Early this morning I woke up to a text from a real estate investor I mentor: “Is it true that my insurance could double, triple, or even get cancelled due to climate change?”
My answer was straightforward, “Yes.”
I went on to explain that with the advance of climate change, the insurance industry is reassessing how it can control its risk exposure while still managing its core business. That business is, of course, insuring policyholders’ property and providing a safety net in the case of damage or destruction.
But this is now a much more complex issue and evolving concern for the insurance industry both locally and globally.
What We Know About the Impact of Climate Change on Real Estate
In February 2019, the Urban Land Institute (ULI)—the premier real estate research and leadership organization, considered to be the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world—published a research paper in partnership with Heitman Properties LLC, a global real estate investment management firm. The report is entitled “Impacts of Climate Change on Real Estate.” (1)
This type of a research paper is also known as a “white paper”—a government or other authoritative report that provides information, data, or proposals on an issue. The extensively referenced report is an effective, academically worthy piece about the significant, broad, and worldwide effects climate change is having on the institutional aspects of real estate and investment.
It points out that the insurance industry is doing everything it can to cope with the changes as they are occurring. But it also supports the warnings in the United States Government’s “Fourth National Climate Assessment” (2), that extreme events are becoming more frequent, intense, and widespread.
The Insurance Industry’s Perspective on Climate Change
The Insurance Journal has roots dating back to 1923. (3) It is the periodical widely considered to be the most actively-read and well-respected property and casualty news publication. It consistently presents the most current information on the state of the insurance industry in relation to climate change. The momentous losses caused by increasingly powerful and more extreme weather events is forcing the industry to vigorously re-examine long-held industry norms.
In truth, according to The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, home insurance rates are increasing and will continue to do so. From 2005 to 2015, the year with the latest available data, the rates increased more than 50 percent. They attribute this to a small host of issues, the first on the list being natural disasters. You can download the PDF report here.
Insurance Can Only Do So Much
Understandably, insurance has its limits. Insurance companies are becoming more responsive to how they manage and cope with the risks these continuously up-ticking and increasingly destructive events leave in their wake. But some of those responses limit the regional areas companies will insure, the amounts of coverage they will offer, how much money the same coverage will cost, or even whether or not a home or property is even insurable at all.
The state insurance commissioners cannot force a company to continue to insure a specific region or risk category. And according to the guidelines in most states, as long as the insurance company can justify the economic reasons for a rise in rates, in most cases, they will receive no pushback from states for even the most significant jumps in premiums.
How to Keep Your Real Estate Investments Protected and Safe
What does this mean to you as a responsible real estate investor?
It makes it clear you must take an active role in understanding what risks could affect your real estate investments and how likely those risks will be as weather events continue to worsen. You also need to assess the potential risks, not only to your current properties but also to any new property you are considering for acquisition.
But just because a property faces elevated risks does not mean the real estate is a “no go.” It simply means that, with your newfound knowledge and thorough understanding of what could lie ahead for this property, you can now more accurately assess whether or not it is right for your portfolio.
Keep in mind, you can mitigate many risks with responsible maintenance. You can avert other risks with thoughtful planning. You are not a prisoner to an unknown future. You cannot control the effects of climate change, but you can absolutely control how you react to the foreknowledge of what to expect.
The investor who wrote me this morning has been investing in several areas of the country, each of which has a different climate and weather issues to contend with. Some have had prolonged periods of little rainfall, followed by large amounts of unanticipated rain. In periods of drought, the ground becomes dried out and hardened. When the periodic deluges do come, the land cannot absorb the water quickly enough, so flooding results. This is a huge liability for an insurance company.
Some of the other areas have experienced issues with more intense fire seasons, more intense winds, or extreme freezing events. Different regions have varying climate impacts, so you can see how insurers are facing some very real new challenges. These compounding issues complicate insurance companies’ ability to accurately analyze and effectively evaluate and manage their risk exposure.
We’re All in This Together
Just like us, insurance companies are in business to make money. They are not villains in this scenario. They are simply businesses attempting to continue making a profit in a changing global scenario that is rapidly being built upon a new normal.
There are a number of solutions for how to deal with climate change’s effect on your portfolio. Here’s a start:
- Educate yourself.
- Read everything you can.
- Thoroughly understand the area(s) and location(s) you are investing in.
- Know what risks are already occurring.
- Don’t make assumptions. Just because you’ve previously invested in a region before, do not assume you know all the potential climate-related risks.
- Look ahead to what risks are anticipated for the future.
- Research how to mitigate the upcoming changes.
Once you’ve gone through this exercise, take this new understanding of your situation and talk to your insurance agent. Be prepared to ask some very challenging questions to be sure your agent understands the weather-related risks.
If you already own the property, review how items on your cash flow analysis may already be changing (i.e., utilities, insurance costs, repairs, and replacements following weather events) and impacting your profit margins.
If you are considering purchasing a new piece of property, then add an extra layer of research and cost consideration to most aspects of your due diligence. Don’t rely exclusively on the historic data provided by the seller. Factor in the cost considerations for how the items on your cash flow analysis could change moving forward.
Most importantly, remember, you are not trapped. If you don’t like what you’re finding and you own it, you can sell. Then, go out and find something with a risk profile you feel you can live with more comfortably
But once you’ve completed your research, if you like what the facts tell you, then go with it. Trust your gut.
If you don’t like what you’re finding and you don’t own the property yet, don’t buy it. Take your newfound knowledge and skills and start looking for the next property with risks you are more comfortable managing.
In the end, you have to feel like this property is an asset, not a liability. If upon reviewing an area or a property’s risk exposure you find the property’s exposure to damage or risk exceeds your comfort level, it’s time to look elsewhere.
What are your thoughts on climate change and its impact on the insurance industry?
Let’s discuss in the comment section below.