‘I Bought a House in a Flood Zone’: Here’s How We Don’t Sink

One weekend last fall, I was checking out a real estate listing on realtor.com of a cute 19th-century house near a creek. But underneath this idyllic photo, I noticed two words in small, blue print, “Flood Factor,” followed by a number,10/10.

Alarmed, I delved deeper, and learned that this property’s flood risk was as high as it gets.

I texted my real estate agent, who’d sent me this listing: “Let’s skip this one. I don’t want to live in a flood zone.”

Still, our house hunt had been going from bad to worse all summer. Our quest for a second home in upstate New York had stalled, as the ongoing pandemic sent droves of home buyers into the market. A new listing would hit, our real estate agent would book a showing for a day or two later, and by the time we were driving to see the property, I’d learn there was already an accepted offer.

On this particular weekend, this flood-prone house was near the one tour we’d scheduled.

“We’ll be so close to it, why not just swing by?” my agent asked.

I agreed. After all, what did we have to lose?

Our backyard during the worst of a recent flood watch
Our backyard during the worst of a recent flood watch

Janet Siroto

Buying a house in a flood zone: Is it worth the risk?

This house was a charmer and then some: an 1870s homestead with three fireplaces, wide-board floors, a beautifully renovated kitchen, and a roomy addition that meant more space for our family. Outside, the creek burbled, filling the house with sounds of nature. In the yard, a hummingbird darted to and fro, a frog hopped in the water, and butterflies circled about. It was like a scene from “Enchanted,” a Disney movie come to life.

In short order, my husband and I huddled with our real estate agent, deciding how much to offer for the house. As for the flooding, we were provided with a massive file of information about bridge and dam improvements that diminished the flood risk, as well as documentation of what the sellers had done to safeguard the property from rising water.

We learned the house had indeed flooded during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. But, we wondered, who on the East Coast hadn’t felt the impact of that devastating event?

My husband pored over the property’s survey, noting the elevations of the yard, basement, and house, and then cross-referenced that with historic flood data on high tidal surges. He felt we were OK, so onward we went.

Getting the flood insurance facts

As we progressed toward closing the sale, we became acquainted with the ins and outs of flood insurance, which our bank required to approve our mortgage.

Flood insurance is similar to other insurance coverage: The lower your deductible (what you pay out of pocket to fix problems before insurance kicks in), the higher your premium (what you pay for the insurance). Once an insurance broker laid out our options, it was clear that our property would run several thousand dollars a year.

My husband and I thought long and hard about the numbers. The additional cost of flood insurance at a time of historically low mortgage rates seemed like a decent trade-off. We paid the first year of flood insurance upfront, and then had the next year’s premium rolled into our monthly mortgage payment. This assured the bank that we were committed to ongoing coverage through the life of our loan.

Our backyard patio is just steps from the creek.
Our backyard patio is just steps from the creek.

Janet Siroto

Blame it on the rain

We closed on the house just before the holidays. Feeling safe and snug, we were so happy to be in our little haven in the country. Up went a Christmas tree, which one of our sons had chopped down himself a few miles from our new home. Down came snow, lots of it. The house looked so pretty, frosted in white, and the yard was carpeted in snow drifts.

But this bucolic scene took a turn for the worse, and fast.

The weather service announced there would be torrential rain on Christmas Day. In addition, temperatures would be unseasonably warm, in the 50s, causing all the snow to melt and run off. Flood watches and warnings were issued.

At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about wrapping the last of the holiday gifts and sliding them under the tree. Instead, I was anxiously imagining how the next day might unfold.

The next day: unrelenting rain and temperatures warm enough to melt every inch of snow.

In the back of our yard, where the creek merged with another stream, we noticed that we had less yard. The water was overflowing its normal boundaries and advancing toward the house. My husband stuck a measuring stick in the ground. We watched and waited.

