Multifamily Insurance – Taking Advantage of the Favorable Commercial Insurance Market

2006 was a record year for the insurance industry. $60 billion in profits were recorded, one of the industry’s highest grossing years in history. A primary contributing factor to these record returns was a 2006 hurricane season that was uneventful in comparison to the few years that preceded it. In contrast, insurance companies had been compelled to raise premiums for coastal and earthquake insurance after witnessing the damaging impact of numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters in 2004 and 2005. This shift resulted in the profit windfall of 2006.

Subsequently, the commercial insurance market has been flooded with capital looking to get a piece of future returns. This has created new carriers, new capacity, and alternatives that are itching to get in on the action.

For apartment owners, the result is that commercial insurance carriers will be stepping over themselves to win your business. Growth for these carriers is imperative, thanks to shareholder demand, despite the impossibility of them maintaining the record profit pace of 2006 or the inflated premiums for another year. To expand, these commercial insurance carriers will be forced to enter industries that may have previously been considered too risky. Writing new lines of coverage is their only way to grow. To win your business, they will have to increase coverage or lower premiums to undercut the competition.

The end result is that you, as an apartment owner seeking multifamily insurance, will win with more favorable insurance terms. The carriers have to deal with the influx of new capital, new carriers, and new capacity in the marketplace. Any first year Economics student can tell us that when demand stays constant but supply increases, prices are going to drop. In this case, with these particular conditions in the commercial insurance market, the prices will be falling quickly.

Unfortunately, buyers are usually the last ones to know where the market stands at any particular point in time. Most commercial insurance clients only review their policies once each year, but the market can change significantly in the interim. Additionally, many of the reports that are generated by the large brokerage firms and insurance carriers are inaccurate. This creates “sticky” pricing on the downward side of the market cycle.

Understanding the market, with a foundation of accurate information as a basis for that understanding, is an imperative first step towards getting a good deal on a policy. Many commercial insurance brokers and agents, however, do not have enough experience in the multifamily insurance business to accurately assess the market. Even some of the larger brokerage firms, who do have the requisite experience and knowledge, are just as bloated and slow to react as the market itself.

Typically, information about the commercial insurance market comes from select industry groups and the carriers themselves. What commonly occurs is that statements are issued and information is distributed that is six months behind what is actually attainable in the marketplace at that particular time. The result is that multifamily owners end up renewing their policies at lower rates thinking that they are getting favorable deals; however, the reality is that they are leaving money on the table.

The oversupply of capital in the marketplace favors multifamily owners, if they are armed with the knowledge to take advantage. What might your commercial insurance agent or broker not be telling you that he or she should be to avoid common errors?

1. Choose the right broker and meet your carriers. Working with a broker who is an expert in multifamily insurance, and who works with multiple properties, can ensure you are getting a favorable deal. If you are your broker’s only client, the chances that you are getting the best terms possible are slim. Working with an experienced multifamily broker who is backed by a solid team will allow you to efficiently manage claims, know the latest trends in pricing, understand the best timing for a renewal, and know which carriers offer the best deals. Plus, if your broker handles large dollar amounts worth of coverage, he or she can exercise more leverage on your behalf. Having a relationship with your carrier is important as well; if they know your expectations and know you, garnering favorable terms and the occasional favor will be much more likely.

2. Have a renewal strategy and renew early. If the market softens, you may want to cancel a current policy and grab one that gives you lower rates, depending on how much you have already paid in premiums. Lowering premiums mid-term could also release money being held in escrow, freeing up more cash for you. In addition, consider other timing factors such as planning to renew near quarter’s end when carriers are looking to make their numbers, or before hurricane hype sets in if you manage coastal properties. The last thing you want to do is not have a strategy and end up renewing too late. You may be held hostage by last-minute quotes, and not give yourself enough time to shop your business in the market for the best deal.

3. Know your replacement cost per square foot. You cannot simply reduce your insured valued or replacement costs with the expectation that it will result in lower premiums. Most multifamily insurance carriers will run your insurance schedule through their own model and then price you based on their replacement cost estimates. If you underestimate yours, you could wind up paying the same price for less coverage.

4. Do not over-insure. The odds of every property you own being decimated by a natural disaster are small. Why buy coverage to protect against that very event? In tough markets, you are costing yourself money by paying for limits you will almost certainly never meet. However, by effectively planning a probable maximum loss (PMSL), you can more accurately estimate how much coverage you should have. Then you can sleep a little easier knowing you are adequately covered and saving money at the same time.