How to avoid common home insurance mistakes
Have you made any of these mistakes with your home insurance coverage? If so, don’t worry—Member Benefits can help you sort it out.
Not keeping up with costs
We all know that inflation has affected our budgets recently. Inflation hit 8.5% in March 2022, a 40-year high. You’re probably paying attention to the rising cost of food and gas, but have you thought about the impact of inflation on the insurance coverage for your home?
A 2022 American Property Casualty Insurance Association/Harris Poll survey reveals a majority of insured homeowners have not taken steps to ensure their insurance coverage is keeping pace with rising inflation, despite increased building costs and potential reconstruction delays due to labor or materials shortages. The price of construction materials rose by 44 percent from December 2019 through December 2021, yet two-thirds of homeowners may be without key additional coverages that can better protect them in this economic climate.
Some companies offer inflation guard protection that automatically adjusts your coverage limits by a certain percentage each year to help keep up with increases in material and personal property costs. However, you shouldn’t rely solely on this option to keep your coverage current—especially now.
Confusing market or assessed value with the cost to rebuild
There is some confusion between a home’s replacement cost, market value, and assessed value and which one to use when purchasing coverage for your home. These values are usually not the same and serve different purposes.
Replacement cost is how much it would cost to rebuild your house in the same spot with materials of like kind and quality.
Market value is how much you could expect to get for your home in the current real estate market if you were to sell.
Assessed value is the dollar amount placed on your home by your local government for taxation purposes. The higher the assessed value, the more you pay in taxes.
The cost to rebuild your home in the event of a fire or other loss doesn’t follow market value, and as we’ve seen recently, the prices of labor and materials don’t necessarily follow the housing market. When insuring your home, base it on replacement cost—you should have enough coverage to rebuild your home if needed. Using assessed or market value to decide on this amount could mean you are under- or over-insured.
Underestimating your liability coverage needs
Most experts recommend at least $300,000 worth of home liability coverage, but others like Member Benefits recommend even more. “Our home policy includes $500,000 of liability coverage. We don’t even offer anything lower,” says Kay Licciardello, Personal Insurance Consultant Supervisor. “The additional coverage is a relatively inexpensive way for members to protect their assets. It offers protection for you and all family members who live with you, including kids away at college, and it typically covers incidents on or away from your property.”
Because typical home policies can still leave you financially vulnerable, you should also consider additional liability insurance (umbrella insurance) for more protection. Umbrella insurance provides protection above and beyond the limits of your existing home policy and for claims that may be excluded from that policy. It covers not just the policyholder but also other members of their family or household. For example, maybe your dog viciously attacks a neighbor and your neighbor sues you, or your teenager has a party where an underage guest receives a driving under the influence offense and their parents sue you. Your costs could easily exceed your home policy’s $500,000 liability limit. An umbrella policy would add additional liability protection at a very affordable price.
Not creating a home inventory
Only 20% of insured homeowners created or updated a home inventory less than a year ago; 25% have never completed one (2022 American Property Casualty Insurance Association/Harris Poll). Don’t risk undervaluing your possessions if catastrophe strikes. Take photos, video, or download our free Personal Property Home Inventory eBook.
Failing to have insurance reviewed or adjusted
Some people buy their policy and never look at it again, despite the fact that they may have made major improvements to their home or that the cost of materials and labor may have increased significantly since purchasing their policy. Among insured homeowners who completed renovations or remodels during the pandemic, only 40% updated their home insurance to account for those changes. Just 30% of insured homeowners updated their policy less than a year ago, and 36% reviewed their policy less than a year ago (2022 American Property Casualty Insurance Association/Harris Poll).
Evaluating your coverage periodically will help to ensure you have adequate protection. Member Benefits can help.
Not understanding how your premium is determined
There is a big misconception among homeowners that the value of their land (51% surveyed) and the market value of their home (46% surveyed) affect their home insurance rates (Forbes Advisor survey, 2022). Your home’s location, condition, land value, and the selling prices of comparable properties, among other things, may be factored into market and assessed values, but not your insurance rates. Home insurance rates are based on the cost to rebuild the house, coverage limits, your personal claims history, and other factors.
