FL Homeowners Reduced Flood Insurance Coverage Years Before Ian Hit

In the years leading up to Hurricane Ian inundating coastal and inland areas with up to 15 inches of rain, Florida homeowners had reduced their flood insurance coverage.

Source: WSJ | Published on October 5, 2022

Hurricane Ian

Only a small percentage of homes in two of Florida's hardest-hit inland counties have flood insurance. According to an analysis by Neptune Flood, a private-sector flood-insurance provider, the percentage of protected homes is higher in coastal areas that sustained the most damage, but it is still more than 50% in just one of the affected counties.

The percentage of homes covered by flood insurance is lower than it was five years ago in all of Ian's hit areas.

Because of the widespread lack of flood insurance, many people will be forced to seek federal disaster assistance in the form of grants and loans. This will slow rebuilding efforts as people scramble for funds. That is what happened in Houston after Hurricane Harvey caused extensive flooding.

Flood insurance is not included in a standard homeowner's policy. Flooding has emerged as a more serious risk in recent years as a result of storms such as Harvey and Sandy, which dumped record amounts of rain on the Northeast in 2012. Temperature rise appears to be a factor. Warmer air holds more moisture, and warmer oceans provide more energy to storms.

According to the National Weather Service, the 15 inches of rain that fell at the Sanford Orlando International Airport in Seminole was 50% more than the previous record of 10 inches in 24 hours set in 1992. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described Ian as a "500-year flood event."

With storms like Harvey and Sandy dumping record rains, flooding has emerged as a more serious risk, as seen in Orlando.

Amber Thorne awoke Thursday in Sanford, Seminole County, to discover that a creek had overflowed and flooded her yard. Her two-bedroom house does not have flood insurance. "I'm kicking myself for not having it," she admitted.

According to Neptune, approximately 97% of homes in Seminole County and 98% of homes in Orange County, which includes Orlando, do not have flood insurance. According to Neptune CEO Trevor Burgess, based on the policies his company sells statewide, roughly one-third of the residential properties in Florida's inland counties are identified on government maps as being at high risk of flooding. In comparison, many coastal counties have a rate of 85%.

On Friday, risk-modeler Karen Clark & Co. estimated that the privately insured loss from Hurricane Ian would be close to $63 billion, including wind, storm surge, and inland flood damages, with total economic damage exceeding $100 billion, including uninsured properties, infrastructure damage, and cleanup costs.

Ian made landfall in Lee County, about 150 miles away from Ms. Thorne's property. According to Neptune's analysis, some of the worst storm surge damage occurred in Lee, where approximately 28% of housing units are covered by flood insurance.

In nearby Charlotte County and Collier County, where Naples is located, 31% and 41% of homes have flood insurance, respectively. Monroe County, at the bottom of Florida, has one of the highest take-up rates in the state, at 53%.

The National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is by far the largest seller of the policies in the United States. Private-sector alternatives are becoming more prevalent.

Over the last five years, the percentage of Florida homes covered by flood insurance has decreased, falling to 15.4% in August from 17.8% in 2017.

Insurance agents and executives attribute some of the recent decline to rising inflation and double-digit increases in Florida homeowners policies. Another factor is that the price of federal flood insurance for many homes has increased to more accurately reflect the true flood risk. Some rates will rise from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year, though most increases will be limited to 18% per year.

Another reason for the decline in recent years in Florida is that many people who have moved to the state have paid cash for their homes. Mr. Burgess of Neptune said, "No mortgage, no requirement."

"Homeowners believe that if they are not near the ocean or a river, they will not flood," according to Mr. Burgess. In fact, he claims that one-fifth of Neptune's claims in the last five years have been in supposedly lower-risk zones.

In its analysis, Neptune compared government residential flood-insurance data with its own issuance figures to U.S. Census housing data. Other private-sector insurers, with generally low totals, are not counted.

According to Harrison Froid, a Goosehead Insurance agent in Pinellas County in the Tampa area, most clients buying homes decline to purchase flood insurance. If their lender does not require it, "they say, 'I'll circle back to you after closing,'" Mr. Froid said, and most do not.

Michael Bristol, an engineer who lives with his wife in Seminole County in a double-wide mobile home on 10 acres with a horse stable, spent Thursday afternoon cleaning up branches and other debris from their sodden yard. A creek had overflowed, and the road near the couple's property was impassable. Water-churned ditches.

According to Mr. Bristol, the property was spared major damage. He had avoided flood insurance because it was "just too expensive," and he has no plans to change his mind. He stated that his plan is to "save a reasonable amount and hope for the best... "Keep your fingers crossed."