"Is my property in a flood zone?" That's a question that concerns both homeowners and home shoppers—and not just those near large bodies of water.
In fact, there are a little over a dozen flood zone classifications. Those rankings, determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are based on the estimated frequency of storms that will cause flooding in an area. So while you may not live in the Gulf Coast (one of the U.S. regions most vulnerable to hurricanes), your property may still be part of an area that's been deemed a high risk for flooding.
So how do you find out if your home is in a flood zone, and what type of flood zone it is?
How to find out if your property is in a flood zone?
Most homes in high-risk flood zones are near a body of water. But regardless of your location, there are a few ways to determine your home's flood zone status.
"The best place to start is with FEMA's Map Service Center," says Adam D'Annunzio, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in New Jersey who sells real estate in flood zones.
Simply enter a property's address, and a map showing its flood zone hazard will pop up. Zones B, X, and C are the lowest risk, while high-risk zones start with either an A or a V (V zones are coastal areas). Zone AE, for example, has a 1% probability of flooding every year, also known as a 100-year flood plain.
Keep in mind when looking at the map that it's possible that only part your lot—and perhaps not your actual house—may be in the flood zone.
Other resources include tax record databases and title searches; both will indicate a property's flood risk.
"You can also ask your insurance agent," says real estate agent and attorney Bruce Ailion of Atlanta's Re/Max Town and Country.
Is a property's flood zone status disclosed to home shoppers?
While all states have laws regarding property disclosure, the specific laws regarding flood zone status vary from state to state, says Johnny Harper, owner of J and J Home Inspections in Nashville, TN. Federal laws don't require disclosure of previous flooding.
"However, full disclosure is certainly the ethical responsibility of the seller and the listing agent," Harper says.
As a buyer, you should research the property—or have your real estate agent check—to see if it's in a flood zone. If you're obtaining financing, the mortgage company will investigate flood zoning as well.
"If the property is found to be in a flood zone, the mortgage company will require flood insurance," says D'Annunzio.
How much is flood insurance?
The federal government offers subsidized flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. The amount you pay for your policy is based on such factors as year of construction, building occupancy, number of floors, location of contents, flood risk, location of the lowest floor (in relation to the Base Flood Elevation on a flood map), and your deductible.
The average cost of flood insurance through the NFIP is $700 per year. Of course, the amount you pay is all based on your property's flood risk. If you are in a high-hazard zone, Harper says flood insurance can be significantly more expensive—as high as $6,000 per year.
Does being in a flood zone affect a home's price?
Whether you're a seller or a buyer, keep in mind that a home's price will likely be affected by being in a flood plain.
"Sellers know the cost of yearly flood insurance could affect what buyers can afford," says D'Annunzio. So when the home is priced to sell, they will likely take those extra expenses into account.
The property could also be seen by buyers as less desirable if the risk of damage from future flooding is high. So a highly motivated seller might list the home lower than the market value.
Do you need flood insurance?
Did you know that most home insurance policies don't cover damage or other losses caused by flooding? Homes in high-risk areas that participate in the NFIP are required to purchase flood insurance. But if you live in a moderate- to low-risk area, should you buy flood insurance? Flood zones are based on an estimation of the number of storms that will cause flooding in a year, but there's no guarantee that your area will flood. Still, you want to be covered in the event that something does happen.
If you're wavering between buying and not buying flood insurance, ask yourself this question: Do you think the possibility of flooding—and the damage associated with it—is worth the insurance premium? In some cases, having flood insurance is less expensive than the losses from a flood.
How to minimize your flood losses
If your home is in a flood zone, Harper advises taking these steps:
* Elevate your furnace, water heater, and electric panels to protect them from possible flood waters.
* Keep storm drains and gutters free of debris, and install check valves (or one-way valves) to keep floodwater from backing into your drains.
* Seal your basement walls with waterproofing materials.
* Store your valuables and legal documents on your upper floors.