– Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

We weren’t that impacted by the earthquakes. Our 100 year old single storey wooden character home flexed and moved. Apart from a few drafts, and a munted foundation, it was perfectly liveable. Our power was on within a week, water within a month, sewerage a month or two. We dug a toilet and worked from home. It felt good to be part of a close knit family and community.

For a year or so our national news filled with stories of Christchurch. Global generosity embraced us. A new language was born; “assessment”, “TC3”, “geotech report”, “scope of works”.

By September 2013, two years after the February quakes, our land was zoned orange, then blue green, then green, then technical category 3. As we were “over -cap” (our repair was more than $100,000.00) we had a Claims Manager with a private insurance company, a Loss Adjuster, Project Manager and Builder.

Friends whose claims that were “under cap” had to deal with the government managed Earthquake Commision – EQC. EQC had no idea what it was doing, or how it should be doing it. We felt that we had dodged a bullet.

Our Insurer gave us a contract and a 10 page scope of works to lift our home and replace the foundation. As a lift often caused more damage, we were told a more detailed scope of works would be prepared once our home was lowered. We moved out in September 2013 for an estimated 6 months. We acted in good faith, but it soon became clear that everyone was out of their depth and no one really knew what they were doing. We moved back in October 2017.

A four year repair.

Our story is just one of thousands of claims that were mis-managed by insurance companies, poorly scoped by project managers and badly repaired by Builders.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. It is very difficult to get your head around the scale of the Christchurch earthquakes. No building was designed to be lifted and dropped 0.5m -2m repeatedly.

98% of residential properties were insured in Christchurch. By 2017 there were maybe 3000-4000 homes which were uninsured and 172,000 homes that were damaged out of a total of about 200,000 homes. Insurance had a lot on their plate.

When Insurance companies stand to lose billions following a major disaster, what you need to know is that everything is negotiable. You must act in good faith, you can’t lie, but you cannot trust.

It is in the interests of the Insurer to reduce the cost of your claim. Claims Managers may receive bonuses for this. As New Zealand insurance policies have no timeframes, Insurers have a get out of jail free card and will delay and delay and delay. It is up to you to decide how much money and time you can afford.

Insurers will bend the truth until it almost breaks. Our insurer said – we will only replace exposed polished rimu floors – if its carpeted you get back chipboard. We should have said put back the rimu, that’s what our policy covers. Others who stood firm got what their policy stated – like with like.

What you must know is that insurance is a game, a game of claims. You must decide on your position, no matter how shaky the ground and stand firm.

Of course you will think it won’t happen to me. I thought that too! You live in the shaky isles. Chances are, it will.

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