HOI, What Is It Good For?

The Gingerbread Diaries

Obviously home owners insurance is one of those items you hope you never have to use. Right up there with car insurance, health insurance, and any other insurance you can think of. Lately, though, HOI has only been good for a headache or three.

You may remember that whole ordeal we had just getting insurance to buy the house. That business with needing the insurance before we can buy the house, but needing a new roof before we could get insurance, but needing to buy the house before we could replace the roof? Yeah, that. Having jumped that hurdle and completed the required renovations, the idea was we’d get a better policy. A non-state-sponsored policy.

That was the theory and in July we managed to make it into a reality by switching from GUA to AMS. The policy was a bit more expensive, but we were happier with the replacement value for the contents option, so that’s what we went with. Now, you’d think it’d be a matter of a phone call or two and a sign here or there, but–once again–nothing is ever that simple.

The original policy had been paid as part of our closing costs but the bank, in a fit of oopsy-daisy, paid it again when they got their copy of the policy. So, despite paying twice for what was ultimately 2.5 months of coverage, somehow our refund check from GUA was only a little over $200? Nope! So after some back and forth with the agent who went back and forth with GUA, two more checks were cut, one day apart. One arrived within 2 days, the other, for some inexplicable reason, took 2 weeks to even be mailed.

Meanwhile, the bank had paid for the new policy out of our escrow funds and that account was officially overdrawn. As soon as the refund came it it would be, more or less, put to rights, but seeing that negative was never a comfortable thing.

So that was July and August. Everything’s good, now, right?

Silly homeowners…

A couple of weeks ago we received the first property tax bill and, since that’s being paid out of the escrow account, too, the bank needed it more than we did. Thankfully, it’s a simple matter to call them up and confirm the numbers–you don’t even have to scan the bill. Unfortunately, any changes to any of the expected outlays from an escrow account prompts an escrow analysis to be run, and, once again, our balance was coming up short in the end result. But how? Or, well, how can it be THAT much off to where our monthly payments would go up $50-75 when the difference in the two policies was less than $200 a year? And, for what it’s worth, the tax bill was lower than their estimate.

The more we looked into it, the more I started to notice a few things:

  • First of all, for some unknown reason every transaction–be it coming in or going out–is termed a payment. That doesn’t help make things very clear.
  • Both the outlay of the $777 for the duplicate insurance payment and the refund check for $777 that I deposited directly into the escrow account were both “positives”

Now, I’m used to double-entry bookkeeping with its debits and credits. I suppose there are other ways to go about it, but after 18 years of that I can’t fathom why anyone would use it, especially not a mortgage company! Anyway, I questioned, my accomplice on the other end of the line agreed that something didn’t look right–it was there but it wasn’t necessarily in the right place. Supposedly a fix is being worked on, but those take a week or so and I have yet to see it show up in the transaction ledger. After that we can ask for an escrow analysis to see if/how much we’re going to be short for the year. If we don’t call, they automatically do an analysis at every mortgage anniversary (so for us it would be in April) and then 2 months later our mortgage payment will adjust up or down as needed.

Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to pay for your taxes or home owners insurance out of the escrow account. The alternative is to pay those lump-sum bills as they come due. For most people those large payments throughout the year isn’t always convenient, so the escrow account serves a useful purpose and that’s why we opted for it. But the lesson we’ve learned is not to change policies in the middle of the mortgage year.

While that might not seem super-relevant to the insurance headache (considering that’s a bank headache), but it’s worth knowing because, well, we almost had to change insurers again. And with our escrow still in shambles it was not the way I wanted to go!

Last Friday night (thank goodness after our friends had left for the evening otherwise this would have put a serious damper on the fun!) we got a little “love letter” from AMS. And it certainly wasn’t a pledge of devotion for choosing them to insure our home. Nope, they were cancelling our policy because of

uneven and loose brick walkway in the back

Now, it’s true that the bricks that edged the concrete slab our back steps rest on were both loose and uneven. The mortar had long since given up the ghost. And I get that an insurance company could see it as a hazard. But, folks, we’re talking about 44 bricks that were going to cost us our insurance. Doesn’t that seem like overkill to you?

That's a walkway?! Generous...

That’s a walkway?! Generous…

There’s also a chance they could be talking about the area on the other side of our girl. I suppose it could be called a walkway IF you wanted to walk from our grill into the side of our house. But, sure, we’ll include those in the clean-up on a better safe than sorry level.

Closer to being an actual walkway, sure, but to where?!

Closer to being an actual walkway, sure, but to where?!

In total, I removed 180ish bricks from the side of our home in the hopes that it would untwist AMS’s knickers.

This part took about 20 minutes to remove.

This part took about 20 minutes to remove.

