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What is an elevation certificate?

house on floodplain
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If you are buying a home in a flood-prone area or want to lower your flood insurance premium, you may need a flood elevation certificate. An elevation certificate reviews the features of your home, like the flood zone your home is in and what kinds of building materials were used, as well as the elevation of your home’s lowest level. This can help both lenders and insurance companies determine the likelihood that your home will be exposed to flooding during future weather events.

In some cases, an elevation certificate may be required. In others, it could be optional but might significantly reduce the cost of your flood insurance policy.

What is a flood elevation certificate?

A flood elevation certificate describes in detail how susceptible your home may be to flooding. Elevation certificates essentially measure how likely a home is to be affected by a flood. You can see a sample elevation certificate on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website.

Elevation certificates assess the risk of future flood damage by examining your home’s:

  • Elevation
  • Build
  • Flood zone
  • Location

With these details documented, the NFIP and other flood insurance providers can evaluate how likely it is that flood waters could damage your home. This helps these organizations, along with financial institutions like mortgage companies, determine your home’s level of risk. Insurance companies then use your specific risk level to determine your premium.

When do you need an elevation certificate?

If an elevation certificate is required, your mortgage lender or insurance company should advise you of the requirement. That said, there are some cases where you may want to consider getting an elevation certificate even if it is not required.

You may need or want to obtain an elevation certificate if:

  • Your home is located in a historic floodplain. If your home is located in a historic floodplain — meaning it has been flooded multiple times over the course of 100 years — you will most likely need an elevation certificate to purchase the home or flood insurance.
  • You are buying a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy. If you purchase flood insurance through the NFIP, an elevation certificate may be required before it will approve you for coverage.
  • The federal government is involved. If your home loan is going to be insured or issued by the U.S. government, an elevation certificate may be required before the loan will be approved.
  • Your lender requires flood insurance. Your mortgage lender may require you to purchase flood insurance if your home is in a flood plain. An elevation certificate could be useful in a few ways. If you do not believe your home needs flood insurance, an elevation certificate could help back up your claim. After you get the certificate, you can then submit a request to get a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), which may allow you to bypass your lender’s flood insurance requirement by removing your home from a flood zone. If your home is significantly elevated, you may still need flood insurance but an elevation certificate could drastically reduce your premium.

If you are unsure if you need an elevation certificate, talk to your mortgage lender or insurance agent for clarification. Your agent may also be able to clarify if an elevation certificate could lower your flood insurance premium.

How do you get an elevation certificate?

Each state has a floodplain manager who will likely be able to help you if you are wondering how to get an elevation certificate. You can contact your state’s floodplain manager and ask if your home already has an elevation certificate. If you are purchasing a home, the sellers might also have a copy of a current certification.

However, if your home does not already have an elevation certificate and you need or want to obtain one, you have a few options. A certified engineer, a state-licensed surveyor or a certified architect should be able to examine your home and provide you with an elevation certificate. Just be sure that whoever you choose to hire is certified to provide their services for an elevation certificate; not everyone has the proper training to do so.

FEMA suggests homebuyers or homeowners check with their state’s professional association of land surveyors. There may be a surveyor close by who can assist you.

How much does an elevation certificate cost?

Every individual engineer, surveyor and architect sets their own rates, so the cost of your elevation certificate will vary. Factors like your home’s construction and its location could also affect the cost of an elevation certificate.

Other factors that could affect the cost of your elevation certificate include:

  • The building’s structural details: If you have a basement or crawlspace, these areas may need to be measured and accessed, which may be difficult depending on the home.
  • The building’s location: If your home is difficult to access or GPS does not function properly at the property, your elevation certificate may be more expensive. Many tools that surveyors use rely on GPS.
  • The building’s 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.
  • Your requested turnaround time: Elevation certificates require time and careful measurements. If you need a certificate quickly, it could put additional stresses on the surveyor, which can lead to higher costs.

Whether you are required to have an elevation certificate or you are obtaining one willingly, knowing the details about the process can be helpful. Since homeowners insurance does not typically cover flood damage and a separate flood insurance policy is usually needed, insurance costs can add up quickly. An elevation certificate may help you to lower the cost of your flood insurance policy.

Frequently asked questions

Is an elevation certificate required for flood insurance?

It could be. The National Flood Insurance Program often requires an elevation certificate before approving your policy. If your lender requires you to purchase flood insurance before it will approve a loan, you may want to contact a local licensed land surveyor or see if the home already has an elevation certificate.

How much does it cost to get an elevation certificate?

Costs vary based on the person you hire to complete the assessment of your property. The cost will depend on the details of the building itself, your home’s location and how quickly you need the certificate.

How long does it take to get an elevation certificate?

The amount of time varies with each surveyor. If you are buying a home during peak season or the surveyor has other obligations before they can come to your property, it may take longer to get an elevation certificate. If possible, planning ahead to give yourself ample time to get the certificate could help make the process smoother.

Written by
Kacie Goff
Personal Finance Contributor
Kacie Goff is a personal finance and insurance writer with over seven years of experience covering personal and commercial coverage options. She writes for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, NextAdvisor, Varo Money, Coverage, Best Credit Cards and more. She's covered a broad range of policy types — including less-talked-about coverages like wrap insurance and E&O — and she specializes in auto, homeowners and life insurance.
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