Concerned that high property insurance rates are stifling growth, the South Carolina Realtors Association wants lawmakers to nix a state law that enables insurers to raise premiums more easily.

The group adds a powerful voice to a growing chorus calling for reform. With 13,500 members, the Realtors Association is the largest professional trade group in the state.

“We want to see what we can do to increase competition in the state and make sure homeowners get the best deal they can,” said Nick Kremydas, chief executive officer of the association.

In a meeting last week, the group’s board voted to:

Push lawmakers to rescind legislation that allows insurance companies to bypass immediate scrutiny from regulators when the want to hike rates. Current laws allow this as long as insurers don’t raise rates statewide by more than 7 percent.

Direct the state Department of Insurance to hold a public hearing once a year to receive information from consumers.

Urge the Insurance Department to do reports twice a year on the state of the property insurance industry.

Andy Twisdale, a real estate agent on Hilton Head, spearheaded the effort to make property insurance reform one of the group’s legislative priorities. He said prospective buyers in and outside South Carolina have told him they won’t buy homes in the Lowcountry because of high property insurance rates.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said the Realtors Association has clout in the Legislature and could add muscle to insurance reform legislation he introduced earlier this year. “Critical to any comprehensive reform is having the major political players make it a priority,” he said.

He added, however, that because insurance issues are so complex, he doesn’t expect any legislation to pass this session. He credited The Post and Courier for raising the public’s awareness of an important pocketbook issue.

The newspaper’s investigation “Storm of Money” revealed that South Carolina has some of the highest home insurance rates in the nation, particularly premiums for homes worth more than $400,000. Because of recent rate hikes, many coastal homeowners now pay more for insurance than property taxes.

“We don’t want to incentivize homeownership in North Carolina and Georgia,” said Kremydas, adding that the issue is likely to heat up even more as the federal government revamps its flood insurance program. Many expect this will lead to higher flood insurance premiums.

Insurance industry officials have countered that South Carolina is a high-risk area because of its exposure to hurricanes, and that insurance companies need to incorporate this risk in their rates.

Reach Tony Bartelme at 937-5554.