Thursday, August 16, 2018
Business

No flood insurance required! Realtors find selling points in soaring-premium nightmares

ST. PETERSBURG — The for-sale sign outside the "Cotton Candy Home," a 1913 charmer known for its Halloween sweets, says nothing of its new kitchen, heart-pine floors or bucolic wrap-around porch.

Instead, the home's sellers in this city's vaunted Old Northeast neighborhood have chosen a single bragging right to catch buyers' attention: no flood insurance required.

"It's a big, big selling point," said Nancy Driver, the Hofacker Homes agent who listed the home. "People driving the streets to pick the area they want will know it's on there for a reason."

It has never been harder, Realtors say, to land a buyer for a flood-insured home. The Biggert-Waters act, which began revoking big federal subsidies for older flood-zone homes Oct. 1, has driven premiums skyward, spooking buyers and killing deals.

So in hard-hit counties like Pinellas, which leads the nation in subsidized rates, homes that don't need insurance have suddenly surged into vogue. Agents have taken notice and are touting the no-strings-attached message in online listings, yard signs and magazine ads for everything from a log cabin in Wimauma to a million-dollar mansion in Seminole.

The once-minor line item of flood insurance, agents said, has become one of the only things buyers seem to care about. In the land of flood-policy nightmares, the no-insurance home has become king.

"That's the big buzzword right now," said Stonebridge Real Estate agent Debra Bellmaine, who last month represented the buyer of a no-insurance-needed home in Palm Harbor. "Most of the buyers right now are saying, 'Only show me places that aren't in a flood zone.' "

Rising insurance rates could sock more than 50,000 homes sprinkled across Tampa Bay's coastal and inland neighborhoods, property appraisers say. Most of those affected, records show, are far from beachfront mansions: The median Pinellas home value is $132,000, and most don't even have a glimpse of the water.

Agents at those homes have tried to keep buyers interested by sharing premium stubs, insurance quotes and elevation certificates, used in calculating rates, to help dull the shock of jumping costs. Other agents have turned down listings, thinking the homes will be too tough to sell.

That uncertainty has helped make homes that don't need flood insurance a lot more enticing. In listings, agents have been all too happy to show off their homes' clean bills of health, attaching flood maps alongside exclamation-point-heavy assurances that the home will stay high and dry from big insurance bills.

"All the buyers are thinking about it," said Coldwell Banker agent Ron Jackson, who in the past few months has sold several homes in Trinity in part by sharing stacks of paperwork that show the home is unlikely to flood. "That just removes one major barrier."

Though Realtors as a type are unrepentant braggarts, promoting something the homes don't have has proved a surprising switch. Buyers' attentions, many say, changed almost overnight: They ask now about flood zones the same way they've always asked about nearby highways or school districts.

Because homes facing high premiums are in every corner of the local housing market, and because a series of complicated rules define which homes are most at risk, agents for even high-elevation inland home have used no-insurance notes to attract buyers and looky-loos.

And agents are pointing out the distinction regardless of the home's price. Realty Executives agent Sandy Hartmann added no-insurance notes on every active home listing she could, from a $99,000 concrete-block rancher in Pinellas Park to a $2.5 million Seminole mansion with a six-stall horse stable and a "showcase for exotic automobiles."

As attorneys talk of suing Realtors they say didn't share information on insurance hikes, many agents have revisited their listings to alert buyers and cover their tails. Keller Williams listings say "it is unknown whether this property will be determined to require flood insurance," and advise buyers to meet with insurance agents.

And those agents still in flood zones have begun to get creative. When insurers of a Dunedin home said its $1,200-a-year policy was going to quadruple, freaking out a hopeful buyer, Keller Williams agent Jeanine Metts called out a surveyor to help lower the policy and hurried the closing to one day before the Oct. 1 deadline, helping keep rates low for the first year.

But some agents expect the insurance hikes could lead to a great shunting in the recovering housing market, as buyers speed away from flood dead zones and funnel their spending farther upland. If that happens, agents say, they want to be there to reap the benefits.

