Monday, April 29, 2013

6 months still standing - still fighting - growing tired

Today is the 6 month anniversary of Sandy gracing the Jersey shoreline! If you would have asked me 6 months ago would I still be houseless I would have told you no. I thought my elderly parents would be settled in a temporary home and we would be watching a new home start to be built. My parents would have been on the road to recovery.
Friday our public adjuster informed my parents that Prudential insurance company has requested mediation. We had received a letter from them a few days earlier telling us the same thing. We also received the letter that said don’t cash the check because they put a stop on the check.
There is a new program in the state of NJ by the Banking and Insurance Commission. It is a mediation program that both parties enter into freely. The insurance company pays for the mediation and it is not binding. The purpose is to help home owners move through the process quicker with insurance. The insurance company wants to know the following: Who told my parents they had to take their home down? Who gave them the permission to do so? Best line said “The insurance company feels that you demolished your home so you could receive more money from them.”
Let me first say my parents’ home wasn’t new. My parents have lived in the home for 45 years. The home was built in 1940 as a small shore bungalow that was added onto over the years even before my parents purchased the home in the last 60’s. Our home was a total Square footage 1540. My parents maintained their home. They updated the kitchen, added a laundry room, and converted the attic into living space when my grandmother came to live with my parents after a sniper in Jersey City was shooting at people. My mother wanted her mother save in Union Beach.
The home has seen remodeling of the bedrooms, living room and the bathroom too many times to even count. My parents had the roof redone more times that they would like to count. They had the stairs moved 2 years ago and the foundation checked for repairs. My parents made sure their home was safe, warm and comfortable.
My father didn’t want to leave the home as Sandy approached but after everyone was yelling at home that he had to leave because if the power went out or it got bad, with his 24 hour oxygen we couldn’t promise that we could get him out. So my father begrudgingly went to my brother home with my mother. I was going to stay behind and watch over the animals and home. I look back and I am thankful that I made the decision to go to my brother’s home. I would have been home alone with the water rising on the first floor to 6 feet. The water moved, turned over my families possessions. It didn’t care where it went or what it destroyed.
On October 30, 2012, after spending the day assessing the damage to our home, neighbor’s home and trying to figure out what we had to do next. We called our insurance company. We put our claim in and were given a confirmation number which is your policy number.  We waited to hear from our insurance company 1 week, 2 week, 3 week nothing. Our contractor called the insurance company to see what the delay was; they said they had no record of our claim. After going back and forth, Prudential hands our claim over to not the flood insurance for the home but the person was assigned to car claims not home. Then I had to call the person that sold us the policy to get the correct information. After waiting another 2 weeks, the contractor we were using managed to get the insurance company to send out an independent adjuster. Finally he came out to see the house 7/8 weeks past the disaster.
Homeowners refused to come out. They called 2 weeks after the storm offered my parents money for “food” we lost and said the case is closed they would do no more. We called them again and requested that they come out because they can’t close a case without looking at the damage. Homeowner is responsible for anything ABOVE the flood area. The roof was not touched by the flood. The roof was damaged by the wind. The damage to the wall on the second story inside is the responsibility of homeowners. Homeowners graced us with their presence 12 weeks after the storm. We still haven’t seen their report.  
Now let’s look into the comparison of (FEMA) SBA. My parents had SBA at their door step a few days after the storm. The SBA walked through our home and estimated that there was over $110,000 worth of damage to the home and that was just inside. When he walked around outside looked at the roof the numbers went up. He told my parents that the house is not savable. The roof on the second was collapsing in that the back wall was pushing in because the foundation was compromised when the water was rushing in and pulling out. But remember insurance companies like to call this “settling”.
My parents received the severe damage letter from the town once the town. We don’t know how they come to the number beyond it has something to do with Pre-storm market value and post market value and what their structural engineer says. The formula is pretty straightforward when you look at how FEMA (SBA) comes to a conclusion on who needs to be repaired.
My parents’ market value prior to the storm was roughly $190,000. After storm market value is $62,000, according to the town. The estimated damage to the home was $90,000 without the wind damage of $5,000 so all in all $95,000 in damages. The insurance conveniently says they don’t cover the foundation because it is “too old” or “settling”.  Yes, a home that was built in the 40’s has an old foundation, shocked I know. And settling over the years does happen. But when the foundation bricks are inches from where they were the day before that is not settling or age. It is called MOVEMENT.
I am still waiting on the insurance to explain to me how often the foundation is to be replaced not to be considered “old”.  The figure from the insurance company is just structure; we will get to contents later.  So if you take the number of $94,000 /$62,000. That brings the percentage to 1.51. FEMA says a home over 51% damaged needs to be brought up to code. We are well above the threshold for 51% damage.
Bringing a home to code. Interesting concept. For home owners in the shore area, bringing a home to code means raising your home to X number of feet ABOVE flood base level which starts are you living space. Not your bottom floor such as basement.  Now you need to understand that FEMA released a new flood map on NJ in March. I say ON New Jersey in March because it is a map that isn’t written in stone. It is a suggested possibility. However, Gov. Christie has adapted this flood map as if it will be the final say. Without a flood map you really don’t know how high you are supposed to go. My family has to go 14 feet above flood plain. For my family that is a rise of 10 feet. However, we could be requested to go higher once FEMA has finished their maps. Since we don’t know when they are going to be finalized, we can guess that we need to go up between 12-14 feet to be on the safe side. If you look at the maps there are major flaws but FEMA has time to fix those the issue is NJ residents don’t have time to wait. It also means you have to bring EVERYTHING up to code including plumbing and electrical for the entire house.
