Starting over: residents look to insurance |

Starting over: residents look to insurance

Susan Wood

Farmers Insurance agent Jon Hetherton answers a client's questions Wednesday morning at the group's mobile office. / Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune

John and Louise Simon embraced and broke down crying in grief at the remains of their destroyed Coyote Ridge home — but soon found relief in the rubble.

“Look, my wedding ring,” she said, pulling out the tiny object from the debris. The Christmas ornaments, her mother’s high school graduation ring, the swimming pool for the dog — all signified hope for the couple who spent 19 years off North Upper Truckee Road.

“I knew it burned. I just wanted to see it. Now I know, we can rebuild,” he said with resolution in his voice.

And now for most, the real work begins long after their hurried evacuation. Residents with damaged homes will need permits to demolish and pick up debris as well as money and knowledge to rebuild.

One of the first orders of business for the Simons was calling their insurance agent. The couple consists of one of at least 217 claims filed as a result of the Angora fire devastation, Tully Lehman of the Insurance Information Network of California confirmed Thursday morning.

Insurance consumer advocates warn some insurance policyholders may discover more surprises when they tap into the benefits and inquire about replacement costs. The price of construction materials such as concrete, metal and wood have skyrocketed. Major and numerous construction projects in China and Dubai have increased the demand for materials and jacked up the prices.

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The Simons’ agent, Bob Anderson of Fromarc Insurance in South Lake Tahoe, said replacement costs could range from $300,000 to $600,000 — which equates to $185 and $300 per square foot. The property value has no bearing on a home’s insurance replacement cost.

Anderson warned homeowners to be patient because it estimated it will take two to three years to rebuild.

Most insurance policies cover the dwelling, loss of property and loss of use — which is what agents refer to as A.L.E. (A Living Expense). That reimbursement is immediate. As for the loss of belongings, Anderson stressed that items would receive equivalent value reimbursement.

“If they said they had a Sears couch, they’re going to get a Sears couch — not leather,” he said.

For that, Vince Wetzel of State Farm Insurance recommended homeowners “take time to think about an inventory” of their belongings.

When former California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi joined the governor to tour the fire zone, he and current Commissioner Steve Poizner suggested homeowners with policies to videotape their belongings and leave that record somewhere else.

“That would terminate any discussion about what they have,” Garamendi said.

The insurance commission has pledged to come down hard on insurers that try to gouge policyholders and reduce benefits. They spearheaded a homeowners bill of rights three years ago that changed policy disclosure requirements to educate homeowners of their coverage.

Insurance companies have come out in full force to the South Shore, with tables set up in the assistance center at Lake Tahoe Community College, trucks around town and teams staged at local offices.

Pete Moraga of Allstate, who serves on the National Catastrophe Team, said he’s brought three units here to work on claims and offer advice.

Moraga’s recommendations for homeowners not to get burned on replacing their homes is to adjust their policies and meet with their agents.

A survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has found that many people believe their homeowners insurance covers losses that are not covered. The insurance covers only what it will cost to repair or replace damage to a home and its contents after depreciation has been taken into consideration.

But Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, contends insurance can be a negotiable thing.

“The most common mistake is not recognizing insurance claims are negotiable. Insurance companies are not going to offer beyond what they’re entitled to. The adjuster is friendly, but not your friend,” she said, tempering the comment by calling insurance a business.