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Real Estate Photographer in Paradise, CA: His Home Destroyed by the Camp Fire

Published: 13/11/2018
By: larry

Steven in Butte County California says:

I would say I am one of the top real estate photographers in Butte county and have been for the last 5 years or so. I've recently lost my home in the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA and really don't know what the future holds. I've already been asked about photos of places I have shot. I was able to get most of my photo files out of my home before it was destroyed. When insurance companies ask for photos should I charge them? How much?

Steven, we are all so sorry to hear of your loss!

Since Brandon Cooper lived through a similar situation in May of 2016 in the wildfire that went through Fort MacMurry, Alberta, I asked Brandon to answer your question. Here is Brandon's answer:

In my situation, it was usually homeowners who were asking for photos that they could use for insurance claims or when re-designing their own homes so I decided early on that I wouldn’t profit from their misfortune. I just gave images to any homeowners who asked.

When all was said and done, I only handed over about a dozen sets of images so it turned out not to be a very big deal.

I have to agree with Brandon; in difficult times like these, it is important to help each other get through the hard times!

13 comments on “Real Estate Photographer in Paradise, CA: His Home Destroyed by the Camp Fire”

  1. Steven, I don’t have the answer you’re looking for but I do want to tell you your friends in Santa Cruz are thinking about you. Let me know if I can do anything at all to help. Really.

  2. If it is an insurance company, I just honestly can't even imagine a photographer not thinking it is ok to profit from them. Find out what they want to use them for. For me, insurance companies are getting charged, I would even tend to quote them very high. You gotta think they could be using the photos as evidence to deny a claim. And, it may be the only evidence. I would assume all that going in and quote accordingly.

  3. Some years back a coworker told me about his experience after the World Series earthquake in CA.

    The adjuster came out, did an estimate and the damage was a few thousand short of the deductible. So no money. The worst part was that they now had that "pre-existing" damage info on record and would use it against them if there was ANY future physical damage to the home. His lesson was to have an independent inspector provide an estimate before calling the insurance company to see if it was going to be worth it.

    I would say definitely charge the insurance companies serious money. They are not out to help the home owner, especially when there is widespread losses they are going to have to cover.

  4. Steven, so very sorry for your loss. We are all thinking about you and our fellow photographers in the area who have lost in this fire.

    Personally, I would not charge anyone in this situation. Insurance companies or home owners. If you have them easily accessible.

  5. First I am sorry to hear about your personal loss and to all who have suffered in the many fires here in CA.

    A couple of thoughts here, 1st is the importance of off site back ups, whether it is on the cloud or as in mine hard drives stored in the studio that mirror the hard drives at home so I always have 2 copies of all my photos in 2 different locations.

    As far as insurance companies denying claims or falling under the deductible, I was an insurance agent for 20 years before pursuing photography and my wife still runs the agency, so I can clear up a few items here...
    When a fire like these, or major storms etc happen, they are classified as catastrophe claims, adjusters from both the company that issued the policy and outside adjusters hired by them come out as soon as possible and issue checks on the spot for clothing, hotel room and food even before they fully adjust the claim. The do NOT look for ways to deny the claims and are under the watchful eye of the insurance commissioners office.

    In regards to the World Series quake, most "fire" policies have a $500 deductible, but here in CA most earthquake policies have a 15% deductible or $120,000 on an $800,000 house, so many claims would fall under that amount.

    Now to the question here should we as photographer charge for our photos...My take would be no, I would provide them for free to the homeowner in good will. I was already paid for them, unlike a contractor building the house who would have to pays his workers.

    We often work for free with our work and I feel the community at large and Realtors would appreciate it.

  6. Homeowners -- Free. It's the decent, compassionate thing to do.

    Insurance Companies -- It's Complicated. This notion that Insurance companies are somehow "good guys" who just want to give out money is silly, they're in the business of denying claims, not paying them. The Insurance Commissioner in California has been an industry insider for as long as I've lived here (about 20 years), and anyone who's been on the consumer side of an insurance claim can tell a story about how they will weasel out of paying.
    On that basis, it's no longer personal, it's business. Charge a fee commensurate with the value/usage (the usage part of the equation sounds very small, in my opinion).
    On the other hand, the insurance companies are very, VERY likely to refuse to pay anything, and then go back to their customers (the homeowners) and say, "Gee, sorry but we have no photographic evidence to back up your claim, so you're DENIED." Indirectly, the homeowner is still getting screwed.

