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Flood rate hike soaks Hillsborough housing market

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Published:   |   Updated: September 27, 2013 at 07:52 AM

TAMPA — With new flood insurance rates taking effect next week, some local homeowners are finding their older homes might be more trouble than they're worth.

Consider Bill McKenna, who feels he'll be trapped in his modest 2-bedroom home near MacDill Air Force Base. He's paying $642 a year in flood insurance premiums today, but because of the complex rules of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, any new buyer would see his or her premiums skyrocket to more than $7,000 a year.

Not surprisingly, the people who were going to buy his home recently backed out after hearing of the new insurance premiums.

“The people who were buying were military folks, people who wanted to live near base,” McKenna said. “And there's no way they could afford it, no way.”

McKenna is among an estimated 21,800 owners of single-family residences in Hillsborough County that currently are eligible for subsidized flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, according to a new study by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office.

Generally, those people live in certain flood zones and have older homes built before the introduction of new flood insurance rate maps, implemented in 1980 in Tampa and unincorporated Hillsborough County, in 1977 in Temple Terrace and in 1983 in Plant City.

By Tuesday, some of those 21,800 property owners will see their rates jump by hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year as the federal government cuts the insurance rate subsidies it has provided for decades. Pinellas County's property appraiser completed a similar study and found that some 51,000 property owners in Pinellas County could be affected.

Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act last year to try to shore up the National Flood Insurance Program's finances. But Realtors and insurance brokers are warning of real pain in a housing market just getting back on its feet.

For example, Jeff Beggins, a co-owner of Century 21 Beggins Enterprises, said the looming rate hikes already have killed at least a half-dozen of his company's property sales, and he expects things to get far worse starting next week.

The housing industry is pushing Congress to implement a quick fix or at least a moratorium on the new insurance rate hikes.

“The biggest problem we have in the market right now is uncertainty,” Beggins said.

Housing industry expert say some homeowners will be forced to sell their homes, either because they can't afford the new premiums or because it won't make sense to pay sky-high premiums on low-priced houses.

Kay Hubbard, a Tampa-based mortgage broker, fears the new insurance premiums for three homes she owns in a flood zone in south Tampa. With the federal subsidies, she paid $1,200 a year for each of the homes until now, but she fears that could bounce to $12,000 apiece with the rate adjustments.

“I don't know the (homes') elevation, but I can guarantee they are real low,” Hubbard said. “We would struggle to try to keep it.”

What may surprise homeowners is how much their rates will rise even if they are miles from Tampa Bay or Hillsborough Bay.

Of the 21,800 properties that currently are eligible for federal rate subsidies, fewer than 3,000 actually front the bay, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. To be sure, the biggest concentrations of affected homes are clustered near the coast in places such as south Tampa, Tampa's Rocky Point area and Apollo Beach and Ruskin.

But there are scattered homes in interior places such as Brandon and FishHawk Ranch, which may be prone to flood because they're close to a river or a retention pond, said Pat Alesandrini, director of valuation for the Property Appraiser's Office.

It's important that homeowners in certain flood zones check with their insurance carriers about any increases because the new law has complicated guidelines that treat homeowners differently based on their unique circumstances.

For example, thousands of people who have flood insurance policies that predate the new Biggert-Waters Act will not be affected by Tuesday's rate increases as long as they stay in their homes, said Chad Redman, an insurance broker with Magna Rate Insurance in Dunedin.

However, business properties that currently enjoy a federal rate subsidy will see annual 25-percent rate increases until their premiums reflect the true flood risk. Property owners with a history of flood losses also will see 25-percent annual increases starting next week.

Most affected will be new homeowners who buy houses after the new rates take effect. These people will immediately see rates reflecting the full risk of flood damage - with no phase-in period over time.

This is what concerns people such as McKenna, who owns the home near MacDill.

At the moment, he's renting out the house while he lives in a separate home in FishHawk Ranch. But that may have to change, he said.

He's not sure how he'll sell the MacDill-area home because any new owner would face sky-high premiums and would balk at the insurance cost.

But, he won't be able to rent out the home, either. While primary residences with policies that predate the new law will continue to enjoy rate subsidies, rental properties and second homes will see big rate increases, he said.

“I feel like I'm getting stuck with this house, and I don't know what to do about it,” McKenna said.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

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