J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, cites two main reasons why some at-risk homeowners choose to remain uninsured for flood.
“One, people really underestimate their risk — they don’t go check the flood maps,” he says. “And two, they think, ‘If my home is flooded way up here, it’s going to be a disaster, and the feds are going to hand out money.’ They misunderstand disaster relief. They don’t realize that it’s a low-interest loan that they have to pay back, and you may end up with two mortgages.”
On flooding, never say never
Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based nonprofit advocacy group for insurance consumers, says some homeowners get lured by history into a false sense of security.
“People have this notion that if it hasn’t flooded in the past, it’s not going to flood,” she says. “While I can understand that thinking, I wouldn’t trust it anymore because of Sandy and all the talk about climate change. If you live near a body of water, it behooves you not to use the past as your only decision point.”
Congressional passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act last summer made the decision to purchase non-mandatory flood insurance somewhat more difficult. Among the reforms that Congress enacted to shore up the 45-year-old NFIP was to increase the annual limit on rate increases from 10 percent to 20 percent, a move sure to translate into higher flood premiums for many of the 5.5 million homeowners who currently have flood coverage.
Big premium increases already seen
Bach says her organization is already hearing from homeowners expressing concern they may be forced to choose between their flood insurance and their home.
“We’re getting all these emails from people in Louisiana saying their flood coverage went from $350 to $8,000 a year,” she says. “If you have to carry flood (insurance) because you have a mortgage, your choice is to find a way to pay or sell your home.”
“I don’t blame people for not wanting to buy it. Up until last year’s amendments, our advice was to go out and buy it because it’s cheap, it’s a bargain. For many, it’s not a bargain anymore,” Bach adds.
Hunter urges homeowners to study their local flood map carefully to make an informed decision. The best place to start? The NFIP’s user-friendly consumer site, FloodSmart.gov.
“If you’re outside the 100-year storm level, flood insurance is not going to cost you much anyway, so you might as well buy it,” Hunter says. “It’s a smart decision if you’re close.”