Basing your insurance decisions solely on price
Price has always been a sticking point with insurance. Insurance is one of those gotta-have intangibles that unless you’ve been in a situation where you’ve needed it, the value isn’t always obvious. Maybe you went for the lowest price when you chose your insurance. But is it worth increasing your financial risk to save a few bucks?
Kay shares an example. “Say your house is insured for $250,000, but the replacement cost of your home is calculated at $300,000. That’s a $50,000 difference. That’s a lot of money if you need to rebuild your home. In this situation, the premium difference would be about $125 per year. It doesn’t make sense to underinsure a home by $50,000 for such a small annual savings,” she explains. “A better way to save money on home insurance premiums is to increase your deductible. Choosing a higher deductible could reduce your premium 15% or more—perhaps even as much as 30%.”
What’s going on with insurance premiums?
Many homeowners have noticed their home insurance bill has increased recently. The average premium for home insurance rose 12.1 percent from May 2021 to May 2022; the average annual increase was $134 (AARP.org).
Longer waits for qualified contractors, delayed supplies, and the rising costs of materials lead to higher claims, increasing premium. And those experiencing longer waits to get back into their home after renovating are claiming more living expenses from their policies as well.
As costs continue to rise, it’s important to make sure your insurance coverages are still appropriate. Don’t try to save on premium costs by shortchanging your coverage. This is the primary reason homeowners find themselves without enough coverage when they need it. Increasing your deductible is a better way to manage your premium costs. And make sure you’re getting all of the discounts to which you’re entitled.
Keeping it cool with a pool
Ahhh, the backyard pool…splashing around with family and friends, a chance to relax and relieve some stress, and a fun way to get some exercise. No wonder they’re so popular. According to the trade group Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, there are 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the United States. And the small window of warm weather in Wisconsin every year makes time at the pool even more special.
So there’s a lot to love about a backyard pool. But like anything else, there is a price tag that comes with it in order to keep everyone safe and make sure you’re financially protected.
With some careful planning and preparation, you can have a great summer with your pool. Before you dive in, you need to recognize the real signs of drowning, take some safety precautions, and make sure you’re financially covered so you don’t get dunked.
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning: It’s silent
Think you know what drowning looks like? Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In 10% of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).
Drowning is usually a deceptively quiet event. The dramatic waving and yelling we often see on television and the movies actually rarely happens in real life. Dr. Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D, calls what people actually do to avoid suffocation in the water “the instinctive drowning response.” Here is some of what it looks like:
- People are usually physically unable to call out for help, because speech is a secondary function to breathing. The mouths of drowning people aren’t often above water long enough to exhale, inhale, and call for help.
- Drowning people are pressing down on the water’s surface to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. Because of this, they’re not likely to wave for help.
- People who are drowning can’t voluntarily control their arm movements to reach out for a rescue item or move toward a rescuer.
- From the beginning to the end of the drowning process, people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no supporting kick. Unless rescued, they will likely bob on the surface of the water for 20 to 60 seconds before they submerge.
It’s still possible for a person to wave and yell for help very early on. Unlike true drowning, they can still grab a lifeline or a throw ring, etc. But that initial period doesn’t last long.
If you see someone who looks like they’re just treading water, looks glassy-eyed, or has their head tilted back with their mouth open, ask them, “Are you all right?” If they don’t respond, you may have less than 30 seconds to rescue them.
And remember—children playing in and around the pool make noise! If the kids aren’t making noise, get to them right away and find out why.
Play it safe
Better safe than sorry is more than just a piece of common sense. When it comes to having a pool, it should be your cardinal rule. Some of the tips below may seem obvious, but it’s easy to underestimate what can actually happen around a pool. Stay vigilant and you’ll reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.
- Always watch your children when they are in or near a pool or spa.
- Can’t find your child? Look in the pool first.
