What should you do after a house fire

What should you do after a house fire

House fires are unusual in Singapore, but they do happen.

In 2017, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) responded to 2,657 fire incidents in residential properties. That’s just over 221 fire incidents every month.

Can this happen to you? You might think 221 incidents isn't a lot, considering that there are so many houses in Singapore. But it might. And it could.

The question is - what should you do when your home is damaged? Two words - don't panic. Also, take these steps when the smoke clears to re-build your home.

Inform your various insurers

Contact your home content insurer first, to find out what documentation you need. Your insurer will probably want a copy of the SCDF report, or a police report if one was made. If anyone was injured, you should also contact your health insurance provider.

Your home content insurer will walk you through the claims process. Be sure to find out:

  • When and how you’ll get the money for storage
     
  • Which company to call for demolition and debris removal
     
  • How to get the allowance for temporary accommodations (even if you don’t need this, ask and find out anyway; just in case it’s required later).
     
  • How to file the claims for any damaged or lost goods

Note that basic fire insurance does not provide help for any of these. It only covers damages to the house.

This is why it’s important to get home content insurance, as it provides for these essential needs.

Contact any relatives or friends

Let your relatives and friends know your situation, and assure them that you are safe.

More importantly, if your home is badly damaged, you'll need to look for temporary accommodations. Cue relatives to save the day.

Be prepared for the possibility of moving about (e.g. staying two or three days in one person’s house, and then a week in another, and so forth). This can be planned with close friends and relatives, if paid accommodations, such as renting an apartment, are too far out of your budget.

If the entire property has been burned, plan for basic renovations (i.e. just to make the house liveable) to take around two months.

Take an inventory

As soon as it’s safe, sift through your belongings. Take note of anything that’s lost or damaged. Do take some pictures, in case your insurer wants to see them.

Most home content insurance pays out up to $2,500 for lost or damaged items, to a maximum claim of $5,000.

For bulky items, such as furniture, make a note of which ones you want to keep. If you won’t be able to leave them in the house (e.g. the whole apartment needs to be renovated, and there’s no room), then take some basic measurements. You may need temporary storage for these.

Move your valuables to a secure storage space

If you need to move out for your home entirely for renovations, then you’ll want to secure valuables such as jewellery, expensive watches, gold coins, etc.

An ideal place to store these is in bank deposit boxes; but realistically speaking, you won’t get one on short notice. The wait for deposit boxes can sometimes be several months long. Consider alternatives, such as self-storage companies.

Note that the cost of self-storage services may be covered by your home content insurance.

Decide what to do with your larger items

It’s best not to leave large items, such as still functional television sets, refrigerators, or washing machines in your house. These can get damaged during renovations, and compound your big repair bill.

It’s not likely that your friends or relatives have sufficient space for this. Either auction them off and buy new ones later or pay for self-storage facilities. The cost of self-storage facilities might be covered by your home content insurer.

Decide which ones you’re going to throw away as you’ll want the debris removal company to deal with it when they arrive.

Do a final sweep before you engage the debris removal company

Do a final check to make sure you’ve collected all your valuables. Make a final decision regarding what you want to store or sell off before the clearance company starts its job.

If you have home content insurance, most policies pay out between $2,500 to $3,000 for debris removal, depending on your policy. The cost may be higher than this, so expect some out-of-pocket expenses.

Check on the neighbours

Besides checking if they’re alright, ask if their home suffered any fire damage. Do take pictures of the alleged damage, for later reference.

Note that, if you’re liable for the fire, you can also be held liable for damages to your neighbour’s property. This is another reason to get home content insurance, as there is a Personal Liability claim which can be used to pay for the fire damage to your neighbour’s home.

Avoid giving verbal or written acknowledgement of your liability. For example, don’t write an email admitting that the damage is your fault, or that you’ll be happy to pay for it. Wait for further investigations to be complete if your neighbours have such claims.

When in doubt, ask your home content insurer about what to do.

Budget for your accommodations

If you need to rent temporary accommodations, you should budget for it in the coming months. As a rule of thumb, rental costs should not raise your expenses (inclusive of other expenses, such as loan repayments) to more than 40 per cent of your monthly income.

If you have home content insurance, you can usually claim between $20,000 to $25,000 for temporary accommodations, depending on your policy.