Sunday, April 23, 2006

So You've Bought That House...Now Get Insurance.

Insuring a home in Florida is getting harder than winning the lottery these days.

Here's a roundup of several recent stories about the state of insurance in Florida.

Three more insurance companies are requesting another round of increases in premiums- story .

"Three more home insurance companies -- including USAA, Florida's fifth largest insurer -- asked state officials this week for approval to charge their customers higher prices."

"The three insurers are the latest in a long line of insurance companies that have requested premium boosts in Florida after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Universal is seeking an average increase of 17.1 percent for single-family home policyholders, and 36.5 percent for condo policyholders, according to its rate filing with state regulators. USAA insures more than 184,400 people in Florida, said Jonathon Kees, an Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman. Of those, 10,674 homes are in Palm Beach County and 9,510 are in Broward County."

"Last year, the company requested and received an average 10.3-percent increase from state officials. Should they approve USAA's new rate request, the company will start collecting higher premiums Sept. 1. Universal, which took over thousands of former Allstate Floridian Insurance Co. policies, insures more than 74,266 homes in Florida, Kees said. Of those, 7,206 are in Broward County and 6,100 are in Palm Beach County. Universal also wants to start collecting higher premiums Sept. 1. Security First insures 11,053 homes in Florida, with 1,698 of those in Palm Beach County and one in Broward. The company wants to charge its increased rates starting July 15. "

So you are not happy about your premiums jumping as much as 36%? Be lucky that you even have coverage, according to this sun-sentinel story. Home buyers are facing a difficult time finding any private insurance companies willing to cover them- for any price.

"Like thousands of South Floridians, Burton Danow is on the hunt for a new home insurance policy. The State Farm agent that insures two of Danow's cars has politely said the state's largest insurer hasn't sold a new homeowner policy in South Florida in years. The same goes for Allstate and another familiar name, Nationwide. Now with major private insurance companies, including Allstate Floridian and Atlantic Preferred Insurance Co. shedding tens of thousands of home insurance policies in South Florida, many will be in Danow's predicament and have to find new coverage for their homes."

"And with the Florida insurance market in upheaval after eight hurricanes in two years, coverage is as difficult as ever to get. Many frustrated consumers are asking the same question: Are any of the 451 private insurers licensed to do business in Florida selling new home policies in South Florida?""

"Though many may think they're stuck with state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida's home insurer of last resort, insurance agents say getting a policy from a private company is possible -- but not easy. There's private insurance options, they say, but insurers are clamping down on what they're willing to cover. Got a screen patio enclosure? Insurers are shying away from covering those, agents say. Was your home built before stronger building codes were put in place? That may hurt your chances, too. Even living in a certain ZIP code can hurt you, depending on whether an insurance company already has a large number of policies in that community."

You may not get the same coverage that you had before the last two hurricane seasons, he said. Take screened patios, for example. " They're so costly to replace that it's killing [insurance companies]," Kornbluh said. With some companies, "if you have a screened enclosure that was built prior to 2002, they won't insure your home," he said. At least two insurers -- American Strategic Insurance Corp., a St. Petersburg-based firm, and Atlantic Preferred -- have asked the state Office of Insurance Regulation for permission to no longer insure screen enclosures. Other conditions, such as an older roof or air conditioning unit, could scare off insurers. "

"With the private insurance market tightening, Citizens keeps getting bigger. The company had 829,527 policies through the end of March, making it the state's No. 2 home insurer, up from 810,017 policies at the end of 2005."

So what happens if your only option is the state run Citizens Insurance? Pay through the nose of course, according to this .

"Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will seek an 18.4 percent statewide average price increase for its condominium association policies west of Interstate 95, the state-backed insurer said Thursday. The average increase will be 18.4 percent in Broward County and 11 percent in Palm Beach County."

With hurricane season fast approaching, many Floridians still live in damaged houses and hundreds have filed claims for unresolved claims- story.

"Most of the complaints involve nonpayment for damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, which hit the state in October. In the past two weeks, 169 complaints have been filed against Tampa-based Poe's three insurance companies: Atlantic Preferred Insurance Co., Southern Family Insurance Co. and Florida Preferred Insurance Co. Combined, Poe's three companies cover more than 350,000 policies in the state, many of them along the state's vulnerable coastal areas."

"Southern Family and Atlantic Preferred are in the process of notifying customers that their policies will not be renewed, a decision that Poe made to stem its losses and reduce its exposure in the state."

Imagine your insurance company dropping you in the middle of a claim... that is happening according to this news story.

