While most of the properties in the United Kingdom are not at risk of floods, there are millions of them that are, even in places that are not immediately waterside.
As areas of the world are ravaged by flooding and news is dominated by pictures of helpless homeowners mopping the water from their ground floor and basements, the normal human response is to think, ‘That could have been me.’
It is important for homeowners and house-hunters to understand the basics of floods and the associated risks. This simple step-by-step guide is intended to help those who intend to buy a house in a flood risk area.
What Are The Main Causes of Flooding?
The most common cause of flooding is the rivers that overflow their banks during periods of heavy rain. This could be caused by a lack of dredging or river cleaning and maintenance.
In coastal areas, exceptionally high tides often present a serious risk. But even in places that are not near the sea or the shore, there is a chance of so-called ‘surface water flooding,’ normally triggered by the kind of flash flooding that accompanies thunderstorms.
Another, yet more unusual occurrence, is the influx of groundwater as the water table rises and the water begins to flow into the basements and cellars.
How Prevalent is The Problem?
It’s probably more widespread than you would have thought. The Environment Agency has estimated that approximately one in six properties in the United Kingdom is at certain risk of flooding.
Some low-lying areas have been known as flood plains for a long time, floods have occurred at regular intervals, and while new construction on flood plains is prevented, they still occur in some areas of the UK.
How To Check If Your Property Is In A Flood Risk Area?
The best way to find out whether a house is in a flood risk area is to visit the government website and enter the postcode of the area in which you are interested. Areas are rated as flood risk, from ‘high’ to ‘very low,’ generally based on their proximity to rivers and the past history of flooding in the region. But be aware that flood maps will change from time to time, so it’s useful to get details from other sources, e.g. local estate agents or, if you’re buying, the owner of the house. Your conveyance attorney would also need to be on the ball.
How Would My House Insurance Be Affected?
Your home insurance could be considerably affected – particularly if the property has been flooded in the past or is at high risk. When searching around for insurance, you should be prepared with as many details as you can, so that you can get a good offer.
Some insurers will ask for an insurance-related request letter requesting you to submit a formal letter from the Environment Agency verifying the level of flood risk associated with the house. You will therefore stand in good faith with your mortgage lender, who will want to satisfy themselves that the property is insurable.
You can also check out Flood Re, a special scheme recently developed by the British Insurance Association, designed to help homeowners at high risk of flooding by capping their insurance premiums.
The scheme provides an invaluable backstop for properties that have had more than one episode of flooding and may have previously been uninsurable.
Should I Expect To Incur Extra Costs When Buying In A Flood Zone?
The most noticeable costs will be the higher insurance premiums that you might expect to pay in the region of high flood risk. They might be irritating, but if you keep in mind that you are likely to pay substantially less for the property because of its at-risk status, you would not necessarily be worse off in the long run.
You should also consider investing in steps (see below) to contain the damage caused by flooding if the worst comes to the worst. In places that are frequently flooded, it is a smart idea to buy stocks of sandbags and other flood guards to avoid a last-minute scramble.
What Preventative Measures Can Homeowners Take?
Given the damage caused by floods on carpets, it is common sense to use tiles or wood flooring instead of carpeting any apparently at-risk rooms, such as basements. Another trick that can save you a lot of money in the event of flooding is to make sure the power points found in at-risk rooms are found high up on the walls, rather than on the floor.
Installing non-return valves in drains can be a valuable protection against flash flooding. And you should also flood-proof your valuables: if you own a precious Picasso, place it in the attic, not in the cellar or basement.
What Legal Obligations Am I Under If I Am Selling A House In A Flood Risk Area?
The key one is to be upfront with the buyers about any past history of floods in the property. If your home is in an area at risk, you have the right to inquire about the floods that have happened in the past, and you need to be in a position to provide them with important information, such as past flood damage, the cost of fixing it and any effects on insurance premiums. Keep documents relevant to the flood as you keep old gas and energy bills, etc.
Millions of British people live in areas that are at certain risk of flooding. These people may have a few more sleepless nights than those who live on higher ground, but if they evaluate the risks and take sufficient measures to handle those risks, there is no need for them to feel at the mercy of the elements or get stressed out every time it rains. Purchasing a home in a flood risk area should definitely not be deemed a full no-no.
For real estate developers, the concerns of flooding are of the utmost importance when considering housing in flood-prone areas of the world. Purchasing properties in these areas can still be a good choice, even though the place faces the danger of flooding. Following these four guidelines, investing in flood-prone areas will help protect your investment and maximise your returns:
1. Identify Your Home’s Floodplain
If you identify a prospective home for your portfolio, identify if your home is in a floodplain and, if so, to what degree. This helps you assess the risk of flooding at home and the expense of flood insurance. FEMA provides a free online flood map to help you see clearly if your home is situated in a flood plain.
Occasionally, homes sit right on the line between two plains, and you need an elevation certificate to get an accurate insurance estimate. It costs a couple of hundred pounds and adds a few days to your closing timetable, but it’s worth the investment.
2. Check Your Flood History
Once you have identified the floodplain, review the background of the floods via your insurance agency. Even if the house is not in a flood zone, insurance premiums will rise dramatically if there have been numerous flood claims in the past, regardless of the water source.
Sellers should also disclose whether and when a flood incident has resulted in an insurance claim. Note: Existing owners are only obliged to reveal their first-hand experience. If your seller is not the sole owner of your property, that information may not be known or disclosed.
If the records show a prior flood, check the reason for and the subsequent impacts on the property. A house may have been flooded by pipes that burst rather than by a storm. It’s important to understand what happened before an offer is made.
3. Get a Site Survey and Elevation Certificate Before Closing
All lenders need an appropriate survey before closing but do not request an elevation certificate unless the home is in a flood plain. If you pay cash for the home, no one needs these items. In cases where the seller does not have an appropriate survey and elevation certificate, simply ask the title company to arrange for one.
These tools are strong measures of the likelihood of potential floods. Of course, flood maps will inform you whether your home is located within a 100-year or 500-year flood plain, but an elevation certificate will include the base flood elevation and other home data for the land.
4. Buy Flood Insurance
This may seem to be the most obvious tip, but it is incredibly important to buy flood insurance before you close, whether your home is in the floodplain or not. For example, Houston investors should never make purchases without flood insurance, even if they are not needed in the region.
Hurricane Harvey was a horrific reminder of how flooding can happen in the world. In fact, according to FEMA, more than 20% of flood claims come from homes located outside a high-risk flood zone. With the low cost of flood insurance for homes in the floodplain, there is a huge risk without it.
Your primary aim is to buy assets and make a profit from the investment. It is true that some of these recommendations come at a financial expense. However, the more deals you make, the more likely you are to face a flood allegation. Invest in places where investors and tenants want to live, but take the extra step to protect the investment.
Build A Moat or Flood Defence
Yes! That’s what I said!
Digging out a moat around your home could give you more time to organise the inside of your home, save your furniture and belongings when the waters start rising and could actually act as a very good defence against your home flooding. Teamed with sandbags, you could keep the water away from your front door and windows far more effectively, and if you get yourself a pump too, you’ll be able to drain the water from your moat to another location enabling it to be able to take more water if the rain continues or flood waters keep rising.
There are a number of companies in the UK that can dig a moat around your home and help with the building of additional flooding defence for your home.
We hope you enjoyed this post. You can read all of our other articles on our blogs page. Please leave us a comment with any more questions you have about buying a house in a flood risk area. We’d love to write more about this topic.