- Have a cell phone close by at all times when you or your family are using a pool.
- Plan out a set of safety instructions and poolside rules and share them with your family, friends, and neighbors.
- You should know how to swim and your children need to learn how to swim. Most communities have lessons available.
- Make sure you’re up to date on the latest CPR techniques for adults and children. Visit redcross.org for classes.
- Understand the basics of life-saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency. Get started by contacting your local YMCA, Red Cross, parks and recreations department, university, or community college for courses in water safety techniques.
- You need a four-foot or taller fence around the pool with self-closing and self-latching gates. Ask your neighbors to do the same at their pools.
- If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and always use them. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing a pool.
- Ensure that your pool has compliant anti-entrapment or safety drain covers—ask your pool service provider if you’re not sure.
- You may want to install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water.
- Consider using a surface wave or underwater alarm.
Insurance costs and protection
Most insurance companies, like Member Benefits, require a pool to be four feet from the ground to the top of the pool in order to be covered in the policy. For an inground pool, the yard must be fenced in.
From an insurance perspective, swimming pools are considered an attractive nuisance—something that is likely to entice children and could pose a risk of injury. As the owner, you have the burden of taking adequate measures to protect children. Even if someone comes over and uses the pool without your knowledge, you may be liable for any potential injury they may suffer from it. So take safety measures seriously to reduce your risk. You may also want to increase your liability coverage through a personal umbrella policy.
Whether you have a pool or are considering purchasing one, be sure to talk to your insurance company so that you clearly understand your specific options, obligations, and coverages in your plan.
One last thing
Don’t forget to contact your town about local safety standards and permit requirements before you install a pool. Your neighborhood association may also have guidelines for you to follow.
So before you dive into your pool this summer, take some time to understand your risks and responsibilities and keep everyone safe. You’ll still have plenty of time to relax and make some waves.
Get those summer toys ready!
All that green sprouting on the trees is a welcome signal that summer is on it’s way. If you have some of those fun outdoor recreational toys, now is the time to get them ready to use. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Properly clean and store your snowmobiles for the off season.
- When renewing your motorcycle registration don’t forget to contact a Member Benefits consultant to ensure your motorcycle is properly insured for the season.
- De-winterize your boat jet skis and other watercraft.
- Does your boat have life jackets? What about a fire extinguisher? Are you boat lights operable? If you need to take a safety class want to learn safety tips or need to know where you can boat, visit the Wisconsin DNR. You also want to make sure you’ve insured your boat before the first ride of the season.
- If you’re considering a trampoline for your yard, you may want to think again. Learn more about the safety risks as well as the legal and financial risks to you that come with having a trampoline.
Member Benefits offers insurance for most of your recreational vehicles including boats, motorcycles, mopeds, campers, and ATVs. Call 1-800-279-4030 or fill out a quick quote form and we’ll be in touch.
NEW life insurance offerings
Member Benefits has partnered with Haven Life to make Haven Life’s term life insurance policies available to those employed at PK-12 public schools nationwide. The partnership is supported by the addition of Haven Simple and Haven Term policies to Associates of Clifton Park’s portfolio of insurance offerings. The policies provide flexible coverage amounts, customizable term lengths, and other individualized features to help meet the unique financial needs of public school employees.
Get information on costs without sharing any of your personal health details, and purchase insurance online.
Insurance lessons learned
Hindsight is 20/20—but when it comes to an insurance claim, most of us would rather not have to learn a painful lesson in the first place.
That’s why some of our staff would like to share their personal experiences and expert advice with you so that you can be prepared when the unexpected happens…and hopefully avoid an unwelcome surprise.
Consider adding rental car reimbursement to your auto policy.
We’ve talked with many people after they had an auto insurance claim who say, “I wish I had added rental car reimbursement coverage.”
This is especially important considering the current supply chain backlog on car parts, overbooked repair places, technician shortages, and vehicle pricing inflation. Being in a car accident is stressful enough, but if you have to wait weeks to get your car repaired or replaced, it makes matters worse if you now have to figure out how to get to work, get the kids to school, run errands, etc., without a vehicle.
