/ 24 June 2011

Are you insured for a house fire?

It has been a cold winter so far and many of us have sought to warm our homes with heaters and fires. Some people have in fact lit an open fire in their homes for the first time. But do you have fire insurance? Fire-related insurance claims for property rise sharply during the cold winter months.

I recently heard about a thatched-roof house burning down when the owners lit their first fire. Although the owners had lived in the house for 15 years and had installed a sprinkler system in the roof, a forensic examination showed that a structural wooden pole in the roof had been smouldering for a year or more. Once the oxygen got through, internal combustion occurred and a ball of flame rolled around the ceiling.

The owners escaped unharmed but not much could be done for the house.

Although the owners had insurance, their problems were not at an end. Two years before, a professional valuator was sent to the property to provide a cost assessment of what it would cost to rebuild the home in case of total loss. Because the owner is a builder, he felt he would be able to rebuild the property for less, so he asked that the rebuilding cost of R4-million be reduced to R3.3-million.

He also asked that some items be struck off his policy as he didn’t want to replace them. The contents were valued at R1.7-million, from an original estimate of R2-million.

He lost a total of R1-million from his claim that could have been paid out if the original valuation had been accepted.

Christelle Fourie, managing director of MUA Insurance Acceptances, said you should accept a valuation and not question or second-guess it. People believe the value on their building is overstated and they can get a builder for less per square metre than the estimate. But they then find themselves paid out for far less than what’s adequate to replace the house.

It also helps to have a broker who can assist you while you wait to know whether or not your claim will be accepted, as well as help you to get new cheque books, credit cards and so on. It may be you will lose important documents like an ID, marriage certificate and so on in a fire. Also, if you back up or make copies of important documents, don’t keep them in your house, because they too could be destroyed.

The trauma of a house fire is huge and you certainly don’t want to worry about insurance and important documents at this time. And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Last year, a friend’s house burnt down when a fire on a neighbour’s property raged out of control. It can and does happen!

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