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Guest opinion: Christine Maguire: The Marshall Fire: Insurance takeaways for homeowners

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By Christine Maguire

May is National Wildfire Awareness Month. But here, we know too well that a wildfire can happen any time of year.

Last December’s Marshall Fire, the most destructive in state history, left devastation in its wake, burning 6,000 acres and destroying over a thousand homes. Picking up the pieces has only just begun for thousands of people.

A recent audit by the Colorado Division of Insurance found that only about 8% of homeowners who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire had full replacement insurance coverage. That’s devastating news to digest. It means 92% of the homeowners whose homes were destroyed by the fire will have to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild their homes based on today’s building costs and inflation.

Many of Country Financial’s clients in Louisville and Superior experienced complete loss of their homes in the Marshall Fire. On the bright side, each and every one of them had guaranteed replacement cost coverage or the Additional Replacement Cost endorsement, which covers the full cost to rebuild their home as it was prior to the fire. They are among the 8%. There’s still a long road ahead, but they can rest assured they will be taken care of when it comes time to rebuild.

There are many lessons learned from the Marshall Fire but some of most important insurance takeaways homeowners should consider are:

Conduct a policy review with your agent

It’s important to conduct a policy review with your insurance agent, annually at minimum. This is an opportunity to refamiliarize yourself with your policy and let your agent bring up timely concerns to make sure you’re properly protected. Regular reviews with your agent ensures you’re on the same page with what is and isn’t covered.

When a fire happens, many homeowners aren’t prepared and don’t have the right amount of protection, as we saw with the Marshall Fire. Most homeowners don’t know how much it would cost to rebuild their home and replace all the contents. Inflation, construction and labor shortages make it even more difficult to know the cost to rebuild today.

Many policyholders with replacement cost coverage haven’t updated their coverages to protect against these factors. It’s your agent’s job to make sure you’re aware of additional replacement cost coverage and the importance of this endorsement that includes the cost to rebuild, with no limit. Additional replacement cost coverage ensures you have full replacement of your home in the event of a total loss.

Stay in touch throughout the year

Once you’ve conducted your policy review, stay in touch with your agent. The best agents make a point to know you and stay up to date on your family’s changing needs. For example, did you make any changes to your home during the pandemic or hosting a short-term rental? It’s important to communicate these changes with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage.

One of our clients who lost their custom-built dream home in Old Town Superior had an income- generating short-term rental that we didn’t know about. They partially relied on that rental income. Had our agent known, he could have suited a plan to protect that financial loss. Luckily the homeowner had guaranteed coverage to rebuild the home itself.

Take inventory

One of the most important and easiest things to do today is to take a home inventory video. Walk through your home with your phone and narrate what you see. Be sure to zoom in on serial numbers for big-ticket items. Maintaining a detailed inventory account of your personal belongings is critical when making an insurance claim. It’s worth your time to have this ahead of a fire, rather than trying to recall everything in your home after something tragic happens, which will be a very emotional time.

It’s been devastating to see and hear the stories of the many people who have lost their homes or have been displaced by the Marshall Fire. If anything, it will prompt homeowners to take a closer look at their own situation and talk with their own insurance representative to make sure they are adequately protected if something like this should happen again.

Christine Maguire is agency manager for Country Financial in North Denver.

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