Monday, May 14, 2007

The once is a lifetime event

May 7th, 2007 around 2:00 PM. I leave a meeting and check the voice mail on my cell; there's a message from a tenant of mine who lives in half a duplex in a trendy Columbus neighborhood. he's heading home because his son says the house is on fire.

Before I continue allow me to introduce myself. I am a mild mannered insurance professional who's lived the past 16 years in Central Ohio. Though the years I have worked at several of the large insurance companies as well as some other investment and financial institutions. Around Y2K, the job market started to tighten, and looking at my stable finances, I decided to take my knowledge and start my own insurance agency.

As part of my marketing strategy, I networked with real estate and mortgage industry professionals and decided to invest in several rental properties. One such property being a side-by-side duplex I purchased in 2004. The property was neglected and run down when I purchased it for $72000. After $24000 in renovations (new roof, drywall, plumbing, electric wires & circuit breakers, paint and repair of broken windows) I rented both sides for around $1100 a month ($500 and $600 per side). Things were moving along well at this property; one side had long term tenants who liked the place, paid on time and were a blessing to me and the neighborhood. The others side had stayed mostly rented; the last tenant was a single mom who had lost her job and had moved out the weekend before.

Back to the fire. The house next door was a duplex, similar to my own that had gone through a slow-motion renovation. The owner had maintained a low rent house for years. The last straw: crack head tenants convinced him to clean the place up and sell the units as Condos. So June of 2006 he guts the place: all windows, doors and siding are gone, the yard is torn up and the interior removed. Then, nothing until April of this year. Suddenly a horde of contractors descends on the place and overnight the place is better homes and gardens. At least on the outside.

When I arrive, there was nothing left of the house next doors. Columbus fire is spraying my house down but next door there's not enough left for a decent barbecue. My house is badly damaged. One side is scorched and the other has a hole cut in the roof to pour water in since the fire had spread to the roof. The vinyl siding is melted or turned brown and falling off. The fire was so hot, houses across the street have damaged windows and melted siding. All grass within 100 feet has turned brown and flowers have been wilted to the ground.

I identify myself to CFD and they take basic information from me. My tenants are watching this spectacle holding their python (heroically rescued by Columbus Fire) and seem oddly calm about the entire ordeal. They've got that strength in the Lord thing going on for them.

After getting the fire under control, the deputy chief on the scene allows us to walk though and view the damage. The unoccupied side is torched; the walls all blackened, windows are melted or broken, drywall ceilings have collapsed and covered the floors with gypsum 3-4" deep. Parts of the outside walls are burned completely through. The tenants' side is not as bad; there is smoke damage everywhere, the upstairs ceilings have collapsed onto their belongings and several windows are broken where CFD needed entry. There is also sunlight coming though the roof, courtesy of a entrance hole cut by the firefighters. Skylight you always wanted I joked.

After viewing this I find the chief again talking with an arson investigator; I inquired about what he knew and he tells me a construction worker was next door running a concrete saw and set off the fire. Says they've taken a statement and everything. They won't tell me who it was so I guess I'll have to find out when I see the fire marshals report. I check in with my tenants and they are meeting with the Red Cross to arraign temporary housing. They also state they did not have renters insurance, so they will have to salvage as much as they can and replace their own possessions. I'm hoping the construction guy was with an established company and was insured; this would be the only recourse these people have, suing against his liability coverage. At least no one was hurt.

I tell my tenants I'll refund their deposit and May rent ASAP and will help them as much as possible. I check the doors, which are still intact, secure the property as best I can and call it a day. By the time I arrive at home it's a little after 5PM. My insurance company is located in Wisconsin (rhymes with Sentry) , so I know their claims department is still open. I call the 800 number to get the ball rolling. The phone rep takes all information, my contact numbers and tells me a property adjuster will be calling tomorrow. I call it a day and head off to my little girls softball game.

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