Winston Richards said Citizens Property Insurance insists he needs more than $400,000 in homeowners insurance even though real estate appraisers tell him his house is worth about $125,000.

“It’s like having a gun in your ribs and saying we’re going to take this money away from you and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Richards said.

And that’s not the worst of it.

For all that extra cash, you might think Richards at least has a better policy. But starting Jan. 1, Citizens no longer will cover a host of add-ons such as screened porches, pool enclosures and carports.

Citizens spokeswoman Christine Ashburn said Citizens, Florida’s insurer of last resort, doesn’t want its coverage to be better than what’s offered by private carriers.

“We don’t want to be the Cadillac of insurance,” Ashburn said. “We’re supposed to be a last resort.”

Citizens is the largest homeowners insurance carrier in Florida. For many, such as Richards, it’s the only option.

Real estate agent Gary De Pury says enclosures can be so much more than just a screened porch. In some cases, screened rooms or pool enclosures can add thousands to a home’s value.

“We live in Florida where people try to live their lives outside, so it’s a huge part of the house,” De Pury said.

No one, he says, will want to pay for it if it’s not covered by insurance.

“They don’t want to have that in their back pocket if it’s not insured so they’ll just try to sell that house,” Richards said. “That’s going to lower the property value on that home for them.”

Citizens’ cutbacks on coverage come on the heels of another move that hit some customers in the pocketbook: A new cost-estimator computer system to replace real estate appraisals in determining a property’s value.

Homeowners throughout Florida have found their insurance premiums going up because Citizens says it will cost more than previously thought to replace the home in case of disaster.

Citizens says the real estate market is so sluggish that it now often costs substantially more to build a home than to buy an existing one.

Consumer advocates say the replacement-value increase is a back-door way for Citizens to raise rates without state approval. They worry that if Citizens is successful in collecting money on larger insurance policies, other insurance companies will start using similar models.

Ashburn, from Citizens, said the carrier makes no apologies for the cutbacks in coverage, but will review the policies of those who feel they are too high.

Meanwhile, Richards is left fuming.

“We’re paying premiums for three times the value of our house, and they’re not going to write me a check for $404,000 if this is wiped out by a hurricane,” he said. “They’re going to fix it, and they’re going to fix it at prevailing costs.”

Copyright © 2011 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.), Shannon Behnken. Distributed by MCT Information Services