Coplay resident struggles after 2019 house fire
Anne Killeen’s life changed Sept. 24, 2019, after a house fire in Coplay Borough.
As she will attest, the people, firefighters and neighbors in the little town of Coplay rallied to provide her with assistance. She stayed with neighbors after the tragedy and eventually moved to a long-term-stay hotel.
As of now, nothing is repaired or settled.
“I’m not bitter or resentful. I have been treated well, but I had no idea of all the things that need to be done to get my life back together,” she said.
She is grateful she used a local insurance agent when she got insurance on her house.
“My agent advised me to carry full replacement value on my house,” she said. “I really didn’t know what the answer was. Full replacement is more expensive. I don’t have a lot of money, so I was giving up some money that I could use for other items to pay for something that I thought probably would not happen.”
Killeen’s house is a twin, and she has lived in Coplay for decades. Everything she had was either stored in the house or the garage. It’s now gone.
“Some items were of sentimental value, and others were longtime possessions that I will miss. The other things can be replaced,” she said.
The unexpected part of getting things back together was what happened to her neighbor. She took the less-expensive option on her insurance plan.
That policy is a little different but has a huge impact. The alternate policy takes into account the useful life of an item. A 10-year-old toaster doesn’t really have much value even though there is nothing wrong with it. The price established by the insurance adjuster does not cover the cost of a new one.
Take that to the next level, and the same principle is applied to major house components. Adjust for the value of the house, and there is an “uh-oh” calculation. There is not enough money to rebuild a new unit without taking a lot of money out of savings. Things change, so it might not be necessary to build something to the same size and quality as the original.
In most cases, building to the original might be tough. Killeen’s house had plaster walls. They will be expensive to replicate, but drywall can be an effective substitute.
The problem for Killeen is she and her neighbor are part of a twin. How do you build one side to a set standard and not the other?
For Killeen, everything is on hold. At six months after the fire, there does not seem to be a resolution. Eventually, the insurance company will force a resolution, and no one wants that situation.
A whole new set of unforeseen options is in play. Clearly, the two homes are not going to be a matched pair. Killeen and her neighbor can have the twin designed as two separate units joined together. That might be a little out of character for the neighborhood. She could also buy the other lot and build a single unit on the two lots. Her neighbor has that option as well. There is a whole new series of legal paperwork associated with combining lots. The additional tax burden for the property and maintenance costs may be enough to push either owner well over her housing limit.
The other option is to walk away from the whole matter.
“I’ve lived here all my life. Even if I can find something to live in, the cost may be too high. It’s hard to find something in the price range that fits my budget,” she said.
An apartment is not out of the question.
“I’m not getting younger, and it might be beneficial to move into an apartment,” she said. “But if the funds run out, what do I do? In other words, I could outlive my money and have nowhere to go when I am most vulnerable.”
Killeen has plenty of friends in the borough and could get an offer for the property.
“I’m near the existing municipal building, and [the borough] wants to build a new municipal building. We have talked about selling to the borough. I just don’t have a plan because the options I have are not ones I ever thought to consider,” she said.
Killeen is talking to friends and advisers, but she has not decided. She understands her decision will have a greater impact on her life than the fire.
“One thing I am happy about is that I was able to talk to a local insurance agent that I knew, and he advised me well,” she said. “I probably would have gone with the cheaper option if I was just picking something off the computer. That’s why I am going to take my time deciding on my next step.”