Rental car reimbursement coverage through Member Benefits reimburses you for the cost of renting a car when your vehicle is disabled for more than 24 hours due to an accident. This coverage, which must be purchased as an addition to your policy, provides a per-day and total maximum benefit based on the option you select.
Amy: I took my daughter and her friends to see some Halloween lights this year. We were parked along a street with other cars happily enjoying the light display when a person drove around the corner and smashed into the side of my vehicle. He proceeded to drive his Jeep Cherokee into and all along the driver side of my van. We were shaken up but fortunately OK. However, my van was totaled.
I filed a claim with my insurance company and realized I did not have rental car reimbursement coverage on my auto policy. My insurer told me that because I was not at fault I could try to ask the at fault driver’s insurance company to cover the cost of my rental car, but it was no guarantee.
My only viable option was to pay out of pocket for a rental car until I could purchase a new vehicle—which with supply chain issues and high demand, could be weeks.
Even with the discount from my auto insurer, the cost of renting a small car was over $50 per day. I was looking at a cost of well over $1,000 out of pocket to simply rent a car for the next three weeks. It was very challenging and stressful to be without a second vehicle for the next several weeks while we shopped for a replacement—under the current circumstances, car buying was a lengthy and expensive process.
Bottom line: I wish I would have paid the extra few dollars to add the rental car reimbursement coverage to my auto insurance policy. Even though I was not at fault, I was still on the hook for a rental car.
Understand your deductible(s).
Did you know some insurance companies have a split deductible? That means the deductible you choose applies to most claims, but a different deductible or percentage may apply to more expensive claims (sometimes referred to as “disaster deductibles”). Some carriers offer a higher deductible option for perils like wind and hail, but others do not give you a choice and apply it at renewal. Member Benefits does not use split deductibles nor percentage deductibles on home policies.
For auto insurance, your collision coverage (pays for the damage to the policyholder’s car resulting from a collision with another vehicle or object) and your comprehensive coverage (pays for the damage to the policyholder’s car resulting from incidents other than collision) are treated independently of one another, so you can choose the same or different deductibles for each. Consider your budget and the actual cash value of your car when deciding on these deductibles. Talk to one of our Personal Insurance Consultants to help you make a decision that best meets your needs.
It’s also important to consider that, while increasing your deductible may save you money, you could be in a bind if you have a claim and can’t afford it. Make sure the amount you would owe will fit within your budget.
Bob: My wife and I had been with the same national company for over 25 years, insuring our homes and cars and providing our personal liability (umbrella) coverage. After 20 years, the local agent convinced me to raise the deductible on my home from $100 to $1,000. By “self-insuring” with a higher amount, I saw a decrease in my premiums.
After four and a half years in our home, we had a storm blow through that caused a lot of hail damage. I submitted the bid to repair it to the national insurance company. The check had an $8,000 deductible listed that I had to pay out-of-pocket! The claims person on the phone explained that my deductible for “most” claims was still $1000, but the roof had a deductible of 2% of the insured value of the home.
I went to see my agent and was upset that I had never been notified of the policy change. I was told that I had been notified by mail three years earlier. This was in spite of the fact that I had actually been in his office at least 15 times in those three years dropping off checks, my kid’s grades, and to sign things. I reminded him that he had multiple opportunities to bring this up. He shrugged and said, “It’s our policy to notify our customers of changes by mail.”
Needless to say, we changed to a new company as quickly as possible.
Anna: Two years ago, my home and car insurance was coming due and I wanted to get a second opinion on it. Steve at Member Benefits told me that he’d be happy to review my current coverages. My husband and I learned through our previous carrier that we had a ‘split deductible’, meaning that one deductible would apply to only certain events and the second deductible would apply for everything else. Steve said this type of deductible didn’t make sense for our needs. In the end, we not only saved money by switching to Member Benefits, but we also got an umbrella policy plus overall better coverage. Whenever a member asks about my experience with Member Benefits’ insurance, I always tell them what a great experience I had with Steve!
