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Insurance no assurance for fire victims

Natasha and Jim Shelver sit in the partially reconstructed sun room in their Freeland home with new baby daughter Alexandra. - Matt Johnson
Natasha and Jim Shelver sit in the partially reconstructed sun room in their Freeland home with new baby daughter Alexandra.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

A Freeland couple that is trying to rebuild their home in the aftermath of an August fire is finding that insurance is no assurance of a return to life as usual.

On Aug. 22, an electrical fire between the shop and home in which Jim and Natasha Shelver live burned the outbuilding to the ground and extensively damaged the couple’s manufactured home at the corner of Highway 525 and Mutiny Bay Road. Since then, Jim Shelver has been trying to use a $51,000 insurance settlement to re-roof and refurbish portions of the fire and smoke damaged house, and replace the shop he uses in his tile laying business.

But as of this month, the work is nowhere near complete. While smoke-damaged floors and melted windows in the house have been replaced, there is still a blue tarp in the front yard covering the equipment that used to be in Shelver’s shop. There is still no shop building — because the Shelvers don’t yet have the money to replace it.

Adding to the complications, Natasha Shelver gave birth to the couple’s first child, daughter Alexandra, on Dec. 17. The home the growing family lives in — which is actually owned by her father-in-law — has yet to be be fully rebuilt. Though warm and watertight, there is still exposed frame members in some places, largely because Jim Sheldon has been using his time away from his job to do the work to spread the partial insurance settlement further.

After the fire, the Sheldons’ insurance company, State Farm, issued payments of just over $51,000 to pay for the damage. But the money didn’t come to the Sheldons all at once. Half of was held for months by the company that holds the mortgage on the house, Countrywide. And, while the Sheldons learned they were finally going to get the second half of the insurance settlement by this coming Monday, they have also found out that their insurer has only been paying 50 percent of the bills charged by electricians and other professionals doing work to repair the house.

Through these months, Jim Sheldon has been making almost daily phone calls to his insurance company and Countrywide to find out what he needs to do to get the money to finish the reconstruction work. Through these calls, he said he initially had good experience working with State Farm, but has gotten what he said was runaround from Countrywide.

“I’ve had so much of my time wasted on the phone,” he said.

The delay was further exacerbated by a series of inspections of work being done on the house. In November, a Countrywide account manager handling the Sheldons’ account stated that the payment of the remaining insurance funds was pending the second inspection in a two-week period.

Had Jim Sheldon’s father owned the home outright, the full insurance settlement would likely have been paid to him directly. But when there is a mortgage on a property the procedure is different, said the Sheldons’ insurance agent, Sheila DeLong.

“If there is a mortgage, we are required by law to give a portion to the lien holder,” said DeLong, who has an office in Freeland.

The Sheldons chose to put the initial half of the settlement into rebuilding their home. Carpets were replaced with Pergo flooring, while damage to the roof and walls was also fixed. While this was happening, Jim Sheldon was working without a shop — he couldn’t afford to build it without the second half of the settlement.

Though she said she cannot speak about clients’ situations specifically, DeLong said process of disbursing insurance money has a lot to do with having the insured, the insurance company, and the mortgage company in agreement on what repairs are necessary.

“Sometimes repairs aren’t done as needed,” she said. “It makes no sense to put in flooring and countertops first.”

The Sheldons don’t know when the issue will be fully settled, but they are hoping it will happen soon. Jim Sheldon said he has been unable to do as much work as he should over the past few months due to the loss of his shop and the time required to communicate with Countrywide. And though the family was warm through the holidays, the Sheldons are hoping the new year allows them to feel settled as well.

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