Is My House in a Flood Zone?

There are a huge number of things you may consider when deciding where to purchase a home: How is the school district? Is it on a noisy road? But most people don't ask themselves about the potential for flooding, assuming that it isn't a huge concern. But in fact, many US homes are in official flood zones, which can pose risks down the line. The most high-risk flood zones are near bodies of water, so if you're looking at new construction in Davenport, FL, this is certainly something to consider. However, being in a flood zone doesn't mean your home is a bad purchase- you simply need to understand what protection is important to have in place.

Determining if a Home is in a Flood Zone

Many websites allow you to plug in your address, or the address of a home or lot you might purchase, to connect with the official flood zone designations throughout the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly called FEMA, designates flood zones throughout the United States. They have over a dozen different classifications regarding how high the risk of flooding is, based on the estimated frequency of heavy rain that could cause flooding.  

Some of the highest risk areas are called Special Flood Hazard Areas, which have a 1% chance of flooding annually. This is also called the base flood or 100-year flood. More moderate zones are labeled with a B or an X, reflecting a 0.2% annual chance of flooding, or a 500-year flood risk. The areas with the lowest chance of flooding are labeled with a C or an X and fall outside SFHA zones, tending to sit at higher elevations.

However, FEMA maps are not updated regularly and can be as much as ten years behind on the data. While it is still trustworthy enough to determine insurance risk and building code regulations, it does not necessarily show how likely a flood is to occur in the future. FEMA is currently working to overhaul its scoring model in order to adjust to the rapidly changing climate.

Is Flood Zone Status Disclosed During a Home Sale?

Though FEMA is a national agency and flood zones are determined at this level, each state has different laws in regards to what must be disclosed during a sale. Federal laws do not require disclosure of any previous flooding in a home, but some states like New York do have laws that require a seller to disclose previous flooding or if a home is in a floodplain. In Florida, sellers have to disclose anything that may impact a home's value, but there is no specific language around flood zones. There is a voluntary form to disclose flooding history that can be filled out during a sale.

While it is considered the ethical thing to do for a seller to disclose flooding risk, it is always prudent for a buyer to do research on their own to ensure the property is safe. You can ask your real estate agent, home insurance broker, or mortgage company for information as well since they will usually have access.  

What if My Home Is in a Flood Zone?

If the home you are interested in does turn out to be in an area with a high risk for flooding, you do not need to abandon all hope of the purchase going through. However, you will need to take steps to protect yourself in the event that there is eventually a flood.

The mortgage company will usually require flood insurance on any home in a flood zone, but even if they did not, it would be helpful to have a policy. This Is a separate policy, as most home insurance policies don't cover damage and losses caused by flooding. If you do need this additional coverage, the federal government offers subsidized flood insurance to homeowners through the National Flood Insurance Program.

The average cost of this program is about $700 per year, but this will vary based on how high your risk is and where you are in the floodplain. A special flood insurance rate map is used to determine this. For example, if you are in a high flood hazard zone, the policy may be significantly more expensive- Vermont has the highest average rates at $1512 per year.

Factors like the year of construction, number of floors, location of the lowest floor, building occupancy, location of contents, and your deductible may also play a part in the overall cost of an insurance plan.

Flood insurance policies will cover two types of property: the building itself and the contents, so it is important to be sure you understand your coverage in both cases. A building policy will usually go up to about $250,000 in coverage related to the home's infrastructure and any damage caused. Contents coverage, which is usually an add-on, will extend to your personal possessions and valuables. It can be helpful to create an inventory of all the contents in your home so that if you ever need to file an insurance claim (of any type- not just for a flood), you have a listing of these contents.


When Your Home Isn't in a Flood Zone

Just because a home isn't in a high-risk area, it doesn't mean that flood insurance is totally useless for you. Flood zones are based on the estimated number of storms that can cause flooding in a given year, but they are not a guarantee that a house will flood. Likewise, a home could flood elsewhere if there is a large storm or an unexpected amount of rising water. Consider 2017's Hurricane Harvey, where about two out of every three flooded homes were outside of an official FEMA flood zone.

Many people choose to have flood insurance no matter where their home is for added protection and peace of mind. These areas will also have lower rates, so the premium may be worth the coverage just in case of any damage.

Keep in mind that, depending on the way your lot sits, part of your property may be considered at higher risk for a flood than others, which can impact this decision as well. It is also possible that a mortgage lender can require flood insurance regardless of the risk of flooding in your particular location.

Is a Home Worth Less in a Flood Zone?

The value of a house is determined by evaluating a huge number of factors, and one of them is the risk of flood. FEMA estimates that just one inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage, so it only follows that there is an appraisal implication to high flood risk.

A seller will need to take this risk into account when pricing their home. Not only will buyers be more hesitant because of the potential damage, but they will also need to pay annual flood insurance costs, which may mean they can afford less money on their mortgage. Homes that are in a flood zone may be priced slightly lower than they otherwise would have been, and buyers can use this information as a negotiation point during the due diligence process.

Other online tools, like Flood Factor, use different data models along with the FEMA measures to create a good sense of the chance of flooding in a particular home. Keep in mind that any service is merely estimating based on data, and you can never be 100% certain about if a home will or will not flood.

How to Minimize Your Flood Risk

Since the risk of flooding is often correlated to the proximity to water, many homes in Florida have a high flood risk. This is one trade-off for the beautiful weather and thriving communities! However, there are steps Florida homeowners can take to minimize the risk. While you can't change the weather and prevent floods themselves, you can take steps to ensure the damage and loss are as minimal as possible in your home.

Some things you can do include:

  • Elevate your furnace, water heater, and electrical panels to help them stay above any water levels.

  • Keep storm drains and gutters clean and remove debris often. You can also install check valves or one-way valves to keep floodwater from backing into your drains and causing more issues.

  • Maintain proper grading so that the ground around your house slopes slightly downward and forces water to seep away from your house rather than towards it. A landscaper can usually help with this by adding soil around your home's foundation to alter the grade. (In fact, most flood insurance policies won't agree to cover you if your house floods due to improper grading. This is a good thing to ask about during inspections!)

  • Seal basement walls with waterproofing materials.

  • Store valuables and legal documents on upper floors or high shelves so that, if there is a flood, they are not damaged.

A flood zone shouldn't stop you from building the house of your dreams. With the right realtor, inspectors, and insurance agencies on your side, you can live in a flood zone knowing you are protected.

Posted by Florida Realty Marketplace on
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