For most people, their home is their single largest investment. It represents their place in life, their aspirations for the future, the place where they raise their family and create a safe haven. Yet, for many homeowners, once they purchase their home, they rarely give it a second thought. Their rock-solid investment, which many consider their most conservative, risk-free asset, is in reality, a split second away from disaster. People who pore over Morningstar reports and look up fund managers second grade test results to gauge where to invest their retirement funds overlook the basic research necessary to safeguard their homes and families.
As experienced real estate and litigation attorneys, we at Cheriff & Fink, P.C. see our fair share of accidents and situations that impact people’s homes and lives. These incidents sometimes result in the unanticipated investment of thousands of dollars, or can result in uninhabitable situations requiring immediate remediation and repair.
There is a simple, initial step that all homeowners should take in order to protect themselves. Pull out your homeowners’ insurance policy. See what protection you have purchased. Then, think about what IS NOT covered. Talk to your insurance agent about plugging the holes, and obtaining additional, needed protection for your home and investment.
Do you have protection if your basement leaks, or your sump pump stops working? Many homeowners’ policies do not cover this type of risk. Think how much damage water can cause in your home. While you can remove water and repair damage, this can cost a great deal of money, which you might not be able to get back if you don’t have the right kind of insurance protection.
Are you protected if an underground storage tank leaks? Many homes, especially older homes, have buried underground oil tanks. You may still be using them, or you may not even know they are there. Many homeowners’ policies will cover your losses for the cost of impact to third parties. That means if your tank leaks oil into your neighbors’ basement, the cost of fixing his basement might be covered. The cost of removing the tank, and the contaminated dirt, might not be, yet this cost can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Once again, look at your homeowners’ policy.
Another problem area that many people are becoming more aware of is mold contamination. Mold, the simple plant that makes fruit rot, penicillin work, and blue cheese tasty, can create a deadly situation in the home. Mold can crop up due to a single, overwhelming event, or it can be the result of a slow leak over time. Mold is typically hidden from sight, but can cause asthmatics to wheeze, children to have colds, and people with allergies to suffer year round. Again, there are some simple solutions. First, have your house tested to see if there is any mold present. If so, have it removed. Once again, check your insurance policy. See if you have coverage for mold contamination. If not, see if you can get it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the potential pitfalls that can present themselves to unwary homeowners. Wind, water, fire and old oak trees are all dangers to your home. Luckily, most people will never have to give these problems another thought. It is a good idea, however, to make sure that your home is protected as best possible, and that you look into potential problems and fix them before they become bigger headaches. Remember always that the professionals at Cheriff & Fink, P.C. are available to talk to you about these issues, to provide guidance in the event of a loss, or to talk about ways to prevent a loss ever occurring.
-Bruce Cheriff & Ken Fink (with credit to L. Kroll)