Insurance director reports modest rate hikes this year

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1. The South Carolina Department of Insurance says this is the time for folks to review insurance policies and update family emergency plans.

With the Atlantic hurricane season about to start, on Sunday, state Director of Insurance Ray Farmer said insurance company rate increases this year have on average been in the mid-single-digits.

While that means the average cost of insuring a home is still rising much faster than wages or inflation, the news may still sound good to coastal homeowners who have seen rates soar, and policies cancelled, in recent years. Of course, individual policies could see rate hikes above or below the state average, which Farmer said was in the 5 percent to 7 percent range.

"The market itself is fairly steady," Farmer said during the department's state-mandated annual hearing regarding the status of the coastal property insurance market, held in Charleston at The Citadel.

Smitty Harrison, director of the South Carolina Wind and Hail Underwriting Association, said coastal residents have been dropping out of the "wind pool" insurance program, which he said is good news. The pool is a mandatory association of state-licensed insurers that write wind and hail policies for properties near the coast whose owners are otherwise unable to get coverage.

"People are shopping around and finding better policies," Harrison said. "We're losing business, and that's good news."

In Charleston County the wind pool saw a 23 percent decline in policies in Zone 1, the high-risk area that covers barrier islands. Nearly 1,200 wind pool policies were dropped.

Farmer said the important thing for property owners to do is to shop around and see if they are getting a good deal on insurance.

"When you get your renewal notice in the mail, that's a great time to shop around," he said.

Maria Cox-Lamm, director of the State Flood Mitigation Program with the SC Department of Natural Resources, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to develop new flood insurance rate tables by Oct. 1, in response to changes in federal plans to reform the indebted National Flood Insurance Program.

The changes signed by President Obama in March, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, were aimed at delaying some of the huge rate increases for flood insurance that had been taking effect when residential properties were sold starting in mid-2012, following the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

Some were hit by those increases are due refunds, but not until after the new rates are calculated.

"For those waiting for a refund, it's coming, but it could take six months after Oct. 1," Cox-Lamm said.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552