You have been in the market for a while now searching for your forever home. You thought that none of the homes suit you right now. Until you see this listing: a charming four-bedroom abode with a huge backyard ideal for your family, near a bustling neighborhood, and well within your price range. It is your idea of perfection, so you want to view it as soon as you can, texting your real estate agent to schedule a showing. You checked for further details about the property and saw someone mentioned flooding in the area. Could your dream home be at risk of flood damage?
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), anywhere it can rain, it can flood. Their historical data says 99 percent of U.S. counties were impacted by a flooding event (1996-2019). And since the risk of flooding is only increasing with climate change, it is critical to have a good understanding of your prospective property and its flood risk. Here is what you need to know before buying a house in a flood-prone area.
The best way to determine a prospective home's flood risk is to check out official flood maps. You can visit FEMA's Flood Map Service Center, type in the address, and the map will show you where the flood zones are located in the area. The maps offer a risk calculation based on past events and flood patterns and are continually updated.
While there is no such thing as a no-risk zone, buyers can see how prone their property is to flooding using flood maps. They have designated two main types of flood areas: Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) and Non-Special Flood Hazard Areas (NSFHA). Homes in the SFHAs have a 1% or higher chance of experiencing flooding each year. During the span of a 30-year mortgage, these areas have at least a one-in-four chance of flooding. Meanwhile, NSFHAs are considered low- to moderate-risk flood zones that are not in immediate danger from flooding caused by overflowing bodies of water or hard rains.
It is best to research this information early in the home-buying process, even before you tour or visit the home. Flood risk can significantly affect the property price, and you may need to purchase flood insurance (more on this later).
Once you have identified the floodplain, take your research further to learn more about the home's flood history. You may take a close look at the seller’s property disclosure statement, which is a legal form designed to share all facts related to the physical condition of a property that may not be obvious.
Currently, no federal statutes require sellers to disclose information about flood risk or prior flood damage. However, according to the Flood Risk Disclosure report from FEMA, as of July 2022, 35 states have enacted some form of a legal or regulatory mechanism requiring property sellers to disclose factors related to flood risk about their property.
But it is important to note that only current owners are obligated to disclose their first-hand knowledge. This means if the flooding happened before they took over the home, they may not know or may not disclose that information.
You can ask the sellers if and when a flood event has led to an insurance claim. Or you may check the flood history through the insurance carrier. If records indicate a previous flood, verify the reason and the resulting impact on the property.
Since you are buying more than just the house but also the neighborhood, try to look back at flood history in the area, especially if near a body of water. Ask your neighbors or search online archives from local news outlets. It is critical that you know what you are getting into before making an offer.
If your desired home is in a flood zone, you may be required to get flood insurance aside from a general insurance policy, especially if you need a mortgage to purchase it. Why? Because homeowners insurance does not cover damage due to flooding. Flood insurance is a separate policy that can cover buildings, the contents of a building, or both. After all, a single inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage.
There are two basic types of flood insurance available: the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is a government-backed option, and private flood insurance. Note that NFIP is only available in 23,000 communities. For borrowers in communities without NFIP coverage, the best option is a private insurer.
According to Forbes Advisor, the average cost of flood insurance from NFIP is $995 a year. Remember that you will pay for this on top of your other mortgage costs, so think long and hard about the numbers and remember to factor these premiums into your monthly budget before purchasing.
Your Agent is Your Knowledgeable Partner
Yes, your real estate agent isn't a flood map expert. But they can help you make a well-informed decision before buying your biggest investment. If you are starting your home search, you can ask your agent if the prospective home is within a designated flood zone. They can also tell you what the designation means, and the risk associated with it. If it is in a flood-prone area, be upfront about how much flood risk you are comfortable with.
They are also the best resource when it comes to seller disclosure forms, which can be very complicated, especially for first-time home buyers. Your real estate agent can also help you discover what steps the local government has taken in terms of its floodplain management to protect the community from the area’s flood risks. They can help you decide if best to consult a local floodplain manager. A floodplain manager will further explain FEMA maps, answer flood risk-related questions, and advise you to talk to a reputable insurance agent if you are set on buying a home and living in a flood zone.
Weigh the Pros and Cons Carefully Before Buying a Property in a Flood-prone Area
Deciding where to buy a home is an entirely personal decision based on many factors. People are considering purchasing a property in a flood zone because this usually means they are just a short walk away from beautiful bodies of water, such as a lake, river, or ocean. A charming house close to nature, how alluring is that?
Moreover, even if it is risky to own and expensive to insure, you might be able to get one for a good price. So aside from learning as much about the property as possible, think about your level of comfort with risk, your financial ability, and whether you are prepared to take action to mitigate flood damage, before making a decision.