Know the importance of umbrella insurance on protecting your assets.
Auto and home policies, on their own, can still leave you financially vulnerable. No one expects to be sued for a catastrophic event such as a car accident—but no one is perfect, either. Without umbrella coverage, everything you’ve worked hard for—your assets, your college fund, your nest egg, your retirement savings—could be at risk if you are found liable for personal injury to others, damage to other people’s property, and a variety of other claims.
For example, under Wisconsin law, a “wrongful death” occurs when the death of an innocent person is caused by the negligence or misconduct of another person. The maximum wrongful death award is $350,000 for an adult and $500,000 for a minor child. Even if you already carry the highest liability limits on your auto and home insurance, you are now exposed to a possible loss that may exceed the liability limits of your policy.
If you don’t carry umbrella insurance, you may be surprised at how affordable it is for the protection it provides.
Julie: Before I started working at Member Benefits some years ago, I had never heard of umbrella (personal liability) insurance. Once I understood how much it could save my assets if the worst happened, and how affordable it is, I purchased it. Fortunately I have not had to use it (yet), but I’ve known others who have and it made all the difference in protecting their finances. To me, it’s worth the cost and the peace of mind—you never know what’s going to happen in your life.
Keep an inventory of your stuff.
Beth at Member Benefits says, “After recently dealing with someone who had a detached garage fire claim, I want to remind people how helpful it can be to either create a home inventory or take video of what is in your home and garage. I know I wouldn’t be able to remember everything in my house, and it will help you if you ever have a claim. Keep your video or list somewhere other than your property. That way, it doesn’t burn up in the fire.”
Get started by downloading a free Personal Property Home Inventory eBook.
Be smart about submitting claims.
Making multiple claims in a short period may trigger a rate increase or even cause an insurer not to renew your policy. For example, making three claims in two years may cause an insurer to think you have a proclivity for claims.
It’s generally best to avoid making claims of just a few hundred dollars above the deductible. Doing so might erase discounts you’re getting for remaining claim-free.
Keep your contact information up to date.
Make sure address and phone are correct so that your insurance company can reach you in a timely manner. This can be critical if you ever have a claim or if we need to get important information to you. If you have insurance with us, you can update your information through your online account through yourINSURANCE.
Reevaluate your insurance at least annually.
Not only will the value of your car change over time (larger economic factors can affect your costs and the value of your car positively or negatively), but your personal financial situation may have changed due to marriage, divorce, job change, home renovations, etc. It’s a good idea to review your insurance on a regular basis to make sure your coverages are still meeting your needs. You may also learn something from this article that you want to follow up on. Contact a Personal Insurance Consultant to help you evaluate your insurance needs.
Ben: Prior to Member Benefits, I had no insurance knowledge other than what I learned the hard way. We had a different insurance carrier where we bought a policy online, without speaking to anyone, for what their computer algorithm said was good coverage for our family. As it turns out, we were severely underinsured for our auto insurance liability and didn’t know it until it was too late and we needed it. It was a hard life lesson but one worthwhile if I can help others avoid my mistake.
Work with a company you can trust.
It makes a difference when you have access to people who can talk you through the process of making the best insurance decisions for you and your family. Having a conversation with a Personal Insurance Consultant can be very valuable to you because they can guide you on coverages available, what they mean, and how your choices could impact you later with a claim.
We have decades of experience with insurance, and we want to help you become a better insurance consumer. Give us a call or set up a consultation.Schedule a consult
Or call 1-800-279-4030, Ext. 1504
Dodge distracted driving habits
When you’re driving down a highway, can you think of any circumstance where it is safe to close your eyes for five seconds? Of course not. But it takes about five seconds to read or send a text. At 55 miles per hour, you can travel the length of a football field in just those few seconds. And in that instant, over that distance, a life can be taken—maybe even your own.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2020. Just one car accident, even a minor one, can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of others.
