I’m Yvonne Whitfield. My husband is Eric Whitfield.
On April 5, 2022, we had our lives turned completely upside down.
Our beautiful home that was remodeled, two-car building and sheds were destroyed by a tornado. We purchased this home in 2020 right after we got married and this was our first home together.
We had both recently rebuilt our lives from the ground up and this was our new start.
This was the home that we wanted to grow old in and watch our family and pets enjoy the lush green grass, beautiful trees and the pool.
The backyard was completely fenced in and that gave us the peace of mind that our nieces, nephews, and pets would stay safe.
My husband and I both work full time jobs and have side businesses that we do after work and on the weekends. Over the last year and nine months my husband and I have spent many hours keeping the property up, improving the home, and making memories doing projects together when we are not working.
We work as hard as we do to make sure that our bills are paid on time, and we meet all requirements such as insurance to cover us and anyone else that may be impacted by situations that may occur.
When we purchased our home in June of 2020 the value of the home and land appraised high due to the condition of the home, the safety features of the home and the location of the property.
We purchased this home because it was in our budget and the sense of home that we got the minute we pulled up to it.
When we purchased our homeowner’s insurance, they were aware of the price we were paying for the home as well as the appraised value along with the other structures that were on the property. We made sure that we had replacement coverage so we knew if anything ever were to happen, we would be able to replace our home and belongings and keep our lives comfortable the way we had worked so hard to have it.
April 5, 2022 it was a normal Tuesday morning for us. We left for work, and Eric took our dog Hugo with him for the day and our cat Whiskey stayed home in the house with the ability to go out onto the patio throughout the day.
We had both gotten off of work and headed up to Pooler to do some errands and to meet at Lowes to purchase some building products for the remodeling of our home that we were working on.
During this time, I received a frantic phone call from my father-in-law, Charlie Renninger, saying that my mother-in-law, Anita Renninger, was out at our property tending to chickens that belonged to our grandmother and he received a distressed phone call from her and all he could make out before the phone went silent was tornado and truck.
At this point nobody could reach her, and we did not know of her whereabouts. I had already been trying to load our home security cameras before I received this call to see what the weather was like at our house and was unable to do so.
At this point between the two incidents, I had a gut feeling that she was hurt or gone, and our home was no longer there. I called my husband and advised him of what was going on, so he started heading towards the house and I was not far behind.
I arrived at the home first to see my mother-in-law at the end of our driveway. She was very shaken up and covered in debris, but she had managed to get inside of her truck where she somehow stayed safe and was physically OK.
Her truck has been totaled by the insurance company, but it managed to keep her safe. I then realized that my second worst fear was true, and our home was destroyed. There were trees thrown into the front of the home, pieces of the roof missing, the patio was gone, the whole home was picked up and shifted, windows were blown in, every tree in the back yard was splintered like a toothpick, and all of our buildings except for one were either leveled or completely gone, and our pool was damaged.
My husband, father-in-law, daughter, and son in law arrived shortly after and we started to gather anything important that was salvageable. We had to leave the property that evening and go stay with our daughter and son in law while we figured out what the next steps were.
We were completely heartbroken and in total disbelief that this happened to us and our community. This was the epitome of complete devastation.
That same evening, I called our insurance company to notify them of what happened and to start the claims process. Within two days we were contacted by a local independent insurance adjuster who said they would be out by that Saturday to inspect the property and start the insurance process.
The rest of that week and the following weeks were spent cleaning, sorting, packing, gathering debris and salvaging personal items. We are thankful that neither we nor our loved ones were hurt but it is heartbreaking to look at all of the things you worked hard for and irreplaceable items and know that your daily lives and holidays like Christmas will be missing those things that meant so much to your heart.
The mental, emotional, and physical drain that took place through this process has been completely unbelievable.
While we have been dealing with all of these things, we have also spent over a month fighting and battling our insurance company.
This has been another eye-opening experience and we truly would like to give people an insight on our experience and how this process goes. First off when you have replacement coverage, they value your home at what it would cost to replace a home of the year it was built on your property not for the costs it would take today.
Our insurance company also only pays your additional living expenses for up to seven days after they send out the check on the dwelling when it is deemed as a total loss. This means we are expected to not only pay for our mortgage and normal bills on a home we can’t live in and function like normal but now we must pay to live somewhere else and cover those expenses as well. As far as our fences and other structures it doesn’t matter their value even with replacement coverage, we only get 10 percent of what they value our dwelling as.
So, our story goes like this…. we purchased our home for around $162,000 without any of the other costs to purchase the home or any of the money we have invested in it since that date. Before the tornado the home and property were estimated to be worth roughly $219,000 in today’s market. Our insurance has valued that it would take $98,000 to replace our home with a 2003 manufactured home, which you can’t find today.
They base replacement costs on the year the home was built. They valued our other structures and fencing based on 10 percent of their estimated home value so they gave us $9,800 for those items.
As far as additional living expenses we were only provided with one month’s rent and one expense receipt that fell under this category due to them cutting the check for the dwelling being a total loss.
Keep in mind that if the home was being repaired, they would pay all of our additional living expenses for a reasonable amount of time while the repairs were being done.
Meanwhile we are basically homeless and can’t get a new home within seven days, so we are expected to pay for everything ourselves.
We are still waiting on any contents coverage that they choose to cover which again has been another grueling process that has taken hours to complete.
That process is us logging into a website and having to itemize every single piece that was damaged or lost, including a value, where it was purchased, what room it was in, and when it was purchased. Also, FEMA does not consider this a large enough disaster to offer assistance to the victims.
All in all, to date we have received $107,800 to replace our home, three buildings, and our fence. We still currently owe on our mortgage, and this is not enough to pay that off either. As we have gone out looking at new comparable manufactured homes in today’s market, we are looking at roughly $210,000, -$220,000 for the home and another roughly $23,000 to replace the buildings and fencing.
We are currently in the process of closing on an SBA loan which while we are thankful for that it is still not going to be enough to replace everything. Taking this loan on is also going to increase our monthly bills by at least $300.
Our insurance will increase due to our home being newer and we are still going to have to finance part of the other structures to replace those and additional contents of our home.
Refinancing would not only increase our payment but our interest rate in today’s market would be a huge increase.
We find this completely unfair to anyone who carries insurance and is ever affected by a natural disaster or something beyond their control. The insurance companies are misrepresenting what replacement cost coverage actually means.
If we are paying for replacement cost coverage, we expect to still be responsible for our current mortgage commitments while everything that was destroyed should be replaced by the insurance company with a comparable home, structures, and fencing.
Our community is mostly hard-working families and retired folks who are just trying to enjoy the things they have worked hard for.
People who share this same experience are either going to have to take loans on that they will not be able to afford or move and not rebuild.
Many people have asked why we don’t move, and the answers are we love our community and why should we have to when we were doing all the right things?
Our lives should not have to change due to things that were beyond our control and were insured events.
We wanted to tell our story so everyone can learn from our experience and look into your own insurance policies to make sure that you are covered properly on every level in an event like this. Any of us can wake up and have our lives changed in an instant.
Yvonne and Eric Whitfield