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Insurance Coverage for Sinkholes in Florida

Florida Sinkholes
Florida Sinkholes can destroy an entire neighborhood

Sinkholes are part of the Florida landscape. The Florida peninsula is made up of limestone, a porous carbonate rock that stores and helps move groundwater. Soil sits on top of the limestone and over time, groundwater erodes the limestone, forming a cavity.

When the top weighty layer caves in, a sinkhole is created. Periods of drought followed by substantial rain, along with the heavy pumping of groundwater by citizens can trigger sinkholes.

“When there is a widely reported sinkhole occurrence, such as the recent case in Dunedin where a sinkhole swallowed a portion of two homes and a boat, homeowners become concerned about their insurance coverage,” says Ellsworth Buck, Vice President of Great Florida Insurance.

“Florida law requires insurance companies to provide coverage for catastrophic ground cover collapse. However, sinkhole damage must meet specific criteria and may not be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy because the law defines sinkhole damage differently from catastrophic ground cover collapse. Sinkhole coverage is available to add to a homeowner’s policy for an additional cost,” says Ellsworth.

While sinkholes are common in the state, some high profile occurrences around central Florida this year have caused homeowners to become more aware of the risks that come with living in the Sunshine State. Tampa counties including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco are the most affected by sinkholes.

Homes in Florida are not required to be inspected for the possibility of sinkholes and most builders do not have them inspected due to the extra expense. It is impossible to predict when and where the exact location of a sinkhole might develop.

Only a licensed professional geologist with training in identifying sinkholes might be able to determine the possibility of sinkhole activity. It is important to keep in mind, not all potential sinkhole activity can be identified. As a protection to buyers, home sellers are required to disclose when a sinkhole claim was made on a piece of property and the amount that was paid to repair the damages.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “many insurance companies rely upon the regional maps showing zones of sinkhole occurrences based on the local geology and historical sinkhole activity, or on private sinkhole data.”

When choosing a homeowners insurance policy, you must weigh the risk and decide what on the terms that comfort you and your family.

GreatFlorida Insurance is a network of over 100 independent insurance agents serving Florida. Our agents can help you shop around for policies just right for you. We are available 24/7 to serve your needs.

Sources: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

florida_sinkhole_map - Homeowners Insurance

How Sinkholes Form - Homeowners Insurance

Tips for Keeping Your Holidays Safe

The holidays are a festive and joyful time of the year and we at GreatFlorida Insurance want to ensure you and your family enjoy a safe holiday season. Along with the celebration can come potentially hazardous situations.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day more than any other day of the year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 14,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms around the country for falls, cuts and shocks related to holiday decorating. Listed below are tips for keeping your holiday season merry, peaceful and safe.

Cooking

“Fire, metal, oil and turkey are glorious when in harmony, but their power is unrelenting in careless hands,” William Shatner for State Farm. The lure of fried turkey is an irresistible culinary delight, but if not prepared carefully it can turn into a calamity.ThanksgivingFamilyRetro-GraphicsFairy1

  • Keep the fryer at least 10 feet away from your home and never cook in the garage or on a wood deck.
  • Place the fryer on a level surface
  • Keep children and pets a safe distance from the fryer
  • Monitor the temperature and use caution when touching the fryer, the lid and handles can be very hot.
  • Do not use too much oil
  • Make sure the turkey is properly thawed, extra water can cause oil to bubble fiercely and spill over.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher accessible
  • When cooking inside…
  • Never leave your stove unattended while cooking
  • Keep anything that could melt or catch fire away from burners

 

Candles

Candles are paramount in celebrating Advent, Chanukah and Kwanzaa. They contribute nicely to the warmth and ambiance of the season, but in recent years they have been responsible for $173 million in property loss according to the CPSC.

  • Try replacing traditional candles with battery operated selections.Florida Home Insurance Safety
  • Keep them visible and extinguish them before going out or bedtime.
  • Place them on a stable surface, so they won’t get knocked over easily
  • Keep candles away from greenery or other flammable materials.
  • Don’t leave children or pets unattended around an open flame.

 

Lights

  • Dispose of any lights that are broken or cracked, and any with loose connections, frayed and bare wires.Florida Home Insurance Safety
  • Make sure your lights have been safety tested.
  • Turn them off before you go to bed, consider placing them on a timer, it is more convenient
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house or another firm support to prevent wind damage.
  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading to utility poles in older homes.
  • Certify outdoor lights and make sure they are plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters, (GFCI’s).
  • Consider switching to LED lights, they run cooler and save energy.

