Do not panic. Acknowledge your privilege in having insurance to lose. Your decision to buy a home shielded you as rents rose faster than sea levels. You could do so because you’d saved for a down payment, and you can afford the monthly note — plus property tax, insurance, and a secondary flood policy, which your homeowners coverage never included. Not everyone feels sorry for you. Still, you’re not alone.
Such liquidations have become increasingly common as the planet warms. Your vocabulary has swelled with scientific terms that detail new extremes with precision: atmospheric river, bomb cyclone, heat dome, supercell. Named-storm seasons now exhaust the Latin alphabet, routinely plowing into the Greek. Each subsequent hundred-year event further upends the industry’s meticulous actuarial tables, built on unstable foundations of outdated assumptions — just like the home you elected to buy.
The liquidation may feel like a shock, as it’s the first one happening to you, even if you don’t think of yourself as much of a risk-taker. All you did was choose to live near a coast — along with half this country’s population — and to purchase a home there.
Rest assured, it’s nothing personal. The letter from your state’s Department of Financial Services will arrive addressed not to you but to a generic Policyholder. It will not accuse you of anything, nor offer consolation, as you grip the trifold notice printed in grayscale on paper so thin you can read both sides. Toss the torn envelope into your recycling bin with the junk mail, as though this gesture toward a sustainable future might buy you a little more time.
The letter will outline what will happen, should you choose to do nothing. A swamp of legalese will specify the date and time your policy will expire, typically at 12:01 a.m. Lawyers love the exactitude of midnight. Resist the urge to mark up the prose like a zealous copyeditor, to strike each instance of the passive voice: is being sent, was ordered liquidated, will be canceled. No one will see your corrections.
In a flurry of all-caps text, the notice will urge you to CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE AGENT IMMEDIATELY. Don’t worry, no one is screaming, unless you want to. Think back to when you made the offer, the person you emailed for a quote, with whom you’ve corresponded only online. Although they helped you to secure a mortgage, which you couldn’t have obtained otherwise, you didn’t send a thank-you. It would have felt like thanking a ghost, one who receives their passive cut of the annual transfers that move from your escrow account to this insurer, newly insolvent, though at the time of the sale, your best option.
To earn its commission, the ghost may have explained to you that the insurance companies you’ve heard of — the ones whose familiar mascots populate televised ads and interstate billboards — have long since left your market. No talking geckos or personifications of mayhem or white-aproned agents to help you. The ghost was able to find a company with a greater appetite for risk and a smaller marketing budget, its logo copy-pasted from Wingdings. Were this company to run a TV spot, a plausible mascot might be a tightrope walker working without a net.
If you’re lucky, your ghost notified you before you received the letter. They may have sensed the insolvency ahead of time, writing you to remind them which home, of the thousands they haunt, is yours, so they can shop around your policy. Other small insurers might be willing to take on homes that are newer, less climatalogically fragile. If this applies to you, congratulations. Your premiums have merely doubled, with a higher deductible but no lapses in coverage. With the difference spread across twelve months of mortgage payments, you’ll absorb the increase easily, if you don’t think about how else you could have spent this money. A car note. Your child’s orthodontia. Charitable donations toward wetland restoration or renewable energy.
Perhaps you were swayed by the charm and character of an older home, oblivious to a risk long kept opaque. The ghost may connect you with your state’s insurer of last resort, whose prices are highest of all. Your rate may triple or quadruple or worse, enough for you to consider dropping coverage altogether, like your neighbors who own their homes outright, or those who live at the farthest edge of the coast. Many of them had no choice, although neither do you. Your mortgage lender requires you to insure their asset. You can, however, talk to your accountant, who’ll probably find a tax write-off somewhere. On balance, it’s still better than renting.
The unsigned notice will end with an invitation to direct your questions to a 1-800 number that varies by state. You may feel compelled to call and ask where you went wrong. Should you, at some point, have taken a statistics class? Should you have read every word of the documents you signed at closing? Should someone else pay for your irresponsible investment? Unfortunately, only you can answer these questions. Press one for yes, two for no.
While you wait to leave a voicemail with your callback number, don’t dwell on the future. Don’t ponder what will happen when the next storm hits or compare premiums with friends who live inland. Don’t try to predict how much higher rates will climb. Never mention it while peeling hot-boiled crawfish at a picnic table covered with newspaper. Let their spent tails blot out the headlines. I promise you, no topic is duller than insurance.
Instead, try to remember what so captivated you about this place that you were willing to drain your savings to purchase a sliver of its land. You tended it with respect, nurturing the plants that sprouted in your yard, the creatures who burrowed under its foundation and nestled in its eaves, the neighbors whose lots touched yours. Enjoy the time you have left until nature reclaims what you’d assumed you could own.