Fabiola Castro | Brickell Real Estate, Edgewater Real Estate, Miami Beach Real Estate

Florida homeowners are paying the highest average property insurance rates in the nation, according to a new report from consumer researcher ValuePenguin.Homeowners in the state pay an average $2,881 per year for home insurance, nearly twice the U.S. average.Some local homeowners are doing better.In Sarasota County, the average premium was $2,730, or 5 percent under the state average. Manatee County averaged $2,647, or 8 percent less.But homeowners in Charlotte County paid an average $3,185, or 11 percent higher than statewide.Be glad you’re not living in Hernando County, where the average yearly premium is $8,912, the study found.The study used a sample home built in 2005 with a replacement cost of $300,000. The survey assumed the owner had no claims in three years, and the policy contained minimum premium discounts for limited wind mitigation features.Home-equity loans increasingRising home values are convincing more local homeowners to tap the equity in their properties.In the Sarasota-Manatee region, lenders closed on 1,279 home equity lines of credit with borrowers during the first quarter of 2018, according to real estate researcher ATTOM Data Solutions. That was up by 11 percent from the previous three months and by 3 percent over the year.But it was slower than the overall U.S. rate, where HELOCs rose 18 percent from the fourth quarter and 14 percent from a year ago.“Putting home equity to work is the name of the game in the 2018 housing market -- both for current homeowners as well as home buyers,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM. “With interest rates rising and home price appreciation accelerating, current homeowners are increasingly turning to home equity lines of credit rather than refinances to tap their home’s equity.”Lenders closed on 2,867 home purchase loans in Sarasota-Manatee during the quarter, down by 12 percent from late 2017 and by 8 percent for the year. Nationally, residential purchase loans dropped by 16 percent from the previous quarter and rose 2 percent from a year ago.A total of 1,876 local loan refinances were down by 4 percent from the fourth quarter and by 21 percent over the year, ATTOM said. Refis were down nationwide as well.About 16 percent of the local homes sold during the first three months of the year included “co-buyers,” non-related persons whose names appear on the deeds. That indicates how rising prices are squeezing some home buyers, especially first-timers.The average sale price of a co-buyer home was $340,747, with a nearly 10 percent median down payment of $32,890.“Given that median down payments rose more than four times as fast as median home prices over the past year, it’s not surprising that home buyers are increasingly getting help from co-buyers -- often in exchange for a share of their home’s future equity,” Blomquist said.Local credit unions keep top ratingsCredit unions operating in Southwest Florida maintained their top ratings in the latest report by analyst BauerFinancial Inc.Tampa-based floridacentral Credit Union, which operates three local branches, was upgraded from four stars, or “excellent,” to five stars, or “superior,” in the new scoring using March 31 financial data.All the other credit unions with local offices were rated at four or five stars, earning them spots on Bauer’s recommended list.The renamed 1st Street Credit Union, formerly Sarasota Municipal Employees Credit Union, held at five stars. The name changed on Jan. 1, reflecting its office location and plans for future growth.Also rated at five stars were Achieva, Grow Financial, Manatee Community and USF Federal. At four stars were Everence, GTE Federal and Suncoast.Florida has one of the healthiest credit union rosters in the country. Bauer ranks 94 percent of the state’s credit unions on its recommended list, while just one, Priority Credit Union in Orlando, is considered troubled.Nationwide, 80.5 percent of credit units are highly rated and 2.6 percent are problematic.Contact John Hielscher at 361-4875, fax to 361-4880 or emailjohn.hielscher@heraldtribune.com.