"One of South Florida's largest home insurers is shedding the policies of some customers who still have unrepaired property damage from last year's hurricanes, despite a state rule ordering insurers not to drop policies for at least 90 days after repairs are made."

"Poe Financial Group's Atlantic Preferred Insurance Co. and Southern Family Insurance Co. recently told state insurance officials they won't renew more than 186,000 policies statewide because of $2 billion in losses from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons."

"Despite the state rule that requires insurance companies to keep the policies of customers who have open hurricane claims, neither Atlantic Preferred nor Southern Family plans to keep those customers and have informed state regulators of their intent."

"That means some homeowners could be forced to find new insurance coverage while still making repairs from last year's hurricanes. And private insurers won't touch homes with existing damage, meaning those homeowners are destined for policies with state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. However, Citizens, the insurer of last resort, wouldn't be liable for the existing damage."

"The two companies have told insurance regulators they don't have the money to keep these customers, McCarty said."

"The Office of Insurance Regulation has arranged for Atlantic Preferred and Southern Family customers to get coverage through Citizens, and those customers with existing hurricane damage will have language in their policies so Citizens isn't liable, Glover said. Southern Family already is sending non-renewal letters to customers. Atlantic Preferred will start sending notices July 13.Poe's companies had been on state insurance officials' radar because of customer complaints since Hurricane Wilma. Poe's three subsidiaries had 3,558 complaints after the 2005 hurricanes, and 268 of those remain unresolved, according to state records."

"Raising additional concerns are 169 complaints made to the Department of Financial Services between March 31 and April 13, department spokeswoman Tami Torres said. Poe officials will discuss those today in a meeting with insurance department officials on hurricane-related complaints, Torres said."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pulling the ole Bait and Switch..

Sorry about not posting in a while but other commitments took precedent. What was once speculation just a few weeks ago about the possibility of a bubble has now developed into an (almost) undeniable acceptance that the peak in prices is behind us and that we (most likely) are in for a rough ride regarding home prices tumbling.

In their desperate attempt to keep the grand illusion perpetuated, builders are now admitting to pulling tricks that would make a used car salesman blush. As told in this story , builders are throwing everything at prospective buyers in order to move inventory and more important not drop the sales prices on their overvalued, depreciating houses.

" Jade at Tampa Palms, a condominium complex in New Tampa, has yanked a page from the first-day-of-Christmas-shopping-season playbook: If you're among the first 25 buyers, you get a free garage.
- Beach Way Condominiums in Seminole is dealing, if not wheeling. "We'll Pay Your Mortgage for a Full Year!" its ad screams across several newspaper columns.
- Heard of blue-light specials? David Weekley Homes, selling houses "from the 380s" in Pasco County's Wilderness Lake Preserve, is holding a "Red Tag Event" with "once-in-a-blue-moon" prices.
- Housing giant Lennar has been slinging flat-screen TVs and $5,000 gift certificates from Rooms to Go. Buy a house, get the goodies. This month it's hawking house discounts, up to $62,000 in subdivisions such as Concord Station on State Road 54."

And why would your trusty Real Estate agent steer you towards one of these lovely bargains? Of course because it's in your best interest, right? Read on and learn...

" Cash payouts to real estate agents account for a big chunk of recent promotions, but the average homebuyer is kept in the dark, unaware that agents can earn big money by steering them to one home builder instead of another.
Builders typically pay agents a 3 percent commission for bringing them customers. Some have upped the ante, hiking agents' commissions or dishing out bonuses. A recent example is U.S. Home offering real estate agents a $9,000 upfront bonus for each customer delivered to Lake Brandon Townhomes off Interstate 75. Home prices range from about $250,000 to $300,000."

The real reason for such giveaways lies here, " Real estate agents caution that some home price cuts and giveaways aren't what they seem. Builders are known to slash standard home upgrades to cover their lower-priced listings. Corian plastic counter tops might substitute for granite, builders grade carpet for plush pile. As one model home sales representative said: "If you get a "free' plasma TV, do you think you're not paying for it in the home price?"

Few builders want to admit they overpriced homes during last year's boom, agents and sales center staffers said. Incentives are a way to stimulate business without depressing the bottom line. You'd rather offer incentives and hold the price the same," Knetsch said, "because when the market turns around, you can pull the incentives more quickly than you can raise the price."

These builders need to keep the sales prices artificially high or they know the game is up, hence they will change the subject from buying a house that is 40% overpriced to " How about that new big screen TV you are getting for free?"

The next time an agent shows you a house that a builder is trying to unload, watch out. The only one not making money may be you.