Each earthquake is as individual as a fingerprint, with motion traveling through the ground in unique ways. In addition, new fault lines are being discovered all the time. The earthquake created by the fault under Northridge may not have touched your bungalow, but a shifting fault elsewhere in the Los Angeles area could leave it in splinters.
* "My home is bolted to its foundation"' This is a better argument than most; some respected earthquake researchers are themselves spending money on earthquake retrofitting rather than paying for insurance coverage.
But even they will admit that no amount of retrofitting can protect against a truly devastating shaker. Bolting seems to work best for one-story wood-frame homes; homes that are two or more stories or have big picture windows or other large gaps in the frames, are likely to suffer more damage even if bolted.
Of course, all the bolting in the world won't help much if the ground beneath the foundation gives way. In Anchorage, Alaska, a whole neighborhood of homes slipped out to sea when the massive 1964 earthquake liquefied the ground on which they sat.
* "I'll get FEMA money to rebuild." Affected homeowners may qualify for low-interest loans offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Small Business Administration. But these loans are not free money; homeowners are obligated to pay them back, and they are entered in your personal net worth statement as a liability, offsetting an equal amount of assets.
Some observers question how much money will available after the next major earthquake; numerous disasters have soured many in Congress on the idea of handing cash to people who refuse to get insurance.
* "I'll just hand over the keys to the bank." Homeowners who let their banks foreclose on earthquake-devastated homes not only lose all their equity, but also put their credit rating at risk. Depending on lenders' reactions, it may be difficult or impossible to borrow money for another home for several years.
For many of us, our homes represent our largest financial asset. We should think carefully before considering walking away as an option.
Of course, even people who do have insurance will probably suffer some loss of equity in a quake-hit area, at least temporarily. Just ask anyone who tried to sell a home in Northridge in the mid-1990s. A few intrepid souls snapped up these "distressed" properties, reasoning that the chances of another quake hitting the same area were especially remote, but many potential buyers stayed away.
Facing a temporary loss of equity is one thing; it's quite another to suffer such a huge loss from uninsured quake damage that you're saddled with a 10- to 30-year rebuilding loan, or that you lose your equity entirely by foreclosure.
Californians have a well-deserved reputation for being in denial. We build our homes on flood plains, on brushy mountainsides, in the path of mudslides and on or near earthquake faults. Most of the time, most of us avoid catastrophe. But we should acknowledge that someday our luck could run out--and consider whether it's worth taking precautions to protect against the unthinkable.