Massachusetts is known for its coastline, including the famed Boston Harbor and Cape Cod Bay. All that coastline comes with a risk, though — flooding. Flood damage can be devastating, but many homeowners don’t know that flooding is not covered by standard home insurance policies. In fact, you’ll likely have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy to obtain coverage. Because Massachusetts is at a high risk for flood damage, it’s important for homeowners to know their options when it comes to insurance coverage. Bankrate explains Massachusetts flood insurance and how having a sufficient policy could spare you from the devastating financial fallout of flood damage.

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Why Massachusetts homeowners might want flood insurance

Massachusetts has a history of flooding both in the distant and recent past. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that all but one county in Massachusetts is at the highest risk level for flooding. Flood events are such a common occurrence in the state that it’s not unusual for Massachusetts to have well over 50 incidents (in 2018, the state had over 90).

As you might expect, the cost impact has been quite severe to both insurance companies and homeowners. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) paid an average of $52,000 in flood claim damages to homeowners in 2019.

If you’re thinking about buying flood insurance, or even if you already have a policy, it’s important to understand what flood insurance does and doesn’t cover.

What flood insurance covers

Generally, flood insurance covers flood damage to:

  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Some appliances
  • Permanently installed carpeting, paneling, cabinets and bookcases
  • The structure of your home, including drywall, staircases and foundations
  • Detached garages
  • Personal belongings (if this coverage is purchased)

What flood insurance doesn’t cover

A flood insurance policy won’t cover everything. Here are some instances not covered by flood insurance:

  • Temporary living expenses if your home is unlivable due to a flood
  • Property outside of the covered building
  • Money, precious metals and other forms or currency
  • Vehicles
  • Contents kept in a basement

Cost of flood insurance in Massachusetts

The cost of your flood insurance policy will depend on your specific rating factors, but the NFIP reports that the average rate is $700 per year. Flood insurance rates in Massachusetts are determined by what flood zone your home or property is in, which you can determine by inputting your address into FEMA’s flood map. The higher the risk of flooding in your area, the more you’re likely to pay for a policy. In high-risk areas, flood insurance can be quite expensive and may be more than the cost of your home insurance.

Additionally, your provider will also consider the following when determining your premium:

  • Design of your home
  • Age of your home
  • Location of your home’s utilities
  • Coverage amount
  • Deductible amount

It’s possible to lower your flood insurance costs by getting an elevation certificate, which verifies that your home’s elevation is above the average height of floodwaters for your area.

Massachusetts flood insurance laws

Massachusetts doesn’t require homeowners to buy flood insurance, but mortgage companies often do, especially if you are in a high-risk flood zone. While coverage isn’t required by law, the state does have some stipulations when it comes to mortgage companies requiring coverage:

  • Mortgage companies can only require enough flood insurance to cover the principal balance of the loan
  • Mortgage companies cannot require contents coverage
  • Mortgage companies cannot require a deductible of less than $5,000, although lower deductibles are acceptable if chosen by the policyholder
  • The homeowner can request to lower the dwelling amount on their flood insurance policy each year to reflect the new principal balance of the mortgage.

When to purchase flood insurance

Massachusetts homeowners insurance laws don’t legally require you to have flood insurance. Still, if you have a mortgage, your lender will likely require it if your home is in a special flood hazard area (SFHA), which is an area close to the water and low in elevation.

It’s typically best to purchase flood insurance as soon as you buy a home in a flood zone, and in fact, you’ll probably have to show proof of a policy before you’re cleared to close on your loan. If you’re nervous about an upcoming storm and don’t have flood insurance, you’ll likely still be able to purchase flood insurance, but keep in mind that there is usually a 30-day waiting period before coverage goes into effect.

Fortunately, there are exceptions where you don’t have to wait the full 30 days.

  • If you’re purchasing flood insurance because your area’s flood map has changed and indicated your home is at risk, you have 13 months to buy flood insurance without a 30-day wait period for filing a claim. If you do this, there is only a one-day wait period.
  • If you have just purchased, renewed, increased or extended a home loan, you may purchase flood insurance without a 30-day wait period.

How to purchase flood insurance in Massachusetts

The easiest way to purchase flood insurance is to call your homeowners insurance provider and speak with an agent. Some private insurers can help you purchase an NFIP policy and may even offer their own flood insurance. You can also call the NFIP Help Center at (800) 427-4661. An agent will get you a quote and can answer any additional questions you may have.

NFIP does not currently offer additional living expenses coverage or loss-of-use coverage with their policies. If you purchase an NFIP policy and floodwaters damage your home, it will be up to you to pay any additional housing and food costs out-of-pocket.

How to file a NFIP flood insurance claim

It’s a good idea to check with your provider to learn more about their claims process when purchasing your policy. Typically, these are the steps you will be asked to follow.

If your home is damaged by flooding, immediately call your insurance provider and speak with an agent. An insurance adjuster will visit your home and assess how much damage has been done by floodwaters.

If you can, take pictures of any areas damaged by floodwaters if it is safe to do so. If possible, try to get shots that show how high the water rose and be sure to take pictures of the inside of your home, too.

To expedite the process, separate damaged items from undamaged items — making sure to protect your belongings from further damage if you can.

Frequently asked questions

    • They might. Renters can buy contents-only flood insurance, which would protect them from high out-of-pocket costs if their belongings were damaged in a flood. Landlords would bear the burden of carrying a flood insurance policy for the building itself. While landlords often require you to have a renters insurance policy to provide liability coverage, insuring your belongings is up to you. It’s not likely that a landlord would require flood insurance for a renter, but it could still be a smart purchase.
    • Flooding in Massachusetts is most commonly caused by heavy rainfall that swells the state’s rivers and coastal waters to the point that they inundate the land. Strong ocean storms, including hurricanes and tropical storms that make their way up the coast, can also cause flooding. To help keep your home and belongings safe, you could consider elevating your home and utilities, installing wall and floor drains to allow water to escape the property, and filling in basements.
    • Floods are relatively common in Massachusetts, with every county but one at a high risk level. Unfortunately, some types of flooding are becoming more common. High-tide flooding, also called sunny-day flooding, happens when tidal waters encroach onto low-lying coastal areas, and — according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — it’s getting more frequent as our climate changes. Boston had seven high-tide flood days in 2021, but it’s projected to have 11 to 18 high-tide flood days in 2022. By 2050, that number rises to 50 to 70 high-tide flood days, which means that for nearly 20% of the year, some streets in Boston could be underwater. As flooding becomes more common, the need for flood insurance will likely rise.