All Wet and Wondering Whether To Buy Flood Insurance
By Bill Primavera
The Home Guru
As I sit in my home office, I keep saving this document in case the electricity goes. The lighting is crackling outside my window and the rains have been coming down with such force that the crushed bluestone in my driveway is developing deep ruts, and that rarely has happened since I’ve lived in my home for over 30 years. It’s amazing what the force of water can do.
But today, where water and flooding is concerned, anything not experienced in the past is no guarantee that it won’t happen in the future. In the aftermath of Irene, we saw so many victims of flooding interviewed on the television news, saying that they had never before experienced flooding of their basements or their entire properties in many years of living in their communities and homes.
“Everybody is in a flood zone,” said Lynn Hillmann, my insurer at Eifert, French & Ketchum, when I called to ask whether I should have flood insurance. “Many people are surprised to find they are in a higher rated flood zone than they thought,” she added. The reason is that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has recently re-configured the flood zone maps after more than 30 years and, during that time, the development of new roads and other non-pervious surfaces has increased to the point where water in many areas in our region no longer has the same mitigating land features that absorbed it in the past.
Hillmann told me that I could check one of several websites dedicated to informing homeowners about their status and whether they’ve progressed from low to moderate to high risk. But the terminology and conditions of insurance can be quite confusing and disparate. For instance, I went to two different websites to assess my property’s risk for flooding and when I typed in my address, one of the sites claimed I was in a “low risk” zone, although I was close to a flood zone, but the other said that I was in a “high risk” zone. The one I’d probably rely more on was recommended by Hillmann. It is www.floodsmart.gov (the one that placed my home in higher risk) where you can rate your own flood insurance requirements.
I asked Hillmann, should I get flood insurance since there are so many surprises that Mother Nature is reaping upon us? She responded that she felt it was a good idea for property owners to get a flood quote and be informed, no matter their flood zone status, if they want to feel more comfortable about any eventuality.
Also I mentioned a fear that many homeowners have about flooded basements. My home is on a high water table as most homes are in this region, and I wondered if there were a disruption of electrical service and my sump pump didn’t work, would I be covered if my basement flooded? The answer was no, “because there’s a qualification to be insured for floods that specifies that two adjacent properties or two acres surrounding the person’s home must be underwater,” she responded. So, who knew?
“And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a disruption in electricity,” she added. “With all the rain this spring, the water was coming into some peoples’ basements with such force that the sump pumps just couldn’t handle it. However, there is an endorsement which can be added to a regular homeowner’s policy that insures back-up of sewers and drains.”
Even then, homeowners should read their policies very carefully because, in basements, only utilities such as boilers, water heaters, air conditioning units, and washer and dryer, are covered, and not carpeting, walls or furnishings.
Another restriction is that a basement is defined for coverage as having all four walls underground, totally below grade, rather than the “walk-out” style of basement that many of us have, which is treated differently. That is not considered a basement by the flood insurance program, according to Hillmann.
There were some other surprises along the way of my modest investigation, such as learning that the maximum amount of residential flood coverage I can get is $250,000 and somewhat alarming to know that nearly 25 percent of all flood insurance claims come from medium or low-risk flood areas.
Both homeowners and real estate agents alike have concerns about what the impact of flood zone reclassification will have on insurance coverage. If the cost of insurance increases, it means that home ownership becomes more expensive for both new home buyers and existing home owners in affected areas. As it is, the mortgage lender must by law require home buyers to buy flood insurance as a condition for receiving a federally backed loan.
Because there are so many variable conditions and policies to consider, the best advice I could give about flood insurance is to go to the website mentioned, www.floodsmart.gov, to learn more. And, then, call a home insurance agent. Lynn Hillmann, for one, can be reached at 914-250-2500.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (www.PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner (www.PrimaveraPR.com). For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.