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Getting Your Money's Worth on Home Insurance

Taking lessons from fire victims

By Consumer Bob
|  Thursday, May 2, 2013  |  Updated 8:48 PM PDT
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Fire Survivor's Advice on Insurance

October 2003 wildfires

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Fire Survivor's Advice on Insurance

As wild fires start threatening homes in southern California once again, it's a good time to look at your insurance coverage. NBC 7's ConsumerBob talks with Dieter Merkle who lost his home to a brush fire and has this advice.
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Dieter Merkle will never forget that Sunday morning in October of 2003.  It started with a police car driving through his Scripps Ranch neighborhood.

"I heard the police car," Merkle said, "to please evacuate."

Merkle ran across the street to see if his disabled neighbor needed help.  By the time he got back to his house, flames 30 to 40 feet high were coming down the hill behind his house.

"The embers were falling on the houses," Merkle said.

It took a year for Dieter Merkle to rebuild his house.  He found out the hard way that most people don't understand their insurance policies.

"I never did invite the insurance company to look at what I had to see that the coverage was sufficient," Merkle said.

His art collection wasn't covered.  Neither were his books.  He was able to replace his grand piano because a relative took a picture of it during a visit.  Dieter says when he built his new home, he had his insurance agent come and make sure everything was covered in a new policy.

"Too many people make assumptions," said State Farm Insurance agent Walt Waggener. "They assume if I pay a premium, that's all there is to it.  It's far more complicated than that."

Waggener says people need to know what they are paying for in their coverage.  Do they have enough coverage to rebuild their home?  Will it pay for the contents inside?  Does the coverage pay on a replacement basis, or does the policy pay depreciate value?  And will the policy pay for you to rent a home or apartment while your home is being rebuilt?

It took Merkle a year to rebuild.  It took even longer than that for some homes in his neighborhood.

Waggener says the key for good coverage is to talk to your insurance agent as if you'd just lost your home.  Ask, what would be replaced with your current policy?

"Insurance companies will give guidelines," Waggener said. "But the ultimate responsibility for how much you carry is yours." 

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