C.W. Gusewelle

An ordeal hinges on those you deal with

Updated: 2013-10-06T01:30:57Z

Two months ago today, I wrote in this space about a dismaying household catastrophe.

A small hot water pipe had failed in an upstairs bathroom, taking down the plaster ceiling of the entry hall below, causing damage to two other rooms and creating a mess of unspeakable proportions.

It’s an event I’m sure other homeowners have experienced. And many have suffered far worse.

Recent wildfires in the Western states have destroyed hundreds of residences. And the terrible floods in Colorado have swept away whole communities, leaving thousands homeless.

Compared to those cataclysms, ours was a minor league emergency. What has been altogether remarkable is the painless way in which our recovery has proceeded. For after a serious loss, one can sometimes be faced with an ordeal of haggling and delay.

In a country neighborhood a couple of hours south of the city we have a weekend cabin and a tract of farmland with several outbuildings.

One winter a few years ago the area was struck by a storm of uncommon severity. In a single night, it deposited well over a foot of ice and snow. Under that burden, the barn collapsed.

Through all the years of our ownership we had been covered by insurance with a company specializing in rural properties, and it had been a congenial relationship.

Our claims had been few: a cow killed by lightning, and the submerged pump in the cabin well knocked out in another electrical storm.

A simple phone call to the insurer’s local agent and those matters were settled.

Not so with the loss of the barn.

I telephoned the company’s home office to report our misfortune.

“We don’t cover barn collapses,” said the woman who answered.

“What are you talking about?” I responded. “Nothing in our policy says that.”

But she was unmoved. For several weeks the local agent argued on our behalf, to no avail. Finally I gave up and swallowed our loss.

How different this current experience has been.

With water and plaster on the floor, and our spirits even lower, we notified the company that for 40 years has insured the house and our cars.

A day later their representative arrived to conduct a detailed appraisal of the damage and recommend a contractor to undertake the repairs.

That same week the contractor dispatched an appraiser to calculate the cost of the project. The two of them met with us, compared their estimates and reached immediate agreement.

The single disappointment was that, due to outstanding commitments, there likely would be a wait for work actually to begin. But in only days there was a call notifying us they had found a hole in their schedule. And soon after that a skilled crew appeared.

It can be a trial having workers, their equipment and the inevitable noise and disorder in the house. But besides being wonderfully skilled, these young people were so agreeable it was a joy getting to know them and watching them putting the place back in order.

The pets we sequestered in an upstairs bedroom, except for one pathologically timid cat that retired under a couch, not to be seen for a week.

In a matter of days our home was fully restored, the repairs so perfectly executed that no evidence whatever remains of the unhappy event — only the memory of our distress.

The lesson in this has been that just as all craftsmen are not equally gifted, all insurers are not equally dependable. We were fortunate on both counts.

For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.

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