It’s important to stay focused on the road at all times. Avoiding texting or talking on the phone is obvious. But you can also be distracted by fiddling with the radio or A/C, eating and drinking, pets, and other people in the car.
Minimizing your chance of an accident avoids the stress of dealing with repairs, keeps your insurance costs down, and helps keep you, your family, and others safe.
Recommit yourself to safe driving by not giving in to distraction and by focusing solely on the road.
Why you should care about long-term care
Who should care about long-term care?
Everyone! People are living longer lives. When you live a long life, the likelihood you’ll need long-term health care is increased. But younger people may also need long-term care due to an accident, illness, or injury, which can change your needs—sometimes suddenly. The best time to think about long-term care is before you need it.
What is long-term care?
Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs. They help people live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own. Care may be needed for a short or long period of time.
Where can I receive care?
Most long-term care is provided at home by unpaid family members and friends, but is also provided in facilities such as a nursing home or adult day care center. It can be provided in different places by different caregivers, and may also include services such as meals and transportation services.
Why should I have a long-term care plan?
Everyone has a long-term care plan. The question is, “Have I defined my long-term care plan?”
If you have not looked into the options available, then you are on the default plan. That means when something happens, you’ll have no choice but to spend down your own assets.
In contrast, having a defined plan keeps you in control of where you get your care and who provides it to you. It also allows you to protect and preserve the assets you’ve worked so hard for over the years. And with a Wisconsin Partnership plan, you have the added benefit of guaranteed asset protection.
How can I pay for long-term care insurance?
It may seem obvious, but many people don’t think about it clearly—one way or another, when you need care, it has to be paid for. Resources to pay for care include Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, personal savings, and long-term care insurance (LTCi).
Medicare does not cover long-term care but may cover some costs of short-term care in a nursing home after a hospital stay. Medicaid requires you to spend down your assets to meet federal and state requirements to become eligible. Most health insurance policies do not cover most long-term care costs. And paying out of your own pocket risks depleting a lifetime of savings.
If you ever need any type of long-term care, LTCi may help cover the cost. One big advantage is that policies can be tailored to suit your personal situation. When deciding which coverage you’ll need, consider:
- How much you can afford to contribute toward the expense of your care.
- How long you might need long-term care services.
- How much will time pass before you need to start receiving benefits from the policy.
- Anticipated costs.
When should I consider purchasing insurance?
There is no “right” age to purchase LTCi, but most people typically start long-term care planning between the ages of 48 and 64. The younger you are, the less expensive it is—and the better chance you have of securing a preferred health rating for the life of the policy for an even lower rate.
It pays to speak to a long-term care insurance professional such as our partners at Associates of Clifton Park (AoCP). That’s because costs and discounts can vary among insurers, acceptable health conditions can vary, and covered care and long-term care policy benefits can vary. LTCi company ratings are also an important factor in your decision. AoCP has years of expertise and can help you make informed decisions about your LTCi options.
Request a quote or get more information
Sources: National Institute of Aging, American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, Associates of Clifton Park.
Home insurance basics
Review some basics about home insurance to help you make informed decisions about your options and coverages.
What does home insurance cover?
Coverage for the structure of your home is based on current market costs for materials and labor to rebuild your home in the event of a total loss. Don’t confuse this amount with assessment values, new home prices, appraised value, or current real estate prices for comparable homes.
Coverage for personal belongings includes everything inside your home. Use a home inventory checklist like the one in our free Personal Property Home Inventory eBook, take pictures or video to help you keep track, and verify the make and condition of items.
Liability coverage protects you from claims resulting from injuries and damage you cause to other people. This coverage is intended to protect you on and off your premises. For example, someone steps in a hole in your yard and breaks an ankle or your runaway grocery cart knocks someone down, causing injury.
Additional living expenses pays for costs you might incur if you are forced out of your home because of a covered loss such as fire.
