Low-cost inspection can help you save on windstorm insurance
Article Courtesy of The Sun sentinel
Published September 2, 2007
is getting around about a way to cut windstorm insurance premiums. You
won't necessarily have to change a thing, and you could save thousands of
"That's pretty good, isn't it?" says Wayne Cochran, who recently
chopped his windstorm premium by more than $2,000.
The key: A windstorm mitigation inspection. An inspector checks your
home's construction, from the roof to the garage door, to see how it would
stand up against hurricane-force winds. The inspections typically last a
half hour and cost around $150.
Silver Lakes home, off Miramar Parkway, has hurricane shutters and has
never suffered flooding even though it's on the water. When his windstorm
insurance shot up to almost $7,000, he felt he had to do something.
He tried the usual things, such as talking with his insurance agent and
raising his deductible to 5 percent. That brought the premium down to
about $4,800. Then he took the advice of a friend and hired a private
windstorm mitigation inspector. The inspector verified that Cochran's 1998
home had plenty of built-in protections.
He showed his insurance company the report and down came the premium to
"What I paid the inspector is just nominal compared to what I
saved," he said.
It's tempting to make a joke about Cochran shouting about the good news,
because he's a preacher. Cochran has been the pastor of the Voice for
Jesus Church near Miami Lakes for 26 years, but he's best known for the
rhythm and blues classics he belted out as a soul singer with his 18-piece
band, the C.C. Riders, in the 1950s and '60s.
His experience with this program is shared by some other smart South
Floridians who jumped at the chance to lower their windstorm insurance
"Like everyone else, we were concerned about what was happening with
insurance," said Gus Selimos, a software consultant who lives in
Plantation with his wife and two sons. When his premium doubled for this
year, Don Meyler Inspections helped Selimos cut it dramatically; it's now
25 percent less than in 2006. His home is only 3 years old.
"It totally shocked me," he said. "I feel like I owe the
inspection company and the people there a lot."
Actually, this one comes from Florida's state legislators and regulators.
They haven't been able to get insurance companies to slash their rates,
despite this year's special legislative session and the resulting
insurance reforms adopted into law. But they set up the system for
homeowners to get discounts, starting in 2005, when the Florida
Legislature required insurers to offer them, and in 2006, when the
Legislature established a free windstorm mitigation inspection program.
Late last year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation issued a ruling
requiring insurers to offer larger discounts to those who have hardened
their homes against storms. Those discounts are going into effect now, as
regulators review and approve each company's new rates.
Here's how all this came about: After Wilma blew through Florida in 2005,
insurance premiums soared. Also on the rise was sales tax revenue that
came from all the rebuilding and hurricane repairs.
From that extra money, in 2006 the Florida Legislature allocated $250
million to launch a pilot program of inspections and rewards for
homeowners who had installed storm shutters and other protections in their
Free inspections are available -- to certain consumers -- through the My
Safe Florida Home program -- but any homeowner in Florida who wants to
hire a home windstorm mitigation inspector can do so. Both Cochran and
Selimos paid for their inspections.
The requirements from state regulators to offer discounts apply to all
residential windstorm policies, so the state's Office of Insurance
Regulation says condo unit owner windstorm policies are included. Condo
association policies, however, are not.
Few people seemed to know about the availability of the discounts. Some
insurers had given customers a price break on hurricane protection
measures for several years beforehand, says Scott Koedel, chief operating
officer for Don Meyler Inspections, the Margate firm that is the largest
windstorm inspection firm in the state. But before premiums began to soar
in 2005, Koedel says customers didn't seem to notice.
Now, "There are traumatic situations out there," says Nick
Hernandez, head of Building Inspections Team Enterprise Corp. in Miami,
which inspected Cochran's home. "There are retired people who are not
sleeping well and not eating right, and then they get hit with $2,000
The real payoff for consumers came about this year, after all insurance
companies were required to accept a standard inspection form, a change
that inspectors say makes the process go more smoothly. And, as regulators
approve each company's filings for larger discounts -- so far, no filing
has been rejected -- more companies are now offering them.
Justin Glover, spokesman for State Farm, which last year raised its
premiums by a statewide average of 52 percent, says the company has
doubled its discounts to policy holders who have strengthened their homes.
Even so, many homeowners don't know they have what it takes to get these
The average homeowner who hires Koedel's company saves 18 percent --
without making any improvements to the home. That's because homeowners can
get credits for features they don't know bring them insurance discounts,
such as reinforced exterior walls. One sample taken by the My Safe Florida
Home program showed 80 percent of homeowners could have had discounts but
didn't ask for them.
Of course, if a homeowner is willing to go to the expense of adding
protections to the home, the discounts become even more significant. One
Lauderhill homeowner who added impact windows and sliding doors saw his
premium go from $4,300 to $1,600 after the inspection.
Selimos, the software consultant who was able to cut his premiums deeply,
had a good idea about how to spend his insurance savings: "I'll use
it to pay my property taxes," he said.