Former Corral Canyon resident Brad Stanley remembers clearly the 4:30 a.m. phone call from his neighbor, warning him of a fire creeping over the bowl above his Vista Mar Drive home.
Ninety minutes later it had consumed the family’s two-story dwelling.
“The last thing I said to my wife when the lights went out,” Stanley says, from the empty lot, “is this one’s different. I told her on several occasions: ‘One day our house is going to burn.’ I had a feeling, but I just didn’t think I was going to be there to see it. It was a nice home.”
His was among the 53 homes lost in the Nov. 26, 2007, fire.
Canyon fires are inevitable, he says, and are part of the Malibu lifestyle. A conscientious homeowners, the Stanleys cleared brush regularly, planted succulents and had an emergency kit and an evacuation plan.
But in the fire’s aftermath, Brad Stanley said they discovered, the hard way, they were woefully underinsured under the California Fair Plan plan, a state subsidized program to help people like the Stanleys who live in fire-prone areas.
“I said to my wife, ‘Honey, we’re OK; we have insurance.’ We had a policy that included $100,000 for personal property and $900,000 needed to rebuild the structure. But I didn’t really realize how insurance works.”
Had the Stanleys been advised to take out more insurance on their structure, they could have rebuilt. But as it was, upgrades necessary to meet new codes for living in a fire zone meant $200,000 in out-of-pocket expenses and, ultimately, foreclosure.
Stanley blames his agent for not knowing all this and leaving him underinsured. “How do insurance companies sell you coverage when they have no idea what your coverage needs are? Why didn’t our insurance agent say, ‘Hey you are underinsured because you are going to have to go through all the various code upgrades.’”
Another thing Stanley didn’t realize is an insurance company demands a home inventory in order to be paid for personal property lost in a fire.
No documentation means no check, he says.
“If you listen to any insurance commissioner, here’s what they say: ‘In order to gain what is rightfully yours from your insurance policy you need to have a home inventory.’ They don’t just give you the check.”
It took the Stanleys roughly six months to compile their after-the-fact inventory, which they did from memory and a few online receipts.
And while they did recoup $100,000 in personal property, they discovered, after their completing the inventory, they should have had taken out a claim for $400,000 in personal property.
This was an eye-opener for the former web designer and his mortgage banker wife.
“What’s more important than any type of emergency kit, firefighting gear or preparation kit is making sure you have the right insurance coverage, and a home inventory,” he says.
While compiling his after-the-fact inventory, Stanley scoured the Internet to see what online inventory programs were available n there are perhaps a hundred out there, he says n but found few he considered to be user-friendly. It was during this stressful time he had his epiphany, he says.
“I can help people around the world. The first thing people think about when faced with compiling a home inventory is ‘wow,’ that’s a daunting task.”
In the past, a homeowner could use pen and paper or software programs such as Excel to document personal property. Stanley says his idea for creating a website called DocuHome was to provide a cloud-based service to store a home’s inventory out of harm’s way. The Stanleys’ application stores photos of each room of the house, which users then use to set about identifying and tagging items, filling up a spreadsheet quickly.
The two-year-old start-up company has a few thousand subscribers, but hopes to add more soon with a recent partnership with a large vacation rental company.
While the promotion of his company is always at the forefront, Stanley says he can’t stress enough how important it is for homeowners to be proactive with the insurance agents, making sure that they have an agent that really understands their needs.
“There is an attitude for those living in a fire zone that it’s not going to happen to me. It does.”
For more information visit www.docuhome.com.