Inspection program cuts premiums by an average $385 in Broward

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Robin Benedick
Published November 23, 2007


Want to save on hurricane insurance?

A free home-inspection program run by the state has cut participants' premiums an average $385, or about 20 percent, in Broward County, according to newly released figures from the Florida Department of Financial Services.

The My Safe Florida Home program is available to all single-family homeowners, but not to owners of condos and townhouses, for whom there is no similar program.

The home-inspection program, which typically would cost $150, has been in effect for nearly 18 months, and officials want to get the word out to encourage more people to apply.

"In some respects, people think it's too good to be true because it's a freeinspection," said special programs administrator Tami Torres. "They think there must be strings attached or something, but there aren't. It's really all about educating people and hardening our housing stock in Florida."

Homeowners can apply at or by calling the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-866-513-6734. The Web site includes names of inspection and construction firms qualified to work in the program.

The average windstorm premium of homeowners who applied for inspections in Broward is $1,978, Torres said.

Often, inspections find houses are better braced for hurricanes than their insurers thought, said Tom Sweeney, president of Southern Inspection Services Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, who conducts inspections for the state program. Homeowners typically get additional discounts based on information inspectors provide, such as what the home is made of, the age of the roof and how roof coverings are nailed and strapped.

"Most houses in South Florida have at least one feature they can get some relief on," Sweeney said.

Others learn homes are not as safe as they thought.

Diane Brown, of Boynton Beach, said she was surprised during her recent free inspection to learn the skylight in the three-bedroom house she has owned for 2 years wasn't hurricane-proof.

"Here I always thought it was, but the inspector said it wasn't, so we've been lucky," she said. "We're going to have to address that."

To date, the state has inspected 126,340 homes, including 18,122 in Broward and 13,654 in Palm Beach County. The goal is 400,000 homes inspected statewide by the time the program ends in 2009.

The program also offers a $5,000 matching grant to allow qualified homeowners to fortify their houses with hurricane shutters, impact windows or doors. The grant applies only to homes with an insured value of $300,000 or less, in coastal areas, including all of Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all but a sliver of western Palm Beach County.

Until this past spring, the rules were looser, allowing for an insured value of $500,000 or less.

Dorothy and Charles Morgan, of northeast Fort Lauderdale, had an inspection earlier this month. They want help paying for a shutter for their front door. The couple recently paid $10,000 to shutter their home of 40 years but a shutter for the front door was not included.

"We'd love to get a discount on our insurance premium, too, but our main purpose is to see if we can get our door covered," Dorothy Morgan said. "When Wilma came, we had to physically stand there and hold the front door closed as the wind and rain got in. It was terrible and I don't want to go through that again."

Scott Koedel, chief operating officer for Don Meyler Inspections in Margate, one of the largest and oldest such firms in Florida, said many homeowners are eligible to save money on their premiums without making improvements. He emphasized that all inspection reports go directly to the homeowners. Some may choose not to turn their reports over to their insurers because of the findings and suggested improvements.