The most important details people consider when buying a home are the location, price per square foot, and number of bedrooms. But what happens when your dream home is located in a flood zone?
The risk of flooding is only increasing with climate change, and people who choose to buy homes with a history of flooding can pay up to tens of thousands of dollars more over the course of their life in the home compared with the average homeowner.
To avoid such surprises in your new home, here’s how to assess, prevent, and prepare for flood risk.
Look at flood maps
When you’re choosing a neighborhood, make sure you check out regional flood maps for the area.
“The best way to determine if a house you are looking at is in a flood-prone area is to look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood Map,” says Jordan Fulmer, owner of Momentum Property Solutions in Huntsville, AL. “Simply type in the address, and the map will show you where the flood zones are located in that area.”
FEMA provides information on neighborhoods across the country, with a risk calculation based on past and projected flood patterns.
Ask to see the seller’s property disclosure form
Make sure you take a close look at the seller’s property disclosure statement. This is a legal form designed to share all facts related to the physical condition of a property that may not be obvious.
For instance, if sellers have knowledge of any water intrusion or moisture issues, they are required by law to disclose it.
“I have even had to go so far in the past as to ask a seller of a property rumored to have flooded in a hurricane to show proof of insurance claims to either support or deny water intrusion and what the claim covered,” says Jennifer White, a real estate agent with Re/Max Specialists PV in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.
Do a visual inspection
It’s important to look at maps and forms, but you should also be using your own powers of observation to see if anything is amiss at the house you hope to purchase.
“Make sure you do a visual inspection in addition to getting an official home inspection and a structural engineering report,” White says. “One of the things I typically do during my initial showing of homes in coastal areas is to visibly inspect the exterior for cracks in the stucco, foundation cracks, wall cracks, cracks or settlement on the pool deck, and improper sloping of the yard, brick pavers, and poured concrete. All of those items—especially improperly sloped areas toward the home—can be disastrous in the event of a flash flood, tropical storm, or hurricane.”
Also, look for tell-tale signs of mold.
“If a home smells musty or has visible mold, I always recommend my mold specialists come out for an inspection and take mold samples,” White says.
A mold inspection can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000.
Purchase flood insurance separately
If your desired home is in a flood zone, and you need a loan to purchase it (standard practice for most buyers), your lender will require you to have flood insurance in addition to a general insurance policy. Why?
“Just one inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage, and most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage,” says Chase Michels, a real estate agent with The Michels Group, at Compass in Downers Grove, IL.
Flood insurance is a separate policy that can cover buildings, the contents in a building, or both.
You can take out a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is available in more than 23,000 communities and is backed by the government. But you should also contact private insurance providers to compare coverage.
The average cost of NFIP insurance is $700 to $800 a year.
Flood-proof your home and build an emergency kit
You can’t prevent a flood, but you can absolutely prepare for one.
If you end up buying a home in a flood zone, keep your gutters and pipes clean. If you have a basement, consider installing a water alarm so you’ll know if there’s a sudden surge below.
Store essential documents in waterproof covers, and keep digital backups. Take pictures of major household items, valuables, and documents “just in case,” for insurance purposes.
FEMA offers a guide to a basic disaster supplies kit. Key items include drinking water, nonperishable food, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, batteries, a dust mask, a whistle to signal for help, and local maps.
Floods can happen anywhere, but they don’t have to take you by surprise. The more prepared you are, the better off you, your valuables, and your home will be.
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