The Perils of Paradise

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I have owned homes in Virginia, Washington, DC, Florida, and California.  Homeownership has never truly excited me very much.  I’ve always considered real estate to be like any other type of investment — filled with uncertainty.  With ownership comes great responsibility to maintain it, pay local taxes, and protect it against acts of God or other such calamitous events.

Renting is easier because someone else is responsible for all of the above, and it allows you to put your money elsewhere.  But renting a home also means that you are not in control of your own destiny.  Rental costs can be raised, homes can be sold, and leases no longer honored.  Currently we are renting a one-bedroom condo.  It is our plan to stay in this apartment for two years to see if we like this particular area of Florida, and also the retirement community about which I’ve written earlier.  If we’re happy here, then we’ll start a conversation about possibly buying a place.

In the interim,  I do want to make sure that we’re safely insured to protect our possessions and also for any potential liabilities.   If you burn your hand on our stove, I’m covered!

We had a renter’s insurance policy in Oregon through AARP/Hartford, and they gave us a small discount for also including our car insurance too.  However, when it came time to transfer everything to our new home, I was given an immediate crash course about Florida’s insurance woes.  Coverage here has been impacted by the horrendous damage caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and then the quadruple whammy of four hurricanes that hit the state in 2004 (Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne).  As a result of these storms, many insurance companies decided to no longer offer homeowner or renters insurance.  This includes Hartford, and so my immediate task after we arrived was to find a way to get us covered.

This was not a surprise to me.  My ex-wife and I still own two condos in Florida, and the payment to cover those properties is steep.  I was nonetheless naive about how difficult it would be to find a renter’s policy.  While still living in Oregon, I went ahead and transferred our auto coverage to Florida before moving here.  Hartford told me that they would continue to honor the renter’s policy for our new Florida rental until the end of the Oregon rental term, which was October 31.  Then it would unceremoniously end, and I had eight weeks to find us a new policy.

None of the major insurance companies such as Hartford, Met-Life, Allstate, State Farm, etc. will offer a renter’s policy.   Searching on the web and requesting online quotes is an exercise that only ends up with their telling you that  — they’re awfully sorry — but they do not cover Florida.  Or if they do, they’re only willing to do so without coverage for “Wind.”

In 2002, the Florida state government created a not-for-profit, insurer of last resort called “Citizens.”  Insurance agents I did speak to were able to offer me a policy through Citizens, but its cost was so high that I quickly rejected it as a realistic alternative. Finally, an agent from State Farm took pity on me and referred me to another agency here in town that offered policies through a company called Universal.  The cost was reasonable (about $250 for the year), and it indeed covers wind damage.   I am not completely satisfied with the fine print of this policy.  But I’m awfully grateful to have some coverage in order to sleep at night.

Hurricane season ends in two weeks and doesn’t begin again until May.   But I won’t uncork the champagne till at least mid-December just to make sure.

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