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Smoke Signals Monthly eMagazine

Bob Sandroni with wife, LoraUp in Smoke...When Your
Collection Bites the Dust

By Bob Sandroni with help from
his treasured co-pilot and wife, Lora

December, 2009 Smoke Signals

On October 22, 2007, my wife and I suffered the loss of our 7,500 square-foot home in Lake Arrowhead, California. In a few hours, our mountain sanctuary for 18 years, our family destination for holidays, birthdays and other milestones, and our showcase for our Western and Native American art disintegrated.

Gone were more than 1500 antique weapons, hundreds of salesman saddle samples, historic chaps and gun belts, museum quality Native American beadwork and oil paintings.

What can one learn from such a tragedy? A lot. What prevented this disheartening disaster from becoming an emotional and financial debacle?

Archival Record-keeping and a Masterpiece Art Policy

As a former institutional investment manager, my professional life depended on maintaining and updating detailed financial records. This habit also served me well as an avid art collector.

Where do I start? Video, Video, Video

Once your collection is in place in your home or office, videotape everything. Every room. Shoot the video with the art/collection in its natural background so there is no question that this stuff is yours. I mention this because one of the many collections I lost consisted of more than 100 Hummel figurines. I had photographed every one individually on a plain black background but my insurance adjusters wanted them displayed in a case or breakfront. Why? That setting would verify they were actually mine and not photographed in a store or from a catalogue.

How do I further document? Photograph, Photograph, Photograph

You must have individual photos of every item in your collection including close up shots from all angles, which provide further detail. With every photo, include a thorough description with dimensions, original cost, date of purchase with vendor receipt if possible and current value. Current value is crucial since art items historically rise in value over time. Make sure you update your collection value every two to three years. (alas, personal items such as clothing and house wares depreciate mightily but art or collectibles usually do not). Itemize everything. If you put items in an "insurance blanket or basket" the total category is capped with a dollar limit.

How do I know what my coverage is? Lots of luck

It is important to read your insurance policy thoroughly. Policies are usually written in insurance lingo, which can defy comprehension. Do not think your one or two page summary is enough! Ask for the entire policy to read. When in doubt, ask, and then get the clarification in writing. If you do not understand something, ask. Ask again. Get the point? Have your insurance representatives come to your home if you prefer.

About four months before the fire, my wife increased our home insurance (not the art policy). When she claimed this increased value of our newly remodeled home, the company balked. She invited them to personally inspect the completed home, which took two days. The inspector shot hundreds of photographs. The new policy was drawn up immediately. They mailed us the photos, which, by the way, they charged us for.

How often should I update my information? Every few years

Think of the value of your specific art piece or entire collection five to ten years in the future. This will cost you higher premiums in the short haul but will reward you well if you ever have a claim. Set an anniversary date when you will review your collection.

Where should I keep my records? Away from the primary location of the collection

In my case, I always kept the photographic and written records in a location out of the home. This can be in a bank, safety deposit box, your lawyer's office or at another home or office. Make several copies. Photographs can be burned to CDs in minutes and take up less space then hard copies. Since I am about a century behind the computer/digital age, I kept old fashioned photo albums.  Keep in mind that photos disintegrate over time, so keep the negatives.

Looking back on the issue of record keeping, I wish I had invested in a scanner. Scanning receipts, descriptions and data on to the hard drive/flash drive or even offsite digital storage would have helped immensely.

In a disaster such as this, recalling all of your personal items is equally challenging. You need to remember all of your personal items: clothing and accessories, bedding, china and crystal, utensils, cookware, sports equipment, books, videos and CDs, all appliances, large and small...Everything in your home. And outside your home if you've made improvements. You need to be able to describe it all in minute detail and recall the prices. Receipts are very handy since they show the date of purchase. Again, photographs and scanned receipts would be ideal.

Upon the loss of your home, you should know that your insurance company may not write you a check for the insured loss. You are required to purchase or rebuild a home equaling the insured amount of your home, minus the cost of the land. Rebuilding a new home on the existing land is the most financially beneficial since you still own the land. However, if you choose to move somewhere new, your check will only reflect the value of the home, without the value of the land.

My experience with the claims process has been emotionally painful. It was an intellectual and organizational challenge. Two years and three months after the fire, I am still in the final stages of claims work.

My final advice is this: Hire a private insurance adjuster to help you

This saved my sanity and increased my claim results immeasurably.

Many insurance companies want to do the right thing. But they are behemoths of paperwork and bureaucratic hierarchies with constantly changing personnel who are often called to the most recent tragedy before your claim is closed. You are not a professional. You need one.

Many people ask me whom we used for our insurance needs and who represented us in the claims process. I am happy to answer these questions and share our positive results. Feel free to contact me through Smoke Signals.

Bob Sandroni
smokesignals@highnoon.com

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