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Surveying the burned areas of our county in the wake of the recent fire is an eye-opening journey, particularly when you hear the back stories of what happened. Many of us have colleagues, clients, family and friends impacted who have shared accounts of heroic acts by not only the firefighters, but also determined individuals and their neighbors helping each other or even total strangers save their homes, often armed with little more than a hose or a shovel.

In a related twist on the standard real estate experience,I showed a home last week off of Alba Road that had been saved by the efforts of a neighborhood civilian crew, even as the house on the opposite side of the road burned to the ground and the burn line had made its way to the front yard. This made for an eerie spectacle when showing the place to its prospective next owners. More eyebrow-raising still was the fact that there were already

two offers circling—a clear byproduct from the loss of 925 homes from an already-depleted housing inventory. And with the power and water cut off by the ravages of the fire, their escrow will likely not be able to close until services are restored so that the home can be cleared for occupancy.

For those who have lost their homes, the focus now turns to the question of whether to rebuild or relocate, and for them the first major challenge they come up against in this process is in dealing with the insurance companies, which can often be more challenging than the fire.

Many are choosing to hire an attorney or an independent third-party adjuster to take on the insurance companies, instead of agreeing to settle for 50 to 70 cents on the dollar. They help people collect the full benefits under the policy, including extended replacement coverage, like-kind materials, code upgrades, and other overlooked expenses like architectural and engineering fees. When calculating construction costs, they may also negotiate a factor called demand surge based on historic 20-40% increases that have occurred in the years following similar large-scale fires and other natural disasters.

Add to this proper handling of expenses arising from loss of use which can span up to 3 years, like hotel and meal expenditures, over normal mileage reimbursement, furniture rental and full comparable replacement home rental, plus knowledge of how to properly file for items such as jewelry and guns—which may have limits under theft but not under fire—and it often makes sense to hire an expert to negotiate on your behalf.

After collecting on their claims some may choose to relocate, since under most policies the insured has no obligation to rebuild after getting their settlement, and they may not feel like going back based on the loss of their longtime neighborhood, not to mention the fear of

ever being able to get reasonably priced insurance again. In the midst of all of this is an underlying gratitude for what remains, and for the many heroes both in private and public service who helped to save what they were able to save.And the hope of new beginnings in the wake of unspeakable loss.

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