By midafternoon on Christmas Day, about half of our yard was under a few inches of water. My plans for a gazebo by the rear property line were clearly dashed, as that area turned out to be semiaquatic. We realized we were in only a flood watch (meaning potential danger), not a full-on flood warning (which basically means prepare to evacuate).

We held our breath—the creek surged, and retreated.

Making peace with major risk

We had Christmas dinner in our new home, overlooking a very soggy scene outside. What had we gotten ourselves into? More than we’d bargained for, that’s true. We are going to live with a layer of uncertainty and worry about rising waters that we’ve never had before.

But then again, we’ve never before experienced the joy of opening our windows and listening to a babbling brook. Or seeing all kinds of ducks come bobbing through our backyard. Or catching trout 10 feet from our kitchen.

We rolled the dice, and so far, we’re keeping our heads and hopes well above water.

The creek in our backyard is so picturesque, it's worth the flood risk.
The creek in our backyard is so picturesque, it’s worth the flood risk.

Janet Siroto

Source: realtor.com

Redfin joins Realtor.com in displaying flood data

When Realtor.com became the first listing platform to display flood hazard data on properties, the lead economist for Redfin expressed caution about the unintended consequences of displaying such statistics.

“We need to be very careful about how we provide information,” Taylor Marr, the lead economist at Redfin, told NPR at the time. “Could this actually reduce the value of this existing homeowner and essentially take away a lot of their net worth?”

Evidently, Redfin feels like the consumer benefit of knowing the flood risk outweighs that concern. The Seattle-based real estate brokerage and listings platform will be publishing flood risk information on nearly every home on its listing platform, it announced on Tuesday.

Like Realtor.com, Redfin will be publishing data compiled by First Street Foundation, a science and technology nonprofit organization that quantifies flood risk through Flood Factor.

“Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people will make in their lifetime,” Redfin Chief Product Officer Christian Taubman said in a statement. “By publishing the Flood Factor score, we’re making it easier to understand the risk each home faces of being damaged by flooding, meaning everyone can make better-informed decisions about buying and selling. Most homebuyers and sellers say that the frequency or intensity of natural disasters factors into their decision about where and whether to buy or sell a home, so this is information they can really use.”

First Street’s model accounts for flood risk from four primary flood events, including heavy rainfall, storm surge, tidal and riverine sources. The organization says it also factors in potential climate change impacts. It provides a climate-adjusted assessment of current risk through the course of a 30-year mortgage.

First Street’s models areas not currently mapped by FEMA, the public source that determines payouts for those applying for aid through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Disclosure of flood risk for homes that are outside the official floodplain is important information for prospective buyers: about one-third of federal disaster money paid out to flood survivors is distributed to people who live outside the designated FEMA zones.

The flood scores are active across 94 million listings on Redfin.

Source: housingwire.com

What Does Home Insurance Cover? The Facts on Fire, Flooding, and More

Few things give new home buyers peace of mind about their real estate purchase as much as a solid homeowners insurance policy. This ensures that if disaster strikes—in the form of a tornado, house fire, or otherwise—homeowners won’t be on the hook to foot the bill for expensive repairs on their own.

Exactly what does home insurance cover, though? Are there any key things homeowners might assume are covered that actually aren’t?

In this latest installment of our handy Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Insurance, we’ll explain what’s covered under most insurance plans—plus some key exceptions—so you know just how soundly you can sleep at night in your new home.

What does homeowners insurance cover?

A standard home insurance policy generally covers most (but not all!) natural disasters, theft, and accidents.

For instance, when a hailstorm does a number on your roof, you’ll file a claim and your home insurance company will help you pay to get it repaired. If the damage to your home has made it uninhabitable, your insurer may even pay for a hotel room until you can move back in.

“Generally, home insurance pays to repair or rebuild your property if it is damaged by fire, wind, lightning or other natural disasters,” says Josh Herz, president of Associated Insurance and Risk Management Advisors.

