Friday, November 3, 2006
7 News Investigations: Blown Away
Do you own a home? Is your insurance going through the roof? Well, if it's not, it will be and guess what? There may not be much you can do about it. It is going to get worse. What can you do? We sent 7's Investigative Reporter Patrick Fraser out to check on the crisis -- and he came back with his report, Blown Away.
WSVN -- Maybe this is you -- Rafael is a mechanic who lives in Hollywood.
Rafael Morales: "I was shocked to learn that it went from $3,000 last year. It went up to $6,200."
Or maybe this is you -- Jose and Kristina are attorneys who live in South Miami
Rafael Morales: "It went from $1,500 to $13,000."
Or maybe this is you -- Julio and Donna live in a 1,800 square foot home in Kendall.
Julio Maceo: "It was $2,500 to $2,600, to $9,030 a year."
We showed you three South Florida families, we could show you 30,000 -- probably 300,000 -- with the exact same problem: Homes they cannot afford to insure.
Rafael Morales: "I can't -- So if they want to take the house away from me, go ahead, do it."
Julio Maceo: "At this point, I have no choice but to call my mortgage and inform them that I am not going to pay this insurance."
You may not have realized it, but insurance companies can raise your windstorm rates as high as they want. The state only requires it not be excessive.
But, fair to the state was nearly fatal to Julio and Donna, so they had to take a very dangerous step.
Julio Maceo: "I'm not covered now. If anything happens -- a fire -- I lose my property inside my home. I'm not covered."
Want to hear worse news? It's probably going to get worse.
This is the first year Dade and Broward have been hammered by soaring rates.
To see what the future holds, head south to the Keys where they are in their third year of skyrocketing insurance.
Michael Behmky: "It ruined my weekend. It was $35,000. That was up from $16,700 last year."
And Michael does not live in a mansion on the ocean, just a modest home.
Michael Behmky: "So, at this point, we're stuck."
And it's not just the people who own homes who are getting slapped by the insurance companies. Diego Feliciano owns rental properties -- he is getting blasted, and, in turn, so are his tenants.
Diego Feliciano: "In the rental business, they are killing us. We have to go to our tenants and say, 'We have to raise your rent $200 and $300,' not $100. I know people whose rent went up $400."
A crisis that could devastate South Florida as effectively as a category five hurricane, which leaves everyone looking for someone to blame.
Patrick Fraser: "For this story we chose not to interview politicians, simply because it would have ended up in a finger pointing contest. The Democrats blame the Republicans, the Republicans blame the insurance industry, and the insurance companies blame Mother Nature for costing them billions. So forget the blame game. Let's get to the important question: What can be done to solve the insurance crisis?"
Alex Soto: "There is no simple solution. There are many partial solutions and things that would be helpful, but there is no magic bullet."
Alex Soto is the president of the Nation's Independent Insurance Agents -- the men and women who try to find the lowest rates for their customers. His research brings bad news for all of us.
Alex Soto: "The most likely scenario is that we are going to still see some more increases because of re-insurance."
Re-insurance is what insurance companies buy from other insurance companies to lower their risk. Those re-insurers help cover in times of big losses, and they've raised their rates immensely.
But to lower your rates, experts say people need to make their homes better able to withstand hurricanes.
Also, of the 6,000 insurance companies in the U.S., only 20 are writing windstorm policies in South Florida.
The state needs to find a way to attract more insurance companies, so they can create competition to lower insurance rates.
Also, the governor has appointed a committee to try and come up with a solution to the insurance crisis. The problem: 10 of the committee members have links to the insurance industry.
So if you are hoping for great news, forget it.
Lt. Governor Toni Jennings: "If people are looking for really cheap insurance to return, I don't think it's going to happen."
The only option for many South Floridians -- drive around. You see it; you just might not have realized it.
Kristina Llerena: "All of the middle class in Miami is going to have to leave, I guess. I personally know people who have left already."
Rafael Morales: "It's not only me -- hundreds, thousands are losing their homes. They have to chose if they want to eat or if they want to pay their insurance."
The insurance crisis is out of control. Blame the insurance industry, blame your politicians -- but, in the meantime, it's only going to get worse.
Patrick Fraser: "So this problem is not going to be solved anytime soon?"
Alex Soto: "No, no, it's not going to be solved anytime, not really soon. There are no easy solutions."
After we spoke to Rafael, Jose and Kristina, they battled and got their windstorm rates lowered a little.
But a little bit is not enough for South Floridians.
Donna Valle: "Something has to happen, something has to change."
And if something doesn't change, many South Floridians won't get blown away by a hurricane -- they'll get blown away by their insurance rates.