• 7 Things to Know Before Buying a Home in a Flood Zone

    Guest post by Robert Kociecki




    You’ve found your dream home—it’s everything you wanted, and it’s in your price range! There’s just one problem: It’s in a flood zone.

    It’s time to consider your options. The key is to gain a full understanding of the situation so that you can make an informed decision about whether the home is right for you. Here are seven things you should know before you buy a home in a flood zone.


    1. The Flood Zone It’s In

    The term “flood zone” can mean many different things, depending on what zone it’s in. If you conduct your own search (which is highly recommended), you’ll find that many homes and neighborhoods are technically located in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone—even homes with minimal risk. Don’t be alarmed if the home you’re looking at is in zones X or C; these are generally considered to be the zones with the lowest risk.

    On a FEMA map, Zone X may appear either shaded or unshaded. A shaded X indicates an area where flood risk has been mitigated, including by a structure such as a dam or levy. Before you purchase a home in this zone, keep in mind that structures can fail—a mortgage lender may not require flood insurance for this zone, but flood insurance is recommended.

    The zones with the highest risk are labeled with A or V. These high-risk areas, known as Special Flood Hazard Areas, carry a higher chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year loan. If you plan to purchase a property in one of these zones, be prepared: a mortgage lender will require you to purchase flood insurance, and it could be expensive.


    1. The Year the Home Was Built

    A flood insurance rate map (FIRM) is a topographic map created by FEMA to show areas of increased risk and hazardous areas within a floodplain. These maps are used to inform zoning areas and construction plans, to prevent developers from building homes and commercial properties in high-risk areas. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) uses these maps to set construction standards to ensure that buildings can withstand base flooding.

    As flood maps change, structures that were originally built in low-risk areas can be rezoned into high-risk areas, and may not meet the necessary standards for the new flood zone. If you’re looking at a home in a flood zone, find out when the home was built. If the home was built before the current FIRM, it will not only be more vulnerable to flooding, but could also be subject to higher insurance premiums.


    1. A Low Risk Is Still Risky

    According to FEMA, about 25% of all flood insurance claims come from low or moderate risk areas. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage due to flooding—for that, you’ll need separate flood insurance. Even if your risk is minimal and insurance is not required, FEMA recommends that you get it anyway. Premiums are generally lower for homes with lower risk—a small monthly payment could save you thousands of dollars in repair costs.




    1. The Cost of Flood Insurance

    If you are thinking of buying a home in a high-risk flood zone, such as A, AE, or V, your mortgage lender will require you to purchase flood insurance. Insurance premiums are generally proportionate to risk: the higher your risk, the higher your premium. Another factor that influences the cost of insurance is the level of coverage you select. Mortgage lenders will require only that you insure the building, but you can opt to insure the contents, as well.

    Before buying a home in a flood zone, get flood insurance quotes and make sure it’s an expense you can afford. Rates are set by a national standard, so there may be no benefit to getting multiple quotes from different insurance companies. However, you could be eligible for discounts.


    1. You’ll Need an Elevation Certificate

    If you decide to purchase a home in a high-risk flood zone, your insurance agent and mortgage lender may request an elevation certificate. The elevation certificate (EC) contains information about the building’s location, characteristics, and its elevation compared to the estimated height of expected floodwaters. The EC is used to determine the estimated risk to the home—insurance companies use this information to set premiums.

    The elevation certificate may also help you to make an informed decision about whether to purchase the home. FEMA suggests requesting a copy of the EC from the seller before you purchase the home. It may reveal information that is a deal-breaker, but it could also contain information that puts you more at ease. For instance, you could find out that the flood risk doesn’t affect your entire property—it may only apply to a section of the lot that is far from the home. Of course, even if a home is sufficiently elevated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the house will never flood. But a low likelihood could ease your biggest concerns—and the cost of your flood insurance.


    1. Flood Risk Can Change Over Time

    Flood maps change over time due to a number of factors. New housing development, commercial development, and construction of new roads can reduce the amount of land available to absorb water from heavy rainfall and melting snow. You could purchase a home with low to moderate risk, only to be remapped into a high-risk flood zone later.

    While you might not be able to prevent flooding due to a natural disaster, you may be able to influence flood zone remapping in your area. Pay close attention to local politics, and look out for rezoning and development requests on the agendas of your city council meetings. Don’t be afraid to speak out if you’re concerned about how new development in your area could alter the floodplains and adversely impact flood dynamics.


    1. Mitigation Might Be an Option

    If your dream home is a property that is located in a high-risk flood zone, such as a coastal or riverside home, you may be able to take measures to prevent—or at least minimize—flood damage to your home. For instance, you might have the option to elevate the home utility systems, such as the furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and electrical panel. Other options include sealing basement walls and installing floodwalls or water barriers.

    Some mitigation measures come with a steep price tag, but if you’re in a particularly high-risk area, there may be grants available to help you offset the cost.


    Buying a home in a high-risk flood zone can be risky, expensive, and challenging—but purchasing a home can be all of these things, no matter what flood zone it’s in. Before you buy any home, you should do as much research as possible, so that you fully understand the potential threats not only to the property, but the surrounding areas as well.


