Buying a Home in a Flood Zone?
It’s no secret that purchasing a home may be one of the most stressful and biggest investments you will be making in your life. Purchasing a home in a flood zone adds even more stress to the process. Theoretically it is up to the seller to inform you if his or her house are within a flood zone. A qualified and experienced buyer’s agent should also be able to confirm if the house is in a flood zone.
Accessing FEMA Flood Maps
As a home buyer you should double check if you are in a flood zone. Good news, this can be done simply and for FREE online. You should refer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) MSC website to check if your home is in a flood zone. Once you are on the website, simply type in your address and hit the search button. The FEMA website will provide you with a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) and a link to their interactive map.
Another option is to download a copy of the associated FIRM you are searching for and zooming in to identify your home and corresponding street. It can be a bit of a tedious process to zoom in and properly identify your home. Thus, it may be easier and quicker to use the FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) to identify if your home in within a flood zone.
Refer to the legend in the adjacent column to identify the flood hazard boundary zones and what each overlay means. Understanding the flood hazard zones is a bit extensive and will be covered in a different blog post. The one of interest is usually the 100-yr. flood hazard zone (1% Annual Chance Flood Hazard or BFE). This will be depicted with a light blue shade and will have a flood zone designation such as (A, AE, AH, AO, etc.).
Play Investigator, ask Questions?
Once you confirm the house is in fact in a flood zone, you should proceed cautiously and gather more information from the seller and real estate agent. Here are some of the questions you should ask:
Has the house ever been flooded? In the basement, crawlspace, or ground level?
If the house has not been flooded, has the adjacent street ever flooded?
If the house has flooded in the past, approximately how much water entered the house?
How did the water enter the house? In the basement, crawl space, ground floor?
What was damaged? What remediation efforts were taken?
Was the house insured at the time of flooding? How much does the seller pay for flood insurance (if applicable)?
You should also request and review the following:
Sellers Disclosure Agreement
Elevation Certificate (this will give you elevations of the home with respect to flood zone datum’s)
How a Home Inspector may fit in?
Home Inspectors are generalists, we evaluate what we can visually see. A typical home inspector will not look up if your home is in a flood zone. Chances are the home inspector will not be informed that the house has been in a flood zone and/or flooded in the past. They may get lucky and get a copy of the disclosure agreement stating the house is in a flood zone (rare). But there can be many clues that a house has flooded (water intrusion) in the past and an experienced home inspector will identify them, specifically in lower levels (i.e. basement, crawl space). Here are some signs of past flooding or major water intrusion:
Signs of rot, excessive rust, or efflorescence
Continuously operating a dehumidifier in the lower level
Presence of a sump pump with a spare pump and/or auxiliary supply battery.
High water level stains in the sump pump pit.
A sump pump that is continuously working.
Wall cracks, water stains, or peeling of paint (finished basement).
Wet/damp insulation on perimeter.
Water stains on hardwood floor and lower level floor joists. Ground level may have flooded.
Downspouts dumping water right next to basement window or adjacent to foundation wall, there is more a chance of water getting into the lower level.
You should always do your homework and ask the seller and sales agent if the house is within a flood zone and if it has flooded in the past. Also take matters in your own hand and refer to the FEMA website to double check. If you confirm the house is within a flood zone carefully review the seller’s disclosure agreement and ask more specific questions (as listed above). Request for the elevation certificate (if applicable) or you may want to hire a licensed surveyor to complete one.
Consult and get advice from the lender, insurer, and real estate attorney as well. If you decide to move forward with the real estate transaction, advise your home inspector that the house is in a flood zone. Providing a copy of the disclosure agreement also helps the home inspector gather some critical information. Make sure you are present during the home inspection as he/she should be looking for any water/moisture issues, specifically in the lower levels of the home.
Finally review the findings of the home inspection report and ensure your attorney receives a copy. You want to cover all possible angles as you do not want any surprises to occur later