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Ask Eli: Find savings in your condo/HOA budget

This regularly scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Arlington resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist. Enjoy!

Question: We are finalizing our 2023 condo budget. Do you have any advice for ways to save money?

Answer: As a former Condo Board Treasurer, I feel the pain that this time of year brings, so I’m happy to offer some advice that helped me finding savings while I oversaw the budget and has helped other Associations do the same… review your Master Insurance Policy.

I know, it’s not the most exciting answer, but your insurance policy is likely a top three expense on every year and if you haven’t reviewed it lately, there’s a good chance you can cut the cost by 5% or more and probably improve your coverage at the same time.

I’m not an expert in insurance so, I asked Andrew Schlaffer, President of ACO Insurance to provide some details on what Boards should look for when they do a review of their Master Policy. If you’d like to discuss a review with Andrew directly, you can reach him at 703-595-9760 or [email protected]. Take it away Andrew…

Hardening Markets, Increasing Premiums, Decreases in Coverage

The condominium insurance marketplace is facing challenges that will impact homeowners in 2022 and beyond. Water damage claims are still among the loss leaders impacting Unit Owners, along with fire damage and wind/hail claims. The DMV is home to many aging condo buildings that continue to struggle with mitigating water damage losses and their impact on insurance premiums.

As water damage claims continue to rise and property damage costs increase, many insurance carriers are beginning to make changes to their coverage offerings that may increase your risk exposure. A few examples of these coverage changes include Increased deductibles, per unit water damage deductibles, removing coverage for Sewer or Drain Backup and Wind-Driven Rain.

In general, condominium property rate increases in the DMV have been significant and unpredictable. Much of the pricing impact can depend heavily upon carrier underwriting discretion which highlights the importance of your insurance professional specializing in this space. It has not been unheard of for Master Insurance policies to receive between a 7% to 15% property rate increase in 2022. For struggling communities, these rates are much higher.

The umbrella/excess liability carrier marketplace has also faced tremendous disruptions. There are several factors driving these rate increases including but not limited to: COVID-19 impacts, years of underpricing, reinsurance rate increases, and the rise of nuclear verdicts (claims over $10MM).

Additionally, there have been several specialty real estate programs who no longer offer umbrella/excess liability options for the habitational industry which has put a lot of strain on remaining carrier markets to fulfill the increase in demand. Many communities can expect umbrella/excess liability rates to increase between 10% to 25% this year. 

Pillars of Insurance Reviews

Condo insurance reviews require a holistic approach, so it’s important to break the cost into a few distinct categories: insurance premium, deductible expense, and out-of-pocket costs. To effectively accomplish long-term savings, all three of these categories need to be considered and addressed with a qualified insurance professional.

Adjust Coverage Responsibly to Save on Premium

Premium is certainly a factor to consider during the insurance selection process; however, available insurance products differ significantly. Coverages and services should be very carefully analyzed and compared. While omitting various coverages will save premium dollars, it might also result in substantially increased costs to the Association for out-of-pocket expenses related to uncovered claims.

It is critical to work with a professional who understands local insurance needs and can adjust your insurance program in a way that maximizes premium savings while maintaining adequate insurance coverage. Some coverages may be required by statute and/or Association documents, so cutting required coverage exposes the Board to unwanted risk.

Deductibles Based on Loss History

Associations with strong financials often choose to increase their property deductibles which can provide immediate savings of 2-5%. Deductibles range from $2,500 to $25,000+. When considering deductibles, it is important for the Association to review their loss history and the loss history of comparable buildings in an effort to obtain an accurate estimate for deductible expenses.

Rate Shopping

The most common strategy employed by Associations seeking lower insurance costs is to shop their carrier. An Association can accomplish this in several ways but generally their appointed broker can offer alternative carriers in an effort to obtain the most competitive rates possible. Make sure your broker has access to all of the competitive markets in order to maximize the likelihood of finding savings.

Secondly, and more importantly, if savings is found, your broker should verify that all required coverages are included to secure the Association’s long-term financial security and lender approval. Additional savings can be realized by a thorough coverage analysis to verify the Association is not being over-insured by paying for coverage it won’t use.

To insure cost savings and long-term health of your property, make sure your insurance broker specializes in Condominium or Homeowners Associations. To maximize your savings, the Association, insurance broker, and insurance carrier need to work in harmony to identify and reduce threats to the financial health of the community.

Help Reducing Claims

One of the best ways to keep insurance costs down is to avoid claims altogether. Some examples of how insurance brokers can help reduce claims and the impact claims have on your future premium costs include coverage reviews/benchmarking, claims management services, site inspections, building upgrade recommendations, life safety planning, vendor contract reviews, discrimination/harassment training, and hiring/firing best practices.

Thank You

Andrew, thank you very much for providing your insight. I know from experience how much of an impact an insurance review can have on a condo budget, but also how important the right coverage can be when there’s an unexpected claim.

One thing Boards often overlook when they’re solely focused on price is the quality and speed of service when a claim in filed.

For example, if a pipe bursts and floods the gym and lobby, a Board should be confident that the work orders will be executed quickly so the building can be back on its feet without delay or headache. Unfortunately, most Boards don’t think about this until they’re dealing with it, and it’s too late.

I encourage any Board/Treasurer to reach out to Andrew to review their policy. His contact info is:

Andrew Schlaffer, President
ACO Insurance
www.acoinsgrp.com
Direct: 703-595-9760
Email: [email protected]

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460

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