While this part took a little longer (some of the bricks were actually covered with dirt and had to be uncovered before being dug out).

While this part took a little longer (some of the bricks were actually covered with dirt and had to be uncovered before being dug out).

Thankfully, this worked. While some Facebook friends suggested finding other coverage, the age of our house makes the pickings pretty slim to begin with. It’d have been the height of irony to go through all of that and end up right back where we started with the state-run policy.

Here’s the scoop, though, on that whole cancel first, ask questions never habit. Apparently an insurance company has 60 days to cancel new business or else they’re stuck insuring the property until renewal. Our AMS policy began July 18. I received the cancellation notice on September 19. There’s that 60 days! But we’re back in good standing so, at least until next summer, we’re covered.

It’s my own fault, of course. I’d just told a friend earlier that night that I thought we were finally done with the “triage” portion of old-house ownership. Hah!

For those new to homeownership or considering buying an old house like we did? Consider this yet another cautionary tale courtesy of Todd and I bumbling our way throught this odd little adventure. And the next time we learn something the hard way, I’ll be sure to share.

Don’t Tell the Dollhouse, But…

The Gingerbread Diaries

We went away for the weekend and didn’t miss our new home–I know, it’s scandalous.

This past weekend we were in Jacksonville for Ancient City Con and stayed at a Hometown Suites room that couldn’t be farther from our new home:

  • Where the Dollhouse is nearly 3K square feet, this room made our cabin on the cruise ship look spacious.
  • Where the Dollhouse has lovely (if dusty and worn) wood floors throughout, the hotel room was carpeted.
  • Where the Dollhouse currently requires us to sleep with multiple fans pointed at us to stay comfortable, I frequently needed an extra layer in the hotel room.
  • Where I have trouble falling asleep at the Dollhouse because of all the still-new-to-me noises, I fell asleep easily each night at the hotel (even though I usually sleep horribly in a new place the first night).

And let’s not even get into how wonderful it was to be on the first floor–no stairs!

Now, I’m not saying I want to go give up the Dollhouse and build a Tiny House in our backyard or anything, it was just nice to feel a bit normal again surrounded by the towers of boxes and bins as we are. And I did feel a bit guilty about not missing home about midway through our stay. Even the “hotel smell” that some folks complain about was preferable to the still-musty smell some of the Dollhouse rooms have.

Despite all of that, it did feel good coming home to the Dollhouse, and I did sleep better that night that I have since we moved in. Sure, there’s noises coming from the wall of my studio, the water heater is being temperamental, and I’m not yet comfortable walking around this place barefoot, but we’ll get there. Eventually.

About the only apprehension I had about the trip was that it was the first time we’d be away from the Dollhouse overnight since moving in for real. The idea of coming home and things not being as we left them spurred me to contact our insurance agent and get the Rehab/Renovation/Not-Covering-Contents policy transformed into a full-on homeowner’s policy. And if you thought it was as simple as a phone call you’re obviously new to the saga of the Dollhouse; nothing is simple in our world.

Take one part stressed-out homeowner with a habit of active listening (which, on the phone, leads to several ‘rights, okays, and I understands) and one part overwhelmed agent (who interprets the active listening habits of the homeowner as defensive interruptions) and you get a recipe for a very tense transaction. We finally got where we needed to go only to find that no one knew how the bank wanted to handle it. I thought this was agreed upon back during the negotiations pre-closing, but apparently not. So add in a call to Wells Fargo while I’m still packing to go out of town and realizing there’s not a single pen upstairs when I needed to take down the contact info for the bank!

Then, of course, the long email I sent before getting on the road? Never arrived in her Inbox so the included request to send me the rundown of out policy options so I could actually make a decision? Yeah, that never happened. The cell reception in the convention area was horrible, but we finally got it together around 5pm on Friday. Because of the age of the house, our provider options were pretty slim anyway–note of caution to those looking to buy historic properties. The major decision was whether or not to go with Cash Value or Replacement Value on the contents coverage. The latter makes for a more expensive premium but Todd and I agreed that it was worth the additional expense to have that additional peace of mind.

So now I’m just waiting on refund checks from the two policies (the 6-month reno policy I paid directly before closing and the annual HOI that the bank recently paid on our behalf). When the HOI comes back I have to deposit back into the escrow account (I wish they could just refund it directly to Wells Fargo, but apparently it wasn’t an option) to put things back to rights. We had a bit of paperwork to settle up when we got back to town on Monday, and it was a good thing we did: a piece of mail from the insurance company got returned (for reasons completely unknown) and they took that to mean the house was vacant and violating the policy and were going to cancel it at the end of the month.

It’s always something with this place, it seems, but at least it’s never dull!