 

Trees

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, make sure it is labeled, “fire resistant.”Florida Home Insurance Safety
  • When selecting a tree, make sure it is fresh, it should be fragrant and green, the needles should be flexible and not break off when you grab them.
  • Poinsettias are everywhere during the holidays but they are poisonous when ingested, so keep them away from small children and pets.
  • Check the batteries in your smoke detector before the holidays kick off.
  • During this holiday season we want to express gratitude to our customers and those who have made GreatFlorida Insurance a success. It is our honor and pleasure to serve you and your families. May peace, joy, hope and happiness be yours during this holiday season and throughout the new year.

Florida Lawmakers Set to Revamp Auto Insurance

Florida Auto Insurance
“Currently, the Florida No-Fault law requires the owner of a motor vehicle to carry PIP, (personal injury protection), penalties are imposed for failing to do so,”

Determining who is responsible to pay damages in an auto accident varies from state to state.

“Currently, the Florida No-Fault law requires the owner of a motor vehicle to carry PIP, (personal injury protection), penalties are imposed for failing to do so,” says Ellsworth Buck, Vice President of GreatFlorida Insurance.

In 2014 Florida lawmakers will take a look at repealing the Florida No-Fault law. A no-fault system is set up to protect motorist from lawsuits by eliminating the litigation process.

It facilitates timely medical payments, lost wages and property damages through the victim’s insurance company. The driver at fault is considered a higher risk and their insurance premiums are then raised.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee held a hearing on November 5, listening to different views on auto insurance regulations. Committee Chairman David Simmons, (R-Altamonte Springs) proposed a bill that repeals the current law in favor of a fault-based system.

The fault-based system, known as tort is the most common in the United States. A tort car insurance system holds the at fault driver responsible for paying the victim’s damages.

It also allows the victim to sue the driver at fault for negligence and demand financial compensation. Some tort based systems allow victims to sue for pain and suffering, often the largest portion of a settlement.

In 2012, lawmakers passed a reform law written in order to eliminate rampant fraud in the current PIP system while saving customers money.

The law signed by Gov. Rick Scott requires those involved in an auto accident to seek treatment within 14 days and allows up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions and $2,500 for non-emergency medical care.

A trial judge overturned the 2012 reform law preventing it from going into effect. The state’s First District Court of Appeals recently reversed the prior ruling. More legal challenges over the constitutionality of the law are expected, causing lawmakers to rethink auto insurance coverage.

“Currently the insurance industry is split on their opinions.” says Ellsworth Bucklogo

Many Florida auto insurers would like to monitor the success of the reform bill before abandoning the no fault system, while the American Insurance Association would like to move to a fault-based system with mandatory bodily injury coverage.

Congress works to delay rising flood insurance rates

It has been one year since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in the Northeast and many homeowners along coastal areas in the U.S. are now facing substantial increases in their flood insurance premiums.

flood_insurance_programLawmakers sought to reform the National Flood Insurance Program in 2012, by passing the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. The new law was put into place to help the federal government reduce the $24 billion deficit from previous storms such as  Katrina.

“The National Flood Insurance Program was designed to protect homes and businesses from flood damage, but  as a result of this new law, coastal area property owners are facing steep insurance rate increases,” said Ellsworth Buck, Vice President of GreatFlorida Insurance, one of the largest independent insurance agency groups in Florida.

On October 1, subsidies expired and many Florida homeowners began to see rate hikes in their flood insurance premiums. The Biggert-Waters Act raises rates for owners of older properties in flood zones that were built before flood maps went into effect and have been subsidized with lower rates.

Most homeowner subsides are being gradually phased out with annual rate increases near 20 percent. In some cases such as the sale of a property, or a lapse in policy, the subsidy is eliminated with renewals this month. Some homeowners have seen their annual flood insurance premiums go from hundreds to more than $14,000.

Forbes Magazine reported the bill’s co-sponsor, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) as saying, “When I agreed to co-author this legislation, our goal was to create a bi-partisan solution to repair our National Flood Insurance Program.”

