It started innocently enough. We were replacing a floor in our bedroom and the installer noted an area of concern in a closet casing. As he was putting the door up, the screwdriver went right through the wood.
After a few weeks of procrastination, my husband finally ventured into the attic near the area in question. As he put his hand down on the joist to lift himself in, the wood crumbled beneath his hand. Then he heard a faint noise: click, click, click. He shined his light into the abyss and found the beginning of our nightmare.
Termites are a way of life In Florida, where I live. If you own a home, you are crazy to not have termite prevention measures and a bond to cover damage they may cause. Even if you have a block house on a concrete slab, there is wood to eat. Weve lived in our home since 1998 and had a swarm or two that a termite company eradicated swiftly. This time was going to be different.
Treatment of the termites began in March 2014. No big deal, although the constant swarms of termites flying through our home was like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Vacuum cleaner bags were filled quickly. The contractor for the termite company would begin the repairs after the termites were dead, which would take a couple of months.
June 1, 2014, is when the repairs began. Thinking the damage was just around our bedroom, we planned to camp out in the den a mattress on the floor facing a big screen television. We would make it a party for a few weeks. The tear-out crew would be on one side of the house and we would live on the other.
Then the nightmare turned ugly.
The tear-out of the closet was just the beginning. Swings of a hammer revealed the damage went into the hallway, our bedroom and the guest bedroom. Every day I came home from work, my husband greeted me with a drink and more bad news. By the end of the second week, we had to put possessions from half of our house in storage. By the third week, we knew we were in trouble the two main supporting beams of our very large home were lunch meat for the buggers. We had to move out.
PREPARED FOR ADVERSITY OR NOT?
In the end, we had to gut the majority of our home. My husband and I had to do a lot of the work. The total renovation took 14 months and is still in progress. As a financial planner, I deal with a lot of adversity in our clients lives and I love solving problems that other people have. However, I was not prepared to deal with this much adversity in my own life.
I can fill pages with everything I learned from working under duress with contractors, the ins and outs of termite bonds and the fallacy of great credit, to the toll on my health, emotional well-being and marriage.
How can other planners benefit from my ordeal? Ill share a few salient details that will help planners when they or their clients face a similar challenge.
NO OPTIMAL INSURANCE
We were lucky we had a termite bond that covers repairs. Many termite companies look for an excuse not to pay out, but ours didnt duck for cover. However, we didnt get to choose the contractor. And although his workers were great tearing the place apart, the putting it back together was not good at all. We are fortunate that my husband could supervise every day, but they eventually wore him down and we were just happy to get them out of our lives.
The contractor is supposed to restore the house as it was before the damage. We live in a historic neighborhood, and our home fits right in. Built in 1958, the electrical system was patched here and there but never fully updated. We had to pay for the update. We also noticed the contractor painstakingly putting the light fixtures aside for future use. It was a nice gesture, but the light fixtures were from the 70s, and had been painted multiple times. We had to purchase all new lighting. Of the repairs covered by the termite bond, we had to pony up over half the amount.
GREAT CREDIT, BUT COULDNT GET A LOAN
Through the years, we have done many updates to our home. Painting, replacing a bathroom, floors and relining the pool are just a few of the many projects weve accomplished. The only big project left to tackle was our 1980s kitchen. With changes in my career and too much travel for work, every year Id say, Next year. The termites forced the issue. Unfortunately, this is one room they did not eat and the remodel would have to be paid for by us. It would have been crazy not to do this since the entire house around the kitchen was gutted.
Being financially savvy, we saved money through the years in a taxable account. Some was in cash, and the rest invested with the resulting capital gains attached. Fortunately, we had no debt on the home other than a small loan I used to purchase my office building. Our credit is great and I have good income. I thought, Lets get a home equity line so I dont have to sell anything and pay taxes. Wrong. Once a home is under construction, you can forget getting a loan. The bank does not care how perfect your financial life is in every other way. We could have obtained other expensive financing, but it made better sense to use our savings.
Now that the pain is subsiding and the house is no longer under construction, I will get a home equity line of credit. In my financial plans for clients, if they do not have much in taxable accounts to cover a major disaster, I will have them get a home equity line now, too.
I love helping people and not so much needing to be helped. There is a lot of psychology behind that, and I do a horrible job of asking for assistance. This year I succumbed. I started my career in financial planning as a solo practitioner, and made the leap to create an ensemble practice in 2009. I now have three wonderful co-workers, and we work as a team taking care of our client families. My business would not have survived without them and without my husband keeping me sane. I know some people love being solo practitioners, but I think our clients and our business are better served by diversifying the responsibilities for client care.
My big takeaway is we can think we are prepared for the unexpected, but we never really know. The best way to survive through trying times is to take it a day at a time, focus on what needs to be done and let others help you. And once you are back, pay it forward.
Carolyn McClanahan, a CFP and M.D., is director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla.
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