home, and to your family. Thank you for sharing so openly.

  35. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I thought just having homeowners insurance would be enough to know that I am covered in case anything happens, but reading your story reminds me that that is not the case! I now plan on going home and doing a video walk-through of each room, nook and cranny. After we bought our home, we made changes to it, and when I called our homeowners insurance representative, she was trying to talk me out of updating the details on our home so that our monthly dues wouldn’t have to go up, but I would much rather pay up front and have everything new, including our newly installed solar panels that we purchased, be covered by them and listed on the insurance paperwork. Getting insurance can feel overwhelming, and going through claims feel even more overwhelming, so I greatly appreciate your transparency and guidance for the rest of us! I hope nothing but the best for you!

  36. Erica Bryant says:

    Julia,
    Thank you so much for opening up and sharing with us about your journey. We go to Red River, NM every year and have gotten the same cabin for a long time. It’s called the “Granny Cabin” because it’s the oldest home in town. Even though we didn’t renovate this space, it was a home away from home for us, and I would have been completely heart broken if I ever found out it had burned down. This was the place my little sister learned how to walk in, the place I first learned how to play Apple To Apples, the place where we built forts on the side of the mountain out back, the lace with great sentimental value. With all this said, I admire how you and Chris have been so open and handling this situation. Keep going strong and never stop doing what you love!
    Love you both!
    Erica

  37. OurCurrentSitch says:

    Our family has been living in a hotel for 3 months because of a kitchen flood. We just moved into a rental house, thankfully. The asbestos removal company that was hired by insurance did a terrible job removing it, and they took the containment down so the asbestos was tracked all over the house. The insurance company (triple “Lame”) refused to fix the situation and wouldn’t do any testing, so we paid $3k out of pocket to prove the asbestos was still there. Then they said we were being uncooperative and threatened to pull our housing money. We wrote a letter to the VP but the rottenness goes all the way to the top. We had to hire a lawyer. What a mess. The rest of demo hasn’t even started. This process is TERRIBLE.

  38. Cori says:

    Chris and Julia, all I can say is I’m sorry you’ve had to walk through all of this. The simple fact of your cabin burning down is so devastating – then add to that the incredibly arduous, taxing, frustrating, and emotional task of itemizing everything in the cabin, battling with reluctant, and at times probably hostile, insurance companies, only to be forced into acceptance with a too-small settlement. That should not be the way it has to work. I am glad you have closure now, and that you can look back with joy at the beautiful memories made at the cabin. As always, thank you for sharing.

  39. Whitney says:

    I strongly relate to this post and thank you for sharing. I still have PTSD thinking of two years ago where our upstairs bathroom pipe froze and flooded our home while away on vacation. Perhaps because it was a flood, there weren’t as many questions about the cause but it was on our mind at times that they may not pay. We had to show receipts for sure! So much of our furniture and rugs were brand new since we had just bought the house one year prior. We were displaced into a rental since it was our primary home. I do feel we received a proper payout. We were also able to fully renovate our house to do things that could have taken us years to accomplish ourselves… that’s my silver lining. :)

  40. T says:

    This is THE MOST relevant blogger post I’ve ever read! Thanks Chris and Julia! So many bloggers focus entirely on the cosmetic nature of what they are selling and projecting in image. It can all go up in flames. So real!! Best of luck in all things!

  41. Ardith says:

    Your tenacity and grace during this horrendous ordeal is remarkable. Considering what you went through, including that cross-examination that required legal advice and its additional cost, and finally the amount of restitution you actually received…for me points to a very broken insurance industry. It’s been broken for a long time, but things have gone too far.

    From natural disasters to instances such as yours—and certainly in the face of how much money is handed over to these companies in the first place—it is disgusting how the customer is made to feel should the need for help and reimbursement arise. The insurance companies set the price, set all the claim parameters, etc. Then they have the gall to turn around and treat the customer as suspect while ultimately pushing to pay out as little, if any, as possible. Whatever reimbursement results can take a long time to pay out, years in some cases.

    Meanwhile, the customer still has to pick up the pieces of their possibly shattered lives. Certainly, without insurance they would have to find a way to rebuild on their own. But given the percentage of income people can spend on various forms of insurance, at the least they should be treated far better during the claim process. The insurance company should act a true representative of its customer. At best, the reimbursement should accurately reflect the loss incurred (particularly when the loss is as well documented as yours).

  42. Ema-Lee Rowe says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s not the same, but our home flooded in August, and we’re still dealing with the insurance company. The cheques we receive will be no where near the cost of our loss, but I’m so grateful we had all the correct coverage. You’re not alone, it’s such a hard time.

  43. Angie Tersiguel says:

    My heart aches for you, but I’m thankful for the closure and peace for both you and Chris. Insurance can be the most grueling of the grief. A necessary evil that creates unnecessary angst, grief and frustration. Our family restaurant flooded twice in three years. The floods were horrific on their own, but insurance took it to an almost unbearable level. Thank you for sharing – you definitely aren’t alone.

  44. Paula says:

    This is the MOST relevant post you’ve ever had for me, and I’m so sorry you guys have gone through this. We’ve been going through an insurance fight for the last three years over a leak in our home that trashed the whole main floor. It’s so hard. Emotionally exhausting and the anxiety we’ve felt is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. All that to say: I was really wondering how y’all left such a beautiful plot of land but to read your story, I completely understand now. Dealing with insurance is without any doubt the worst experience of our life.

    Hoping for bigger better things for you and your family this year!! <3

  45. Jennifer Panos says:

    I can relate to this so well. I had a house fire in my home many years ago after lightning stuck the chimney, traveled down and stuck a gas line in the fireplace causing an explosion and fire. $300,000 in damages. I was home with my children when it occurred. The worst experience of my life thus far. A miracle the children were not seriously injured or killed. A long story to share.

