Shocked by the sharp increase in their premiums, many Florida homeowners might be considering finding an insurance company willing to give them a better rate. But there’s little chance of finding one, especially if they live in the southeastern part of the state.
Half a dozen independent insurance agents consulted by the Miami Herald said that only a handful of insurance companies are willing to write new policies in the region, and new ones are focusing efforts on policies that are being handed over by the state-created Citizens Insurance.
“The market is very difficult right now. We have a crisis, and the tri-county area is where the situation is most difficult,” said Darling Ribalta, owner of Ribalta Insurance Corp., an independent agency based in Pembroke Pines that helps homeowners find coverage.
Here’s what to know:
What are homeowners paying for insurance?
Range: Pinellas County homeowners are paying the highest in Tampa Bay, at an average of $3,210, according to state data. In Hillsborough County, the average is $2,752, while in Pasco it’s $2,259 and $1,961 in Hernando.
But many homeowners are paying several times those amounts, depending on the size of the dwelling, how near it is to the water, how extensive their coverage is and, increasingly, how new the roof is.
What’s ahead: These rates are unlikely to come down soon, according to a recent report from analysts at Karen Clark & Co, a catastrophe modeling firm. It said global warming is leading to more severe hurricanes and that warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico are producing more losses in the state from hail, tornadoes and wind. “These factors will continue to influence future homeowner premiums, and these costs are unlikely to decrease,” the report said.
What can homeowners do to lower their premiums?
Homeowners can do a few things to help lower their monthly payments — although some of these might require some tough decisions:
Review your policy: Start with reviewing the policy with your insurance agent. “Whatever options there are will only be discovered when the client sits down with the agent to determine the coverage they really need. It all depends on the circumstances of each client,” Ribalta said.
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Deductibles: One of the quickest ways homeowners can lower their policy costs right away is to increase their deductible. Typically, a Florida home policy has two deductibles. One is a standard deductible for most perils, such as fire. The other is a windstorm deductible, related to the coverage of storms with names designated by the National Hurricane Center, such as hurricanes and tropical storms.
Increasing your deductible could have a significant impact on your rate, but there’s a downside to this option. “You will be responsible for paying more out of pocket if you suffer a loss. Higher deductible means more out of pocket, so you have to kind of weigh the pros and the cons,” said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications for the Insurance Information Institute.
Flood insurance: Another option is canceling your flood coverage in areas that aren’t in a flood zone. Agents don’t recommend this, regardless of location.
An important factor determining rates is the capacity of a home to withstand a hurricane.
Discounts: Insurance companies are required by law to give discounts to owners who have taken steps to protect their homes from severe winds through improvements. Called wind mitigation credits, these discounts are given after the dwelling has been examined by a certified inspector. This inspection is optional and separate from the normally required “four-point” inspection, but is worth doing, given that a positive rating could lead to significant savings.
Roof: An inspector, which must be hired by the owner, would typically inspect the condition of the roof — its shape, covering and its connection to the walls, as well as the conditions of the house’s openings, such as windows and doors.
The Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.