What is an elevation certificate?

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If you’re buying a home or want to lower the cost of your flood insurance premium, you’ll need a flood elevation certificate. An elevation certificate rates how likely your home may be exposed to flooding during future weather events and is used by both lenders and insurance companies for flood certification.

Here’s everything you need to know about elevation certificates.

What is a flood elevation certificate?

A flood elevation certificate describes in detail how susceptible your home is to flooding. It contains information about your home’s:

  • Build
  • Elevation
  • Flood zone
  • Location

It is called an elevation certificate because the elevation of your home is considered with regard to the expected elevation of flood waters if and when a flooding were to occur. This helps lenders and insurance companies determine if your home is at future risk. Should your home’s lowest floor be below the expected level of future flood waters, it’s not a question of whether you should purchase insurance. It’s a question of how much you should purchase.

When do you need an elevation certificate?

There are a few situations where you need an elevation certificate.

First, if your home is located in a historic floodplain— meaning it’s been flooded multiple times over the course of 100 years— you will need an elevation certificate to purchase the home.

Secondly, if you purchase flood insurance through the NFIP, the NFIP requires an elevation certificate before it will approve you for coverage.

Lastly, if your home loan is insured or issued by the U.S. government, an elevation certificate is required before the loan will be disbursed.

You may also want to consider getting an elevation certificate if your lender requires you to purchase flood insurance for a home you don’t believe should require it. An elevation certificate will either help prove or disprove the lender’s claims. Should it be in question, you can then submit a request to get a Letter of Map Amendment, also known as a LOMA.

How do you get an elevation certificate?

Believe it or not, you have a local floodplain manager who will likely be able to help you. First, contact this person and ask if your home already has a floodplain certificate. If not, ask the seller. The home may already have one attached to the deed.

However, if the home you’re purchasing doesn’t have one and you need it to close, you have a few options on whom you can hire:

  • Certified engineer
  • State licensed surveyor
  • Certified architect

If you choose to get the help of an architect, the architect must already be authorized to certify your home’s elevation. You can’t call up any nearby architect and get their help.

FEMA suggests homebuyers or homeowners check with their state’s professional association of land surveyors. You may have one close by who can quickly write up a report for you.

How much does an elevation certificate cost?

On average, getting an elevation certificate costs about $600. Costs, of course, will vary depending on what the home is used for, where it’s located, how it’s made and how fast the certificate needs to be completed.

Here are other things that can influence the cost:

  • Structure type: If you have a basement or crawlspace, these areas will need to be measured and accessed (which may be difficult depending on the home).
  • Location: If the home is difficult to access, or GPS doesn’t function properly at the property, local benchmarks will have to be used, which can increase the cost of the elevation certificate.
  • Occupancy type: If the property is used for commercial purposes, the cost of the certificate may increase significantly. This is because mechanical structures, such as elevators, require different measurements and considerations.
  • Turnaround time: Elevation certificates require time and careful measurements. If you need a fast turnaround, this essentially means your asking the land surveyor to work around the clock. Expect your final bill to be higher than the national average if this is the situation.

Even though it might seem expensive to get a certificate, it may be required or may save you money on flood insurance. These things can make the cost worth it.

Frequently asked questions

Is an elevation certificate required for flood insurance?

Yes, it is. The National Flood Insurance Program requires it before it will approve you for a policy. If your lender requires you to purchase flood insurance before it will approve a loan, contact a local licensed land surveyor or see if the home already has an elevation certificate.

How much does it cost to get a certificate of elevation?

Costs vary. The average cost most homebuyers or homeowners spend is $600. However, it can cost much more if your home or business has more complex needs.

How long does it take to get an elevation certificate?

The amount of time varies with each surveyor. If you work with a licensed surveyor, and he or she is able to fit you in and knows your area well, you should expect a completed elevation certificate within five business days. If you’re buying a home during peak season, and the surveyor is not able to schedule a visit for a while, it may take longer.

If you’re on a tight schedule because of closing, consider contacting another state-licensed surveyor, local engineer or architect to complete the elevation certificate.