Aug. 09--CHENOA -- For more than seven months, John and Patty West's life has been on hold.
Early this year, a fire destroyed the ranch home the couple shared for nearly two decades. After losing everything in the blaze, a battle ensued with their mortgage holder, PNC Financial Services Group, for insurance claims money that had already been paid out by Allstate, the couple's insurer.
"We're wore out; we're tired," Patty West said Tuesday. "We're ready to come home."
Now in just a few days, the couple and their three dogs will do just that. To get there, they had to use "every bit of their savings," about $60,000, to get renovations going. And they got help from another bank, State Bank of Graymont, which loaned them funds so they could sever their ties with PNC.
"We put a face to the name, and a person or a house to the name, and we're able to help that specific person," said Paul Russow, vice president for State Bank of Graymont. "They are not just a number."
The Wests' ordeal began shortly before 1 a.m.Jan. 2, when the couple woke up to the incessant barking of their dogs, alerting them that something was amiss at their three-bedroom home on Scott Street.
"If it wasn't for the dogs waking us up, we wouldn't be here," said John West, a retired correctional officer. "I didn't smell the smoke. As soon as we got out, everything collapsed."
The fire had traveled through the home's roof, failing to activate working smoke detectors inside the home, and caused an estimated $170,000 in damage. John West's woodworking shop in the home's garage also was destroyed, leaving him without a way to deliver projects through his home-based business, he said.
Allstate issued an initial check of about $100,000 in late January to both the couple and PNC, a standard practice in the insurance industry. The Wests were told that additional payments would come as the project moved forward, John West said.
In a Catch-22, PNC refused to release funds until half the work was complete. The couple filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in March, which resulted in about $30,000.
But their contractor wanted $45,000 to begin work, forcing the couple to turn to their savings to rebuild. After spending $60,000 of their own money, which they do expect to be reimbursed for at some point, they opted to find another bank.
The State Bank of Graymont approved them for a construction loan that the couple used to pay off their PNC mortgage. That loan will eventually be converted into a traditional mortgage.
Russow said the small bank has flexible policies that allow it to work with customers like the Wests. In recent years, they've helped many people that have left larger banks.
"You don't realize how much stress you're under," said John West. "But I paid them (PNC) off and now the new bank is great. They actually have people there who can help."
The Wests also credit their friend Michael Stalter of Pontiac, who drove out to their home the morning of the blaze and helped put things into perspective.
"When I came in I found a Bible that wasn't burned," said Stalter, who recently lost his wife and father. "I would give everything to see my wife and my dad again."
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