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Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis brings insurance trade show to West Palm Beach

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Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis brought an insurance consumer fair to West Palm Beach on Tuesday, offering area residents the opportunity to ask questions about how they can lower their premiums and file claims.

“Sometimes it’s important to bring government to the people,” says Patronis, whose office is responsible for licensing and overseeing agents and agencies in addition to accounting and auditing.

Insurance, especially property insurance, has become a critical issue in the Sunshine State in recent years.

According to a recent report from Insurify, a Massachusetts-based insurance comparison website, Florida is the state with the highest homeowners insurance rates in the United States.

In 2023, Florida homeowners will pay an average of $10,996 to insure their homes, and Insurify predicted a 7% increase to $11,579 that year. For homeowners whose mortgage loan includes property taxes and insurance, that would be about $1,000 a month on top of the loan's principal and interest.

These enormous costs affect those lucky enough not to have their coverage completely dropped as insurance companies seek to limit their exposure to claims related to the tropical storms and hurricanes that frequently threaten the state.

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The Florida Legislature has held special sessions three times in the past three years to address the insurance industry's concerns, but homeowners remain very frustrated with an industry they are usually forced into by lenders because insurance companies are willing to accept increasingly expensive premiums but delay or deny payment of claims altogether.

And then there's the complicated process of getting hold of someone to explain the loss of insurance coverage or what it would take to reinstate coverage.

70-year-old West Palm Beach woman hasn't slept since her policy was canceled

Mary Rolle, a 70-year-old West Palm Beach resident, recently had to deal with this process more intensely than she would have liked. After calling her home insurance company, she learned that the policy on her house had been canceled.

Rolle said she was told there was a problem with the roof, but was not given specific instructions on how to fix the problem.

The lack of building insurance in light of the approaching hurricane season is extremely worrying, Rolle said.

“I was about to go crazy,” she said. “I didn't sleep.”

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Rolle was able to get help at Tuesday's Consumer Insurance Fair, held at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport hotel.

“Nobody explained it to me exactly until I came here,” Rolle said. “It really helped me.”

Rolle said she learned that the problem with her home was the so-called secondary roof, the waterproof roof underlayment designed to provide additional protection against water damage.

“I’ll go back and talk to my roofer,” Rolle said.

The insurance fair attracted numerous state representatives to the city. They sat or stood at labeled tables so that citizens knew where they could ask specific questions.

Hurricane insurance grants offered

Tim O'Neil answered questions at the table for the My Safe Florida Homes program, which provides grants to homeowners if they pay for hurricane-proofing measures such as a new roof, new brackets to secure the roof, and impact-resistant doors and windows.

The grants would cover up to $10,000 of these hardening costs.

In Florida, a new roof can cost anywhere from $5,000 to over $30,000, depending on the size of the home and the type of roofing material needed. Architectural Digest reported that Florida homeowners who have impact-resistant windows installed this year will pay an average of $5,332.

O'Neil, spokesman for the My Safe Florida Homes program, said the benefit of hurricane coverage is not just the prospect of a $10,000 grant. Storm protection measures also reduce the cost of homeowners' insurance.

About 10 to 40 percent of a homeowner's total premium depends on potential storm damage, O'Neil said.

“Our goal is for everyone to bring their house up to date,” he said.

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Stricter building codes have limited the risks for Florida homeowners and prevented a further increase in insurance premiums, O'Neil noted.

The owner of a home built before 2002 could face up to $28,000 in damages in a typical storm, O'Neil said. However, the owner of a home built after 2002 can expect about $4,000 in damages.

In addition to stricter building codes, Florida has also taken several other measures to combat insurance fraud, help consumers with claims, expand insurance regulatory powers and help insurance companies with reinsurance, which serves as insurance companies' back-up against the massive claims that a major hurricane brings, according to Tasha Carter, a consumer attorney specializing in insurance law.

Carter said the higher property insurance premiums were driven by rising reinsurance costs, rising material and labor costs, insurance fraud and approximately $48 billion in claims following Hurricanes Irma (2017), Michael (2018), Nicole (2022), Ian (2022) and Idalia (2023).

Of these storms, only Nicole, a Category 1 hurricane that made landfall south of Vero Beach in 2022, reached Florida's east coast. Although recent major hurricanes have tended to hit Florida's west coast, the Big Bend region or the Panhandle, homeowners' insurance costs in southeast Florida have nevertheless skyrocketed.

“Even though southeast Florida is not directly affected, there is still a risk,” Carter said.

Could there soon be help with rising insurance costs?

Carter said homeowners can reduce costs by looking for premium discounts, bundling property insurance with other types of insurance, increasing their deductibles and comparing prices.

While homeowners struggle with painful cost increases, relief may be in sight, Carter said.

In the last six to eight months, eight insurance companies have announced they plan to lower their rates and nine have said they plan to keep rates the same, she said. Eight more companies have expressed interest in offering policies in the state, which would increase competition and potentially lower costs.

Each of these developments “shows us that the industry is responding to the reforms that have been made,” Carter said.

Wayne Washington is a journalist covering West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and race relations for The Palm Beach Post. Reach him at wwashington@pbpost.com. Support our work and subscribe today.

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