New Changes to Coastal Homeowners Insurance

Now the insurance situation, is more dire not just for new homebuyers but for existing homeowners too. In between bites, I reminded Anne-Marie about how Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the big momma, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, gave insurance companies greater insight into number of homeowners risks they insured in certain areas. And it is these new insights which have given rise to newer realities in homeowners insurance.

It’s amazing. Whenever I read or make a presentation about the new changes happening in coastal  homeowners insurance here in New York State’s Downstate Region, (Brooklyn and the four boroughs, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester counties), I usually run into one of Brooklyn’s leading real estate brokers the very next day. And they wrangle a free lunch out of me.

Talking Coastal Homeowners Insurance with Anne-Marie Stanislaus of Reserved Realty LLC

Late last month, I had the pleasure of enjoying another terrific pizza with Anne-Marie Stanislaus, one of New York City’s leading independent Real Estate Brokers, and the Owner and Principal of Reserved Realty LLC.  We met at the number-one Italian restaurant in Prospect Heights, the world-famous Cataldo’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, at 554 Vanderbilt Avenue, between Dean and Bergen Streets. The first question she asked was “Eustace, I know we talked about this last year, but what’s going on with the coastal homeowners insurance business in Brooklyn? Companies are not just refusing to write certain types of houses. I’m getting calls from clients complaining their insurance companies, after decades without claims or late payments, are cancelling policies in certain areas like they had the plague! And not just in Brooklyn, mind you, but throughout the Downstate region.”

We’d had a similar discussion back in November of 2012, right after Hurricane Sandy, which I detailed in an earlier post, “Coastal Homeowners Insurance, Part 2.9.” Back then, when life seemed simpler,  we were more concerned about changed real estate practices as it pertained to new sales.

The Latest Twist In Coastal Homeowners Insurance

The insurance situation is becoming more difficult not just for new home buyers but for existing homeowners too. In between bites, I reminded Anne-Marie about how Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the big momma, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, gave insurance companies a major case of the willies and greater insight into the number of coastal homeowners insurance risks they insured in certain now-hazardous areas. It is these new insights which created newer realities in coastal homeowners insurance.

Take It Back A Mile

First, when certain companies decided they no longer wanted to insure risks within one (1) mile of a tidal coastline, they just sent the affected policyowners a letter which basically said, “Thank you for being our homeowners client for the past  15, 20, or even 30 years. We also appreciate your not presenting us with any claims during your years with our company. We changed our underwriting guidelines, and since you no longer fit or match them, you’re no longer one of our homeowners insurance clients effective (You fill in the date.).

“Thank you, and don’t worry, you can still keep your auto, life, and whatever else you have with us. We just don’t want the house anymore.”

Now, just for the record, while most insurance companies pulled their coastal boundary line to a distance of at least one mile from the tidal coastline for dwellings, there are those companies who will continue to honor their commitment to their clients, so long as they don’t lapse their policies, submit some really dubious claims, or decide they can make some side money by turning their legal two-family home into an illegal three, four, or even more family house.

Many companies, however, are simply dropping their clients, and, just like that, the homeowner must seek and secure new coverage for their home.

There’s a new twist in this tale of woe, however: Now some insurance companies are cancelling policies if they are within one mile of any body of water.

For example, I’ve recently written a new policy for a homeowner who lives more than one and one-half miles from the tidal coastline, but within one-half mile of the tip of Brooklyn’s Paerdegat Basin.

A property on the western side of Flatlands Avenue. One which suffered absolutely no wind or flood damage during Hurricane Sandy.

He recently received a cancellation letter letting him because of changes to what the company felt was a coastal risk, his policy was being non-renewed. A policy he’d had for 28 years. Claim-free.

And now, I’m going to write his neighbor a policy, since the same company just sent him his non-renewal letter.

So Anne-Marie looked at me like I had two heads. “So wait a minute,” she asked. “Now we’ve got to know how far a property is from any body of water before we try to market it? When will this madness end?”

“Who knows? Probably when enough disaster-free and thus heavy-claim time passes. ”

She looked at me and said, “Well, that’s not so bad then.”

“Sure”, I said, “Even though when FEMA finishes remapping this region, probably either in late 2014 or by mid-2015,  mandatory Flood Insurance policies with premiums in excess of $2,000 and $3,000 will create new problems for homeowners now remapped into AE and VE zones…”

“Enough!” she yelled. “For that Greaves, I want more pizza! And no more insurance talk!”