    Just glad for you that no injuries occurred. The things can be replaced of course, the memories of your cabin will be bittersweet and the life lessons…well they last forever.

    Love following you and Chris and your sweet family! Be well!

  46. Carrie says:

    I’ve thought about you guys so much through it all. My home survived a tornado and there was so much gratitude with that, but the insurance situation turned into a nightmare. I went through 4 adjusters before I finally got enough to fix the structure, and the contents exchange was heartbreaking too.
    Insurance no longer feels like a secure peace of mind thing. It’s important, but not easy. I know you sharing your story will likely help so many and I’m grateful you were able to.

  47. Nichole says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about the circumstances of the fire. A fire is really the worst kind of loss because most of the time it causes a huge amount of damage and is very personal. Thank you for sharing your experience with an insurance company. I wanted to comment because I’m an insurance agent specializing in insuring higher value homes that are unique and/or custom and the most common misconception is that homeowners insurance is all the same. It is not and there are insurance companies out there (while they may be more expensive) that will not haggle with you and are really client-focused in a claims scenario. Also it really helps to have an agent who can be your advocate and navigate the difficult aspects of a larger loss like this. Thanks for sharing with others to use your platform to educate people about taking ownership of their policies and asking questions before a claim.

    • Michelle says:

      I would love to hear your thoughts on how to know if your insurance agent can be your advocate? I feel they they all say the same things when they are selling it to you. I also noticed they changed tone a LOT after the 2008 housing market crash. It was hard to even keep the legally required insurance on my empty home while we waited for it to sell…we had relocated to another state. I worry even now that we’re unprepared to manage a fire. I will be talking through this blog post with my husband though.

  48. Michelle says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your claims experience with your insurance company. I’m sorry they weren’t more proactive with you. When you spoke to the lawyer to prep for the examination under oath did they discuss filing a bad faith lawsuit against the insurance company? It definitely sounds like they acted in bad faith and didn’t fully communicate with you everything in a timely manner. This may help you bridge the gap. As an insurance adjuster, this story is hard to hear since I always act proactively for my customers. Again, so sorry for your experience.

    • Julia says:

      It was definitely something we talked about. We were pretty exhausted to start a lawsuit but we decided if they didn’t recover most of our costs we would have.

  49. Rischel Haynie says:

    I was an insurance adjuster for a long time. Our fire investigators were always 3rd party. Documenting everything in video is so great! It helps speed things up for sure. Insurance policies are so complex and hard to understand. But on your personal property you have the option to buy replacement cost coverage or actual cash value. Replacement cost coverage means you’ll get value of the items a lost at their current brand new value. Which means you’ll sometimes get even more per item than what you paid.

  50. Karen T says:

    It’s frustrating to think that as a home owner, you do the right things and have insurance coverage that is willingly paid for throughout the year, but then have to fight the same people who you give business to, just to get what you paid for. And in the process they treat you like you’ve done something wrong, and add stress to an already difficult situation. Pretty bad system, and very contrary to all the marketing you see from insurance companies “being there when you need us”. You recommended a yearly video log of possessions and to make your insurance company aware of improvements, but how in the world do people really recoup from a disaster in their main home? Thousands upon thousands of possessions, and likely the majority of them don’t have receipts (we don’t retain receipts for things we keep/are happy with). I guess we’ll call our insurance agent and get a better understanding of our policy and their processes. Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you went through this.

  51. Pam says:

    Chris and Julia-
    Thank you for sharing the details of your cabin loss. I found it extremely interesting and informative.
    I’m so thankful that after all you went through that you did receive a settlement you are at peace with.
    Blessings
    Pam

  52. Lindsey says:

    So eye opening! Thank you for sharing. It just added a lot of action items to my to-do list. A word of caution to those with expensive jewelry, a friend of mine found out the hard way (after burglary) that typical home insurance does not cover jewelry and you need a separate policy.

    Curious why the inspectors weren’t happy that you were there? If a DIY goes wrong, does that mean no payout?

  53. Kimmy says:

    It is heartbreaking to read all you had to go through after such a traumatic loss. After suddenly losing my spouse 6 years ago at the young age of 24 I was rudely awakened to complex world of life insurance and mortgage life insurance. It is so upsetting to hear others being treated so terribly after such a trauma. My heart goes out to you and your family that you may now heal more wholly with this behind you. <3

  54. Rachel says:

    I think more people can relate to this story than you think. I’m from Houston and my home flooded from Hurricane Harvey and the 52″ of rain dumped on Houston over a long weekend. Maybe it was easier for us because my family had a built-in support group since about 90% of my neighbors flooded. However, most of my neighbors did not have flood insurance and seeing their total loss – primary homes, property values, personal belongings, cars, etc. – was devastating. I’m going to be honest – the grief and anxiety and feelings of loss are still very strong in my community 2-1/2 years later….not to mention the lingering PTSD whenever a strong weather system moves through.

    I would like to say, I LOVE your comment about documenting all personal items and keeping insurance companies in “the know” about home improvements. This is such good advice! My other take-away is to keep all vital paperwork – marriage licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, etc. – in a single safe place. We now own a small firebox where we keep all these items.

    Best of luck to you all! You are not alone!

  55. Tiffany says:

    I’m going to start documenting my house today. Thanks so much for sharing your personal struggle with the aftermath of that devastating fire. ❤️

  56. Jordan G says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing. I have a new perspective now, and I plan to implement your tips to better protect our family in case something happens. It couldn’t have been easy to write this, but thank you for taking the time to help the rest of us.

