My Homeowners Insurance Softened the Blow When an $8,000 Emergency Hit

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  • I had been living in my new house for four days when I did my first load of laundry.
  • It was a dream come true as a longtime renter – until water started backing up in my basement.
  • It was sewage (nightmare) and the pipe repair would cost $8,000. Luckily my insurance covered 60%.

It is November 2020, day four of life in my new home as a first time home owner. After living as a renter in one-bedroom apartments with limited access to laundry for the past 16 years, the thing I’m most looking forward to in my new home is doing my first load. That, and not being surrounded by a perpetual cloud of weed smoke from my stoner downstairs neighbor.

My last apartment had two coin-operated machines in the basement, several elevator-less flights down, where tenants were left to fight each other for access. Which became especially high stakes with each fruitless trip down the stairs to see if the machines were finally free.

I even lived in buildings without laundry and spent countless hours I’ll never get back trying to read time in laundries while screaming kids chased each other around and old women slept, until I worked out a system to get the groceries to do during a wash cycle, pop back in to move some of the clothes to the dryer, and carry the others home to hang dry while I put away the groceries just enough time to run back and rescue my clothes from the dryer. Ouch.

But the day I’ve been longing for has finally arrived: I’m going to christen my nearly pristine stackable clothes dryer in my own home. I don’t have to worry about saving my clothes until another tenant can unceremoniously remove them and drop them where they may. The machines weren’t new, but they were beautiful and they were mine and on the second floor of the house, no less. Boom!

My dream soon became a nightmare

I happily put a load in the machine and return to the work of unpacking. Not long after turning my attention to unpacking, I hear the sound of bubbling water that doesn’t sound quite right and immediately brings fear to my heart.

I follow the sound to the cellar (the cellar’s more primitive ancestor) only to find that the ancient sink in which the washing machine empties is overflowing. Horror of horrors: What’s going down the sink isn’t just the water from my first load of laundry in my new home, it’s…sewage! Wastewater from the city sewer flows onto the drainless floor, washing away my short-lived homeowner’s honeymoon.

The repairs are going to cost a fortune

Having just moved out of a big city, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the city responded to my desperate call for help. After spending months in near-isolation during the pandemic, it was a shock to suddenly have five large men in my house trudging up and down my basement stairs and wading through sewage. I couldn’t look.

After what felt like hours of noisy work, they called me into the basement to show me via a tiny camera that the pipe, originally attached to my turn-of-the-century house, was no longer round, but flattened. like a sad and flaky pancake.

And then came the very bad news: The flattened pipe needed to be completely replaced immediately, it was on my property, I would have to pay the bill, and it was going to be a $$$ expensive emergency repair.

My first call was to my real estate agent to get her recommendation for plumbing and excavation companies and to see if she could find out if the previous owner knew about this potential issue – not one of the many issues my home inspection revealed not. I didn’t budget for this!

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My home owners insurance came through for me

My next call was to my homeowners insurance provider and emergency plumbers and excavators, who arrived on site later that day to quote on the massive job that would mean digging up my driveway, nine feet deep, and almost to the back of my property. More men poured into my house.

The man sent to assess the damage for the insurance company took pictures, listened to my sob story, and left me with an industrial-sized cup of disinfectant. I spent the last night of my mini-vacation that I took to settle into my new home cleaning up sewage from my basement with only a mop and bucket that I would later need to burn, and crying and hoping I didn’t make a terrible mistake buying a house on my own in a town where I didn’t know anyone in the middle of a pandemic.

Bright and early the next morning the plumbers, excavators and insurance guy arrived and got to work tearing up my driveway. The team completed the job in one day and provided me with paperwork for the insurance company which resulted in a reimbursement of approximately 60% of the total cost of the job. It was a miracle and, frankly, much better coverage than I expected.

By the numbers:

  • I pay $150 a month for my home owners insurance
  • I have a $1,000 deductible
  • The total cost of the emergency repairs (not including getting my driveway repaired) was about $8,000
  • My insurance covered about $5,000
  • I paid about $3,000 out of pocket

The woman assigned to my file with the insurance company was friendly, efficient, and processed my refund within two weeks so I could pay off my credit card, which had never seen such a hefty charge. The experience almost made me long for the days of renting and collecting coins to do my laundry.

Two years later, almost to the day, my poor driveway still bears the scars of my initiation into home ownership. I’m reminded of my baptism of fire – or, more accurately, baptism of sewage – every time I see that driveway.

A torn driveway was not on my list of repairs when I bought the place and so it will remain a reminder of my intention to stay the course in the new life I am building for myself as I work my way down. signed list of home repairs and working hard to love my century home back to its former glory, one budget line at a time.

If it weren’t for the safety net of my homeowners insurance, telling the harrowing story of the first week in my new home would be more tragedy than comedy.

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