“The current rate hikes could make it unaffordable for coastal area homeowners to remain in their homes and shatter Florida’s real estate market, said Buck.

The sweeping changes have attorney general’s from several states coming together to fight the rising costs of insuring flood zone properties.

Governor Rick Scott has come out in support of a Mississippi lawsuit that challenges the overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program. Florida accounts for 40 percent of all flood policies in the country with Pinellas County having more subsidized policies than any other county in the U.S.

Florida-Agenda_US_Sen_Bill_NelsonThis week a group of lawmakers from the House and Senate are asking for a four year delay. The bill is known as the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act and has support from Senator Bill Nelson, (D-Fla).

The new bill would seek to delay rate hikes for four years and request a transfer of subsidies to new homebuyers. In addition they want the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA) to conduct an affordability study of imposing risk-based rates on homeowners and propose means to tackle affordability issues.

Homeowners with second homes or whose property has been repeatedly flooded would still have to pay the higher rates, which are scheduled to rise until their premiums reflect the true risk of flooding. Lawmakers from both parties have been demanding a delay in the Biggert-Waters reforms.

Leading Florida Insurance Agency Now Offering Health Insurance to Floridians Statewide

GreatFlorida Insurance is a authorized vendor of health insurance for Blue Cross & Blue Shield.
GreatFlorida Insurance is a authorized vendor of health insurance for Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

GreatFlorida Insurance is launching their health insurance coverage adding to the existing auto, homeowners, renters, boat, business, motorcycle an umbrella coverage they currently provide

Stuart, Florida-With health care reform taking place January 1, 2014, many individuals and families are seeking to find dependable health care insurance. GreatFlorida Insurance is now partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, also known as Florida Blue, to provide quality health insurance to Floridians.

“We are enthusiastic about partnering with a top notch health care provider,” says Ellsworth Buck, Vice President of GreatFlorida Insurance. “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is dedicated to helping people and communities achieve better health, that’s a vision we can get behind.”

GreatFlorida Insurance currently has 110 agents with offices located across the state ready to help customers navigate the recent changes in health care, while finding a health care plan that will suit their needs and fit their budget.

In March, 2010, President Obama signed comprehensive health reform into law known as the Affordable Care Act, (ACA). The law makes preventative care more accessible and affordable for many Americans. The health care law is designed to provide better benefits and expanding coverage while creating a stronger Medicare program. The ACA, will reform health care effective, January 1, 2014.

“We want to make sure our customers are informed on the changes that will take place, so no one is left without coverage,” says Buck. Part of the ACA, requires all Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty, though some exemptions do apply.

For more information on this company, please call ( ) or visit their website at

www.greatflorida.com

GreatFlorida Insurance currently provides insurance to Floridians across the state. They are a network of independent franchised insurance agents located throughout Florida, with 110 offices. They are dedicated to helping people make informed decisions about their insurance while providing professional service and affordable insurance. They can provide customers with rate quotes from top insurance providers for health, auto, homeowners, boat, motorcycle, business, renters and umbrella insurance. Call or visit their website today for a quote.

GreatFlorida Insurance Celebrates Its 110th Location in 20 Years Serving Florida’s Insurance Needs.

With a history of accolades and an ever-growing commitment to its agencies and customers in Florida, GreatFlorida Insurance was named the #1 Insurance Agency in Florida by Success Magazine.

GreatFlorida Insurance – Florida’s Insurance Agency – Homeowners, Auto, Boat, Commercial and Renters Insurance.

Online PR News – 09-August-2011 – Stuart, Florida — GreatFlorida Insurance is celebrating its 20th year in operation with a history of accolades and an ever-growing commitment to its agencies and customers in Florida.

Named the #1 Insurance Agency in Florida by Success Magazine, GreatFlorida now has over 110 independently owned P&C insurance agencies statewide.

GreatFlorida Insurance is a network of independent, franchised insurance agents, and since 1991 has helped Florida residents save money by offering a wide array of affordable homeowners and auto insurance, as well as boat, motorcycle, commercial, and umbrella insurance.

In 2011, GreatFlorida will handle over $300 million in premiums, offering highly rated “A” carriers, including: Progressive, Mercury, Travelers, Safeco and dozens of other carriers.

They have launched a new website to better represent their growing brand and extend their agent’s reach via internet search, social media and mobile devices.

