Uncertainty, not insecurity

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.

I wrote this at 10 pm at the airport waiting for a redeye with some local Lagunitas.

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.

Remembering what’s important…fall time and family!

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!

Sign up for the latest post!

No spam guarantee.

Also published on Medium.


I am a Dad and Doctor trying to find financial freedom by owning my dollars and debts. Helping dads with their finances so they can focus on the family.

22 thoughts on “Uncertainty, not insecurity

  • November 8, 2017 at 10:55 pm


    I’ve lived through 2 fires and 10 hurricanes. My 1989 fire creamed me. We moved to the coast near Kennedy and had a wild fire in 1999 that nearly burned down FL very similar to your fire. That fire marched down my street. I had burned spots in my yard but we were spared. I’ve had plenty of hurricane damage as well (but no flooding). I live on a FL mountain, I’m 33ft ASL, but the thing is I like my life. I live in the middle of nowhere. If you look down from heaven you don’t see any lights. When I get up to pee the stars over the Atlantic are magnificent. I can’t get enough of them. I’m surrounded by farms and orange groves. The smell when the trees blossom is amazing. It’s dead quiet except for the wildlife. The thing is I like my life. My kids grew up here. I took em to ballet and tap classes, to gymnastics, to piano. It’s been a safe place to live, and even though I’m in the country I’m ten minutes from the hospital. In Chicago I was 45 min away.

    I’m anesthesiology and pain management. I think I’ve put to sleep or treated 20% of the local population. I went to a party once with about 50 people there, and 48 of them were my patients at one time or another. Kind of a cool thing when you think about it. So that’s my story. We’ve had our share of downturn, we lost the shuttle program in the middle of the great recession and you couldn’t give houses away, but eventually space came back and the economy resumed. We launch stuff nearly every week. I’m 13 miles from 39B and it blows me outta bed when they launch at night. It’s a life I never guessed I would have had.

    I think you might start there. You’ve had enough time there to understand if your life in wine country suits you and your wife. If it does the rest will fall into place. There isn’t a “best way to do this”

    • November 8, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Gassem thank you for the words. I am at awe at your life. Near the ocean and the launch pad for the shuttle. These are by far some of my favorite things.

      I will keep your advice in mind. For now we work on debris removal and permitting. Then we can work on building. Day by day and step by step

      • November 9, 2017 at 1:48 am

        Your life will be no less awesome my friend.

        • November 9, 2017 at 5:51 am

          Ha! So far so good on our end. It is an adventure for sure.

  • November 4, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Sounds like you have a good plan and are co rodent and calm. I know I keep harping on New Orleans and Katrina, but it may be a good case study to help your decision process. We’re both past LA residents. Tons of docs were displaced, many eventually settling in much less damaged Baton Rouge, which has since experienced a medical explosion while New Orleans remains status quo.

    • November 4, 2017 at 9:30 am

      I have been in touch with colleagues who went through Katrina but a great point. We will see where things go.

  • November 3, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Is it possible to build a smaller house and pocket the cost difference? I live in a bout a 2000 square-foot house and it feels really good. Although it be nice to have a half bath.

    It is hard to predict the future about demand and costs. It is possible people might be too afraid of another fire. I have friends who have been waiting to buy in wine country, and now they just don’t want to deal with the potential hassle, and the potential water shortage.

    Your luck has to turn around!


    • November 3, 2017 at 7:32 am

      It is possible to build a smaller home…but not pocket the difference. The insurance will pay to rebuild, but not just to keep the cash. From my estimates too, building a 3200 square foot home is going to cost me $50 to 100 k more than insurance will pay. So there may be an argument to downsize and save money.

      The other part of the equation is that building the same footprint is going to go through permitting more easily. If we make big changes then we delay building.

  • November 2, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Interesting, but sad, to watch you go through the “Marathon Of Misery”. This may have happened in minutes, but the impact will last for years. I suspect there’s a somewhat predictable cycle which you’ll go through from Fire -> Uncertainty -> Direction -> Patience -> Future, tho I’ve never studied it. Thinking of you as you move slowly forward. Hang in there, you do still have a lot to be thankful for (I can’t help to think of those whose businesses burned AND they couldn’t get an apartment). Could definitely be worse, tho I certainly wouldn’t want to walk a mile in your shoes at this point. Hang in there, “the community” is behind you in spirit.

    • November 2, 2017 at 10:48 am

      Thanks Fritz. We are fortunate. Yesterday my colleague met a man that lost his home, car, and wife! Wife! Terrible.

      The other uncertainty is who will stay in Santa Rosa. With 1 of 6 docs loosing their home and a housing crisis, it is unclear why people would stick around. My wife and I have even discussed New Orleans again as hurricanes are more important forecastable then fires.

  • November 1, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I’m sorry you have to go through all this trauma. No one every truly prepares for this kind of thing. I’m glad that you have options though. Solve one problem at a time. Best of luck to you.

    • November 1, 2017 at 10:49 am

      Thanks. Yesterday was rough but today I am feeling like slow and steady progress is being made.

  • October 31, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    This is scary and inspiring all at the same time. It’s terrifying to see something like this happen to someone you’ve grown to appreciate. But in the same vein, it’s inspiring to see that you’re rolling with it, and you’ve set yourself up to deal with the bumps in the road.

    We had a similar incident, not a fire, but a close call on a personal injury, and it cemented what we were doing. That cushion to take care of those closest to you might be the most important part of this whole journey. You can rest assured, how ever it turns it, it will be fine.

    And apparently (I was unaware of this until I read Mrs’ comment above), we’re gonna get some Pliny together. I fully approve, besides that tends to take the edge off…

    • October 31, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Alright! Pliney it is…so come on down. Financial security is a big stress reliever for sure.

  • October 30, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    When it rains it pours. I hope whatever you decide, rebuild or move, works well for you. Some friends of ours had their neighbors house burn down. It took the neighbors two years to start the rebuild. Meanwhile my friends had to sit next to a junked up empty bit of land. It probably doesn’t make you feel any better, but at least you get to decide if you want to risk experiencing that. Those whose houses are still standing likely have no choice.

    • October 30, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      True dat. They are our community though and we will hopefully all be together soon again.

  • October 30, 2017 at 8:26 am

    I love this account of insecurity vs uncertainty. Honestly, I feel that life is always full of uncertainty, you really never know when or what could happen. But having the financial security to be able to handle whatever life throws at you makes the difference between something being the end for you or just a bump in the road. Just keep trucking along, it will all work out, even if it is not what you had originally planned for.

    Side note: Russian River Brewing is definitely a place I want to check out. So at least you had a cool place to go hang out at while checking and making all your lists.

      • October 30, 2017 at 1:28 pm

        Yes please! I was hoping to get to meet you at FinCon. This gives us a good excuse to get up that direction.

  • October 30, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I am so sorry you’re going through this. I’m happy to hear you and your family are physically safe; that’s the most important thing. Depression is a real thing and it can be overwhelming during these hard times. When I was going through a different grieving process, I reached out to a professional counselor and they helped me establish trust and a feeling of security. You don’t have to handle it alone–I’m sure there are free resources for fire survivors.

    Keeping you in my thoughts. <3

    • October 30, 2017 at 8:35 am

      Thank you for the kind words. Just gotta figure out the next steps and keep moving forward.

Comments are closed.