Nothing drenches the joy of buying a home quite like the thought that your new house is in a flood zone. But that question – am I in a flood zone – doesn’t have to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside in an enigma.
That’s because, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency says, “everyone lives in an area with some flood risk – it’s just a question of whether you live in a low-, moderate-, or high-risk area.” So what most people really mean when they ask “is my house in a flood zone” is this: Is my house in a high-risk flood zone and do I need to buy flood insurance for it?
Flood insurance? But I already have home insurance. Here’s the bad news: Home insurance typically doesn’t cover flooding. So yes, you must purchase a separate flood insurance policy – depending on your home’s flood risk.
Assessing the flood zone risk
FEMA has a number of flood zone classifications – four stand out (with each having some subcategories):
- Flood Zone Vs: The most hazardous. Think the first row of homes along a beach. Flood insurance is mandatory in these areas.
- Flood Zone As: These are places that are subject to rising waters. They can be near a lake, stream, river or some other body of water. Again, flood insurance is mandatory.
- Flood Zone Xs: These are minimal risk areas, usually well inland and sufficiently far away from those bodies of water mentioned above.
- Flood Zone Ds: These are areas that have yet to be studied but are considered to be possibilities for flooding.
Shouldn’t the seller tell me that the house I’m buying is in a risky flood zone? Yes, sellers or their agents should (and most will), but there’s no legal requirement.
How can I find out whether my house is in a high-risk flood zone?
There are a couple of ways:
Chances are the issue will come up when you’re getting a mortgage. Most lenders want to know before they give you the money for your home, because it will affect how much insurance you’ll have to have in place. Spoiler alert: You’ll have to have home and flood insurance policies. (See above)
But even if it doesn’t come up during home buying/closing experience, you should get some assurance. It’s easy enough. Simply enter your home’s address in FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center or at the FloodTools.com map (which might be a bit easier to navigate/understand).
I’m in risky flood zone – what next?
Proceed immediately to your insurance agent and find out whether his or her company participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. If not, contact the NFIP Referral Call center at 1-800-427-4661 to request a referral.
One more thing: Some folks believe they can forgo flood insurance, figuring that federal or state disaster aid after a flood will take care of any loss they suffer. Sorry. Most disaster assistance comes in the form of low-interest loans. Grants (which don’t have to be repaid) average $5,000, far short of the average $30,000 claim.
Can I just wait until a threat is imminent to buy flood insurance? Nope, because there is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance takes effect.
My house isn’t in a risky area! So I can forget about it, right?
Sorry, but no – for at least a couple of reasons:
- The maps, they are a-changing: FEMA updates its flood zones periodically, and there’s no guarantee the low-risk property you bought won’t end up in a higher-risk zone. If this happens, you can appeal if you think a mistake has been made.
- Low risk isn’t no risk: More than 20 percent of flood claims come from properties outside high-risk flood zones.
Coverage tops out at $250,000 for your home and $100,000 for its contents, and they must be purchased separately. Ask your agent what precisely is covered, and don’t tune out the answer!