Being an advocate for homeowners in an insurance world that is filled with twists and turns is challenging – and fulfilling – I even have to consider the impact of risk for families who experience the nightmares of hoarders.
Today, while I was pondering what to write about that is interesting, yet important, my mind wandered to the protection policyholders might need – simply from increasing their awareness of hoarding and the intrinsic risks created for the homeowner. I don’t know that we all sit glued to our seats when the reality show about hoarding comes on, but I am pretty sure everyone knows someone who qualifies… and sometimes that person may be a resident in our own home. Consider the following story; although fiction designed to raise your awareness, it is not an uncommon occurrence.
Carolyn… The Hoarder
Carolyn resided in a beautiful, upscale neighborhood. No one driving by would have guessed the inside of her home was far more representative of an inner-city slum. Her windows were not even visible… papers, trash, boxes, mail, magazines and thousands of other trinkets were piled from floor to ceiling. Kitchen countertops, the stove, and the bathroom sink were no longer visible; the bathtubs filed with debris. Long since, this lovely woman’s family members had moved from the home – each afraid to leave, yet no longer able to manage an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle surrounding them. There was no place to escape! Carolyn had long since ceased showering and other personal hygiene; taking intermittent sponge baths in the sink. The less frequent her family visits, the more her hoarding increased. Now, with the breach from her family, no one really remembered when or why her life shifted – or her health, family and home were put at risk – with the myriad elements involved with hoarding. Imagine the shock found by the insurance adjuster who went to assess the damage she called in when Carolyn’s hot-water heater flooded much of the second floor of her home!
Facts About Hoarding
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America proposes hoarding behavior may appear early in life, but with certain parental control, it may become visible only when the person is out and on their own. It also notes how we might recognize the signs earlier rather than too late to benefit our loved one: “Individuals who hoard may exhibit a number of different behaviors such as an inability to throw away possessions; indecisiveness about what to keep or throw away; severe anxiety when attempting to discard items or when people touch their belongings; and an obsessive fear of running out of an item. There are also functional impairments that can affect personal relationships and create financial difficulties, health issues and an extreme loss of living space.”
Why Is Hoarding of Interest to Insurance Agents?
Why would I bring this to your attention as an Independent Insurance Agent? The challenges of insuring risks which would not otherwise be present. In 2012, the issue was of paramount importance, leading the National Fire Protection Association Conference and Expo, to have the difference between a hoarder and a collector defined: “a hoarder has so much stuff that the rooms they’re putting it into have lost their functionality completely.” The health and safety issues obviously impacts coverage issues and rates. Aside from the obvious fire hazards, homeowners must look to myriad other possibilities: trip and fall; rodents and reptiles, inability to monitor leaks or structural issues, and inaccessibility of the home during any kind of an unforeseen event. Additionally, the stench, which is often observed by neighbors, comes almost too late.Hoarders who have long since cluttered their bathing and bathroom areas often resort to other areas of the home for toileting, have already left a trail of health hazards beyond our normal comprehension.
As an insurance agent, I am faced with challenges when I realize I am insuring a hoarder. Since there is normally no interior home inspection, when it comes time to review a new policy application or a renewal, we may not know of a situation that is rarely visible from the outside of the home. The issue normally only comes to light during a claim on the property and an independent adjuster comes face to face with the realities and acknowledges it to the underwriting department the need for a possible change in risk. Fire, flood, mold… stemming from the lack of maintenance, each is compounded as hoarders resort to using space heaters, portable cooking devices or any number of creative “fixes” to appliances that are no longer functional. What could easily be repaired in a normal setting become major problems. Not only does the accumulation of contents create an insurance problem, the severity of damage, property valuation, and removal of such mass to complete basic repairs is something not counted on by homeowners, repairmen, agents, or underwriters! Environmental issues… why would most of us think about the potential biohazard of animal waste, human waste, mold and trash – or how difficult the breathing must be – especially so following a fire or flood. I am sure if you stop and think about it – the list of potential risks can go on as long and as far as your imagination dare go.
For me, I have to consider how to communicate with my clients sufficiently that if they see telltale signs of hoarding from any family member, friend or neighbor, they make someone aware of not only the hazards, but the nightmares which might then be involved with the insurance coverage.
Making MORE happen for my insurance clients…