After three years of little rain, the sky opened up in December and the rain came down in what sounded and felt like buckets complete with thunder and lightening.
At 8 a.m. I sat down at my computer to find an e-mail from a remarkably calm new home-
owner. He had been up at 5 a.m. to get ready for an early morning flight at SFO, stepped into his bedroom closet, and found it flooded. Yikes! The sump pump had failed. My buyer asked my advice on whom he should call to fix the sump pump. I e-mailed back saying that I would get to work on finding someone to help him out.
My first call was to my reliable handyman. It was barely 8 a.m. and, though he immediately answered my call, he told me he was already busy and on the way out the door to fix a roof in Hayward. There was no way he could help today — or even tomorrow. The next call was to a plumber who had solved unpleasant problems for me in the past. The plumber immediately answered and said he already had 10 emergencies lined up for the day and couldn’t help. It was barely 8 a.m. I pleaded “Just tell me your next opening.” He said he could not help until after 5 p.m., which sounded fine to me. I made an appointment for my client.
Once the immediate problem was under control, I remembered that in my rush to secure an appointment with a plumber I had forgotten that the buyer had a one-year home insurance policy. Good news: The sump pump was covered. I e-mailed my client to remind him of his home insurance and to tell him to call the insurer immediately. Insurance companies have specific rules about reporting trouble and handling repairs. If their rules are not followed, they will not pay for the claim or will pay at a greatly reduced rate.
It turned out that the insurance company had a list of contractors who must be used. Within a short time an appointment was set up for the next morning. The cost saving was considerable, and my clients decided to go with their insurance company’s contractor even though they had to wait.
It would be wonderful if this story ended happily here, but it didn’t. The plumber sent by the insurance company advised the seller that his policy only covered sump pumps within the foundation of the home. The problem was with an additional sump pump that was installed outside.
By now every plumber in the Bay Area was busy, and it was another day and a half later before the first plumber could return to fix the problem. Repairing the sump pump permanently turned out to be bigger than could be handled that day. The plumber would have to return to finish the job the following week to tune up the whole system. My client e-mailed to tell me that with the plumber’s help and a few trips to a home builders supply store, the sump pump was working.
To finish up on the sump pump disaster, my client e-mailed to say he had hardwood floor damage and was going to contact his home insurance hoping he could recoup some of the expense in repairing the floor. This sounds like a logical response. However, I cautioned him before he made a claim to ask the insurance company what admittedly sounds like a ridiculous question: Will the company refuse to renew his policy if he makes a claim or greatly increase the yearly premium? Unfortunately this does happen.
With the immediate problem of who would fix the plumbing solved, I thought of the mess that must be in the bedroom closet. Though I knew there are companies that do construction and disaster cleanup, I did not have any in my personal database. Sending out an e-mail to all McGuire real estate agents netted me two recommendations within five minutes, plus a phone call from a company that had been referred to me by a McGuire agent. The representative of the cleanup company who was calling to offer his service was both joyful and tired at 9 a.m. He told me his phone began ringing at 1 a.m. and he and his crew had been out since early morning fixing various problems caused by the torrential rain.
The December rain was a reminder that we are very lucky to live in a mild climate, but even in San Francisco “nature happens”! Only recently I was commenting that it has been so long since we have had a rainy winter I had forgotten how to dress for a rainy day. Now is the time to take a walk around your home, survey any damage from the winter’s rain, and see if there are problems waiting to happen.
There are four lessons to learn from this sump pump failure:
One: Read the fine print on both short- and long-term homeowners’ insurance.
Two: Question your home insurance carrier closely before making a claim. Being reimbursed for a small loss may result in a greater loss if the yearly premium is raised, or your insurance is canceled and you have to find a new carrier who will ask if you ever made a home insurance claim in the past.
Three: Keep a list handy of trades-people who can help with household emergencies. A plumber, an electrician, and a reliable handyman on whom you can call in an emergency will go a long way toward helping you calmly solve household problems. Even an unfortunate event such as a sump pump failure will be so much easier to deal with when you have a reliable group of people to call for help to fix the problem.
Four: Expect to make more than one trip to the hardware store to complete even the smallest job around the house.
I always tell my new homeowners to call me for advice when something unexpected happens in their homes. In a pinch, if you don’t know what to do, call the agent who sold you your home. Full service real estate agents make a living by having long-term relationships with their clients and will be happy for the opportunity to help.