  57. Kelly says:

    Thank you so much for this post. We had a tree fall on our house and completely demolish the main living level of our home last February. I wish there had been information like this at the time about dealing with insurance companies. We were lucky and our insurance adjusters were mostly easy to work with but it is still such a frustrating and long process. There just isn’t much information out there about how the process works and how to deal with such large checks for the structural rebuild. We are finally on the other side of it and it’s like we can breathe again. I appreciate you opening up about your experience as I’m sure it will help others going through similar situations!

  58. Jadyn says:

    This was amazing, Julia.

  59. Angela says:

    Thank you for this valuable information! I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you to write about so I want you to know that we truly appreciate it.

  60. Lisa says:

    Hi Julia – This is super informative! I had a total loss house fire about 25 years ago. The loss itself was so painful for my entire family, though we felt blessed that no one was hurt. It took well over a year to settle our claim. A year very similar to yours with lots of pressure and stalling on the part of our insurance company. The sad truth is that the insurance industry is looking for ways NOT to pay your claim. And they have whole departments of people to find ways not to pay you for what you’ve already paid THEM for. Please don’t think I’m bitter, because as harrowing as the process was, we got through it and eventually were mostly made whole. But this is an enormous education people need. You are doing so much to educate us all in all things house and HOME!

  61. Patricia says:

    My husband and I would walk around our house with a video camera and open every drawer, closet, cupboard and film close up on every shelf. Include the basement, attic and garage. And I would describe and list what we were looking at. It doesn’t take long. Then store the DVD at a bank or somewhere else safe away from your residence.

  62. Kelly L says:

    What a freaking nightmare all around. So sorry about the entire thing, but glad it’s [sort of] behind you.

  63. Michelle says:

    I think this post was enlightening and educational for so many of us and has me for sure pulling out our policy and seeing if we need an adjuster by to review our renovations. This tragic event was also one of the #1 reasons I signed on to your ADT partnership months ago. I am not one to worry about a burglary or home invasion, but I have two dogs who are home all day while I’m away and have a pet sitter if we go on extended vacations. Owning such an old house, we were in it mostly for the smoke/CO2 coverage. Having peace of mind that emergency services know that our precious fur-kids are not only home, but what their names are and where we keep them gives me peace of mind when I leave the house. The amount of information you and Chris put out there and share has made me a better home-owner in many ways, so thank you.

  64. Saima says:

    Thank you for this. I’m sure it was painful to relive it, but I have literally already emailed my husband with a to-do list to document both what’s in our home currently and what we need to do when we start phase 2 of our home renovation this spring. This is the kind of information that can be hard to come by unless you go through it personally, so I know we all appreciate you sharing your experience.

  65. Monica says:

    Oh my gosh. This process sounds SO painful! Thank you for sharing so the homeowners among your readership can be prepared too. I’ve Marie Kondo-ed and gotten rid of so many receipt documents. I’ll have to start that up again digitally. Thanks again!

  66. Jessica Costa says:

    WOW. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this, Julia. I’m sure it’s not easy to recount all this, when your heart still hurts from the loss of something so meaningful to you. The most important thing we can do with our life experiences is learn from them. The best thing we can do for others is to share our experiences with them so they can learn from our heartaches. So THANK YOU so much for sharing this with all of us. I KNOW I guessed and estimated the value of our belongings when setting up our insurance coverage. Even after having to do inventory for a company-arranged move, it was all estimates and who knows if I have receipts. I’m not a blogger (yet), but this has really enlightened me to just how important it is to keep documentation and receipts. Sending you guys so many good vibes and hoping you can start 2020 afresh in your beautiful new home. You have so much to look forward to and are such an inspiration to all of us! <3

  67. Hedy DeCampo says:

    Almost 30 years ago, we suffered a fire loss of our primary home. It was devastating to say the least, but our insurance company was great. We did have to list everything we owned, which was no small undertaking. I certainly feel for you and your family.

  68. Tricia says:

    This is such a well and thoughtfully written epilogue to your experience, and while none of us readers DESERVE to know, it just speaks to the authenticity of you both, not just as a brand or a business but as People. Many thanks for continuing to share ALL the things surrounding making a home for yourself. ????

  69. Laura says:

    Thank you for sharing. ???? I found it helpful to document our home and contents (including open closets etc) at least once a year after I do a deep clean in the spring or fall or now after the holidays. It’s much easier now with my phone, but I use a big cleaning or any new purchase/improvement as a reminder to document. I used to make copies of photos/vcr tapes and store off site, but now just back up my phone in the cloud.

  70. Allyson says:

    Thank you. This is a really important read.

  71. Maureen says:

    Thank you so much Julia for this incredible amount of real life information. I appreciate that you assembled this for us and imagine it was really painful to relive every detail… as in remembering things you lost there that were precious to you. I live in Redding California and was evacuated for 5 days during the Camp Fire and the Paradise Fire. Many of our friends and family lost their homes. It is still devastating to drive around your own neighborhood and see the charred landscape. Yes the homes were cleared out. We still suffer with the memories…. PTSD. The knowledge you are sharing hear is personal and emotional…. yet you yourself out there. I fully believe ???? percent that you are changing and saving people’s lives in this post. Thank you from deep in my heart.

  72. Melani says:

    So sorry for all you’ve had to go through. This is such good information to provide though! We never know what might happen and it’s much easier to prepare in advance when you are level headed an unemotional. In the middle of a crisis its hard to remember all the detail. Without photos, inventories and receipts a devastating event becomes even more painful as you try to recoup your losses.
    My home was robbed a year ago and it’s so difficult to try to piece together what was missing (while constantly 2nd guessing… ie was that watch stolen? or is it just not where I thought it should be? etc etc)
    I now have an inventory app and upload photos and info there to help in the event of any other emergency that damages my home or property.

