Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Good Neighbors," Indeed.

Just as I was posting the previous, I got a call from my Good Neighbors at State Farm. Evidently when the nice new adjuster confirmed that there was more damage from wind and rain than had been previously recorded, he then suggested that maybe there wasn't as much flood damage to the house as they had already paid us for. So they CANCELLED PAYMENT on our check, and want to send out another adjuster to review the flood claim.

This is strictly punitive because we insisted on the second adjuster and have pursued the errors and omissions claim. I have contractors estimates to show that the flood damage is at least $100K more than the settlement in question. Long and short, I'll jump through their hoops, they can be on fire for all I care.

We're not trying to get anything that wasn't covered under the policies our agent's representative told us we had. We just want to fix our damn house, or at least get out of the mortgage.

Meanwhile, we still don't have trailer keys. We found out that they were being held until we got a temporary acccount from the electric company. The electric company tells us we can't set up an account until we give them a permit number. The guy that hooked the thing up says that the city was supposed to come inspect the trailer, issue the permit, and give it to Entergy. Also, the sewer pipe is connected to the storm drain, so they have to fix that before we could be allowed to take occupancy. I predict a trip to City Hall, to wait in line at Safety and Permits, in the future.

YOUR tax dollars at work friends. While they're passing the buck from office to office, the trailer FEMA paid $60,000 for is sitting useless in my driveway. Fair market value for such a trailer is about $20K, by the way. Meanwhile FEMA is supposed to be reimbursing our rent payments until the trailer can be occupied.

I need a drink. STAT.

Destruction Tour

A dear friend who is an expatriate New Orleanian was in town this weekend so we did the obligitory disaster tour. Not the commercial one of course, we just drove around in our car. We call this "Ze Tourre of Diztrucktion" in a bad Alsacian accent, for no particular reason.

Unlike our previous trips though, this time we started at West End Boulevard and drove all the way through the city. We went through the City Park, Mid-City, and Gentilly neighborhoods, then around through the Lakefront area. We drove for a solid hour through block after block of destroyed, and we didn't even head out towards New Orleans East or the 9th Ward. The scope of it is just mind boggling. I kept losing track of where I was, because the terrain is so unrecognizable, then suddenly realize I was right in front of a building I used to work in, or a restaurant I ate lunch at a couple of times a week. 80% of a major American city, annhiliated right in front of us.

I'm stunned about the White House canning the Baker Bill, which would have provided funds to the city to purchase destroyed homes from the owners and either redevelop the area or dedicate it to parkland, as a prevention for future flooding. The city's redevelopment plan is actually good, based on solid planning principals used throughout the world. Expecting individual homeowners to rebuild entire neighborhoods is about as practical as paving a street one house at a time.

Back at our house, we had a second adjuster come out on Monday, and he seemed a lot more reasonable than the first guy. We expect to get a revised settlement offer this week. That will be a relief. We still have a case pending with our agent's errors and omissions policy in regards to our flood coverage. I sincerely hope they make us an offer on that one and we don't have to file suit. The lawyer has been a great help on all of this. I'm still waiting to hear from the SBA about the disaster home loan we applied for. I have a month to pay off Countrywide, and I'd like to know we'll be able to borrow the money to fix the house.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Foundation repair: "Only $98K"

After months of unanswered messages, we finally got quotes for the foundation work to be done if we save the existing house. The job will entail running steel beams the width of the house between the old support piers, jacking the house up a couple of feet, removing the old piers, driving pilings down to bedrock (using some form of the cable-lock system), pouring a new concrete foundation, backfilling the old basement, and pouring a slab for the new parking area and workshop under the house. The general contractor will take care of filling in the walls in the raised area.

This differs from the foundation work we had before the storm, because that repair only jacked up the subsided part of the house and filled in the gap on the old piers. At the time, we reasonably assumed the subsidence had taken place over the eighty year life of the house but that the piers were themselves sound. The sudden shifting of the house during the storm indicates the piers were in bad shape to begin with, and probably were not on pilings.

