Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pig's Ears on the Big Screen

There's something intriguing about fixing up an old house and Hollywood taps into this appeal frequently.  Our family is like the rest of our culture in how much we enjoy getting lost in a good movie and extreme renovations are part of some of my favorite films.

Think about some iconic movies where the young couple fixed up a pig's ear (extremely run-down home).  Start with the classic, It's A Wonderful Life (1946).   George and Mary honeymooned at the old Granville house before they fixed it up and raised their young family in it.   Remember how Jimmy Stewart threw a rock at one of the windows while he walked Donna Reed home?  And what about Pacific Heights (1990)?  Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine fix up that amazing Polychrome in San Francisco before psychotic tenant Michael Keaton moves into the rental unit they need to make the payments and turns their home ownership dream into a nightmare.  Finally, don't forget the heartwarming cartoon Up (2009).  Mr. Fredricksen and his future bride met in the little run-down house as children before they fell in love, fixed it up after they got married, and spent the rest of their lives together there.  That's all part of the reason he's so attached to it and the multicolored little home is a character along with Russell and the talking dog Doug. 

Diane Lane had the starring role in Under The Tuscan Sun (2003) which is at the top of my Hollywood Pig's Ears list.  First, it's about Frances Mayes' adventure in Italy.  I also really love movies based on true stories.  And finally,the plot is structured around her enormous rehab effort.  Look at that picture in the photo to the left; plants overgrown to the point of blocking the door, peeling paint, and nothing to consider too seriously... unless you want to take a run-down home and transform it into something spectacular like Frances did.  If that's the way you think, then you don't get hung-up on the little challenges, you see the potential and all the assets of the property; the solid structure with generations of history to build upon, the architectural details ready to be restored, and the landscape that's waiting to be revitalized.  I look at that house and think, That is my kind of place.   

The Notebook (2004) is really about love in the midst of Alzheimer's disease, but this beloved film does contain an example of a pig's ear renovation.  Midway through, Ryan Golsing works tirelessly to resurrect that Antebellum mansion and this plays an integral part in the storyline because his work leads to his reunion with Rachel McAdams when she spots his photo in a local newspaper article.

When you talk about movies with rehab efforts in the plot, you can't leave out the classic, The Money Pit (1986) starring a young Tom Hanks and Shelley Long.  That big house looked like a beautiful palatial estate until they started making their minor upgrades.  That's when the fun starts... for us. 

In Mulitplicity (1996), Michael Keaton and Andie MacDowell patch things up after he finally finishes their kitchen/house remodelling project.  As a side note, I really love that apartment over the garage where he has his  clones hanging out in secret.  Who doesn't envy having space like that for in-laws and guests to have a home away from home when they come over for an extended visit?  Good stuff.

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore don't fix up any houses in Ghost (1990), but they do up fit that loft together before they move in, so their capturing the romantic spirit I'm talking about.  People really love the idea of fixing up something and turning it into their home. 

So if that's you, get ready for an adventure like the one's shown on the big screen and mentioned above.  Unlike the films, it will take you longer than a couple hours, but it will also be a lot more meaningful and exciting.  Get ready to take plenty of pictures and video... and enjoy the ride.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Superstorm Sandy Is A Reminder That Insurance Claims Are Complicated

In 2002, I lost a detached garage to a fire when a tree near the structure was struck by lightening (see Fire #2 at The Fire House).  My insurance company concluded that I was due over $5000 for the contents lost and another $10K to rebuild (plus repair some minor damage to the house).  However, the designated dollars to repair and rebuild came with specific strings.  I received a payment for 75% up front, but would not get a full reimbursement until the construction portion was complete.

Explanatory Sections for my Four Reimbursement Checks
What I'm sharing is the bottom line of how things turned out.  The math to get to this point was full of details, deductibles, and percentages.  I've been through multiple college calculus and accounting courses. With that said, the math/computations for my claim were harder than they needed to be.  They left  me scratching my head and wondering, why? 

Once, when I was in Chinatown (New York) I watched a team of resourceful dudes working the crowd using a box as a table on a parking meter, three bottle caps, and a rubber band wound into a ball.  They were playing the shell game with anyone willing to whip out some cash for a chance to double their money.  The complicated calculations and arithmetic thrown at me by the insurance people reminded me in some ways of the mind-boggling shiftiness of those street hustlers.  The insurance company team had a solid sense of what was going on because they went through the drill regularly and I (as the policy holder making a claim) was at their mercy due to my lack of experience.

This gets me to the people of the East Coast with losses from Hurricane Sandy.  They are in the middle of a messy situation and part of the problem is the insurance companies.  If it sounds like I'm blaming the insurance industry for the problems in the aftermath of Sandy, I don't intend to.  These are not monks, nuns, and future saints, the agents and the powerful companies they represent are business people.  Businesses are focused on the bottom line and the more money they disburse to their policy holders the less they have for themselves and their shareholders.

Politicians were not involved in my garage fire, but if you've seen the news in the last two months it's obvious that they're wrapped up in Hurricane Sandy and I see this as part of the problem more than the solution.  Our Washington legislators get a lot of money for reelection campaigns from the Insurance Industry.  Once again, the insurers are just looking out for their own interests, most obviously money.  If the Insurance Industry can pass off any part of the expense to us, the American people, that's better for them.  Furthermore, do I believe the insurance industry wants to cut checks to rebuild after Sandy?  I do not.  They will because they have to, but not because they want to and when a camera is around they do it with a smile.  I think it works to their advantage to have the national reps in Washington in the picture so they can justify some postponements of claims and explain that they're waiting for the folks in D.C. to take anticipated action.  And no matter how much the taxpayers help out now, the insurance companies are still going to cover themselves by raising home insurance rates and using Superstorm Sandy as their justification.  They must have money in the vault for the next storm and they'll get it from us because they can.

I rebuilt the Hurricane House sixteen years after Hugo hit South Carolina and I'm certain that more than a few homes on the East Coast will still be in need of repair from Sandy in 2028, sixteen years after the superstorm.  It won't always be tied back to politicians and insurers, but in some cases it will. 

My garage fire claim was basic.  Replacement of a small, two-car garage, the contents, and some money for damage done to the house.  The people in the East Coast have bigger and more intricate claims and if the numbers and percentages are as twisted up as mine were, that just adds to their confusion...but that's how the shell game works.