"So many things are up in the air, and there's that fear of the unknown," said Kathy Congdon, a Re/Max agent whose Palm Harbor home listing included a no-insurance-needed status with all capital letters and four exclamation points. "The things I can control — ha, with my type A personality — I control."

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

Comments
Dear Penny: How can I tell my boss to stop making fun of my old car?

Dear Penny: How can I tell my boss to stop making fun of my old car?

Dear Penny,I’m a recent college grad who’s been working an entry-level job for the past year. I only make about $33,000 a year, but I’m doing OK. I’m able to pay my bills without taking on more debt. One of the reasons I’m able to do so is that I dri...
Published: 08/17/18
SunPass users with overdraft fees can now request reimbursement

SunPass users with overdraft fees can now request reimbursement

If you’re a SunPass user and you’ve seen overdraft fees on your account, you can now ask for that money back.Florida Department Transportation spokesman Ed Seifert announced today that Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise has launched a system to process ov...
Published: 08/16/18

Nature’s Food Patch brings organic offerings to Dunedin

DUNEDIN — Nature’s Food Patch recently opened a new downtown location at 966 Douglas Ave. The new store will stock much of what is offered at the Clearwater location, including organic produce, grass-fed meat, a fresh juice/smoothie bar, organic and ...
Published: 08/16/18
The self-proclaimed Uber of lawn care is expanding in Tampa Bay

The self-proclaimed Uber of lawn care is expanding in Tampa Bay

The lawn-mowing service GreenPal, which claims to be the Uber equivalent for lawn care, is extending its service across the Tampa Bay area.GreenPal, which already serves parts of Tampa, announced homeowners in Clearwater can begin booking professiona...
Published: 08/16/18
This week in deals: Pub subs on sale, and the best savings at Publix, Winn-Dixie for Aug. 16-23

This week in deals: Pub subs on sale, and the best savings at Publix, Winn-Dixie for Aug. 16-23

I’m going start with it: Chicken tender Pub subs are on sale this week. It’s like a Florida holiday when Publix chicken tender subs are $6.99. Suddenly, offices across the Sunshine State are filled with the aroma of Buffalo sauce as everyone brings b...
Published: 08/16/18
South Tampa apartment community sold for $40 million

South Tampa apartment community sold for $40 million

TAMPA — The 276-unit Pavillions at Ballast Point apartment community in South Tampa has been sold for $40 million and will be renamed Solis at Ballast Point. The buyer, California-based Investors Management Group, said it also plans significant inte...
Published: 08/16/18
Tampa gets its own Bodega in Seminole Heights

Tampa gets its own Bodega in Seminole Heights

St. Petersburg eatery Bodega has built a reputation for its Latin street food and now the fast-casual concept has expanded to a second location in Seminole Heights.Its name Bodega, which means grocery in Spanish, represents the owners, George and Deb...
Published: 08/16/18
Gander Outdoors rebounds under new ownership

Gander Outdoors rebounds under new ownership

The Gander sign is back up at Bayport Commons on W Hillsborough Ave. The 30,000 square foot space that once housed Gander Mountain has now reopened as Gander Outdoors.Marucus Lemonis, star of CNBC’s The Profit, bought Gander Mountain assets in bankru...
Published: 08/16/18
Finney’s Tiger-Rock Martial Arts moves to larger space

Finney’s Tiger-Rock Martial Arts moves to larger space

TAMPA — For 13 years, Finney’s Tiger-Rock Martial Arts co-owners Troy and Nikki Finney have provided more than just Taekwondo instruction for their students. The husband and wife duo have created a supportive, family environment that teaches valuable...
Published: 08/16/18
Walmart shares jump as earnings beat expectations

Walmart shares jump as earnings beat expectations

Update: The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 325 points, or 1.3 percent, early Thursday, driven by a jump in Walmart’s stock.Walmart’s aggressive push into groceries helped same-store sales in the United States grow more in the last quarter than t...
Published: 08/16/18