“Above-Normal” Hurricane Season Forecast Means Coastal Real Estate Owners and Buyers Need to Consider Insurance Options NOW

An ongoing La Nina and above-average Atlantic Ocean water temperatures are leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to forecast an above-normal hurricane season. “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher), according to an agency news release.

With this extreme threat level, owners of coastal real estate and even those well inland in the Eastern U.S. and Hawaii who could be impacted by flood and wind damage from a degrading storm, need to review their insurance coverage. Considering scientists are reporting that global warming and sea level rise are super-charging hurricanes and tropical storms, people who own real estate in at-risk regions should put this on the top of their to-do lists.

Lenders require homeowners with mortgages to purchase basic dwelling coverage that covers the cost of repairs to a damaged home. In areas vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, lenders may require special windstorm and flood insurance.

Considering that FEMA’s flood maps are notoriously outdated and homes well outside the designated flood zones have been damaged by flood waters in past storms, it’s important for homeowners in areas with even a seemingly remote chance of getting hit by floods to consider purchasing coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. For example, in August 2017, thousands of homes outside the FEMA-designated primary flood zone flooded when Hurricane Harvey rolled over the Houston area.

With insurance costs skyrocketing in many coastal areas due to increased claims from past hurricanes and storms, fraud and other reasons, some homeowners are going without insurance. They tend to fall in two camps those who are gambling that their properties will not get hit by a hurricane or tropical storm and those who believe they have enough reserve funds to cover the cost of repairs if they do.

These homeowners need to be aware that waiting until a storm is likely headed their way to purchase insurance won’t work. Flood insurance purchased under the National Flood Insurance Program won’t actually kick in until 30 days after a policy is purchased. In addition, if a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning is issued in a 16,000 square mile box around Florida, the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and most private insurance companies will not accept applications for new coverage. Insurers in other states may have their own last-minute purchase limitations. There’s also a risk that providers may not be able to process applications made before a storm in a timely manner.

When property owners are reviewing their insurance policies, they should also revisit their coverage amounts. With inflation, even $250,000 in coverage won’t provide as much repair and rebuilding purchasing power as it used to. They should also double-check their deductibles to make sure they’re still in line with their financial resources.

Evaluating homeowners, flood and wind insurance can be drudge work under the best of circumstances. However, with the high risk of storms and recent years of climate change super-charged storms wreaking record destruction on coastal real estate and points far inland, not doing your homework can lead to serious negative consequences should a storm hit your property.

Survey Reveals Why Coastal Real Estate Buyers Don’t Take Sea Level Rise Seriously

Despite the threat sea level rise poses to coastal communities, buyers continue to line up and pay ever-higher prices for properties located in at-risk areas. Why don’t real estate buyers take sea level rise flooding into account when they’re purchasing coastal real estate? Risa Palm, senior vice president, provost and professor of urban geography at Georgia State University, and Toby Bolsen, a political science professor at the same school, surveyed 680 Florida Realtors in 2020 to find out.

In an article published last week on The Conversation website, Palm and Bolsen shared the results of their survey. They found that buyers in general aren’t considering a property’s risk of sea level rise flooding for the following reasons:

1. Mortgage lenders and appraisers aren’t considering sea level rise risk when they evaluate a property so homebuyers aren’t paying a penalty for buying at-risk properties.

2. Wealthier buyers who pay cash can self-insure so they don’t feel the bite of higher flood insurance premiums.

3. Wealthier buyers can take the steps necessary — such as elevating property and building seawalls — to fend off sea level rise floodwaters.

4. Retired buyers are ok with enjoying coastal property for the remainder of their lives and not worrying about what sea level rise does to it after they’re gone.

Only a tiny number of the agents reported that prices were “very frequently” holding steady or falling due to the risk of flooding and that lenders were frequently denying loans to properties located in flood-prone areas. Ultimately, 70 percent of the agents said “they expect little impact on the property market in the next five to 10 years.”

Palm and Bolsen believe coastal real estate buyers are making a mistake in not taking sea level rise into account when they’re purchasing properties. They write: “Because of rising sea levels and storm risks resulting from climate change, we conclude that many of the houses currently being sold in south Florida will not outlast their 30-year mortgages without damage or expensive adaptations, and that the resale of houses vulnerable to sea level rise is very likely to become increasingly difficult.”

Hopefully, their message will be heard.

UN Report Warns Climate Change Threatens Not Only Sea Level Rise Real Estate but Human Survival Itself

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal, climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” — Hans-Otto Portner, Co-Chair of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations’ group that assesses the science related to climate change, issued a dire warning for humanity regarding climate change today. “To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” the IPCC said in a media release. “So far progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.”

The IPCC report is attractive massive media coverage not only for its strong wording but because of the urgency of its prediction that humans don’t have much longer to reduce the amount of fossil fuels — such as coal, oil and natural gas — it burns before it reaches a tipping point.

Businesses are taking notice. A Reuters article published today says governments and regulators are just starting to issue rules that require companies to alert investors to the impact climate change is having on their operations today and the threats they’ll face in the future.

Coastal real estate buyers, owners and investors, too, need to start gathering facts about the risk sea level rise poses to a property of interest and the neighborhood and community its located in. To make educated decisions, they need to know information such as if a property is currently experiencing sea level rise flooding, if it will in the near future, if roads and other critical infrastructure that serve the property are being impacted by flooding, and what the local government intends to do about it. They also need to know if the homeowner’s association or condo board, if there is one, plans to do to address sea level rise.