So, the estimates for the job range from $98K to $150K. We're hoping to get the house fixed for within the insurance payouts we're able to get (i.e, not throw good money after bad) so that would leave us with $100-150K for the new roof and the rest of the work to be done. I've got a volunteer crew coming in to help us gut the more badly damaged parts of the house. We think we can get away without gutting the living, dining, and family rooms.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that we might live in the house eventually, but it's just as likely we'll get it into salable condition and let it go. My insurance premiums for the upcoming year are close to $5K, and they're expected to go up around 25%. When I'm spending more on tax and insurance than I am on mortgage, something clearly has to give.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I am so over New Orleans, I might as well be a blue roof.

I've had a few people ask me what I think of the mayor's odd comments about New Orleans being a "Chocolate City." My answer - other than being kind of odd, I don't think it's that big of a deal. Nagin has made a hell of an effort to reassure people that the city will revive. Whether you approve of him or not, he's an enormous improvement over the previous mayor who was shockingly corrupt. Nagin's done his best to clean up the corruption, and a lot of people hate him for it.

I'm a lot more bothered by the behavior of my fellow New Orleanians over the past month. First you have the lucky few whose homes were not severely damaged opposing trailers in their neighborhoods for those not so lucky. Then you have people, including members of the city council, claiming that converting some destroyed neighborhoods into green space to prevent future flooding is a tactic to keep African-Americans from returning. Never mind that both black and white neighborhoods are in question, and many black neighborhoods are also targeted for revitalization. Anytime anyone here doesn't like anything, it's a race issue.

Finally, we've got people who are shocked and appalled that the Mayor would acknowledge that New Orleans was and will continue to be a majority black city (albeit in an weird reference to a song by Parliament) but have nothing to say on the matter of shootings taking place at an MLK Day rally. The complacency that allows people to just roll their eyes and say "Oh, that's New Orleans" as if we don't deserve any better has allowed our city to decay for decades, and will keep on doing so despite our first real chance to rebuild since the Restoration.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Y'all are not going to BELIEVE this.

Got some rain last night. Woke up this morning, thinking, hmm, that rain sounds a little close. I'd better have a look.

Rain water is coming from every light fixture, light switch, smoke alarm, and vent in the apartment. Yes, the apartment, where we live since our house FLOODED. Within about a half hour, there is inch-deep water through the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry area, and hallway. If you step on the carpet in the hallway, it goes sploosh and a wave moves down the hall.

Oh for the love of God. I had an appointment with the new adjuster at the house this morning, but I had to cancel because I need to deal with this mess. We lifted our bed off the floor onto some study boxes so the box spring won't be soaked. The bed frame was wrecked in flood #1.

Anyone know an exorcist? Surely I'm haunted.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Rebuild vs Remodel Quotes

Mr. Nola had a scary conversation with Boudreaux the Contractor yesterday. By his estimates, we're looking at $300K to renovate, not including the new foundation, vs twice that to rebuild from scratch. This is for a house we paid $360K for a year ago. So far our insurance payouts have been about $270K, and we haven't even added up the cost of the furniture we lost.

Ugh. The temptation to mail the keys back to Countrywide, change my name and move to an alpaca farm in Vermont is getting stronger.

Those numbers represent what Boudreaux thinks we need though, so we'll have to go through and tell him what we actuallly want out of that. Some of the finish work we can do ourselves, of course, but we really don't have the time or skills to take on major work.

Meanwhile, the money we're paying to the lawyer for dealing with our insurance agent is Worth.Every.Penny. I don't know that I could remain civil while talking to the guy. Recently, he told the lawyer that the reason the mold and water damage is so much worse in the rooms that are under the hole in the roof than it is in the rest of the house, is because the house is tilted towards those rooms so they had deeper flood water. "Flood water" is the homeowner's insurance magic excuse to not have to pay for anything. Of course, I have the receipts to show that a) the house was levelled before the hurricane, b) the extent that it was tilted before levelling was towards the other side of the house, and c) the obvious subsidence that took place because of the flood is tilted in the other direction, away from the most damaged rooms. The guy is just making this shit up!