And the second pie was even tastier than the first.

You can reach the beleaguered  Anne-Marie Stanislaus at 917-887-7468. She and her team at Reserved Realty will do a fantastic job of  either helping you find your dream home, or marketing your current home and apartment rentals. You can always reach Eustace Greaves Jr., LUTCF  by telephone at 718-783-2722, or send him an email to [email protected].

Coastal Homeowners Insurance, Part 2.9 | Brooklyn Covered

While these and many of the usual features are important, they now take a back seat to a new and sobering reality; the ability to purchase affordable and good insurance coverage is first based on a property’s proximity to an insurance company’s recognized coastline.

Finding Coastal Homeowners Insurance Is The New Normal

When it comes to purchasing affordable and comprehensive coastal homeowners insurance, your home’s proximity to the coastline is the most important location characteristic.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with prominent Brooklyn real estate broker Anne-Marie Stanislaus. Anne-Marie, who can be reached at 917-887-7468, holds national certification as a Certified Distressed Property Expert. We spoke about which factors, or characteristics make a home more desirable.  According to Anne-Marie, a property’s location to certain amenities can sometimes be what makes or breaks the sale.  Anne-Marie listed several characteristics of  good property location:

  1. Transportation: In New York City, being near a dependable subway line, especially one with express service into Manhattan, and to Brooklyn’s Downtown Business Hub is a no-brainer. Unlike those commuters in say, Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, or from points of origin in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you eliminate the absolute need for a “station car” just to get to the first leg of your transportation day. When you throw in  an express station, and good surface bus service, you’ve got the makings of a winning property.
  2. Shopping:  Proximity to good supermarkets and farmers markets is desirable. This can also eliminate or reduce the need to use a car for food shopping. Add a mall or shopping center where you can get everything for your home, your clothes dry-cleaned, your shoes repaired, and your prescriptions filled,  and the property often becomes even more desirable.
  3. Some home buyers opt for the solitude or isolation of a more remote destination. They may own a home-based business requiring only a few trips into the city for client meetings each month.
  4. Good schools: This ranks high on the list of many young couples. Access to  excellent local public schools permits families to save more for their children’s college educations.

The New Normal

While these and other features are important, they now take a back seat to a new and sobering reality; the ability to purchase affordable and good insurance coverage is based on a property’s distance from the coastline.

You always wanted to buy a home with ocean, lake,  or river views. Ah, you thought, the peace of mind and serenity such views and lifestyle would afford me. Until you live and suffer through natural events like Hurricanes Irene and Sandra and Tropical Storm Lee. Then living near a surging ocean, or overflowing lake, or raging river won’t seem so peaceful.

Many homeowners insurance carriers now understand the risk of insuring coastal properties.  Agents and brokers for these companies will no longer bind homeowners or dwelling insurance coverage for properties within one mile of the coast.  (The coastal rules for condo, coops, and rental units are usually less onerous; ask your broker for their companies rules for these properties).

As an independent agent and broker, that requirement doesn’t pose any real problem for me.  I am able to  place my coastal homeowners insurance business with several good companies who are comfortable with this type of risk. One caveat: you will pay, on average, anywhere from one-half to two times as much for a coastal homeowners insurance policy as you would for the exact home more than a mile away from the coast.

Remember, in insurance, it’s all about the amount and type of risk a company will accept. So, should you present a greater risk, you will pay more for coverage. This is just a new reality many homeowners and home buyers must accept for homes in certain locations.

Companies’ Right To Decide

Every insurance company has the right, , with state approval, to decide where it will and will not offer coverage.

When an insurance company changes its underwriting policies for coastal properties, and then non-renews customers with homes are now in the exclusion zone, those former clients may face difficulty securing new coverage. (See my upcoming blog post about the ” Rule of 60/3 and 2/5″). The same customers who placed their auto, and in some cases, life insurance with a company they thought would be their insurer for a lifetime.