These types of questions will help them to gauge the impact sea level rise will have on maintenance and insurance costs, tax rates, association dues and special assessments, and, ultimately, property value. It will also give them an idea if there’s a threat that insurers and/or mortgage providers will stop providing policies and loans in a given area.

This might sound far-fetched to some people. But, just this month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced a policy that they would not back mortgages in condo developments that weren’t properly maintained and that didn’t have the reserves to pay for routine and emergency maintenance. As sea level rises and damages more coastal real estate, it’s a good bet lenders will get tougher in approving loans in areas experiencing property-damaging sea level rise. This will impact the ability buyers to buy properties and of owners and investors to sell them.

While sounding negative, the IPCC report will actually have a positive effect if it spurs governments, businesses and individuals to get involved in the fight against climate change and global warming before the window of opportunity closes for good.

Get Ready for FEMA’s New National Flood Insurance Program Rate Structure: Risk Rating 2.0

The National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is about to undergo a major rate structure overhaul. Real estate owners and buyers will soon find out if rates for a given property are going to decrease, stay the same, or maybe even increase substantially.

FEMA is making the flood insurance rate adjustments to bring fairness into the program. The agency says under the current rate structure, property owners in low risk flood zones are often paying higher insurance premiums than property owners in higher risk area, and property owners with less expensive properties are paying more than owners of properties with higher replacement costs. The agency is encouraging owners to call their flood insurance agents in August to find out what to expect when their flood insurance bills are released in October.

According to FEMA’s website, 23% of policyholders will see an average of $86 a month premium reduction, 66% will see a $0-$10 a month increase, 7% will see a $10-$20 a month increase, and 4% will see their premiums increase over $20 a month.

Real estate buyers should find out how a property of interest will be impacted by Risk Rating 2.0 when they’re considering submitting a contract. They should also consider asking the seller for information about the existing policy to find out from the insurance provider if assuming the policy at closing will result in savings.

Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can find out more about Risk Rating 2.0 and the National Flood Insurance Program on FEMA’s website. The website also features valuable information on the steps owners can take to reduce their premiums.

With sea level rise continuing to cause ever-more flooding in coastal communities, everyone living near the water needs to stay on top of the latest developments regarding flood insurance.

Insurers and Mortgage Providers Are Shifting Sea Level Rise Flooding Risk to Government-Run Programs and, Ultimately, Taxpayers

A recent article by Naveena Sadasivam published in Grist examines in-depth the way insurance companies and mortgage providers are shifting the risk from sea level rise flooding and other climate change-related disasters to government run insurers and, ultimately, taxpayers. This could have grave consequences for coastal real estate markets.

There are several mechanisms they’re using to unburden themselves of the risks, according to the Grist article. One way is for private insurers to abandon risky areas, leaving states with subsidized state insurance programs — such as California, Florida and Texas — to pick up the burden. Another way is for mortgage providers to make loans in high-risk areas and then sell them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee about 50 percent of the country’s $10 trillion mortgage market.

Unfortunately, many of the state-subsidized insurance programs are underfunded. If a natural disaster hits, they could go broke, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs are also at risk of being destroyed from disasters. If they fail, taxpayers will likely have to cough up billions of dollars in bailout money.

According to the Grist article, “Experts say if these climate risks are left unaddressed, the combined effects could ripple across the economy in ways that mirror the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007.”

Mortgage providers require buyers and owners to purchase flood insurance. If insurance becomes prohibitively expensive or unreliable, coastal real estate markets could lock up and property values could plummet.

Does Your State Require Real Estate Sellers to Disclose Sea Level Rise Flooding?

Each state has different requirements regarding a seller’s obligation to disclose sea level rise flooding issues to buyers in a real estate transaction. Not being aware of a state’s seller’s disclosure law can put buyers, sellers and even real estate agents at great risk.

Some states, like Louisiana, are very stringent. Sellers have to tell a buyer if a property floods, the source of the flooding, the type of damage the flooding causes, and whether any flood insurance claims have been filed. The last point is important because there have been cases where buyers have purchased a property and not been aware of a flooding issue. When the property floods and they file a claim, the past claims can be used against them and their insurance rates can skyrocket.

Other states, like Virginia, are pretty much the wild west when it comes to seller’s disclosures. Basically, sellers don’t have to disclose anything, and it’s up to buyers to find out what’s going on.

Florida lies somewhere in the middle. The state requires sellers to disclose defects that they’re aware of that materially affect the value of a property. This could be construed as meaning they’re required to inform buyers if a property experiences flooding. But in all actuality, the language is so non-specific that the state’s insurers are expected to lobby for legislation this year that’s more in line with Louisiana’s detailed level of disclosure.

Strong seller’s disclosure laws protect buyers, sellers, and real estate agents. Buyers, of course, are protected because they’re informed about sea level rise flooding issue BEFORE they make a purchase. Sellers are protected because they will know exactly what’s they’re required to tell the buyer. This can help them to avoid lawsuits for failure to disclose flooding. And real estate agents are protected because they, too, will know what’s expected of them, and they’ll be able to provide better advice to their clients.

A note of caution: Even in states that have strong seller’s disclosure laws, buyers should find out from more than one source if a property or neighborhood floods. Buyers should ask the seller to order a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report from their insurer. The report will tell the buyer if any claims have been filed with most insurers in the last 5-7 years. Strolling the neighborhood and asking residents if the property or neighborhood floods can also yield valuable information.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has an excellent online map that features information about each state’s seller’s disclosure law. There’s also more information about this important issue in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.”

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