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Review of all things Real Estate: Lots of rain created lots of fuel for fire

We sorely needed the rain; it filled up shrinking reservoirs, added “green” to our views and helped inundate the earth with moisture. The bad news is now we have lots of organic fuel in our countryside.

During the December 2017 fire that swept through Bonsall, one of our Real Estate Marketing Meeting attendees lost a barn and had her house scorched, but it was largely saved by the firefighters. They told her later that the firefighters can “pass” on a property if the homeowner hasn’t participated in defense of their own property.

I discussed the matter with then Fire Chief Steve Abbott who confirmed that firefighters can indeed pass due to limitations of personnel and equipment and for the safety of the firefighters. I invited Steve to address our Marketing Meeting because it is good information for us know for counseling our clients, but also for us to know as homeowners.

The California Association of Realtors (CAR) has since developed a fire hardening disclosure form for home sellers to fill-out upon entry into a purchase contract (more on this disclosure later in this article).

But even if a person is not planning on selling their property, it is a good idea to go on the internet and search California Defensible Fire Space and General Guidelines for creating defensible space. Not only informative articles which make for good reading, it’s also the law to create defensible fire space around a structure.

In my previous article, I disclosed that I had a backyard makeover done at my house (which turned out great, by the way). It was during this time that I met with Steve Abbott, and we talked about the matter of defensible space. I had a number of pine trees which had been living Christmas trees which, after the holiday season, I planted around the house.

The trees represented our three kids (all adults now), our four grandkids (now six) and our son- and daughter-in-law. So, they are special and they were inside the defensible space around my house (two even touching the roof as they had grown quite tall and bushy). I admit, I was in denial; they couldn’t possibly need to be taken down. But ultimately sentiment gave way to good sense and all my beautiful, special pine trees came down along with five macadamia trees as well.

Taking trees down did open the view plus the unanticipated benefit of taking out the macadamia trees was the colony of ground squirrels that lived on (inside) my front hill largely went away because their food was gone. Due to their destructive nature, I didn’t mind losing the ground squirrels, but I did feel a loss for the pine trees.

As stated previously though, it’s the law so I needed to comply. The deciding factor though was a question that came to my mind. If firefighters could pass on defending a property because the homeowner didn’t participate in the defense of the home, could insurance companies refuse to pay claims for the same reason? My insurance agent said “No, they would pay.”

I hope she’s right because who can afford to pay a mortgage where there is no place to live? And, by the way, fire insurance companies have taken a beating on their bottom line these last several years due to fire claims, particularly in Northern California. Now, many name brand insurance companies will no longer insure against fire in California.

There is recourse with the California Fair Plan policy, but it is often considered expensive. Before we leave this subject, if you are shopping for a home to purchase, please consult your local fire insurance agent even before you make an offer. The cost of fire insurance could take a buyer out of purchase qualification due to the added expense.

The last subject for this article is the California Association of Realtors Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Disclosure and Addendum. It is a comprehensive document that both seller and buyer must sign which discloses the degree to which seller has complied with the fire space requirements.

There is also a separate document which must be filled out if the property is in a High or Very High Fire Zone and, if so, the fire insurance option is likely going to be the California Fair Plan. But again, your first call is to your local fire insurance agent with the address of the property that may be considered for purchase. It’d be painful and frustrating to find the perfect house/property only to later find out there isn’t affordable fire insurance available.


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