South Carolina Realtors has launched a campaign to drum up support for a state bill intended to lower homeowner insurance rates.

The Columbia-based group is encouraging people to contact state lawmakers to voice support for Senate Bill 569, which is aimed at attracting more homeowners insurance companies to South Carolina and lowering rates.

The statewide trade group has also launched a website,, that includes information on the bill and ways to get involved in lobbying efforts.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, introduced the proposed legislation a year ago. The bill is now before the Committee on Finance, and has received co-sponsorship from five other senators, including George "Chip" Campsen III, R-Charleston.

South Carolina has been routinely labeled as having some of the nation's highest homeowners insurance rates.

Among the proposals in the bill:

Incentivize insurers to provide more coverage to the coastal areas.

Require a campaign to raise awareness of the steps homeowners can take to mitigate storm damage and lower their insurance premiums.

Require the state director of insurance to hold an annual public hearing on the coast and prepare an annual report for the General Assembly.

Gaining equity

The number of homeowners in the Charleston region who owe more than their properties are worth continues to drop, according to a new report.

In the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville area, 12,952 residences with a mortgage, or 8.9 percent of the total, were classified as underwater, or in negative equity, for the fourth quarter of 2013, according to real estate information firm CoreLogic. That's down from 14,473, or 9.9 percent, that were upside-down in the previous three months.

The report also found that another 5,608 residences, or 3.8 percent, were nearing the negative equity point. That's down from 4.4 percent, or 6,431, in the third quarter of 2013.

Negative equity is a product of declining real estate values, rising mortgage balances or both. The rebound in home prices has eased the problem nationwide, officials said.

"The plight of the underwater borrower has improved dramatically since negative equity peaked in December 2009 when more than 12 million mortgaged homeowners were underwater," CoreLogic chief economist Mark Fleming said in a statement. "Over the past four years, more than 5.5 million homeowners have regained equity, reducing their risk of foreclosure and unlocking pent-up supply in the housing market."