Janesville family: Our loss should be a lesson

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Nick Crow
Sunday, April 20, 2014

JANESVILLE--It can happen so fast.

In the blink of an eye.

That's how Sarah Hessian described a fire that began in her garage at 1516 Manor Drive on April 10.

"Around midnight, we heard something," said her husband, Chad Hessian. "We heard the dog growling and thought someone was breaking in."

Sarah, who has two children and is pregnant with a third, said her house filled with smoke in minutes.

"My son got out and was ringing the door bell, and that's how I made my way to the front door," Sarah said. "They told us they may never know what happened. A lot of times, what causes the most damage isn't the fire but smoke and water used to put it out."

After the fire, the family found the garage was completely burned. Everything inside was destroyed, including three cars. Inside the house, smoke and water destroyed the bathroom, living room and bedrooms.

The family had renter's insurance, but they now realize they may not have had enough.

"We're going to use one-third of the money we get to get rid of the old stuff," Sarah said. "We didn't think of that when we got it. Who is going to think of that? We are getting $30,000 back from our insurance but are going to lose $110,000 worth of stuff."

The family is attempting to reclaim items that can be salvaged, but they have found that what wasn't ruined by fire may be beyond recovery due to smoke and water damage.

"Anything and everything you had, you have to go through," Sarah said. "It's the saddest thing I've ever done. Stuff my mom gave me, old photos. You can't put a price on that stuff."

The family can't reclaim their security deposit from the landlord or stop paying rent until all of their things are out of the home. They are paying for a house that is uninhabitable, she said.

"I'm literally going to have to save to replace our stuff," Sarah said. "You never think this is going to happen. People need to know that they need coverage. Freak accidents do happen to you even if you think it'll never happen. We were extremely cautious."

How do you know how much coverage to have?

Tracie Landwehr, agent at the TLLA Insurance Agency in Janesville, said the most important thing for renters is to make sure they have at least some renter's insurance.

"The number one mistake people make is they don't realize how cheap renter's insurance is," Landwehr said. "It's generally under $200 for an entire year. It covers hotel expenses and anything you need while your stuff is replaced for up to a year in some cases."

Landwehr recommends a two-person household have at least $25,000 in coverage and increase it a few thousand dollars each year as they acquire more possessions.

"Families should yearly look at the amount," Landwehr said. "It only goes up by a couple of dollars a month by raising it."

Renter's insurance costs less than homeowner's insurance, and three nights in a hotel due to a disaster can completely pay for the policy that year, she said.

"A myth is it's expensive, and that's why it's overlooked," Landwehr said. "But in reality, it's a very, very small thing to do and a great thing to have."

Renter's insurance covers acts of God such as natural disasters and fires, acts of pets if they were to bite someone on your property, acts of children if they cause extensive damage to the home and injuries to guests at your home, she said.

"We tell people to keep a household inventory of their things off the property," Landwehr said. "As long as people have replacement cost coverage, they should have enough to replace their items. We feel it's a protection on your investments."

From now on, Sarah said, she will keep a list of her possessions and their values and  adjust her insurance coverage accordingly.

"You're not prepared for stuff when it happens no matter how much you think you are," Sarah said. "You think to yourself, 'I'll grab this or that,' but you have no time. You need to have realistic coverage. It's worth it."

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