    It's a tough call, and I'm not sure what I would do. I think my first move would be to try and reach out to the community to make sure homeowners know they can request photos from me. A good place to start might be the RE Brokerages -- the agents know the insurance people so word might get out that way.

  7. Steven, I'm very sorry to hear of your losses and being surrounded by such damage. We have terrible bush fires here too and I cannot comprehend what you must be going through. The most important part of all this, is that you and your family are safe.

  8. Even though I agree with most of what Scott said, in no way would I consider it my company's responsibility when an insurance company pulls a sleazy move. That is completely, 100% on the insurance company. And as he said, this is what they do. If you just want to hear nice words and lather yourself in rose petals, close your ears, but this is capatalism. You got a business like an insurance company, and it is essentially their job to screw people, and thus be more profitable. When profits are made, somebody gets screwed. It is funny because that statement never gets made, but it is true.

    Again, charge the insurance companies an arm and a leg, or whatever you are comfortable with. In no way is it your responsibility that an insurance company is going to be slimy, that is what they are built for.

  9. " no way would I consider it my company’s responsibility when an insurance company pulls a sleazy move. That is completely, 100% on the insurance company..."

    In my limited knowledge of philosophy, this would be an example of the Double Effect Principal. It gets applied in medicine all the time -- should we do this procedure to ease a terminally ill patient's suffering, knowing that it will also hasten their death? Or in business, should we manufacture "bump stocks", since it's legal and profitable, knowing that they only have one legitimate application (to rapid-fire bullets into a crowd at a music festival, for example). We're just innocent manufacturers, we have no control over whether our customers are crazy.
    You could even argue that this is an example of "Willful Ignorance", as in when a cigarette manufacturer pretends to not know that their product causes cancer and thus costs society billions of dollars in preventable health care costs. "We roll a bunch of leaves up, you smoke 'em, after that, we don't's not our problem..."

    But of course, as some point, you have to make a decision about whether you want to be complicit in another entities' actions.

    Thankfully, in our business, people rarely die painful, meaningless deaths as a result of our product, but it's worthwhile considering Double Effect as we try to guide ourselves through ethical questions. And I'm not saying that this one has an obvious solution, and I think Andrew Pece makes a good point.

    Here's a question -- has this ever happened, on a mass scale as in a natural disaster? Has anyone gotten a fee from an insurance company in this way? The usage would be negligible, but is there a value? I don't really know. I have a hard time imagining that there's a significant paycheck in this, though.

  10. The first thing that needs to be ironed out in this discussion (the question, as I read it, was "should i give insurance companies my photos" btw), is whether or not it is always "bad" for the homeowner if the insurance company gets the photos. If we could answer that concretely, I think the answer would become clear. But, thhe fact is, we can't. No matter what anybody says, we do not know how that insurance company will use the images. To say otherwise would be like saying an insurance company has never denied a claim based on photographic evidence. We all know that is not true.

    So, since we do not know how the images will affect the outcome for the homeowner, our action becomes neutral. In other words, we can do whatever we want and still be the good guy because we have no idea how the images will affect the homeowner. How could we? That being the case, why not charge a fee?! I just assume going in that if it is universally accepted the images are going to help the homeowners, give them up without question. I just did not see that as the wuestion being posed.

  11. So sorry for your losses. If there is a way to help homeowners recover and rebuild their lives I could not charge them. For me it would be the right thing to do. However charging insurance agencies to help anyone suffering from devastaing loss and help recover no problem. I would even try figure out a way to get paid up front to donate back to those homeowners in need. If you have a lot of local home and business photos I would start at $1,000 per home and negotiate from there if they need more home photos. It could be a way to help those in need.

  12. In terms of the homeowners...who may not have been the homeowners when you took the picture...I wouldn't charge. It would probably be a select group whose home didn't sell as the content of the photos wouldn't be the current owner's anyway. All it would show is that at some point in time it wasn't a dump and presumably they had kept it up since then. I also can't imagine why the insurance company would be requesting the photos and in the position of having to pay for them and that is not for the nefarious reasons mentioned earlier. If the insurance company (through their adjuster) takes photos, it is documenting the molten mess of the present...not historical. Ultimately, the historical photos are the responsibility of the homeowner to support their claim much like submitting photos/receipts/appraisals for high value inventory in the home most of which you would not have photographed anyway as the prior owner didn't have that Dali original hanging on the wall.

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