“It also covers your personal belongings, additional living expenses, and liability for you and others—if, say, when someone is injured on your property and litigates for damages.”

That said, all policies are different, so you’ll want to read through your home insurance documents carefully. Plus you might be surprised by what’s not typically covered in the fine print. Here’s what you need to know.

Does home insurance cover fire?

Whether you’re grappling with damage caused by a wildfire, lightning, electrical problems, a grease fire on your stove, or even a candle you left lit by accident, take heart that most house fires will be covered by home insurance.

And good thing too, since house fires are surprisingly common, with roughly one in every 350 insurance homeowners filing a claim due to fire or lightning each year. On average, insurance companies pay out $11,971 per claim to help repair fire damage.

Does home insurance cover water damage?

Water damage is typically covered by a standard homeowner insurance policy, as long as it was sudden and accidental—i.e., a pipe freezes, bursts, and floods your basement, or your hot water heater explodes.

Roughly one in every 50 insurance homeowners files a claim for water or ice damage every year. On average, insurance companies pay out $10,849 per claim. However, not all water issues are covered (more on that next).

Does home insurance cover water leaks?

While sudden water damage is typically covered, insurance companies generally won’t cover water leaks that appear gradually due to wear and tear, or are the result of poor maintenance.

In other words, if your roof is old and springs a slow leak, or if a pipe freezes and bursts because you didn’t shut off your water supply when you were away over winter break, good luck—you could be on your own.

It’s also important to know that your insurer will help cover the damage caused by water, but it probably won’t help pay to repair or replace the source of the damage. In other words, it won’t be buying you a new dishwasher if your own appliance flooded your kitchen.

Does home insurance cover plumbing?

Since plumbing problems can result in water damage, a standard home insurance policy should cover the problem if it appears out of the blue (i.e., a burst pipe). But if your pipes are just generally leaky, old, or poorly maintained, you might be on your own.

Does home insurance cover the roof?

This depends on what caused the damage. If your roof (as well as other parts of your house) gets pummeled by wind, hail, or a healthy tree falling, this is typically covered by home insurance.

It’s a good thing, too, since approximately one in every 40 insured homeowners suffers wind and hail damage each year, with claims paying out $11,200 to fix the problem.

Yet once again, your policy won’t help you out with normal roof aging and wear and tear. You’re responsible for maintaining your roof, which will need to be replaced around every 30 years (give or take, depending on what it’s made of).

If a tree falls on your roof because it was dead or rotted out, this could constitute neglect, and you could be on your own.

Does home insurance cover hurricanes?

This also depends, since hurricanes inflict damage in one of two ways—wind and water.

Damage from wind is typically covered, although your insurer may put in place a separate, higher deductible for wind damage caused by hurricanes.

Meanwhile, flooding caused by hurricanes is typically not covered by a standard homeowner insurance policy.

Does home insurance cover theft?

If someone breaks into your home and steals some of your belongings, your insurer will typically help you pay to replace those stolen items. Similarly, if a thief damages your home during the break-in, your home insurance company will help you pay for repairs, too.

Theft is surprisingly common, with approximately one in every 400 insured homeowners suffering property damage or loss caused by theft. On average, these claims pay out $4,391 annually.

Does home insurance cover pet bites and other injuries?

If your dog (or cat!) bites someone in your home, or if a visitor trips and falls down the stairs, your guests may want you to pay for their ensuing medical bills. You might also need to pay for lost wages if the injury prevents them from working.

Most standard insurance policies include what’s known as liability coverage, which means that your insurer will help pay for these expenses if someone gets hurt on your property.

This is good for you, since the average claim for bodily injury is roughly $45,000. Approximately one in 900 insured homeowners file claims of this type every year.

While home insurance covers many calamities that might hit your home, most policies don’t cover everything. Curious to know what these notable exceptions are? More on that in a future installment of this guide. Stay tuned!

Source: realtor.com