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You Never Anticipate A Home Disaster, But Are You Prepared For One If It Happens?

CARVER COUNTY, Minn. (WCCO) -- You never know if you're prepared, until it happens to you. That's the lesson Dick Hawley and his family learned on the blistering cold night of Jan. 8 – when they found themselves standing outside the smoldering Lake Zumbra home they'd spent decades perfecting.

"Based on the fire damage, the water damage and the smoke damage, they're going to tear the house down to the studs," Hawley said. "It means reconstructing everything."

That night, Hawley says he and his wife were relaxing when they heard a noise upstairs. When he turned the corner at the top of the steps, he saw smoke and called 911.

"We literally came out of that evening with the clothes that were on our back for the most part," he said.

While dealing with a house fire might seem rare, the National Fire Protection Association says Hawley will likely be among another 346,000 homeowners dealing with disaster this year.

"The biggest shock is that it happened, I've got to rearrange my life around it," he said. "There's a whole different task I have to take on that I wasn't expecting to do."

While the experience is a new one for Hawley, experts who work in the realm of home disaster cleanup and repair say it can happen to anyone.

"Every year we see something unique and new in terms of a type of damage," said David Rusciano, owner of ServiceMaster of Minneapolis. "You're not only mitigating a loss, but you're also mitigating probably feelings and emotions with customers."

When it comes to the most common mistakes they see from homeowners, Rusciano and his staff say it's a matter of people unaware of what their current insurance policies protect them against.

"A lot of people have lost touch with their agents due to COVID, and people are not reevaluating their policies with their insurance agents," said Josh Iaquinto, who works for ServiceMaster as a fire damage estimator. "Being on top of your policy is probably the most critical thing. What we're finding right now is that people are under-insured on the structure of their home, they're underinsured on their personal property, and the biggest thing right now is people being underinsured on additional living expense."

This can create headaches for homeowners who find themselves having to pay out of pocket for repairs.

"A mold rider, or sump pump rider … those are extras," said Jason Sullivan, a Servicemaster estimator. "A lot of times, if people don't have those coverages, then they start blaming their restoration contractors."

With a combined 100-plus years of experience, the ServiceMaster crew says a number disasters could be avoided if homeowners followed simple steps, like shutting off their home's water before a trip, keeping a fire extinguisher around, or even by investing in new smart home technology.

"When it does get 10, 20 below, wind 30 below, you have areas of the house that are susceptible to freezing," said Gary Balcom, a ServiceMaster production manager.

"You just need their advice to say 'No this doesn't work effectively, we've tried this before,'" Hawley said. "I think all of us look at it and say 'Do I really have to pay this much insurance? What should I do?' I just have to say I'm thankful we had the coverages that we did, and how you select an insurance company is essential."

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