“Named the #1 Insurance Agency in Florida by Success Magazine, GreatFlorida now has over 110 independently owned P&C insurance agencies statewide.”

www.GreatFlorida.com includes free, instant insurance quotes, information on various types of insurance and their requirements in Florida, as well as the “Florida Insurance Agent Search.”

GreatFlorida also provides support to individuals interested in opening an independent insurance agency in Florida with their proven GreatFlorida Success System™.

By keeping up with the active Florida insurance industry, GreatFlorida provides its agents with a conduit of knowledge covering the ever changing dynamics, as well as a network of experienced and licensed agents to offer guidance and support.

A Former Captive Agent with State Farm, Ana Miranda of Pinecrest, added this about her switch to a GreatFlorida agency.

“The insurance industry was becoming very volatile. We were having to turn down good quality business and we started to look for alternatives. With GreatFlorida, there is very little that we can’t offer. GreatFlorida gives us that flexibility.”

“We also own our book of business, so you know that your hard work is building equity. Coming from captive agencies, that’s not always the case.”

With a proven history of success, GreatFlorida provides tangible benefits to those who choose to partner themselves with a thriving company that has been ranked the 30th largest insurance retailer in the country by Insurance Journal Magazine.

www.greatflorida.com

Toll-Free 1.888.478.7801

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GreatFlorida Insurance Press Release on PR Newswire

Changes certain for the property insurance industry in 2011

Earlier this year, Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a bill (SB 2044) that would have been the beginning of a potential fix for Florida’s property insurance debacle.  However, the state will be ringing in the New Year with a new governor, which many believe will breathe new life into bills aimed at protecting insurance agencies and consumers.

Florida’s property insurance industry is in crisis.  While we have been extremely fortunate to not be hit by a hurricane for five consecutive years, our luck will eventually run out.  This is the exact reason why the insurance industry and the government are looking for resolutions to protect everyone.

Rick Scott & Charlie Christ
Rick Scott & Charlie Christ

In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature will focus on proposing new bills that will be very similar in nature to SB 2044 and will mostly likely have the support of new Governor Rick Scott.

Journalist Gary Fineout sums up a couple of the changes in a recent article in The Gainesville Sun about the prospective bills. He writes, “The proposed changes would make it easier for insurers to set rate increases of up to 10 percent annually. They would also put a three-year limit on when property owners can file a claim from a hurricane and would change how much insurers have to pay out initially for structural damage.”

The three-year limit on filing claims is credited to the public adjuster industry, which acts as an advocate for the policyholder.  Current legislation states that policyholders have five years to file a claim after a hurricane. Some critics believe that public adjusters are using this to convince homeowners to file claims before the deadline.  The numbers show that last year, roughly $700 million in claims were filed from the 2005 hurricane season. (Peltier, Naples News.)

What concerns the insurance industry is that while insurance rates remain the same, payouts from 2005 are still being dished out. When you combine that with five-straight inactive hurricane seasons in Florida, you can begin to see the need to increase premiums.  Insurance companies have only so many financial resources in the event of a major disaster.

The struggle is to determine a compromise between what will support the insurance industry—and ultimately the consumers—and what policyholders can afford in a recovering economy. There are no definitive answers, but it is certain that 2011 will bring changes to the property insurance industry in Florida.

Ellsworth Buck is the vice president of GreatFlorida Insurance. Contact him for questions and comments.

References:

Gary Fineout. (2010, December 5). GOP plans changes to help insurers who could increase rates up to ten percent annually. The Gainesville Sun. Retrieved from http://www.gainesville.com/article/20101205/ARTICLES/101209712/1109/sports?Title=GOP-plans-changes-to-help-insurers-.

Michael Peltier. (2010, December 5). Peltier column: Insurance matters likely to return. Naples News. Retrieved from http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2010/dec/05/peltier-column-insurance-matters-likely-return/.

Citizens Property Insurance, Corp. Inspections Continue – What you need to know for 2011

On December 9, Citizens Property Insurance, Corp. released its official “Inspection & Outreach Program Update.” The inspection program, which launched earlier this year, has been gaining increased attention amid an already heated Florida property insurance debate.

On one side, there is the company, which maintains that the purpose of the inspections is to help policyholders receive proper wind mitigation credits. On the other side, policyholders are outraged over increased premiums due to findings in the inspections.

