Survey: 1 in 5 clueless about flood insurance
Despite extensive media coverage of the widespread, multistate flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy last fall and Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011, 1 in 5 homeowners is still surprised to learn that home insurance does not cover flooding, according to a Bankrate nationwide survey as part of the April Financial Security Index.
The survey found that 18 percent of consumers didn't know that a standard homeowners policy specifically excludes flood-related damage, while 81 percent were aware of the need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy from the federal National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, to guard against flood loss.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which administers the NFIP, generally classifies properties as either at high risk or moderate-to-low risk of flooding. When consumers were asked if they knew for sure which category applies to their home, just more than half, or 51 percent, said "yes," while 43 percent said "no."
The industry is heartened by the results
Bankrate's survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and involved landline and cellphone interviews from April 4-7 with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults in the continental United States. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Far from disappointing, the numbers were welcome news to Michael Barry, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.
"I was very happy that 4 out of 5 survey respondents understood that standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood," he says. "This number is a much higher awareness level than we've seen in the past."
Barry says the back-to-back impact of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy gave millions of Americans their first brush with 50- or 100-year flood levels. After Irene, the number of homes with flood insurance in the 13 eastern states affected by that storm jumped from 5 percent to 14 percent, according to Barry's group.
The Northeast, at least, wises up
"Flood risk has become very clear over the last two years, especially in the Northeast, one of the most densely populated parts of the country," Barry notes.
If you carry a mortgage, your lender may require you to purchase flood insurance, especially if your home is located in a high-risk flood zone. While FEMA says the average flood policy costs around $600 per year, policies in high-risk areas can run several thousand dollars annually.
Regardless of the premium, NFIP policies cover building damage only to $250,000 and contents to $100,000. The average claim paid in 2011 exceeded $28,000.
Meanwhile, statistics show that recognizing the need for separate flood insurance does not always lead homeowners to purchase it.
Many more should have flood insurance
An Insurance Information Institute poll last year found that the number of American households with flood insurance actually decreased from 17 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2012. While Florida leads the nation with more than 2 million flood policies in force, the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota, along with Texas, have experienced the most floods in recent years.