By Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Apr 23, 2023.
Last fall, I came to the difficult decision to sell my beloved house on Lido Key. Several factors convinced me the time was right: The encroachment of vacation rental “hotel houses” on all sides; the annihilation of landscaping I’d worked years to establish by Hurricane Ian; and the fact that, selling in a frenzied market after buying at the bottom of the recession would provide some financial security for my son’s future.
Leaving Sarasota wasn’t a consideration; I still feel a strong commitment to the community and my son is finally doing well here. Finances and a desire to live in a walkable area circumscribed my search.
Weary of the burden and expense of caring for a home and yard by myself and wanting to be freer to travel to see family made a condo seem like the best option. After much searching, I found one that met my modest needs yet had an amazing water view, something I’d yearned for all my life. I signed the contract, put down money and, on my realtor’s advice, asked for the condo association’s financials.
Because of a delay, I received them just a week before my closing date – only to discover the HOA had nominal reserves and needed to construct a new seawall at considerable expense. In addition, not only would new regulations passed in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse dictate immediate special assessments to pay for engineering inspections and boosting reserves, skyrocketing insurance premiums meant residents would be looking at rising annual fees for the foreseeable future.
I took one look at my paltry income and the potential hit – and bailed. Eventually I settled on a small house downtown, away from the water. Several condo-dwelling friends facing steep assessments and rising maintenance fees told me I’d “dodged a bullet.”
I thought I had – that is, until I tried to get insurance on the new house, which is 50 years newer than my previous home, smaller, more hurricane proof, farther from the water and not in a flood zone.
The first agent said his company was insuring homes only six years old or less. The second gave me a quote of $15,000 (that’s for one year). The third said he could get me a policy in the state-backed Citizen’s Property Insurance Corporation pool for a little over $3,000, but I would need a secondary liability policy to get up to the coverage level other carriers offer. He also warned Citizens would, in October, begin charging all policyholders an additional amount for flood insurance, regardless of their location.
I vaguely recalled some insurance legislation had passed at the tail end of 2022. With a quick search I learned that while it had eliminated assigned benefits, curtailed excessive litigation and offered tax rebates for those hit by hurricanes, it had done nothing to address rising premiums. (In fact, it actually raised costs for some by requiring Citizens policyholders to switch to private insurance companies if their renewal offer was less than 20% higher.)
Turns out I have a lot of company. Not just condo dwellers, but all Florida homeowners are experiencing sticker shock this year when their renewals arrive. To cite just one example, the best deal one local condo complex could find was an annual premium of $643,000, or $8,500 a unit. That was up from $2,900 a unit in 2020, an increase of 192% over the past three years. In addition, the association will be required to pay 24% of any claims filed.
Some have found it difficult to obtain any insurance at all. Burned by natural disasters (Ian was the most expensive hurricane in Florida history), fraudulent claims and costly litigation – of the $51 billion insurers paid out over the past decade, just 8% went to claimants – 14 national companies have pulled out of Florida due to huge underwriting losses. That leaves the remaining smaller, in-state carriers carrying an untenable amount of burden and risk, for which they are charging exorbitant fees.
In the latest blow, the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association recently approved a 1% “emergency assessment” to be collected from all policyholders beginning in October to pay claims left by the companies that went insolvent.
The real emergency here is the inexplicable lack of attention to this issue by our elected state officials. While there seems to be no problem acting swiftly and decisively to pass partisan bills on parental rights, permitless gun carry, school vouchers and abortion, they’ve taken a laissez faire attitude about the collapse of the insurance industry and the threat of residents being priced out of their homes.
With a minimum of 20% annual increase predicted for the next few years, insurance premiums could climb to close to 10 times the national average (of about $1,500). That’s likely to put a real damper on the real estate market, eliminate the benefit of Florida’s lack of state income tax and convince even those looking for a place where “woke comes to die” that settling somewhere else would be healthier for their pocketbooks.
Those who swore to serve in the best interests of all Florida residents need to take an in-depth look at this crisis, ask insurers why they’re not writing in the state anymore and remove impediments – maybe even offer enticements – for their return. Fanning the flames of the culture wars may be a successful route to a presidential run, but it does nothing to serve people trying to protect what is, in most cases, the biggest financial investment of their lives.
Contact Carrie Seidman at email@example.com or 505-238-0392.
Photo Credit: Andrew West/The News-Press