Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst — Prevent Wildfire Damage

With summer right around the corner, now is a good time to prepare your property for the threat of wildfires. Most fires start small. If you are ready, you may be able to stop a fire from spreading. Be sure you know where the closest fire hydrant is, as well as your garden hoses and hose bibs. If you have a well that produces at least two gallons per minute, consider filling a 2000-gallon storage tank so it’s ready if you need it.

Clear flammable brush 100 feet from your home and trim trees 10 feet off the ground. Make sure tree limbs do not hang over your roof and clear any debris off your roof. If you have aboveground utilities in your neighborhood, keep an eye on electrical lines that go through trees—make sure there’s plenty of clearance. A good tip from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is to locate woodpiles and other fuel sources at least 30 feet from all structures and maintain a 10-foot clear area around them.

Unfortunately, even with all this preparation, your home can go up in flames. Just ask the families who returned to find ash where their houses used to be in Lake County in recent years. For insurance purposes, you should create a photo or video log of all your possessions. While tedious, it’ll be time well spent if you need an insurance company to pay a claim.

It’s important to know what your homeowners insurance covers, especially in light of a new clause included in some policies, called the brush warranty. The brush warranty says your insurance company won’t cover your home for wildfire damage if your home is within 100 or 200 feet (depending on policy) of brush vegetation, even if the brush is on someone else’s property. With the Valley Fire in 2015 and the Clayton Fire in 2016, insurance companies are doing their best to reduce the risk of huge payouts. If your policy is up for renewal, be sure to read the whole thing before signing it. As I’ve said before, “The big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

Most renters hear the term “homeowners insurance” and assume it isn’t for them. They’re wrong. While they may not own the structure they’re living in, they have a home where everything except the structure can be covered by a homeowners policy. Much to some people’s surprise, homeowners insurance can cover everything from fire damage to the mailman slipping on your driveway.

When it comes time to buy insurance, I strongly urge you to go with a local agent who can walk you through the various options. When you buy an online policy, no one explains the details. The “deal” you think you’re getting may include a 200-foot brush warranty, for example. As I said, insurance companies are taking a hard look at rural Northern California. Certain areas in Mendocino County have “brush hazard scores” above 80 (on a 100-point scale). Anyone with property with a score in the mid-80s or higher is going to have a hard time finding affordable insurance.

While homeowners insurance is helpful after a disaster, it’s best to be prepared, because some items cannot be replaced. In addition to food, water, and medications for you and your pets, you’ll need clothing and, depending on the situation, you may need your own shelter for a while. You may also need fuel for your vehicle.

If you have time to pack more than the essentials, I recommend grabbing the irreplaceables: photo albums, family heirlooms and keepsakes, important documents, and if you can, your computer. For more information about disaster preparedness, go to www.ready.gov.  They have a wildfire safety toolkit, as well as many other resources.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Emergency Preparedness Hits Home

 

In light of the recent Lake County fires, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to plan for an emergency. While taking the time to do this is usually right up there with having my teeth cleaned and doing my taxes, it’s worth the trouble.

Before you begin packing an emergency kit to use in case you’re forced to evacuate for a wild fire, first do all you can to make your property fire safe. Clear flammable brush 100 feet from your home and trim trees 10 feet off the ground. Make sure tree limbs do not hang over your roof and clear any debris off your roof. If you have aboveground utilities in your neighborhood keep an eye on electrical lines that go through trees—make sure there’s plenty of clearance. A good tip from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is to locate woodpiles and other fuel sources at least 30 feet from all structures and maintaining a 10-foot clearance area around them.

Most fires start small. If you are ready, you may be able to stop a fire from spreading. Be sure you know where the closest fire hydrant is, as well as your garden hoses and hose bibs. If you have a well providing at least two gallons per minute, consider filling a 2000-gallon storage tank so it’s ready if you need it.

Sadly, even with all this responsible preparation, your home can go up in flames. Just ask the families who returned to find ash where their houses used to be in September. For insurance purposes, you should create a photo or video log of all your possessions. While tedious, it’ll be time well spent if you ask an insurance company to pay a claim.

While disasters come in all shapes and sizes, preparations are similar. You’ll need food, water, and medications for you and your pets. You’ll need some clothes and, depending on the situation, you may need your own shelter for a while. You may also need fuel for your vehicle.

In my house we have backpacks ready to go, because they are easy to carry. In them we have flashlights (with batteries stored in plastic bags, not inside the flashlights where they will corrode). We have matches, water bottles (at least two per person), non-perishable snacks, a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a utility knife and/or multi-tool, and a pair of boots or sturdy shoes. We also have our camping gear stored in one place so it would be easy to grab and throw in the car.

If you have time to pack more than just the essentials, I’d recommend grabbing the irreplaceables: photo albums, family heirlooms and keepsakes, important documents, and if you can, your computer. For more information about disaster preparedness, go to www.ready.gov. They have a wildfire safety toolkit, as well as many other resources. The Red Cross also shares helpful information for many types of disasters at www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster.

One of the most important ways to reduce stress during a disaster is to be sure your loved ones are safe. Agree upon an out-of-town family member or friend who everyone can call to report in. Also, in case you cannot get in touch with one another, agree upon a location away from your home where you could all meet.

If you are ever evacuated because of a wildfire, and able to return to a home still standing, follow these tips from Pacific Gas and Electric to stay safe:

www.pge.com/en/safety/naturaldisaster/wildfire/tips.page

Finally, since we’re on the subject of safety, don’t forget to enter the Safe Mendocino contest, with a chance to win $500! We’re looking for creative and practical ways to make our communities safer. Learn more at http://realtyworldselzer.com/safe-mendo.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.