  73. Joanna says:

    We experienced a fire, though not of this magnitude, last summer. It made me never want to buy anything ever again. Having to categorize and document every little item was draining. I definitely second the suggestion to keep a personal inventory. You never want to have to use it but if you ever need it, it will be a life saver.

  74. Adrian says:

    I’m really glad you guys got everything sorted and worked out for the most part! 11 months is a really long time to deal with this. This is great info Burbank it also is a bit daunting since most people don’t have the financial resources to do what you guys did here! What do people do when they don’t have $30k up front to clear land? Or money for an attorney? Or for an architect/draftsman to help prove value and rebuild cost? It’s pretty scary to think that if you aren’t well off then your insurance company might very well leave you even worse off!

    But I’m curious how’ve you guys figured it was solely a personal property and not a business property, as the insurance initially decided, since the cabin was supposed to be a primary focus of the business side of things for the coming months? That seems like it would have been the hardest thing to navigate because it did for all intents and purposes (from an outside perspective) seem like a business project that also doubled as a family vacation spot! How do you separate business from personal when your personal is your business?

    • Julia says:

      I totally see how it’s a gray area, but from the legal side (taxes, mortgage) it was all set up as a personal property. Just as when we do projects on our primary home–our home is not business property (or we don’t have it set up that way), but we have our home office as a business space and taxed as such. If we had mortgaged it as a rental property or business it would be a completely different home. The mortgage was as a second home.

      • Erin says:

        This is a great point. When you’re working with brands to shoot content for your business, but you keep the items for your own personal use, then are the items inside the house covered by personal or business insurance?
        Have you considered taking out business insurance on your new home to better cover the furnishings/upgrades that you’ve worked with brands on?

      • Sarah says:

        Julia, I’m so sorry for such a horrible experience! I just wanted to tell you that you have to get USAA!! My one and only insurance claim was a leak behind our fridge that went through to the basement but it was minor! I almost didn’t claim it because we could dry it out but we were going to sell the house within months and I thought I’d kick myself if it ended up being bigger than I thought and I had to pay out of pocket. i filed a claim with USAA and it was Awsome! they let me pick my contractor & wanted me to be happy. They pulled up a few floor boards and pulled the cabinets out to check for damage. It was super minor so they just replaced a few boards and then offered to sand the WHOLE MAIN FLOOR 2600 soft and stain it all to match. They new boards were about 3ft by 10ft in sq ft but the transition ways were wide and you could see a difference in stain so they said do it all . They paid for movers to clear the main floor, pulled and replaced baseboards, painted, all necessary sanding, new patches in flooring, full anti microbial spray to prevent mold, 1 week of dehumidifying, paid to have all ducts cleaned and sanitized post repairs and when our counter tops cracked putting the cabinets back they PAID FOR NEW ONES!! they even let me replace granite on a wet bad counter top in the living room because you could see it from the kitchen. They dried out the basement wall (cement and timber so no big deal, cleaned my carpets for my whole basement and allowed me to have an electrician come check the electrical box because it was MINIRLY damp from the leak. They paid for plastic draping during construction, clean up, storage of contents, movers, reimbursed food when kitchen wasn’t useable, reimbursed food that went bad in fridge, AND MILEAGE and gas because we had to drive from further away in hotel, and ALL lodging for us for 2.5 months as well. It ended up 35,000 and the house looks new! I couldn’t believe it. They paid out promptly and NEVER argued with me about anything. They exceeded my expectations in every way. I honestly felt bad that it cost so much. can’t say enough about it! Seriously, they are the BEST company to work with and they TRULY stand behind their service. If you have family that is military or ever served (grand parent or parents or spouse, you are eligible!!). Don’t miss out…..oh, and… they don’t do depreciated values. They offer full replacement value only!! They also did NOT increase my premiums or drop my coverages when I was up for renewal. I mean????????????. They did SO MUCH more than any other company does on the market and I couldn’t have had a better experience! Also, their rates are better than ANYONE on the market. I’ve had 20 years of agents trying to compete and NO ONE can bear their coverages or prices. Certainly not their service either. Same experience with auto insurance and banking. Best in the business! P.s. I’m not an employee or related to USAA in any Way besides being a thrilled customer.. also, take picture is BRILLIANT advice but VIDEO IS INVALUABLE. Go room by room, closet by closet, drawer and container by container. FILM IT ALL! keep receipts in a fireproof safe and upload videos to be cloud. Great advice!

      • Victoria says:

        Wow!! So glad to hear this! We just switched to USAA and I’m glad to hear they live up to their reputation!

      • I have had USAA for more than 25 years and I agree they are reliable, and trustworthy and dedicated to customer service in everything they do. Check them out. I also have my auto with them. Originally you had to be a member of the armer forces or direct family. I don’t think this is the case any longer.

  75. Jill M. T. says:

    I‘m hoping that after a few months, or maybe a year, you‘ll rebuild. Your work is incredible and I loved watching it come together! Although I‘m here just for the entertainment. :)

  76. For granted and it sounds like we totally should not do that. Thank you so much for all this great information says:

    Ohmygosh this is SO helpful and eye-opening to read. You take insurance For granted and it sounds like we totally should not do that. Thank you so much for all this great information

  77. LZ says:

    Hello, Julia. Long long long time reader, first-time commentator. Thank you for sharing this very useful post. This is one of the many reasons why your blog is the only one I still read!! Big hug.