The Program Update statistics show that to date, the program has assigned 44,220 inspections. Of those, 33% are pending Underwriting Review, 15% of policies (commercial inspection) were cancelled, and 16% have been completed (fully processed by Underwriting).  The report also indicated that the estimate premium change to date is $5,343,553.

However, an increase in premium rates isn’t the only factor that has people fired up. The inspectors also drew criticism. Contractors were responsible for roughly 14,000 of the total inspections assigned.

Moving into 2011, Citizens has plans to “provide better quality controls and transparency in 2011 and beyond.”  The Program Update states that the Company has already “reduced assignment volume in November and December” and “the current Inspection Administrator will finish processing any pending assignments made prior to December 31, 2010 in the beginning of 2011.”

The nature of the inspections will also change. In an article by Julie Patel published in the SunSentinel, she states that, “Next year, the inspections, which aim to check discounts for features of a home that protect it from hurricanes, will include checking the home’s rebuilding cost.”

Additionally, the number of inspections will increase.  The Program Update also included a chart estimating the program outreach and expenses through 2012.  In 2011, Citizens estimates that the expenses will reach $11.1 million. Of this total estimate, $10.3 is estimated as the inspection expenses and $700,000 is estimated for project staffing. Categories “other expenses” and “systems” account for the remaining total estimate.

Perhaps most importantly for policyholders, the company estimates that it will complete 94,000 inspections in 2011 with an estimated premium impact of $19 million. The combination of these numbers will result in an estimated 45% return on investment for the company.

But, is this really so bad? Going back to one of my earlier blog articles on the state of the Florida property insurance industry, an increase in revenue for the property insurance company means increased funds to support its policyholders in the event of a major disaster.

In fact, as Patel writes in her article, “Inspections conducted this year by Citizens, the largest property insurer in the state, found that some policyholders have been receiving undeserved discounts for features that protect their homes from hurricanes.  If Citizens customers don’t pay enough, all property insurance policyholders in Florida could be on the hook, just as they’re paying to cover state-backed Citizens‘ deficits from the 2005 hurricane season.”

Ellsworth Buck is the vice president of GreatFlorida Insurance. Contact him for questions and comments.

References:

Julie Patel. (2010, December 9).  Citizen’s Property Insurance revokes discounts. SunSentinel.

Retrieved from http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/business/realestate/housekeys/blog/2010/12/citizens_plans_to_spend_41.html

Online Agency Success in the Florida Insurance Industry.

In order to be successful in any business, you have to adapt to the times. Back in 2007 it became clear to us that it was time to give our website a real overhaul and start taking online seriously. That may seem a bit late in the game, but its the reality for most busineses. Without a significant investment in in-house technology and/or a good parter to guide you, competing successfully onine can be daunting.

At that time, GreatFlorida.com had a minimal presence on the web and it was becoming increasingly obvious that our future in the Florida Insurance industry would be greatly influenced by our efforts online.

Florida Insurance SuccessToday, we offer a technologically advanced website combined with strategic marketing and sales features that are benefiting our clients as well as our local independent insurance agents and increasing our online insurance leads.

Yuca Productions (www.yucapro.com), our web marketing agency in Miami, initially prepared a strategic plan to not only redevelop GreatFlorida.com but also to make it a game changing tool for us in terms of generating increased leads, offering more information for our visitors, and allowing all of our 100 independent GreatFlorida agents statewide, to compete in their local markets.

That was early in 2008. Since then GreatFlorida.com has increased its web traffic by 788% to date. With that increase in traffic comes a boat load of online leads, local calls to our agents, as well as calls to our web based toll-free number that allows us to track calls in the same manner that we track web visits. Overall, GreatFlorida is now as relevant to Florida Insurance as other major insurance players we see on TV every 5 minutes.

Our website’s success is one that any insurance agency, or and business for that matter, can achieve with the right marketing partner, the correct mix of investments, both monetary and non-monetary, and a real commitment to embrace the new media marketing that is redefining how we do business in the 21st century.

Our Yuca Productions has been carefully migrating us away from the traditional Yellow Pages type of advertising that had allowed to grow as we did since 1991, but was no longer delivering the return on investment it once did.

The new strategy for GreatFlorida would incorporate new technologies like Pay-per-Click advertising, Search Engine Optimization, a custom online lead system, dynamic video as well as many others. And the strategy has paid off.

