Craig Mirambell Jr., CEO of Mirambell Realty, places a for sale sign in front of a house in Metairie on Friday, September 23, 2022.?

A spiraling insurance crisis has hammered Louisianans with high premiums, less coverage and fewer options, heaping intense financial pressure on residents who are already facing rising costs elsewhere.

Now, the housing market in the New Orleans area is sending distress signals, raising the prospect that the crisis could inflict broader damage on the region’s economy.

On several metrics, the local market appears to be lagging behind the rest of the country. The gulf between the median price of a house in New Orleans and one in the rest of the country has nearly doubled since 2022, from around $50,000 to almost $100,000, according to data from Zillow, a real estate tech firm that tracks housing transactions. The New Orleans area had the third-lowest rate of home appreciation among 246 metro areas in the country over the past year, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, with values dropping by nearly 3%, according to the agency’s index.

A recent report found Louisiana has the highest rate of mortgages that are badly underwater, meaning owners owe more than their house is now worth.

To be sure, insurance is not the only factor depressing Louisiana’s housing market. Interest rates, which affect all U.S. buyers, are at their highest point in two decades, putting affordability at a near-record low for buyers.

Locally, though, high premiums — fueled by climate change and south Louisiana’s considerable hurricane risk — are pushing home ownership out of reach for some buyers. Many homeowners say they are considering selling as their monthly payments soar. Some sellers are having difficulty finding buyers, in part because insurance companies are raising rates or refusing to write policies.

070624 Home value US vs NOLA chart

'It's unreal'

The cost increases are stark for buyers.

In 2020, the buyer of a median-priced home in New Orleans would pay about $1,400 a month in housing costs, assuming they put 20% down and paid an average rate for insurance from Louisiana Citizens, then about $142 a month.

A Times-Picayune | Advocate analysis shows the monthly note on that home is now far larger. With increases in home insurance, flood insurance and interest rates, the same home would cost $2,154 a month now. Where a family with a household income of $57,000 a year could comfortably afford the 2020 home, that family would need to make north of $86,000 a year now. The median household income for the metro area is $61,602, according to the Data Center.

Craig Mirambell, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors, said many buyers have navigated high interest rates and are finding homes in their price range, only to have deals crater when they get a quote for property insurance.

“What they don't know when they get into these processes is how unaffordable insurance is on a lot of these properties,” he said. “That’s when deals are falling apart because of the insurance crisis. Homes that used to be $3,000 to $4,000 (a year in premium) are now $8,000. It’s unreal, these prices.”

One of Mirambell’s clients was looking for a higher-end home in New Orleans, but insurance quotes were exponentially higher than he pays in Baton Rouge, even though they came with high storm deductibles. Mirambell, who said the buyer is considering leaving the state, said he’s seeing deals fall apart “left and right” because of insurance.

“The market is still moving,” Mirambell said. “But there’s definitely cancellations due to insurance.”

Insurance is stressing every aspect of the market, including buying, owning, selling and renting. The rates charged by Citizens, the state-backed insurer of last resort whose rolls have swollen since Hurricane Ida in 2021, have climbed by thousands of dollars per year on average. New data from Citizens this week shows little sign of improvement, with premiums rising by hundreds of dollars in the past year for most policyholders. The nearly 27,000 Citizens customers in New Orleans are paying an average of $5,445 a year.

Affordable housing groups are also struggling to help prospective buyers find homes within their budget. William Stoudt, head of Rebuilding Together New Orleans, said the group’s homeowners are being crushed by rising monthly costs; some are going without insurance. Many are looking for fortified roofs to save them money.

“We’ve heard from many that are on the brink of having to sell,” Stoudt said. “Insurance costs impact deals at all levels.”

Erica Toriello, director of homebuyer services at Peoples Housing+, an affordable housing group, said the group’s pool of potential homebuyers has shrunk, and the organization needs to find more and more subsidies to offset rising costs. Many of the group’s homeowners, often people with moderate to low incomes, are seeing monthly payments double or more.

“I had people in the pipeline who were waiting for a home…they were previously approved and now are not,” Toriello said. “I don’t foresee a time in the near future where they qualify if things don’t change.”

070624 Soaring home costs

A lot to learn

The relationship between rising insurance costs and the housing market is murky. Kelley Pace, director of LSU’s Real Estate Research Institute, said there’s a “litany of factors” underpinning housing values. But there is evidence that south Louisiana’s market is feeling the impact.

“There’s no question insurance is a problem,” Pace said. “I don’t think there’s any scenario when you say it’s good for housing prices.”

Pace said people on Citizens are likely seeing “materially lower” appreciation in home values than people in the private insurance market. Flood insurance costs are also rising steeply, making for a “one-two punch” for homeowners and buyers.

A report last year by S&P Global found that as climate change has made insurance more expensive, buyers are being put in a precarious position with the combination of high mortgage rates and insurance costs. The report said that it’s “reasonable to think” that increasing premiums could put downward pressure on home prices.

And a working paper published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found areas with greater climate risk are seeing insurance prices soar more quickly. The paper, which analyzed escrow payment data, predicted rising insurance costs would eventually affect housing prices and reduce demand for at-risk properties.

Benjamin Keys, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and one of the paper’s authors, said in an interview it is “highly likely” that insurance is playing a part in the housing market’s distress, though he said he is working on more research to better understand the dynamic.

New laws take effect

Louisiana officials hope that a series of bills championed by Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple and signed by Gov. Jeff Landry will stem the rising costs. Those bills make it easier for insurance companies to drop policyholders and raise rates; Republican leaders like Temple and Landry argue the changes will invite more competition into the market. Affordable housing advocates and Democrats have panned the strategy, saying it will push more people onto Citizens, where they’ll pay higher premiums.

John Ford, a spokesperson for the Insurance Department, said real estate agents consistently tell Temple that insurance costs have become a “significant factor” in the housing market.

“The real estate market is a good example of why we need to build on the recent passage of property insurance reform and continue working to make insurance more available and affordable in Louisiana,” Ford said.

Once an afterthought when buying a house, the cost of insurance is becoming a more central consideration.

Mirambell, the broker, said clients who have been with their insurance carrier for decades fear they’ll be dropped. One client is worried about getting back into the market with an 11-year-old roof. Most insurers either won’t cover older roofs, or charge exorbitant rates to insure them because of the risk they pose.

Many sellers are opting to proactively replace their roofs, or are doing so as part of sales negotiations, to offset the buyer’s insurance hit.

Colleen Rothman, a writer living in Gentilly Terrace, moved back to Louisiana with her family in 2018 after a decade in Chicago. Last year, she returned home after the Krewe of Red Beans parade on Lundi Gras to find a notice in the mail saying her insurer, United Property & Casualty, was being liquidated.

Since then, her home insurance costs have soared from $1,600 a year to over $6,300.

Rothman said she loves living in New Orleans, near family, but that the thought of moving away has crossed her mind as living here becomes more difficult. But selling now is also daunting.

“Right now if we were to list our home and someone were to pull a quote on insuring a 6-year old roof, I'm not sure we would find a buyer,” she said.

Editor's note: A graphic showing home value trends has been updated to reflect that New Orleans, not Louisiana, is reflected in the home value trend.?

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