  78. Thank you for sharing.

  79. Katie G. says:

    This was extremely eye opening. I am so sorry that you had to go through such a horrific ordeal. I appreciate you sharing your experience with us and what you learned from it. Thank you!
    Wishing you blessings-

  80. I just want to give you a hug after reading this. Such a traumatic and emotional experience, I can’t imagine. Things can be replaced but it doesn’t make it easier, especially sentimental items (like your Christmas stockings). Thank you for sharing, I’m sure this will help someone and I know it’s important to do more inventory on video annually, especially living in CA in the heart of wildfire country. You’re truly amazing for keeping your spirits up and and continuing forward and providing all of us such wonderful content and fun projects to watch in the midst of such stress behind the scenes. It’s amazing you went through all of this while doing the kitchen makeover too! Lots of love to your family.

  81. Sarah says:

    Oh wow, my heart goes out to you. I can’t believe how difficult they made this for you! Would you publish the name of the insurance company so that we can all steer clear of them? Surely there must be companies who are compassionate and hold up their end of the insurance agreement, does anyone have any recommendations?

    • Sarah says:

      Usaa was amazing. I left a comment above with our experience if you’re interested. They were WONDERFUL ans all about making me whole. They could have denied certain items on us and chose to say yes because I would be happy. It blew my mind! Check them out!

  82. Cameron says:

    I have a few questions. You did not pay for most of the items in the cabin. They were given to for free. So how does that work? Also, in some ways it absolutely was a business place. You used that cabin to generate content for your business. Did you have replacement cost insurance? Replacement cost doesn’t care about how old an item is, it does not matter if an item is depreciated. I think that is an important distinction for people . Replacement cost does cost more, but not so much more. It is absolutely worth it.

  83. Natalia says:

    Thanks you so much for sharing this valuable information. Thanks for bringing good for others
    out of something that has been so painful for you.

  84. Brianna says:

    Wow this truly was so interesting and helpful to read, I’m so grateful you took the time to share!

  85. Callie says:

    Thank you for sharing and I’m so sorry you had to go through so much!! This is 100% relevant and such a good reminder. I had a house hit by a tornado several years ago, and even as not a business owner I would highly highly recommend getting a lawyer ASAP after an event like this to protect and help through the process. Insurance companies can be so difficult to work with, and the stakes are high, especially if they document anyone saying/doing something they think doesn’t line up, no matter how innocently! My partner at the time ended up getting arrested. :(

  86. Maya says:

    This is such useful information. I’m sorry so sorry you had to go through this, but thank you for sharing ❤️

  87. Andrea says:

    Such an important post. My parents had a fire in their home last February also and I’ve watched this whole process unfold and it’s heartbreaking. If it wasn’t for the fact that my dad is a contractor and knows all the details of the home they would have been screwed over. The insurance companies are banking on you being clueless and just wanting a check. The fight has been brutal and has even affected my parents health. The stress of getting what you are owed when they try and undercut you at every corner. And an adjuster who is assigned has made it clear he is making the process as difficult as possible. Let’s just say if the process went as promised by the policy the house rebuild would be done last month… the rebuild just started this month!!
    My husband and I immediately had our house reassessed and now know which parts of the policy to add to.

  88. LS says:

    This was so so so helpful. Things you never think about! Thanks for sharing!

  89. Literally cried reading this. It’s a blessing that you had a home to go to when this happened an everyone is okay but goodness to lose something of this capacity is difficult I could imagine. I am happy y’all are FINALLY able to somewhat “close” that chapter. I told my husband about all of this and we are still young and don’t have our first home but it made me want to document EVERYTHING ! Wishing y’all many blessings !

  90. Sharon capone says:

    Oh Julie. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I had to stop reading because it was making me cry. The fire was so so horrific then for the insurance not to allow you to heal is so awful. I am so glad you followed your instincts and left the cabin that night. Thank god you are all ok. It gives me nightmares. Hopefully now you can start to heal and enjoy your beautiful girls and really really beautiful new house. We love you and pray for you. Love Aunt Sharon

  91. Jason Hoffman says:

    Do you feel at all that your specific insurance company made the claims process more difficult than normal? I know this is hard to answer because you haven’t gone through it with another company, but i am sure you did lots of research to try to see what the process is “normally” like. I’d also be curious to know if you switched insurance companies after! (assuming you use the same one for your main home)

    Thank you so so much for sharing the journey. Your content is incredible and brings me so much joy each day that I get to follow along!

  92. SG says:

    I’m so sorry that you all had to go through this! Hugs to you both, that’s a LOT to work through while you’re also grieving the loss.

    THANK YOU for sharing this process! My SO and I live in a house that’s owned by a family trust – his family also owns a rental property nearby and a family vacation home – and this has me thinking about how we really need to organize documentation for maintenance/improvements we do on all of those properties.

  93. Melissa says:

    Thank you for sharing. Our time is the most valuable thing we have. It’s fantastic this is behind you. Thanks for inspiring me and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  94. Hannah Peterson says:

    Taking your advice and digitizing receipts, taking an inventory, and letting the insurance company know of any renovations. You really are making a difference by sharing. Thank you.

  95. Katy says:

    What. A. Nightmare. But all I can think is how INCREDIBLY lucky you are that no one was sleeping in that back room with the heavy rug covering the escape well window. That was right next to the furnace room, right??? Oh my gosh, you guys dodged a bullet there. Thankfully, it’s over, no one was hurt or killed, and you can move on. Breathing a sigh of relief for you both!