GreatFlorida.com is now ranking alongside AllState, StateFarm and Geico on some of the most competitive keywords searched for daily by millions of Floridians. The core of this online search traffic obviously comes from Google.

Google represents +70% of all online searches done worldwide on a daily basis. If you’re not on page one for those searches that are relevant to your business, you’re nowhere. Therefore we have concentrated many of our efforts on making sure that if anyone is looking for Insurance in Florida, GreatFlorida.com will be hard to miss.

We’ve also localized our agent’s sites by using local directories and GPS mapping technologies that populate most online map databases, IPhones, GPS Systems in cars, etc. Finally, we created city-specific insurance pages and worked directly with Google and Bing to ensure that GreatFlorida.com is listed and indexed as efficiently as possible.

Don’t beleive me? Google “Florida Insurance,” and you’ll see we appear on the first page, and are more “relevant” than any other insurance agent or insurance provider

GreatFlorida’s site performance was also adjusted for speed, a new relevance meter for Google, and we implemented interactive videos by a female spokesperson to encourage visitors to learn more about our services.

Using a web based telephony system we added a click-to-call feature, which instantly connects site visitors with their local agents by simply entering their number online.

However, we didn’t stop with website technology upgrades and search engine optimization. We also wanted to attract customers through additional online tools that would draw them to GreatFlorida.com.

Pay-per-click campaign target users by demographic, location and insurance needs. It also allows us to bid for Sponsored Links on Google, Yahoo and Bing to immediately increase traffic for those clicks that have a greater percentage of sales than those that do not.

We also created a GreatFlorida fan page on Facebook as well as agency-specific GreatFlorida pages and added Facebook “Like” buttons on GreatFlorida.com as well as the website pages of individual agencies. Social Networking is here, and will soon be as important and even more important that organic Google searches.

The overall goal of the campaign is to obviously increase site visitors and increase client leads. I’m happy to report that it’s working.  How do we know? We have implemented industry leading online tracking tools to ensure that our investments are working.

We track and measure site visitors and match these statistics to specific GreatFlorida agency locations through Google Analytics, an industry standard web traffic analysis tool from Google. Through this tool, we are able to accurately measure lead generation and phone calls.

Last but not least, we integrated call tracking with Google Analytics to help to identify whether customer response is online or by phone and also to identity what advertising works. We also use these statistics to help us adjust monthly online ad spending, which now accounts for a large percentage of our total advertising budget.

Compared to a typical agency solution offered by a popular competitor, Astonish Results, GreatFlorida.com allows our local independent agents to compete more successfully. They pay 90% less per month, without the need of the 5 year contract required by Astonish, allowing them to achieve a quicker return on their investments, with less risk and better performance than the cookie-cutter approach they offer.

We’re obviously not the only insurance outlet in Florida using these new technologies, but thanks to our marketing partner, Yuca Productions, GreatFlorida.com has done it quicker and with more success than most.

Statistics show that more and more, consumers begin their search for a product or service online. In an article by Steve Anderson in Florida Underwriter Magazine, he writes, “Young Internet-savvy consumers are using search engines and websites to research all types of online purchases.” He also adds that, “This new generation of consumers wants to do business with companies that mirror their personal and business lifestyles.”

In other words, the new generations of consumers we want to target, have never, and will never pick-up the Yellow Pages. It’s online or bust.

Ellsworth Buck is the vice president of GreatFlorida Insurance. Contact him for questions and comments.

Reference:

Anderson, Steve. “Transforming Your Agency.” Florida Underwriter Magazine. Web. 1 August. 2010.

http://www.floridaunderwriter.com/Issues/2010/August-2010/Pages/Transforming-Your-Agency.aspx?page=1

The Truth about Florida Homeowners Insurance.

In my position, I am often asked many questions about the insurance industry in Florida. One topic that continues to be a hot button is homeowner’s insurance.

  • What is the latest in legislation?
  • How will proposed laws affect my policy rates?
  • Why don’t more insurance companies offer homeowner’s policies in Florida?

For a consumer, keeping up on this fast changing industry can be very confusing. To understand the state of the industry, we must first understand the current legislation and proposed bills that will directly affect it.

For example, at present some government officials are fighting to add wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program. Proponents argue that adding wind coverage would benefit consumers by eliminating gaps in coverage. However, those opposing the bill believe that adequate wind coverage exists in the private market and that the program will go into additional debt leaving taxpayers to pay the costs in the long run.

