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Buy flood insurance before the water rises
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Ponying up for flood premiums
Flood insurance costs anywhere from less than $300 to more than $2,500 annually, depending on where you live, the value of your home and what you buy. For many people who live in the 100-year flood plain, it is more costly than standard homeowners insurance. But it is clearly a bargain if you live someplace where flooding is reasonably common.

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It doesn't appear to be such a good deal if you live in a part of the country that only gets flooded now and then -- or if you're compelled to buy flood insurance based on outdated flood maps that don't reflect recently added flood control measures or a changing landscape.

In Buffalo, N.Y., for example, residents south of the city have organized a protest and a community effort to get FEMA to redo the flood maps on which the demand for flood insurance in their town is based. It last flooded there in the early 1950s, before the Army Corp of Engineers built some flood-control structures. Owners of average-priced homes there pay more than $1,000 per year in flood insurance.

"This is having a disastrous effect on our community. That extra $100 a month that people have to pay is a disincentive for people to buy houses in this area. It's lowering property values and making it nearly impossible to sell a home," says Michael Kearns, a city council member who is leading the protest.

Getting out of flood insurance
To avoid paying flood insurance, you must demonstrate that your house is not in the flood plain. The first step is to get a copy of the flood insurance rate map, or FIRM, for your community. If your house is shown to be within the special flood hazard area on the map, under current law the lender must require the purchase of flood insurance. If only a portion of your property is within the flood plain, but the house is not in the flood plain, there are no federal requirements for the purchase of flood insurance. If you feel that the FIRM does not show your house to be within the special flood hazard area, you should contact your lender to determine if it has correctly located your property and your house.

If the house is shown to be within the flood plain on the FIRM, the only way to remove the flood insurance purchase requirement is to apply to FEMA for a letter of map amendment. A letter of map amendment requires that the property owner submit elevation information that demonstrates that the structure is above the 100-year flood elevation. The elevation certificate and the letter of map amendment application can be downloaded from FEMA's Web site. There's also a tutorial on the site. Costs include hiring an engineer and paying application fees -- and there are certainly no guarantees that FEMA will see it your way.

The other way to get out of carrying flood insurance is to pay off the mortgage. Then if you choose to self-insure -- or be like Noah and build yourself an ark -- that's your business. But you'd better be able to swim.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: July 12, 2006
 
 
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