Rising home insurance premiums are making it increasingly difficult to achieve homeownership in America, experts said Thursday at an affordable housing symposium in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Housing Conference.

“Premiums are increasing faster than property values,” said Michael Butchko, vice president of business intelligence at Neighborworks America. He pointed to research from Policygenius(link is external), an online insurance marketplace, showing that home insurance premiums nationwide increased an average of 21% year over year in May—translating to an annual hike of $244. In some areas, premiums spiked 50%, according to Policygenius.

These escalating insurance costs are forcing some would-be home buyers out of the market and some homeowners to sell. Major insurance providers are canceling policies and pulling out of areas of the country prone to natural disaster, further leaving homeowners in a bind. Some owners are “going naked,” paying off their mortgage early to avoid the homeowner’s insurance requirement by their lender.

“The rising cost of insurance is an affordable housing issue,” said Thom Amdur, senior vice president of policy and impact at investment firm Lincoln Avenue Communities, adding that frequent and intensifying climate events, surging construction costs, inflation, and declining competition in the insurance marketplace are putting upward pressure on premiums. The hikes aren’t just hurting homeowners but also developers, which could lead to fewer affordable housing projects, he said.

Measuring Future Risk to Property

Technology and data can point to the areas at greatest risk of wildfires, hurricanes, wind damage, storm surge, earthquakes, flooding and snowstorms, said Peter Carroll, head of public policy at CoreLogic. Data models also can project 15 to 30 years out, using different climate change scenarios.

“Technology can provide powerful measurements of possible underinsured losses for any property,” Carroll said. But, he cautioned, “risk profiles could shift in 15 or 30 years from now, and we could fundamentally see different risk profiles on properties. So, we can’t just look and price out properties based on the risks today. We need to look into the future so that we know where the puck is heading. People who think they don’t need insurance today may need it later on.”

Starting next year, Lincoln Avenue Communities will cull data to build out a scorecard for each of its projects, factoring in climate and other risks. “Then we can design mitigation upfront to address any concerns,” Amdur said. He emphasized the importance of “de-risking” real estate portfolios and showing insurers the mitigation steps taken—which may help lower insurance premiums.

Consumers also want data to gauge climate risks, with recent surveys indicating an increased concern among the public about how climate events impact housing. Still, that hasn’t changed where home buyers choose to live, said Nicole Bachaud, a senior economist at Zillow. Affordability challenges continue to drive buyers to high-risk areas, where home prices tend to be more moderate. But financial constraints may prevent buyers from retrofitting their property to mitigate climate risks.

“Data transparency is huge and giving people access to this type of information to know the risks,” Bachaud said. “But we also need to follow up with what you can do. Consumers need to understand that this will continue to harm housing markets and affordability. We really need to have a mindset shift. That will be a game-changer to see more resilient housing choices in the future.”

Preparing the Housing Stock

Panelists shared a range of ideas to solve the insurance conundrum, including mandatory flood insurance to shore up capital reserves and government backstops to increase the supply of insurance. They also spoke about greater funding and tax credits or other incentives to make communities more resilient to climate change.

While their ideas varied, panelists agreed that strengthening the nation’s housing stock against climate events can help drive down insurance costs over the long-term. Stronger building codes are correlated with lower mortgage delinquencies following a disaster, CoreLogic data shows.

“We need to start thinking about incentives or building codes that have a more adaptive response to climate risks so we have the right mitigation techniques in place,” Carroll said. “We need to consider the retrofits that can be made to ensure a home is more resilient to future events. We also need innovative financing that makes it easier and affordable for low- to moderate-income families to do resiliency retrofits to their homes.”

Amdur said that doesn’t necessarily mean shying away from high-risk areas; preserving the housing stock is still important. “It’s not impossible to build resiliency into areas with higher risk,” he said. His company still takes on projects in coastal areas: “We just need to know the risks upfront and then build it in.” That could mean new design standards, such as removing mechanical systems from the ground floor, installing flood barriers and following updated landscaping guidelines to decrease wildfire risks.

Bachaud said climate risk should be weighed more heavily in future developments. “We should be using climate as a lens of where we focus new communities,” she said. “Places that have less risk—climate havens—will become more popular as people are forced to flee places that have been damaged or where they can no longer afford to pay for the insurance on their homes. We need to be strategic in how we approach the future of housing supply and address ways to mitigate climate risks.”

Source: National Association of Realtors