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Shop Smart for Flood Insurance

Insurance advisor Robert Oncken explains how homeowners can save on flood protection

Article by Erica Hernandez

Photography by Erica Hernandez | Fox Tail Family Photography

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

Hurricane season is underway, making summer a peak shopping season for those interested in flood insurance. We sat down with Robert Oncken, founder of Oncken Insurance to learn more about some of the sweeping changes happening with the industry.

What’s changing about flood insurance these days?

The FEMA is doing away with its pre-packaged preferred-risk policy and some policy holders might see their rates increase. The policy was only available to people in the lowest risk flood zones and everybody across the country pretty much got the same price. Now, FEMA is using a new platform to measure risk based on building data it’s collected over the years. They are pulling data to fill in blanks that they had not rated before and which may or may not be accurate. The new policies will consider characteristics of the home such as how far is it from repetitive flood areas or building elevation changes. It used to be that you'd hire an engineer or a surveyor to come out and do all sorts of measurements on the property with the goal of evaluating how likely or not that structure would flood. Usually, it made all the sense in the world because you’d save about $1,500 a year. Now it may or may not save you money. FEMA’s changes rolled out April 1, so if people see their rates increase without any explanation they need to get with their insurance agent.

What’s your advice to homeowners now that we’re entering the hurricane season?

Talk to somebody about flood insurance if you don’t have it. Evaluate whether or not it’s worth the risk. You want somebody who can give you options, who can explain things to you so you know what you’re buying. We do all those things. We are an independent agency and we work with dozens of insurance agencies so it’s a lot easier for an independent agency to find something that fits your needs and fits your budget.

What’s the difference between a private flood policy and a FEMA policy?

A private flood insurance policy is closer to a homeowners policy. It’s not a government policy. It’s an insurance company that’s writing a policy and they may or may not write in certain areas. They are priced to make a profit, in whole, but the coverage is generally better, whereas a FEMA policy provides actual cash value and depreciation is applied on any deductibles. Private insurance usually includes assistance for the loss of use of your home and will put you up in a hotel while your house is unlivable. FEMA does not. Private flood is also nowhere near as available as FEMA.

What about the price difference?

It’s a little hard to say right now. For example, in my house, I had a FEMA policy that was $572. I moved to a private policy and it was $500. I just quoted myself last night for a FEMA policy and it was $1,800. If you’re going to renew your flood policy don’t be late. There is some level of grandfathering going on now, but once you get beyond 30 days from your renewal date, it’s probably going to be a new price and it probably will be more costly.

Why should someone consider flood insurance?

It brings some comfort knowing that you’re going to have some help in the event your house  floods. When Hurricane Harvey happened, we had a certain level of peace of mind knowing that we had flood insurance. When the rains came, the water got up to the threshold of our home. Water was on all four sides of the house ankle deep. We went to bed that night and picked everything off the floor that we could to try to mitigate what was about to happen. When we woke up the next morning, however, the water had receded just a couple of feet–just enough where we could see some grass. Had we not had flood insurance, I probably would have stressed a bit more.

14007 Telge Road, Cypress, Texas