Schedule high value items
Scheduled personal property coverage is an optional endorsement you can add to your home insurance that provides coverage for a greater number of risks, and may increase the coverage limits on specific high-value items. This also provides protection from certain types of accidental loss such as droppage or mysterious disappearance. A deductible may apply to some items.
Review your coverages periodically
Make sure your home insurance coverage is keeping up with costs for rebuilding—don’t try to save on premium costs by shortchanging your coverage. This is the primary reason homeowners find themselves without enough coverage when they need it. Increasing your deductible is a better way to manage your premium costs.
Why choose Member Benefits for your home insurance?
While many companies offer home insurance, ours is the only one created exclusively for Wisconsin public school employees like you.
Member Benefits' home policy highlights
|Guaranteed Replacement Cost||For homes built during or after 1950|
|Extended Replacement Cost||For homes built before 1950|
|Loss on School Premises||Up to $2000 for loss of personal property at school. All peril, no deductible!|
|Loss of Prep Materials||Up to $500. No deductible!|
Not all policies are the same. We can help you understand the protection available and strike the right balance between coverage and price.
1-800-279-4030 • weabenefits.com/consults
The fire and the fund
It can happen to anyone. This is what Amy and Spence Wagner learned on April 15, 2020, as they watched their home go up in flames.
For two hours they stood outside in the cold with nothing but the clothes on their back, watching as 27 years of memories were destroyed.
The evening of the fire, Amy and Spence were enjoying the company of their son Jake, daughter-in-law Kirby, and Mac, their 3-week-old grandson. Jake and his family were living with them short-term while he awaited the beginning of his medical residency.
“We had just finished dinner. The kids were putting Mac to bed. Spence and I had settled in to watch TV. It was a cold April night, so Spence lit a fire in our fireplace. I recall talking about how fortunate we were that even though the pandemic had closed us in at home, we had Jake and his family with us,” says Amy.
Not far into their TV program, Amy noticed light reflecting in their stained-glass front door, but thought it was from the fire. At that very moment, she said, the smoke detectors started blaring.
“I realized then the flames were in the window of our attached garage. Spence ran to the door that leads to the garage to find smoke billowing from the top of the door and began shouting, “Everyone out! Everyone out!’”
Watching it burn
They left with only the clothes on their backs and their cell phones. “We didn’t even have shoes on. Kirby had Mac wrapped in a blanket and Jake leashed the dog. Thankfully, everyone got out safely,” Amy recounts.
It was 8:11 p.m. when the call was made to the fire department. The Wagners stood across the street in their neighbors’ front yard as a window exploded and flames rose into the air.
“Spence was going to try to move the cars away from the house, but by the time he got to the edge of our driveway, the garage doors collapsed and engulfed our cars. It happened so fast.”
In a few moments, deputy sheriffs and numerous fire departments arrived, and several hours later the fire was out and the investigative team entered the house to search for the cause. The conclusion was that faulty wiring in the inner wall of the garage likely started the fire.
Feeling the love
With no home to go back to, neighbors took in Spence and Amy. Jake and his family stayed with his brother Luke. Although they had someplace to stay, they didn’t have any essentials like shoes, coats, toothbrushes, combs, etc. “There is nothing in my experience more humbling than to have everything you need one moment and then gone the next,” Amy recalls.
The Wagners were fortunate to have an outpouring of support from their neighbors and community, making the next few weeks easier. Their generosity gave them shelter, transportation, meals, clothing, and other basic necessities.
“We recognized how lucky we were. When you are devastated in this way, it is difficult to even know what you need. You’re a little numb from the experience, but people rallied to help us get on our feet.”
The aftermath: Picking up the pieces
The Wagners have their home insurance with Member Benefits. Bob Manor, Senior Claims Specialist, handled their claim. (Bob retired in August 2022 after 25 years with Member Benefits.) “Bob met with us within a day or two of the fire. He was always just a phone call away to answer any of our questions. He worked with us and the claims adjuster to put our home and lives back together. When there were bumps in the road, Bob was on it to get things resolved as quickly as possible. He was great to work with,” says Amy.
