Southerly by David Haywood


Tower Insurance Have Some Bad News For You

I was going to write about how we found our house.  To tell you the story of how it took us nearly two years to find just the right spot to make a home.  To tell you how we visited universities all over the world who were keen to recruit my wife -- in New York City, Berlin, Stanford, and York -- and then decided that the best place to raise a family was back in Christchurch beside the Avon River.

But all that has rather flown out of my head this morning.  Instead I'll tell you about our insurance company.

Naturally, when we eventually found the right place, we were very careful to insure it properly.  I am a great believer in insurance -- and, being a very old house (100 years old next year), I made sure that we purchased total replacement cover.  For old houses the book value is usually much less than the total replacement cost; high ceilings and double-hung windows have become expensive in the modern world.

Indeed it was one of the things that has consoled us through three massive earthquakes; through the times we lived without sewerage, water, and electricity; through the six weeks when we were evacuated from the city with a young baby and a three-year-old.  At least, we thought, we had total replacement insurance -- if the worst came to the worst we would be able to rebuild a house of the same quality and size as we had before.

And yesterday, of course, the worst (as regards to the house) happened.  A man called Liam phoned us to say that we had nine months to leave the property.  Although our house was repairable and the land comparatively undamaged, the state of the surrounding houses meant that we had to go.  Fair enough -- and, of course, at least we had total replacement insurance.

But when I phoned Tower Insurance this morning to initiate a claim -- guess what?  They found a loophole.

Tower Insurance maintain that the house is not a write-off.  They maintain that they are only obliged to repair the house -- not to honour our insurance policy for total replacement.  They say that just because we won't be allowed to live on the land, and that the house will be bulldozed, doesn't mean that the house is an insurance write-off.  Sorry, they say, but what the government mandates with regard to land is nothing to do with them.

Tower say that they will only pay the book value on the property -- the very thing that we have been paying insurance for years to avoid.  And by Tower's own numbers this leaves us nearly $200,000 short of the money required to replace our house.

And what about the land?  The news isn't great there either.  Gerry Brownlee has done an outstanding job of upgrading the standard EQC payout -- and I sincerely thank him for that.  But unfortunately the area-by-area system used to determine rateable value means that land on the river bank is underestimated in comparison to market price.  In our case, the rateable value of the land is $80,000 less than that assessed by a registered valuer when we purchased the property. 

So it's been a bad morning.  And I suspect it's going to be a bad few years.

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