Saturday, November 15, 2014

Use It and Lose It

Riddle me this, Batman: what do you use in an emergency, but if you use it, you lose it? Hmmm.  A spare tire? True, but you can repair it and make it a spare again.  A fire extinguisher? While there are lots of disposable models out there (as there are with many things), in their original form you can refill or recharge them and they are as good as new. Likewise with a flashlight; add new batteries, and off you go.

I am sure I will get emails with other possible answers, but I was going for "insurance." Specifically the homeowner's variant. That stuff you buy to cover your abode and all the goodies in it against the perils of man and nature, that gives you peace of mind that all you have spent a lifetime building up has at least as some measure of protection for it.  

For most of us, we get the stuff expecting to never use it. Or at least hoping not to. Save the extraordinary event, like a Superstorm Sandy, most of the stuff that gets damaged around the house requires a phone call to a plumber or an electrician as opposed to your agent. But every now and again something happens that trips the wire, and makes going to the well seem like the right course of action.

And so it was last week for us. The wind picked up to the point one evening where it was sounding like a freight train. The trees were swaying mightily, and certainly gave us pause. But prior events, including the aforementioned Sandy, had pruned much of the deadwood. We had also cabled a bunch of split trees, making them less likely to come down. Still, the sound and fury was both impressive and scary even if the danger was somewhat attenuated.

When we awoke the next morning and looked out, indeed, there appeared to be little damage. When we looked to the side, the site of several large specimens between us and the neighbors, all stood tall, and we could see the other house. It actually took a minute to notice that second point: that we could see the house. That was strange, because there used to be a fence there. And on second glance, it was still there, just flat on the ground. About 60 feet of stockade fence had caught the wind like a sail, and lay like sections of boardwalk across our lawn.  

Luckily, the damage was confined to that, and the no one was hurt. It was too much for me to try and repair alone, and so we called the company that installed it in the first place. They came toot sweet, and gave us an estimate. At the same time I called our insurance agent and reported the damage. After all, that's what our policy was for. He said, yes, we were covered, and deductible aside, no problem no getting recompense.

But when I sent him the estimate, with the calculation that after the deductible we would be due about $400 from our claim, he called back. Might not want to do that, he said. I was puzzled. We were covered, right? Indeed. Any reason to think they wouldn't pay? None at all. Then why would we not use what we had been paying for all these years. Well, he said, you remember that claim you made about 3 years ago when that tree fell down and you had to have guys come and cut it up? Sorta, I said. But that was then, and this is now, no?

It turns out that the insurance companies view their product as protection in the case of a catastrophic loss. Should we sustain major damage, they would have no hesitation on paying off, assuming all the paperwork was square. But a claim for a few hundred last year AND a few more this year, and they see you as a nuisance. And they will drop you like a hot potato.  

Use it and lose it. It makes no sense. But on his advice, we sucked it and paid for the fence out of our own household pocket. We can only hope the next time a tree cleaves the entire place in half; then we would be in fat city.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has insurance of many types. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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