“All fire claims are so hard. People don’t realize the emotional toll an event like this takes,” Bob said. “It’s really not just about putting your house back together, it’s dealing with the grief of all that’s lost, the lack of normalcy, and the stress of working through it all. As a claims adjuster, my job is not just paperwork. It’s also about understanding the trauma the member has experienced and providing emotional support while trying to restore their lives as quickly as possible.”
The home was considered a total loss and the Wagners had to rebuild. They were officially with no fixed abode. They stayed with their neighbors for a week but needed more permanent housing while their home was demolished and then rebuilt. This proved difficult because of the pandemic shutdown.
Amy adds, “We finally found an Airbnb in the community adjacent to our hometown. We were in this location from Memorial Day 2020 until we moved into our new home in March of 2021.”
Out of the ashes comes something good
The Wagners knew their lives would never be the same and felt they couldn’t just move back into their home and let things end there. Amy explains, “We both really believe in paying it forward. We learned so much from our experience that we really believed we were in a good position to help others who go through the same thing. “
The idea of paying it forward materialized into the creation of the Wagner Family Fire Fund (The Fund). Its sole purpose is to provide immediate assistance to families in Kenosha County who lose their home to a fire.
“There’s no guide book telling you what to expect when you lose your home to fire,” Amy states. “Through The Fund, we can offer relief the day of the disaster, assistance throughout the rebuilding process, and that sense of community that we were so lucky to have.”
With the help of fire departments in their area, they distribute “go bags” to individuals or families who are displaced by a house fire. The go bags contain all the things the Wagners needed immediately after the fire: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, comb, brush, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, gift cards to area restaurants for meals, a two night stay at Country Inn & Suites, gift cards for clothing and other essentials, socks, a mental health kit, coloring books and crayons, and a guidebook they created, which is set up like a step-by-step workbook.
“When our fire fund kicked off on August 28th of 2021, we raised enough money to provide go bags to the fire houses in western Kenosha County. Within a week of our kick off, we had a bag go out to a family,” Amy says. “We recently held our first anniversary fundraiser in Bristol featuring food, beer and wine, a silent auction, kids’ games, and more.”
Other fundraising efforts came from a Safe Quarters campaign in area schools where students collected quarters for their fund, and from Antioch Pizza in Paddock Lake where they received 10% of proceeds from a day’s sales. Texas Roadhouse in Kenosha is hosting another fundraiser on October 20th.
Amy and her family are looking to do more good in the future. “The Wagner Family Fire Fund now covers all of Kenosha County. Eventually, we hope to get to a point where we can provide help to renters who are displaced by fire. We are working our way there.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in a short time with The Fund, and with such a supportive community, we are confident we will be able to help more people through the trauma of a fire.”
Members Amy and Spence Wagner have been married for 36 years. They have five grown children and five grandchildren. “We are a very close-knit family,” Amy says. A recently retired teacher, she taught reading and language arts at Bristol school for 18 years. Amy also taught speech communications, was involved with the gifted and talented program, coached the speech team, directed the school play, headed up the English Festival, and served as a union rep. Spence works in wholesale produce sales.
College student Q&A
Q. Does having a child away at college affect my auto insurance?
A. Yes. If your dependent child is at a school 100 miles or more away from home without a car, we may be able to adjust your rate for that driver and reduce your premium. If they take a vehicle with them, give us a call to update your policy.
Q. Are my child’s belongings covered under my home insurance while they’re at college?
A. Yes. With your WEA Property & Casualty Insurance Company’s home policy, your child is covered up to 10% of the personal property limit on your policy (subject to deductibles and coverages in your policy).
Q. My insured college student left his laptop at the library and it was stolen. Is it covered?
A. Your child’s belongings are covered up to 10% of the personal property limit while temporarily away at school, assuming they come home during the summer. Students who enter into apartment leases, stay full time at campus, or are attempting to change state residency to save on tuition should consult our service team to discuss options.
For more answers to your insurance questions, call us at 1-800-279-4030.