    • Cris says:

      Katy,
      What an awful thing to say! “You dodged a bullet there” WHAT?! Who even says that to someone who’s suffered trauma from something like this. Um I think they already know they were so blessed to have no one injured in the fire, no reason to point that out. Unless you’re trying to make a point, about something and you aren’t actually concerned for their family’s welfare ????????‍♀️ If that’s the case, we’ll I don’t even know what to say to a comment with like that.
      Julia I’m so sorry for the trauma you and your husband and even your girls have suffered from this tragedy. I remember reading your posts the days following and Just crying and hurting for you. I can’t even imagine having to reopen wounds as your process with the insurance company drug on for a year, how awful. So glad there was some sort of end or “closure” for your family. Now I hope you can find peace and possibly move on and fully recover from all of this. But if you can’t, I totally get it. Thank you for sharing your story and giving your audience great tips to hopefully help others who might suffer through something similar.

      • Michelle says:

        Hey, need to be so harsh? I don’t think this was as insensitive a post as you seemed to find it. Basically saying wow, what a nightmare, I’m glad you’re all ok. While I agree that idioms like “dodged a bullet” can be thoughtlessly dismissive, I also don’t think jumping all over it is a way to model sensitivity.

  96. Jamie says:

    Thank you for writing this. I think that there is very little out there about what happens after a fire and the steps you should take to protect yourself. We had a substantial fire in our primary residence almost 3 years ago now. The back wall of the house, the attic and roof all burned almost completely. Unlike your cabin, a lot of the structure/framing remained, but the contents were a complete loss and the house was gutted. Following the fire, there was a snow fall and then a freeze, so there was a delay in getting the insurance company in to inventory the personal property. We had only purchased the home about 6 months prior and not only hadn’t documented what we had, but in large part hadn’t purchased the fixtures so didn’t have proof of value. We ended up arguing with the insurance company over things like the value of the huge chandelier in our foyer (worth more than $50 they wanted to approve) or even just the brand of paint we wanted to use on the rebuild. We did rebuild and are back in the house, but are still (!) waiting on a final inventory and payout (although we did have a replacement budget as we went along for clothing, etc.) for the personal property. At the end of the day, I was home when the fire broke out so I was able to get my pets to safety and my kids were at my parent’s home so they weren’t there to witness it. We all ended up safe, which I am forever grateful for. But being proactive about documenting your property and keeping a record can save you a lot of hassle and heartache at a time when you are probably still reeling. I think a lot of people don’t realize that the burden is on you to actually prove what you had; the insurance company doesn’t usually just take your word for it. I’m happy that you guys got a resolution and are able to look forward. Happy New Year!

  97. Susanna l says:

    Thank you for sharing. This is all very hard but helpful.

  98. Christa says:

    As someone who works in the insurance industry and specializes in policy coverage, I think it is amazing that you are providing this education for your readers. I am know that some insurance carriers are better than others which I think is why it’s important to do you research but you never know how things will go until you have something happen to you. Thank goodness you guys had the documentation that you did but thank you for sharing how relevant it is. The majority of people do not know the importance of these details when it comes to their insurance policy.

    • Jocelyn says:

      What if all of your documentation is lost in the fire??

      • Michelle says:

        Yeah, then you may as well not have documented it. This is why there is a market for fire safe storage and, well, safety deposit boxes.

      • Luxie says:

        I’d like to add unless you have small children keep the Key in the lock after you lock it. If your house is ever broken into the person will just open it see paper work and probably leave it. If it’s locked than they’ll probably steal it. Also you can tape the key to the bottom so hopefully the thief will feel it and open it, if you have little kids that might move it or swallow it.

  99. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing, I can’t even imagine how painful this must have been to go through.

  100. Mary Smith says:

    I am so sorry that you went through this. If I could offer one word of further advice it would be to never settle with an insurance company until you are made whole. Entirely whole. Period. It’s worth going to court over it and many, many people do. I’m sorry you missed that opportunity and settled for less than you were due. In the future, hire an attorney if you need to. Oh, and change insurance companies now. You should never have had to go through that.

  101. Kiera Chambers says:

    Thank you so much for this post.
    Living in Far Northern California where we experienced too many devastating wildfires in 2018 this information is invaluable. The day the Carr Fire took out two small communities, a portion of a much larger city and too many lives I had a weird need to walk around my house and video everything. Hours later we lost power and then were evacuated for 5 days. Thankfully our home was saved but sadly 1000’s weren’t as lucky. And there are too many stories where the initial trauma of the fire and horrifying evacuations are just exacerbated by the interactions with insurance companies. Why must this be so hard? I am now grieving watching the fires in Australia and knowing that they are just beginning this process.
    Again, thank you for sharing your process it is very important information. It is a very small consolation, but if one family can learn from your experience I hope it will make it just a tad less painful.

    • Victoria says:

      Julia, I’m so sorry you and Chris had to go through so much during such a heartbreaking time. Thank you for being so open and honest, and I’m glad it mostly worked out!

      I came to the comments here to mention the fires here in NorCal as well. We live right next to Paradise, where the Camp fire destroyed that town. I had close friends and acquaintances lose everything. We heard stories of Carr fire and Camp fire victims experience not only the trauma of losing all their possessions, but also the trauma of their insurance company doing their darnedest to pay out as little as possible. After hearing some terrible stories about certain companies, we did our research and got a new policy that has a good reputation for their generous payout policies. The last thing you want to do when recovering from a fire is all the legwork Julia mentions.

      Another note: A LOT of Camp fire victims in Paradise were renters with no insurance. They lost everything and did not have any protection. If you are a renter, please get renter’s insurance! It’s cheap!

  102. Brianna says:

    Thank you for sharing so openly! As you said, there really isn’t much out there about life after a fire but these are great, actionable tips on things to do in advance. Prioritizing organizing our receipts and taking video ASAP!