If the wind coverage debate seems complicated, consider that it is just one issue on the table. Here is a brief overview of each of the bills:

H.R. 5114: Known as the Flood Insurance Priorities Act of 2010. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters and is the main bill.

Among the amendments, H.R. 5114 proposes to:

  • Increase the maximum aggregate amount of insurance coverage
  • amends NIFA to set forth a five-year phase-in of flood insurance rates for newly mapped areas
  • set minimum deductibles for claims for flood damage to pre-FIRM properties
  • and requires FEMA Administrator to report to Congress on the plan to repay certain flood insurance debt within 10 years as well as report on the impacts of the Act on the financial soundness of the national flood insurance program. (Source: OpenCongress)

H.R. 1264: Sponsored by Rep. Gene Taylor, this bill specifically seeks to add wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program. In other words, the bill would enforce multi-peril coverage including windstorms and floods. In July 2010 the bill passed the House. (Source: GovTrack Insider)

S.B. 2044: Although this bill was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist earlier this year, it is important to note because it was the major bill at play.

It is credited as a bill that focused on “consumer protections” with regulations such as

  • increasing surplus and capital requirements for insurance companies
  • and requiring companies to receive permission form the Office of Insurance Regulation to raise rates. (Source: Grady, SunSentinel)

At first glance it would seem that the aforementioned bills would in fact protect consumers. After all, property damage from wind and floods is a serious concern in Florida. Fortunately, the last few hurricanes seasons have been relatively mild. But what happens when our luck runs out?

When natural disasters occur, one of the first places people go to for help are their homeowners insurance companies and yet the reality of our current economic market is that companies are opening and closing doors every day.

When a company goes out of business, policyholders must then scramble to attain new property insurance. It’s no wonder that consumers are frustrated. I agree that something needs to change, which is why I encourage people to look at the big picture.

It is no mistake that major insurance providers have pulled out of the homeowner’s insurance market in Florida. How did we end up in this predicament?

While many factors are to blame, consider Florida’s current laws. As it stands, consumers can make a claim on property damage for up to five years after a storm.

That means that the insurance companies are still paying claims from 2005’s Hurricane Wilma and according to recent statistics, the total for those claims is closing in on the total payouts made from Hurricane Andrew. When you consider that Wilma was significantly weaker than Andrew and that other states limit claim period to two years, you can begin to see why insurance companies have fled Florida. (Source: Shah, Miami Herald.)

Furthermore, because we’ve been lucky enough to have not been hit with a major storm in several years, companies are still able to pay for small claims. What is concerning to the insurance industry, is that in the event that a major disaster strikes Florida or worse, two major disasters, the funds may not be available due to low-cost policies.

What’s the answer? It would make sense to give insurance companies a chance to compete in Florida. By paying higher homeowners insurance policy rates, consumers would open the door to increased competition among major insurance companies, which will ultimately benefit us, the consumers.

The greatest benefit is that policy holders will know that should a major natural disaster strike in their city, the insurance companies will have the funds to pay their claims. Bigger companies generally have more experience and are well structured.

The bottom line is that in today’s economy everyone is doing their best to try to figure out how to turn it all around. While I am not sure that any one person has the right answer, I know that I would rather pay a little more for my policy and know that the coverage is there when I need it, vs. pay low policy rates and find out that the funds are not there after a major natural disaster strikes.

Ellsworth Buck is the vice president of GreatFlorida Insurance.

 

References:

OpenCongress for the 11t1th United States Congress. (2010). H.R.5114 – Flood Insurance Reform Priorities Act of 2010. Retrieved from http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5114/show

GovTrack Insider. (2010). H.R. 1264: Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2009. Retrieved from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1264

Jeffrey Grady. (2010, June 21). Gov. Crist’s veto of SB 2044 hurts Florida. SunSentinel. Retrieved from http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-06-21/news/fl-forum-home-insurance-20100621_1_state-s-largest-private-insurer-office-of-insurance-regulation-insurance-commissioner-kevin-mccarty

Nirvi Shah. (2010, October 24). Five years after Wilma, South Florida asks: Are we covered? Miami Herald. Retrieved from http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/10/24/1887240/five-years-after-wilma-s-florida.html