North Bay fire victims scout East Bay for houses

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Rosa maybe 66 miles away from Walnut Creek but realtors in the East Bay report that fire victims are on the lookout for places to rent and even buy.

RELATED: North Bay residents struggle to figure out housing plans after devastating fires

When it comes to rental inventory or housing stock, there isn't much available. People near the busy entrance to the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek say every day they see fire victims in cars filled with family and even dogs scouting for housing.

Rossmoor realty general manager Chuck Lamb said, "We've had clients come down whose homes were burned, some who were smoked out or scared out coming here and want to look right now and buy right now. "
They aren't waiting for things to settle out with their insurance companies according to a Napa resident who works in a Walnut Creek escrow office. She says if they have enough for a down payment then they are pursuing what Little is for sale.

Title company agent Debbie May said, "A couple that lost everything in Santa Rosa came here. They don't have anything just the clothes on their back. They're coming in and putting in offers in this area and hopefully they'll get one soon."

Realtors say their number one priority? Shopping for fire-safe homes in fire safe locations. It's tough. They say rentals in the Northbay and Santa Rosa are completely gone.
A woman who survived the 1991 Oakland hills fire drafted up a list of advice for fire victims -- what she titled "If I knew then what I know now ".

Ann Richardson Berkey's advice: "Take their time recognizing this is a long marathon it's not a sprint. "

She says rebuilding their Oakland hills home took three long years.

Keep scrolling for more of Ann Richardson Berkeley's advice on fire recovery.

"If I knew then what I know now..." - Practical Advice and Tips from 1991 Oakland Fire Survivors

1. Prioritize.

In the immediate aftermath, your focus should be on: 1) Taking care of yourself, children, family, spouse; 2) Securing housing; 3) Resources, insurance, etc. It is critical to make sure that step 1 is accomplished and that you and your family are really ok before you move on to steps 2 and 3 or else you won't be able to get through them. You must lay the "foundation" in order to rebuild your life.

2. Take your time.

In the aftermath, people feel like they need to rush to accomplish things, but in Oakland, the people who took their time, did a thorough inventory, and negotiated with their insurance companies did much better in the end. No reason to rush, unless your insurance company has a hard deadline for "out of home expenses." That may have to be negotiated as well!

3. Don't underestimate the power of the crowd.

Form a neighborhood group. This is absolutely critical both for ongoing support, information-sharing, and also for negotiating with various parties over time. Oakland neighborhood associations negotiated discounts with clothing and other retailers, and shared a variety of information about insurance companies, city code changes and contacts with contractors and architects. First step is to put together a database capturing all the neighbors' critical information.
Database should include: Name, address, house still standing?, insurance company. They used this list to determine which neighbors had the same insurance companies so they could communicate about what the insurance companies were offering and also to know what neighbors with other insurance companies were being offered. Strengthened the knowledge and power of all the neighbors in negotiating the most favorable settlements. You can freely share this information until you sign the final settlement (usually includes an NDA).

4. Do your home inventory while your memory is fresh.

Spending the time to put together the most complete and detailed inventory is the most important thing you can do to ensure you are adequately compensated for your material possessions. Mentally go room by room through every drawer, closet, shelf and cabinet.

Detail the type of furniture you had, room by room. Don't forget patio/deck furniture and grills. Contact relatives and friends to obtain pictures from holidays and any other photos that will help jog your memory. Take the time to research and list the current value of all items you lost; don't worry if the total value exceeds your policy limits. A complete typed inventory can be several inches thick.

5. Take the time to "reconstruct" your house on paper.
Try to get a set of original house plans from the city if available or from contractors and architects who did work for you. Add in all the details possible, including lighting, HVAC upgrades, plumbing, electrical work, exterior construction (stucco vs wood), roofing, etc. Note the appliances, the type of flooring/carpet, any custom cabinetry, the type of windows, custom woodwork, moldings (crown, chair railings), the fireplace mantel, built in bookcases, stair rails, skylights, shutters or other window coverings, any unique characteristics about your home. Don't forget sheds, garages, landscaping, and exterior light fixtures. For many Oakland survivors, providing insurers with that level of detail helped to convince the insurance company that we knew a LOT about the houses we lost.

6. Don't allow the insurance company to rush you.

The relationship with many insurance companies became quite adversarial after the Oakland fire. Many insurance companies attempted to persuade policyholders to sign off on a settlement quickly through an offer of policy value; those people did not fare as well as others who held out. Some companies were applying extreme pressure; a common tactic: "We may run out of money to pay these claims so you better take the check now." Don't be rushed into anything. Support is also available from United Policyholders, a non-profit group established in San Francisco in 1991 to help disaster victims cope with their insurance company.

7. Know that this is going to take time.

For many homeowners who lost their homes, it took up to three years to rebuild after the Oakland fire. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. You will get through this and come out stronger on the other side.

Click here for more stories, photos, and video on the North Bay fires.
Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.