  103. Chrissy says:

    I just emailed my insurance agent to make sure our $150k in renovation is covered and ask what kind of documentation they needed on file. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

  104. Staci says:

    I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through. My brother is a Personal Injury Attorney and fights insurance companies day in and day out. His job does not exist in other countries because insurance companies pay people what they are due. My brother often reminds me, we think insurance companies are go by the golden rule, but the reality is he who has the gold sets the rules. It’s terrible insurance companies low ball clients and cause so much fight, stress and anxiety. We’ll all be a little smarter and protect ourselves better after your experience. Thank you for sharing.

  105. Lilah says:

    So many lessons. Thank you for sharing. I need to review my homeowner’s insurance and start documenting things! I’m glad you are more at peace.

  106. Angie says:

    Wow, first off I am so sorry you went through that. Second, thank you! I would have never known any of this! We recently completed a remodel and our home is now worth more than the initial purchase, but as I read this I realize my proof may be slim. I can’t imagine going through something like this on a primary/only residence . I am sad this happened to you, but grateful that you’ve been able to potentially help so many other people in the process.

  107. Jill Waters says:

    Julia, that sounds like a complete nightmare. Please make sure you “write off” any additional loss on your personal income taxes. Several years ago, my mother’s house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground (while we all were inside!). I handled all the insurance on her behalf. We had an amazing experience with State Farm and she ended up to the good in the end. BUT the insurance process was not easy. I became a subject matter expert on recovery after a fire. The inventory was absolutely grueling and took me six weeks to complete. They kept rushing me but I was determined to do it on my timeframe. Her policy was unique in that she had all these extra “buckets” of money available if certain criteria was met. It’s absolutely critical to study the policy in and out! It can mean the difference in $1000s of dollars.

    Hopefully you guys can put the awful experience behind you.

    • andrew says:

      They also need to make sure they’re paying taxes on all the gifted stuff sponsors sent them. Just because you’re sent it to free, does not exactly make it free. You still need to pay taxes on it, and since they said they didn’t claim the stuff on their business taxes, they should have noted them on their personal taxes.

  108. Julie says:

    Wow, thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry you had to go through this nightmare. I had an apartment fire about 10 years ago and lost everything, but my insurance process was much, much easier. I had to do the complete inventory, of course, but they specifically told me NOT to list out each individual item for most things. For example, I could just write “kitchen utensils” or “dishware.” I had to approximate the age and value, but they didn’t ask for any receipts. Of course, it was a small renter’s policy. Your tip about a video tour is a great one — putting it on my calendar now!

  109. Kira says:

    I am so sorry you had to go through this, but thank you for sharing everything you’ve learned along the way in such a thoughtful and detailed post. Insurance is so tricky and frustrating; no doubt that this will turn a negative into (more of) a positive for someone else someday.

  110. Ann in Chicago says:

    Thank you, THANK YOU, for sharing this painful story. We completed a 50% renovation on our home three years ago, and while I hurriedly documented the rooms in photos before we went on a vacation, it definitely wasn’t finished like it is now, nor are we good about keeping receipts for big ticket items for the long term. You think you won’t need them.

    Your story is a good example of how insurance companies make their billions, and agencies rake in millions in commissions. They are happy to take our expensive premiums, and we trust the “replacement value” we read in the 30-page contracts. But when people have a tragedy, and lose it all, the truth is the Insurance companies try to swindle you. And if you don’t know, or can’t afford, to get legal representation, you get robbed. Imagine all the homeowners across the country who lost their primary homes and possessions to floods, tornadoes or wild fires. Their insurance companies will still make their money, and the executives will still have their multi-million paychecks, while the victims are homeless and in for a year-long battle (or longer) for their insurance money.

  111. JessB says:

    Wow, such a good post. I’m going to video tape our stuff…hahahahaha, did I just say video tape??

    • Michelle says:

      Lol I still say that sometimes too. Video tip, zoom in on model numbers for appliances. You can also video receipts as back up if you have them. Credit card companies can help with cost, source and dates but it won’t have the item details.

  112. So crazy that you posted about this today. A friend lost his house in a fire this weekend and a volunteer firefighter came to talk to me about how much I knew about the fire equipment in our town. I live in an extremely rural area – with not a lot of people. So if a fire were to break out here – the burden of that might very well fall on me. I ended up calling our insurance agent yesterday to find out how to keep my policy updated. Check. Next – get educated on that fire equipment.
    So glad that you decided to share….Thank you for putting this out there.

  113. Gretchen says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing!

  114. Colleen says:

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of this but happy you were able to literally “show the receipts” and that you’re able to start putting this behind you.

    For those who don’t want the stress and hassle of keeping track of everything in your home, check to see if your insurer allows coverage for an amount instead of value when it comes to contents. We switched ours a few years back to a set dollar amount instead of having to submit a list of contents, in case of a claim. It alleviates the need for us to keep track of what’s in our home and just to keep in mind how much, in general, it would cost us to replace things. If something were to happen, we’d simply get a cheque for the amount of coverage we chose instead of having to provide a list.

  115. Kate F. says:

    Thank you for this–and I’m so sorry for your loss. We have never experienced anything this catastrophic (KNOCK WOOD), but a year ago we had a flood in the finished basement (in our son’s bedroom, actually) of our rental apartment while we were out of town. A burst radiator pipe in a wall was just *gushing* hot water; there was a couple inches of standing water throughout the lower level. Our cleaning lady called me a couple days after Christmas, and it seemed like the (hot) water had been flowing for at least a day or two. Our landlord’s property insurance covered the replacement of the flooring, repair to the walls, etc., but it was our rental insurance that made us whole for our belongings. And it’s SHOCKING how it adds up, even in a space that you wouldn’t consider a main living space. I think we ended up being reimbursed about $15K. (Our insurance company was amazing to work with, for the record; I highly recommend Amika if they cover your area.) You definitely don’t think about how much it will cost to replace everything in a room or a house until something happens. I definitely need to be better about documentation going forward; a video like you suggest is a great idea. I’ve also tried to get a lot better about storing things up off the floor in the basement!

