This N.S. man’s family lost everything in a house fire. Here’s what he learned

Brian Verboom and his family had only been out of their Stewiacke, N.S., home for a few minutes when they got word from a family member on vacation in Texas that the Verboom’s house was on fire. The family member said a friend had texted her a photo of the burning home.

“That’s social media for you,” said Verboom.

The family had been out running errands and by the time the Verbooms made the seven-minute drive back to the house on July 25, 2018, one end of it was completely engulfed in flames.

Investigators determined the cause was electrical, Verboom said.

He said the hardest thing to lose in the fire was the family photos of Verboom, his wife, Rae-Lee, and their five children.

Verboom and his family lost everything they owned in the fire. (Submitted by Brian Verboom)

“Our youngest daughter, most of hers are online that we can get back. But our older daughters, most of those pictures were physical pictures in photo albums,” Verboom said.

After the fire, the couple spent almost 40 hours a week for an entire month making a detailed inventory of their possessions — including their age, how much was paid for them and current value — and going back and forth with their insurance company.

“[It] is the most time-consuming, physically, emotionally, and mentally draining thing you have to do,” he said.

Verboom and his wife have five daughters between them. He said the hardest thing to lose in the fire was the family photos. (Submitted by Brian Verboom)

Through his loss, Verboom’s hoping to help other families in a similar situation put their lives back together. He wrote an informal nine-page guide called “What we learned from a total loss fire,” which he shared on Facebook.

One of his pieces of advice is for people to catalogue their possessions. The list isn’t just for large items like furniture and appliances — it’s clothes, shoes, books, even things like coat hangers and toiletries. A year and a half after the fire, Verboom said he’s still remembering things he forgot to list.

“Every little thing adds up, especially if you have to go and replace it all at once,” he said. “You just never think of it when you do it through the years.”

Verboom suggests keeping all receipts and doing a walk-through video tour of your home every six months, to prove the condition of things like cabinets and furniture, and help jog your memory as you’re making a complete inventory of everything you’ve ever owned.

Very little was left of the structure that used to be the Verboom residence after it caught fire in July 2018. (Submitted by Brian Verboom)

This is in line with what the Insurance Brokers Association of Nova Scotia suggests you do to protect your belongings, whether it’s from fire, theft or other damage.

Gina McFetridge, a spokesperson for IBANS, said a “small minority” of people actually do it.

“No one would disagree that it’s a great idea, but the second you finish putting that policy in place, you go home … and it all falls to the back-burner. You forget about it,” she said. “We’re not preparing for disaster every day.”

Verboom said it’s important to be meticulous about listing your possessions and to know just how much it would cost to rebuild your home. He recommends bringing in a contractor to have them quote you.

“We were way off,” he said, noting the cost to rebuild the home was about $80,000 more than the insurance policy covered.

Verboom and his family decided to buy a prefabricated home at another location, instead of rebuilding because it would get them into a house sooner. (Submitted by Brian Verboom)

In the end, Verboom and his family bought a prefabricated home for the property instead of rebuilding.

“[It was] late fall, early winter … it would get us into a house sooner​​​​​​,” he said.

Verboom said the thing that surprised him the most throughout the process was how many costs would come out of their total insurance payout that he hadn’t considered, like demolition, food, hotels and salvage costs.

Verboom said he’s received a lot of positive feedback from people about the guide.

“I hope nobody has to use it … but if anybody does, I hope it makes the situation for them easier to get through,” he said.


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