High insurance costs still hamper hurricane preparedness

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Catherine Weber lives in a modest home in Ocean Springs. She enjoys the cool mornings on her porch swing. She doesn't enjoy her insurance bill that has tripled in five years, forcing a change in lifestyle.

"We've not been able to go home, home being Texas, as often as we'd like to," Weber explained.  "We do go to Africa to do mission work. But other than that, we don't do vacations or any of that kind of stuff because it's just not in the budget."

How bad is it?  Tom Reynolds is an independent insurance agent.

"Prior to Katrina, I could write you a nice policy on a nice home with low deductibles for around $1,200," Reynolds said.  "The same policy today would  with higher deductibles cost $5,000."

High insurance rates can be a deal breaker.  Royce Cumbest is the president of Merchants and Marine Bank.

"We had a hotel in town that had already been approved, they were moving to closing and about a week or two weeks before closing, they got the insurance costs, and they backed away," Cumbest recalled.

It's gotten better, but not by much. Potential home buyers are still faced with insurance sticker shock.

"The biggest problem we have is the increase of 200-300 percent in rates since Katrina. In some cases, the taxes and insurance on a property are more than the principal and interest,"  explained Realtor Chester Harvey.

While the affordability and availability of homeowners insurance has somewhat stabilized in the past couple of years here on the coast, another form of insurance that thousands of Mississippians have, flood insurance, is going to be going up significantly and quite honestly, painfully, according to Cumbest.

"Couple in the cost of the flood program with the already high windstorm rates and it's pretty much a crushing blow for the Gulf Coast."

The largest increase in flood insurance premiums will be for those who have homes in the highest risk velocity zones, followed by smaller increases the further you are from the shoreline.

Meanwhile, more smaller companies are writing homeowners policies with wind, but you may have to go through an independent agent to get that coverage.

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