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Picking Up The Pieces After a Fire

For Lee District homeowner Gloria McGee, when it rains it pours. While replacing her roof, a thunderstorm hit causing them to break out the tarps, turn off the electricity and light up some candles so they could pack up their overnight bags and go to a hotel. One candle was forgotten, which led to a house fire that the McGees are still battling an insurance company over.

"We're still battling with the insurance company, it's the worst thing I had to deal with," McGee said.

Once the insurance company took action, the damage was estimated at $60,000 but that was just to patch things up, according to McGee. Other companies she hired estimated the work at over $100,000.

"They were basically not doing what they were supposed to," she said.

While it was under construction, the house was vandalized and the insurance company had a problem with that as well, according to the McGees. After two-and-a-half years, having a baby and buying a new house, the McGees agreed to a settlement. She's apprehensive though.

"I'm not going to believe anything's solved until we get a settlement," she said.

Over the past few weeks in the Springfield-Burke area, there were six house fires with damage ranging from $30,000 to $150,000, showing the need for insurance coverage. Pat Warner, a Nationwide Insurance agent in Burke, deals with a variety of insurance coverage.

"You don't want to under or over insure it," she said.

The insurance at Nationwide, according to Warner, is divided between dwelling, which is from the market value and appraisal, structure coverage, loss of use, personal property, liability, sewer and water back up, and inflation. She recommends a policy called "insurance to value," which includes endorsements such as sewer and water back up coverage.

For the personal property coverage, which covers things inside the house, it does not need to be itemized at Nationwide. They do need written appraisals for some valuables though. Expensive jewelry is one example, Warner said.

"I like to have a certified gemologist report," she said.

Shelly Null is an insurance underwriter for State Farm insurance at the Virginia regional office in Charlottesville. They do not require itemization either but he recommends people maintain one anyway.

"We don't require any type of inventory, but I recommend they do it," he said.

IN THE LAST five years, the fees have gone up, according to Warner. Home insurance for less than $1,000 a year was fairly common five years ago but that rate is rare now. It is also affected by the price of the homes, which have risen substantially in the last five years. For instance, a home they recently insured at Warner's office that sold for $438,900 was insured for a half million in liability, cost $1,543 a year to insure. Homes over one million are considered "high value" homes which cannot be covered by policies sold through Warner's office.

"You're never going to see premiums go back to like they were five years ago," Warner said.

Five years ago was before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which influenced the insurance world as well. At State Farm, that event did not directly affect homeowners rates but at that time, there was an influx of bigger claims so rates did go up.

"There's no direct correlation," Null said.

A three-strike rule is being utilized by many companies, Warner said.

"More than three claims in a three year period, we will opt for a non-renewal. All the companies are clamping down on this," she said.

Warner recommended that minor things, which may be covered, are paid for out of the homeowners pocket.

"Sometimes we see claims that come in here for $65," she said.

Renters insurance is required by some apartment companies, but only a small percent actually get it, according to Null. He noticed significant events, such as the six fires in the area, sometimes causes a sudden influx in insurance purchases.

"It's those type of events that will cause an awareness in people. They take it for granted sometimes, it's a worst case scenario that makes people think twice," Null said.