We checked with a company about repair and lifting the home. According to the estimates, it would cost us $88,000 just to lift the house; 10 foot solid foundation would be extra cost. The home which was built in the 40’s and had 3 -4 additions added to it would have to be raised. It isn’t done with a crane; they use hydro jacks, wood pilings and steel beams. Our home the foundation was pulled from the home, the back wall pushing in, and the roof sagging (according to the insurance company it is just shadows). Once the home is lifted, the home would still needs to be repaired.  So let’s do the math word problem:  J and D need to lift their home. It cost $88,000 to lift their home.. The cost of repairs is $90,000 (conservative cost). The insurance company is offering ??? for repairs. 
Waiting for the insurance to decide what our home was worth, month after month was numbing and painful at the same time. Your entire life is in limbo. Your life is in the hands of people that never even step foot on your property. They might have seen photos that we submitted but we haven’t seen the photos their adjuster took. We are waiting months. In March, we received the final notice from the town. The home was to be demolished. Our first date came and went because we needed to be cleared of asbestos. Our home was given a clean bill of health to be destroyed. There is irony there it is like a death row inmate waiting to be executed and they go wait he hasn’t had his yearly physical to insure he is healthy. Knock down date would be March22nd. In the 5 months since the storm, the adjuster was at the home one time. In that time, we were at the home daily watching it slowly become a shell of a home that it once was.
My parents questioned if it could be saved. They didn’t want 45 years of sweat, smiles, tears, birth, death, parties, sadness, happiness crumble to the ground. They wanted, want to be in their home. They want to be home again. The mold, the leaning wall, the sagging roof, and the beams that were once our home was now something we used to know.
It upsets me that the insurance company feels we just gave up on the house. Who the hell do they think they are? You want to know the answer to these questions maybe you should have been visiting your consumers and checking on things. Instead Prudential you stick your head in the sand and just wait for what I am not sure. You just want to keep lining your money with insurance premiums and never pay up. My parents have been customers for 46 yrs and this is the way you treat customers. Amazed you are still in business. I pulled my business from you and moved to Liberty Mutual. At least there, I was given a reasonable rate on a new car, $800 less than a car that was 11 yrs old.
The delays by the Water Company and Gas Company caused the knock down to be delayed which allowed an engineer to visit from the insurance company and one that my parents hired.  But the home is now down in rubble carted away to the dump.
The death of the house was in the making since October 29, 2012. She suffered for a long time. She was gutted. She was poked, prodded, and talked about.  The house was not the glory she once was. She grew weary standing there. Watching people pass and whisper how sad she looked. How lonely she looked. When the day arrived to finally put the house to rest, it wasn’t a sad day. Her family had said their final good-byes. They wish her and sent her off to a peaceful restful place. The home was ill, there was no further treatment it could be given. The insurance company’s delays caused further damage to the home. How many times do you remediate mold? What do you do when the home has no power, water or heat?  How do you bring back to life a home from the depths this house had suffered? It gave my parents shelter from the storms of the past. It couldn’t give anymore.
The engineer from the insurance company showed my father how the frame of the house twisted and shifted. Do you think that shows in the report to the insurance company? I don’t know. We haven’t seen the reports from the insurance company. There is a very interesting thing that happens. As the homeowner you have to show all your cards. Give your insurance company everything to prove the worth of your property. The insurance company has to give you…… I don’t know… still waiting for what they have to give you.
The house came down over a month ago and on Friday April 26th, we get notice that they want to go to mediation. Mediation is not about discovery of the facts. It is about a 3rd party coming to a consensus of what should happen.  But ready for this…. It isn’t even our flood insurance taking us to mediation it is homeowners for wind damage.  Seriously, prudential you are whining about a few thousand dollars. Yes I am sure that will break the bank. The CEO might need to tax a sick hour to make up for the loss. To you it is money to my parents it is the difference between living independently in their own home or residing with their children until they get enough money.
Will my parents as the homeowner have a snowball chance in hell of getting a fair settlement from the insurance company? At 6 months, I am losing faith. I have hope that my parents will rebuild and have their American dream back. But Sandy has taken so much from everyone that I don’t see it happening. I know people are rebuilding. They are much younger. My parents at 72/73 are not eligible for loans because they don’t have 30 years to pay them back. My parents have a nest egg of money stowed away for the rainy day. My parents don’t have a family home that was passed down from generation to generation. This home was it. Nothing more.
My family is beat down. We are tired. We just want a fair settlement with the insurance company so my parents can go home. The insurance company doesn’t look at the emotion toll it takes on their customers as they drag things along. They don’t care that your health is affected. The only thing they care about is their bottom line.
April 29, 2013 we will be sitting in mediation with insurance to determine our homes worth for wind damage. Goodness knows what flood will do. Still standing 6 months later. Wobbling in my resolve.  I will push on. I will keep fighting for my parents to return home. They have the right to return to their piece of land that they cared for. Although Prudential has final say… in the end they didn’t own the home. The way I see it, they don’t have stake in the house. We are just Catastrophe bond to the insurance company that they make money regardless.

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