I hadn't answered the cell phone the first time around (Who calls at 11:30 pm?) but when it began to insistently ring a second time, thoughts of my aging parents jumped into the forefront of my slumber and quickly compelled me to get up and respond. Gratefully, it wasn't my mother OR my father (relief) - It was my mother-in-law. (What now?)
"Julie? Help! I've got water coming into the apartment!" Zee cried through the haze of my disrupted sleep.
"Cliff" I said, shaking my husband awake. "Go down and see what your mother needs."
It's slightly ironic that just as we emptied the nest by sending our last bird off to college, we took on the responsibilities of Cliff's elderly mother. If there's a kind way to say that this new living arrangement requires some adjustment, then I'm struggling to get there quickly enough. If someone was getting out of bed in the middle of the night, it would have to be Cliff.
"JULIE! GET DOWN HERE!" Cliff screamed.
Now that had my attention.
Rushing downstairs, towels in hand, Cliff and I started spreading them out as fast as we could while running upstairs for more. Like the tide coming in, the water wasn't just seeping under the French doors, but flowing in a steady stream across the living room and kitchen floors. (Zee wasn't being dramatic, she had a legitimate beef.) Quickly we rolled back the carpet and stacked ALL of the living and dining room furniture into one dry corner to minimize the damage.
For the next two hours, Cliff and I rung out towels, mopped the floors, repeatedly shooed Zee into her bedroom (At 90 years of age, we couldn't risk a fall) and prayed for a respite in the rain. When it finally came at about 1:00 am, we had everything just about dried out. Success! Then it began to rain again. (I won't share what I said next. It wouldn't be polite.)
And so I dove into the clean up once more while Cliff ran outside into the pouring rain only to discover an overlooked downspout contributing to the problem. Ripping off a plastic diverter pipe from the side of the house, he repurposed it to the back and stemmed the flow of water. (My own Moses to the rescue.) By 2:30 am we had successfully won the battle, if not the war, and finally dragged our weary bodies back to bed with chapped hands and sore backs to show for our efforts. (Can I just say that I've had more romantic evenings with my husband?)
In the morning, Edwin and Francisco quickly responded to my desperate texts and dug trenches away from the house and towards the low point of the backyard, which gratefully, seems to be working - for the short term. (Thank you.) Last night, we put the furniture - and Zee's world - back into place, but the new floors took a beating and will need repair. (I should have listened to my contractor who questioned that particular design choice.) In retrospect, it may not have been the smartest decision, but luckily, I have insurance.
UH, NOT SO FAST!
"Water flowing in from outside is considered 'flood water'," my agent said. "You don't have flood insurance. Sorry."
"What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
I don't live in a designated flood plane; don't have a creek running in front of my house or culverted out the back; and don't have a reservoir sitting above me. Moreover, the house sits at the top of the crest, not the bottom of the dell, so why would I take out flood insurance??? Why would I need to? It hasn't rained in five years.
"Because water coming in from outside is considered 'flood water.' It's an 'Act of God'," she repeated.
"Please stop saying that!" I responded. "It's rain. There's damage. I pay you monthly. Where is my compensation?"
What's the moral of this rainy tale?
It's not that insurance companies are loathe to pay out claims (I'll let you come to your own conclusions).
It's not that we should all be building arks (although the stacked up storms makes one wonder).
It's not that I should have listened to my contractor who suggested a tile floor instead (Although I should have. Don't make my mistake if you're excavating and going down below grade, even if it's just a few inches.)
It's that when considering securing our homes, one should really consider ALL of the "what ifs?" as in What if the tree falls down out back? What if the roof fails? What if we're robbed while away on vacation? What if a guest falls on the steps? What if we finally have THE BIG ONE!?! What if water finds its way in? (Seriously?!?) AND then plan accordingly.
Regrettably, this isn't the most thrilling of topics to write about, but a home is an investment when treated respectfully, and water, while fun to swim in, surf on, or float down, is easily a home's worst and most insidious enemy.
Unfortunately, I'm not alone out there. In fact, I've received a few not-so-wonderful calls on the topic of rain and leaky roofs or wet basements in the past few weeks and for a Realtor who truly loves what she does, these calls for help are the toughest to receive.(Believe me, I feel your pain.) We're all waiting out the weather with tarps at the ready. While we need the rain badly, there are unattended consequences that go along with such heavy downpour.
Short of controlling the rain, here's what I can suggest:
California IS experiencing the El Nino storms the forecasters predicted, so check your insurance and make sure it's up to date and covers you for ALL of the "what ifs."(Yes, Cliff and I have earthquake insurance, even with seismic upgrades!) Thencritically walk around the outside of your home and weather proof it to the best of your ability: clear gutters, rake debris away from the house, trim dangerous branches, divert water away from your foundations, and get sand bags in place where needed.
This isn't the "sexy" part of owning a home; it's the work part so get out the ladder, roll up those sleeves and do what needs doing. Better yet, throw your teenager on the roof instead (they bounce better.) DON'T put it off any longer. If French drains are required for better drainage (as in my case) call an engineer - one who specializes in drainage - and get on the schedule (they're extremely busy, as you might imagine).
As an a aside, while you're securing your home, order the alarm system you've been putting off. (It just makes good sense.) And don't forget to check your flashlight batteries and stock up on some candles. In a comedy of errors, and in the midst of all the chaos, we couldn't find a single working flashlight among the dozen or so I neatly store in a box. (I knew where they were, they just didn't work!)
With many forecasters suggesting that we can expect rain well into May (yikes!) the Bay Area is going to be WET and WOOLY for the next several months. Yes, we need it, we need it, we need it . . . but really? Wow. At least we can be better prepared.
As for me and my soggy drama? I immediately went out and bought a BIGGER MOP, batteries, and sandbags from Home Depot the next morning. In fact, I opened the store. It won't be enough to save my floors; it's too late, but it's a start.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.