I think it’s wrong to simply dump loyal customers. My suggestion? Let those who are now insured with your company keep their coverage, so long as they pay their premiums and have a good claim history. Adjust premiums and require larger hurricane deductibles to account for the increased risk. If a client chooses to not agree to these changes, they can search for new coverage. Otherwise, replacing homeowners insurance policies in the coastal regions of Brooklyn and the rest of this region will be absolutely devastating for many homeowners. Personally, I don’t mind driving a few miles to reach the  beach. During the last decade, while watching ocean levels rise, and protective wetlands disappear, I tried to warn against the folly of  building and buying coastal properties. To me, it was always a game where Mother Nature ultimately wins.  Some homeowners will always choose a seaside, lakeside, or riverside home. They will, however, pay higher homeowners insurance premiums for their choice. 

For insurance purposes, your first location characteristic question should be  “Is this house at least one to one and one-half miles from the coastline?” Also, make sure to ask the agent or broker who’ll be insuring your home whether the homeowners  insurance company providing coverage will honor renewals should their coastal underwriting rules change.

If you now own a home within more than one and less than two miles from the coastline, you are entitled an answer to the latter question. If the answer is either an emphatic “No”,  or a weak “Yes, I think so”, now’s the time to start searching for a new homeowners insurance company. Otherwise, you may face the task of  buying a new coastal homeowners insurance policy sooner than you realized.

Then, as I mentioned to Anne-Marie Stanislaus, you can worry about schools, transportation, shopping and the like.

Location, location, location, indeed.

Hurricane Irene Preparation Tips From Travelers|BrooklynCovered

Re: Hurricane Irene Preparation

As Hurricane Irene approaches our area, we wanted to make sure you and your customers were aware of the steps you can take to stay safe and our claim response plans as the storm approaches.

I, along with all the other Travelers independent agents across this great nation, received the following information about preparing for Hurricane Irene. Normally, the content you’ll find in BrooklynCovered is my own, but in situations such as this, I trust you’ll forgive me for cutting and pasting some extremely important information.

To: Travelers Agents in New York

Re: Hurricane Irene Preparation
As Hurricane Irene approaches our area, we wanted to make sure you and your customers were aware of the steps you can take to stay safe and our claim response plans as the storm approaches.
Safety for individuals

  • Create a disaster plan. Plan an evacuation route in advance and determine where you would go if you were told to evacuate.
  • Prepare a survival kit. Stock up on drinking water, non-perishable goods, a first-aid kit and medicine for everyone including your pet. Include extra clothing, blankets, batteries, flashlights and a portable radio.
  • Conduct a home hazard hunt and make your home as safe as possible. Secure all outdoor objects such as garbage cans and lawn furniture. Close storm shutters and board up all windows.
  • Review how to shut off utilities in an emergency with all family members.
  • Locate important papers and documents and have them ready to take with you should you need to evacuate. Protect documents in plastic storage bags if you’re remaining in your home.
  • Make sure you have insurance policies with claim contact information, an inventory of your home’s contents and cash.
  • Ask an out-of-state friend to be your family contact. After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long-distance than to make a local call.
  • Finally, leave promptly when ordered to evacuate. Leaving too late or not leaving at all only endangers yourself and others.

Safety for businesses
In addition, you and your business insurance customers should consider taking the following precautions to help protect people and property and guard against disruption of operations:

  • Review your business continuity plan and communicate emergency evacuation and business interruption instructions to employees. If you don’t have a written plan, now is the time to create one. Each business should have an emergency plan including a detailed procedure for evacuation, a checklist for shutting down processes and protecting buildings, contents, equipment, and yard storage. Procedures should include salvage instructions to follow post-event.
  • Back up critical data and computer records off-site so that operations can continue after a disaster. Consider keeping a backup generator and plenty of batteries on hand so your business can continue to operate after a power loss.
  • As a hurricane approaches, quick actions should to be taken to install temporary protection features including:
  • Shutter or board up windows to protect them from flying debris
  • Clean out floor drains and catch basins to ensure maximum drainage
  • Anchor structures, trailers and yard storage so they are more likely to stay put in high winds
  • Fill emergency generator and fire pump fuel tanks
  • Shut down production processes safely
  • Shut off all flammable and combustible liquid and gas lines at their source
  • Shut off electrical power at the main building disconnect before the hurricane strikes
  • Once the storm has subsided and it is safe to return, a salvage team should be assembled and repair work prioritized, assuring proper supplies are available and safety procedures followed.

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