Time to reflect
I write this sitting in the San Francisco airport. I am taking a redeye to see my family for literally one day. Sometimes when life gets turned upside down you need a break and family can provide that comfort.
If I am going to be honest, this trip was planned about 2 months ago. My wife and kid headed to Nashvegas earlier in the week and I am going for literally 24 hours. The timing could not have been better though. After almost 3 weeks since evacuating, we need a change of pace.
I have had a lot to process these past few weeks. A lot of questions have come up and I have determined that the worst part of loosing everything over night is uncertainty. I almost said insecurity, but we are secure. I have a well paying job (Thank goodness the hospital didn’t burn down). We have a roof over our heads (albeit smaller then our master bedroom in our previous million dollar home. We have each other.
I am not alone in this process. I went to Russian River brewing company last week for lunch and found myself surrounded by other victims. Most had lists and were checking things off others adding items. We were like accountants, accounting for our former lives as we build our future ones.
I met one doctor who lived 4 doors down from me (I had never met him) and moved about 3 months ago. His old house on my street is standing, his new one is not.
I met another young man. He was a contractor who had moved into his buddies home 8 days before. He was out of town when the home burned, and while his buddy got his cat out safely, he lost all his tools, truck, and a lot of cash. None of this was insured. He had lost his security, but seemed to have a good attitude about it.
So there is security, but with uncertainty.
Part of this uncertainty lies in the vagueness of insurance. I have been dealing with ours for 3 weeks, and while responsive, they have not been particularly reassuring. That is what this post was going to get into…some of the finer points of home insurance in a fire (and particularly with a total loss like mine and 5% of our community).
(I lost the will to write further over the weekend. Southwest lost our bag tonight and basically most of our clothes. So I have been dealing with them and it looks like our bag will be here after going from Nashville to San Diego to San Jose to Orange County to some other unmentioned city where it currently resides and finally to San Francisco to be shipped to Santa Rosa tomorrow).
But first…the questions of insecurity. Here is what is going on in my mind and those of my community:
Do we rebuild?
The financially savvy answer would be yes. Rebuild and get all of the insurance money for building owed. Then sell that bad boy for more then I bought it for. Seeing as it will be one of the newest homes on the block. If you look at the featured photo up top, you can see that most homes on my street are still standing.
The other side of it is that we are traumatized. We may not realize it but we are going through the grieving process. First adrenaline. Then shock….now something akin to situational depression. My wife and I are handling it pretty well, but I could see for those who had been in there home for years and raised families there, how heartbreaking this would be.
Plus if we rebuild there is contractors, home owner’s associations, and permitting to deal with. None are a deal breaker, but I have to be ready to deal with them. It may be even worse considering the bonanza builders are about to have in Santa Rosa.
Is the community going to build?
How many of the destroyed homes are going to go up again? If they do not go up and people just walk away, how does that hurt the rest of the housing market and the community. 1 in 6 doctors lost there home. That is not an insignificant number. 1/3 of our own docs lost their homes. What happens if even 20% of these people leave.
Where will we live in the mean time?
The building process will likely take 18 months to 2 years. There was a housing shortage before I moved here over a year ago. Now it is way worse. 1500 square foot apartments and homes are going for $4,000 to $5,000 a month in rent. This is ridiculous, even if insurance foots the bill. Even these units have 20-50 applicants each when they pop up.
While we are fine in a 700 square foot apartment for now. Living in a family with a dog and a toddler, we would prefer more space. We can afford to rent a bigger place, there just are none available. Honestly I feel fortunate to even have our own space because there are many people still living in hotels and in friends homes.
Do we buy a smaller place to live in?
I have dreamed of downsizing and this seems like a perfect time to do it. Maybe a 1500 or 2000 square foot place. Will insurance pay for it? Building a smaller house makes no financial sense on my lot. Insurance pays for the bigger spot, so why downgrade. Plus that does not solve my immediate housing problems.
One option would be to try and pay off the mortgage with insurance money and sell the land to be “made whole” again financially. Not sure how viable, but it is an option.
What will be the demand for housing in 2-3 years?
Seriously, does anyone know? I imagine it will be good, but no one is sure. Will lots of high salaried individuals leave due to the current housing shortage and not return?
What will insurance rates be for new homes? Will they even be insurable?
A valid question and not one easily answered. I am sure insurance companies will come through again, but they may raise premiums.
Uncertainty, but not insecurity
So there you have it. Lot’s of uncertainty, but not insecurity. The future is open to me and my family. While this may be a hard reset, it is a reset and we will continue forward. I imagine I am in for some good luck. I have already been hit with 3 follies in 3 weeks.
Home burned down, apartment I was supposed to get was given to another couple because their apartment burned down (kitchen fire this time…), and Southwest sent my baggage on a West Coast tour. Maybe it’s time to buy a lottery ticket.
As for being secure, I thank personal finance and insurance (an integral part of personal finance) for it. If I had high debts, a unstable job, or was under insured I would be insecure now. Thanks to planning and saving, I can be patient with my plans for the future.
I will be working on the insurance post soon. It may be a little while too while I adjust. Thanks for all the support the past few weeks!
Also published on Medium.