    Robert Kociecki is armed with more than 15 years of experience as a real estate executive and serves as Senior Vice President of Property Management and Renovation at Altisource, parent company of  Owners.com, where buying and selling your home is made simple and affordable.  

  • California is Past Due for an Epic Flood

    California Flood - via Maven's Notebook Epic Flood Flooding in California - Image via Maven's Notebook

    Californians are about to appreciate Noah’s epic flood on a whole new level.

    Apparently (according to researchers), California is due for a massive flood. Caused by atmospheric rivers (basically a fire hose in the sky), major flooding takes place in and around California every 200 years. Well, guess what…It’s been about 200 years since the last time it happened.

    Bust out your brollies and wear your wellies, because things are about to get wet.

    Of course, California is already experiencing some roads-turned-rivers, new lakes in their backyards, and waterfalls spilling off the mountainsides that didn’t used to exist. Sorry to break the news, California, but this is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg.



    Flooded Streets - via the City of Roseville, California Epic Flood Flooded streets - Image via The City of Roseville, California

    According to The Verge, this flood of Biblical proportions could happen at any time. The last flood of this magnitude in California happened between 1861 and 1862 – more than 150 years ago. If history is to repeat itself (and history has taught us that it usually does), then it’s high time to get your home on stilts and walk around with a life preserver around your waist.

    OK, so perhaps a house on stilts and a life preserver as a belt is a little much, but there are certainly things you should do to prepare. For starters, having a water barrel or two (or three or four…) is a great way to always ensure you have drinkable water. In a flood, you might not think you have to worry about water – after all, it’s everywhere! But that’s just the problem, it’s everywhere.

    Despite all the water a flood brings in, it’s not drinkable as-is. Flood water has a nasty tendency of contaminating potable water sources. Aside from water barrels, another way to counter this is to make sure you have at least one water filter so you can use the flood water as drinking water (you may also need a way to purify the water alongside filtering it, because of itty bitty organisms and other icky things).

    If you live near the ocean, a desalinator wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Desalinators take the salt out of the ocean, making it drinkable. Besides a flood, a desalinator is also good for droughts, since the water is just sitting there, unused.

    Of course, it never hurts to have a massive ark sitting in your back yard…just in case.


    Written by Steven M.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Epic Flood

  • Oroville Dam Emergency Evacuates 188,000 People

    Oroville Dam Spillway - via Metabunk The progression of the spillway's damage after one night - via Metabunk

    You may have heard of the Oroville Dam, California’s second-largest reservoir, that's about to break and flood the entire state of California (take that, drought!). Well, those reports may be a tad over exaggerated. No, the Oroville Dam is not going to break.

    The emergency spillway, however, may fail.


    The Spillway Spilled

    Apparently there's a big, gaping hole in the emergency spillway which could continue to erode, thus causing the water to go off the side. That will cause a much faster erosion, opening up more room for damage and heavy flooding.

    70 Miles Downstream in Sacramento - via Metabunk Oroville Dam 70 Miles downriver in Sacramento - via Metabunk

    As the spillway continues to release the kraken dam lake water, flooding is inevitable. To make things worse, flooding downriver has already begun. The image to the right shows what the water levels were like in Sacramento on Sunday. Levels certainly are high with flooding already happening, but Monday and Tuesday are expected to be rainless and dry, which will help the situation. However, there is another round of rain expected later on in the week which could last for several days.

    At the time of this writing, however, things have calmed down, as Lake Oroville water levels have dropped past 901 feet, which is the level when the lake water spills into the spillway. But all is not completely peachy at the spillway. According to the Sacramento Bee, severe damage is expected to have occurred on the main spillway from water releasing so quickly.


    Gridlocked and Gasless

    Gas Station Backup - via Sacramento Bee Oroville Dam Queue for gas as residents evacuate - via Sacramento Bee

    At least 188,000 people were evacuated downriver from the Oroville Dam. As you might think, the order to evacuate caused a bit of panic, which, in turn, resulted in a gridlock on Sunday night. Some people were stuck in their cars on the side of the road, their gas indicator on red. Gas stations along the evacuation route had shut off the pumps, all out of gas. Fuel was certainly difficult to come by. An easy fix to this is to always keep your vehicle filled to at least half a tank. That way, if you are forced to evacuate without much warning (indeed, these people only had about an hour’s notice), you can at least get past the high-traffic areas until you find a less congested gas station to fill up at.


    Nowhere to Sleep

    With the mass exodus that ensued following the flood threat, hotels in Sacramento and a nearby county filled up fast. What would you do if you couldn’t find a place to stay? By having some form of emergency shelter (i.e. a tent), you could at least find a nice patch of grass on which to camp out (uphill from the flood threat, of course). If you already have a tent, this impromptu campout is a less-expensive alternative to hunting down a vacant hotel room (bonus: camping is fun!).


    At the time of this writing, the situation is improving, but with more rain on the horizon, the threat level could rise once again. Emergencies can happen to anyone in any location. The Oroville Dam incident is specific to a few hundred thousand people, yes, but other unforeseen disasters could threaten your area without a moment’s notice. Use today to be prepared for tomorrow, and get your emergency gear together as soon as you can.


    Written by Steven M.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Oroville Dam

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