The Property Insurance Market Has Hardened

In our February 2019 Industry Insight article, we looked at the insurance industry focusing on building resilience with those insured to be prepared for natural disasters. The underlying premise being that natural disasters will occur; it is no longer an “if”, it is about the when.

In that article, we pointed to the insurance markets hardening to face the pressure of mounting losses. We are now in the midst of a hard property market and the impact on renewals and premiums is certainly felt.

Characteristics of Soft and Hard Markets.

A strong economic climate, a favorable legal environment and/or few catastrophic events can increase insurers’ capacity, creating a soft insurance market. When the market is soft many insurers are competing for business and premiums are generally low. Insurers relax their underwriting standards and coverage is widely available. Underwriters are generally flexible and willing to negotiate coverage terms. Broad coverage is available with some extensions available for free.

A series of catastrophic events, a litigious legal environment and/or a poor economy can reduce insurers’ capacity to write new policies. The result can be a hard insurance market. A hard insurance market is the opposite of a soft one. When the market hardens, insurers tighten their underwriting standards. Some coverages may be difficult to secure as fewer insurers are competing to write policies. Premiums are relatively high and insurers are disinclined to negotiate terms. Broad coverage may be costly or unavailable but some coverage extensions may be available for an additional premium.” (1)

As the chart below depicts, we do have catastrophic events and their costs rising, which are having a direct impact on the insurance market hardening (2).

We are seeing the insurance market acknowledge the hardening of the property market and what that means for insureds, brokers, and property managers in property markets.

“At the end of 2018, the property market had begun to see some firming, and that continued into Q1 of 2019. As we move into Q2, this trend has not just continued; it has accelerated.”

“The message for retailers is that things are changing in property more quickly than expected, and the changes are deeper than anticipated,” says Harry Tucker, Executive Vice President and National Property Practice Leader for AmWINS.

Adverse loss development has been a catalyst in this acceleration. Two consecutive years with combined ratios exceeding 100% across the market has heightened the focus of management teams and underwriters to drive rate and reduce aggregate exposure. Increasing rates are creating a deeper and broader change in the market. The obvious tough classes – including frame habitational, recyclers, and open lot – were the first to be affected, but now the trend has crept into broader classes and non-CAT exposed business.

“Along with rate increases, we are seeing more tightened risk selection, reductions in limits, increased deductibles, and close review of policy forms,” says Tucker.

However, the bright spot for clients is that the market is still well capitalized. “Carriers still want to write premium,” says Tucker. “The difference today is that they are applying a level of underwriting discipline we haven’t seen in quite some time.”(3)

The below graph graphically depicts the pricing trends in property renewals (4):

As property owners and/or tenants, brokers, and property managers, we would encourage you to look at your insurance program against the backdrop of the increase in natural disasters driven by climate change and the changes to occurring as underwriters are dealing with these variables as they develop insurance premiums. You need to understand your exposure, your values, your risk management strategies and your policy wordings. Being forewarned, will assist you exponentially in the event of a loss.

Discuss Property Appraisal w/ one of our Pros!

Using Standard Unit Bylaws as a Risk Management Strategy for Buildings

What is a Standard Unit Definition?

A Standard Unit Definition is a list of what parts of a typical condominium complex could be maintained and insured by the condominium board. The Standard Unit Definition for your development will detail exactly what the Condominium board is responsible for, and not responsible for.

For example, a typical Standard Unit Definition for a residential development could indicate that the condominium corporation is responsible to maintain and insure the structure: electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems; wall and ceiling finish such as drywall and paint; floor finish such as carpet or tile; interior doors; interior electrical, plumbing, and HVAC fixtures; interior doors, casing, and baseboards; and built-in appliances, etc.

In this example, the condominium corporation is responsible to have adequate insurance in place for those items.

The preceding is not an exhaustive list, and in fact, a particular Standard Unit Definition could include more or less components. For example, the Standard Unit Definition may include the drywall for the walls and ceiling, but not the paint that is on the walls and ceilings.

This is especially the case with Standard Unit Definitions for non-residential units. Quite often, a non-residential Standard Unit Definition includes the shell only, with the unit owners being responsible for all other components.



Do we really need Standard Unit Definitions in the Bylaws?

Our recommendation is YES, for a number of reasons.

Mostly it is about insurance. The condominium corporation is responsible to acquire and maintain adequate insurance coverage for all common elements, including the items in the Standard Unit Definition. Insurance for all other components are the responsibility of the unit owner.

Without a Standard Unit Definition, both the condominium board and unit owners would be uncertain about what they need to insure. This could result in overlaps in coverage, resulting in insurance levies being too high. Worse, a gap in insurance coverage, which is a significant increase in risk.

Another reason to have Standard Unit Definitions is that they set minimum quality and décor standards for all units. This is important to ensure that the entire development maintains its overall level of quality and consistent esthetics. Otherwise, individual unit Market Values could suffer.

Finally, some condominium corporations have used Standard Unit Bylaws as a strategy to limit corporation claims, which can affect their premiums significantly. This strategy can put more onus on unit owners to pay particular attention to their personal coverage and how that fits into the corporation’s coverage.

What are Betterments and Improvements?

It is important to note that Standard Unit Definitions do not include Betterments and Improvements.

Betterments is a term to describe when an owner has upgraded a component that is part of the Standard Unit Definition. For example, consider a residential condominium development where the Standard Unit Definition includes carpet floor covering, and a particular owner has replaced the carpet with hardwood. In a case such as this, the hardwood is the “Betterment”. The condominium corporation would be responsible to carry sufficient insurance to replace the flooring with carpet only, and the unit owner would be responsible to carry insurance to pay for the upgrade to hardwood.

Improvements are those components that are installed in addition to the Standard Unit Definition. This is quite common with non-residential units. For example, a Standard Unit Definition in a commercial office condominium unit might include only “shell space”. The unit owner would be responsible for the costs to install the interior development, and to insure the improvements.

Speak to us about our Standard Unit Definition services today!