  116. Amanda says:

    I know this is a family friendly blog, but I have to say, “holy shit.” This is absolutely ridiculous that you had to go through this. I fully understand the side of the insurance company but the amount of proving things that were already clearly documented seems tantamount to torture after you lost your home. I think of all of us “regulars” who would never either know where to find this proof or have such detailed knowledge and records. What an eye-opening thing. If something good can come from this awful experience, please know you’ve likely inspired many, many of us to get our own stuff in order just in case.

  117. Marina says:

    I hope your family has found some peace in this situation. My family owns a small business in Philadelphia, and I live above their office space where the business operates (I work there too). Almost 4 years ago, at 4AM, the office space caught fire, and I woke up to the alarms and could see the flames out my window, just below me. Thankfully everyone was able to get out of the building safely, and though the office was destroyed, the apartments above were alright. Our fire department did a great job – but oh how badly this hurt, and still does. We have so much family history in that office – my parents renovated the property on their own, built a business from scratch, and tell stories of my brother and I sitting in playpens as toddlers in the office in the early 90s. The investigation and insurance process was agonizing. The sheer number of adjusters calling you, showing up at your door, etc, it feels so hard to find closure. Our space, too, sat for almost a year untouched due to insurance issues. I walked by it every day. We have since renovated the space and have been back in it for about 3 years. Having been the only member of my family to wake up to and witness the flames, I still struggle…it’s just not something you can forget. But I have found peace and am proud to work with my family and keep our business running successfully. For anyone who has experienced similar situations, I can definitely say that therapy and talking about the situation can really help. Sorry for the long comment – this post is just so relevant to me! Thank you for sharing the good and the bad.

  118. Becky says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. We just had a claim denied for water damage to an unused room (our son is 28 and hasn’t lived in it in 10 years) from a leak inside the wall. Insurance company claimed it was ongoing and we should’ve seen it, implying we were negligent in some way even though contractors said it would’ve been there a long time before the damage began to show. I always fear fire and flood. My grandmother’s home burned and as a child we lost most everything in a hurricane. I’m usually thinking from a sentimental standpoint about losing keepsakes, but your story reminds me that I will surely have to do battle
    with insurance over everything should the need arise. I need to get busy documenting. Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad your precious memories are intact after your ordeal.

  119. Mara says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have a few questions, if you don’t mind. What happens to the mortgage during all this? Do you still have to pay it monthly until the insurance settles the claim? Also, maybe I missed it, but are you not selling the land now?

    • Julia says:

      Yes, we still had to make monthly mortgage payments on the cabin until this check came in 11 months later. Salt in the wound for sure. I’m pretty sure we’ll still sell the land. Just letting things settle for a bit.

    • Malia says:

      I was wondering the same thing as to what happened with the land in the end after receiving the 2 checks. Thank you for asking.

      Such a heart breaking situation. We appreciate you sharing this with us, Chris & Julia ❤️

  120. Kim says:

    Wow. This is such a heartbreaking piece of this story. It just makes me so sad that you had to fight for what’s fair after such a terrible loss. I’m so glad you were able to recoup much of what you were owed. And this is such a serious and important topic for everyone to understand. You made so many great points – I never thought of doing a video tour for this purpose, but I’m going to. And such a great tip to remember that you are able to be there and seek alternative expertise with lawyers and investigators. I’m sorry you had to go through this but thank you for sharing your experience. Hoping 2020 brings you many wonderful things and plenty of peace.

  121. Liz says:

    I wrote on IG already, but thank you for putting this experience out there and sharing the knowledge with this broad community. You are right, you never think it will happen to you, but Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate. I could write a book on navigating two insurance companies, city fire/arson inspectors and the crucible of rebuilding our home after we lost everything to a fire over three years ago. thank you thank you again for sharing.

  122. Liz says:

    Since this was a cabin away from your home, all or most of your receipts were probably at your house. This post really emphasizes the need to keep copies of key records in another safe location.

    Since I am getting older, I am reviewing my records and setting up a book listing where all the important papers are, accounts, passwords, etc. I bought a small mobile scanner that connects to my laptop is always by my desk to be able to scan. I backup files and store them offsite and in the cloud. Now, I realize that I need to add the photo documentation to the list of things to do.

    Thanks for the information….

  123. Loretta says:

    Having known two people whose homes burnt to the ground and some of their trials and tribulations I was not extremely surprised about the length of time it took you
    to get your final checks. I have two questions.
    1/ Did you use the same company for insurance on
    the cabin that you did in your home?
    2/ When you bought your latest home did you change
    insurance companies?
    I feel certain that the insurance adjusters has never seen
    any claimant with the amount of documentation you had
    and yet still they attempted to settle for less money.
    This is a wake up call for all of us and for that I thank you.
    I am sincerely sorry to hear that you two had to endure all of that and I think you did the right thing to clear the land and sell the lot. Time to move on and make other memories elsewhere. Again thank you for sharing and educating your readers.

  124. Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry you had to go through it. This was really eye-opening, and it will change how I document my house and belongings going forward.

  125. Molly says:

    Thank you for giving us an inside look into how this all worked. I’m sure it was painful, and my goodness did that take a long time! It’s painful enough to lose a home you love, but then to have to fight insurance adjusters is just another knife in the gut.

    Tracking personal belongings is so important, something that should be emphasized more in adulthood. I’m glad you finally have peace after all that heartache.

  126. Jill says:

    Well, thank you for that.
    I guess case closed, but sweet memories remain.
    Have a beautiful day.

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