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The Atlantic hurricane season is approaching and it’s more crucial than ever to make sure you’re informed and protected when you’re looking to buy a home in a hurricane zone.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. As of 2016, the population of the 185 coastline counties from Maine to Texas was 94 million, according to the United States Census Bureau. There are 7.3 million homes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts at risk for hurricane damage this year — and Florida, Louisiana and Texas have the most properties in jeopardy, according to the CoreLogic 2019 Storm Surge Report.
In 2019, natural disasters cost $45 billion worth of home and property damage, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. Fourteen weather events exceeded $1 billion in damages.
Regardless of whether a hurricane actually hits your home, you’ll need to have hurricane insurance, which is included in homeowner’s insurance in many states, though not in high-risk coastal states, where you’ll have to purchase this coverage separately. The same goes for flood insurance, which we will cover below.
We created a guide to help you if you’re considering a home purchase in a hurricane zone. We’ll help you determine the risk level of each home and steps you can take to ensure that your home is fully protected.
Location is an important factor
Where you decide to buy a home is tied to your premiums and risk level. Flood zones are areas mapped by FEMA for use in the National Flood Insurance Program. Each flood zone designation, represented by a letter or letters, tells homeowners exactly what the risk is for flooding at their property over a period of years, regardless of the cause. In other words, Hurricane Zone A has very different implications than Zone E.
“Just because a home has not flooded previously doesn’t mean it won’t flood tomorrow,” says Luis Torres, research economist of The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “Consider whether you are downstream from a dam or reservoir. Following Hurricane Harvey, many Houston homes were damaged by the release of water, not by the actual hurricane.”
Carefully consider your location and know that flood maps evolve over time. An area may currently have a low risk of flooding, but that could slowly (or quickly) change.
Determine what hurricane or flood zone the home is located in
Flood zones and evacuation zones are determined by different methods and have different purposes. A home may be located in a non-evacuation zone but still be located in a flood zone because of a nearby stream or pond. You must check both zones.
“Insurance companies are concerned with flood zone rating, not evacuation zones. High-risk zones start with a letter A or V, moderate risk zones start with an X and are usually followed by a number. For example, X500 means that statistically, the area floods every 500 years. Low risk zones have a letter X only,” says Chuck Vosburgh, licensed realtor at NextHome Gulf to Bay in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Download the FEMA app and determine which hurricane evacuation zone your home is in. This can also be used to determine whether flood insurance is needed. You can also learn more about your community’s warning system.
By law, all homes in high-risk zones that carry a mortgage must be covered by flood insurance because flood damage caused by a hurricane is not covered by your homeowners insurance policy. You’ll need a separate flood insurance policy that will cover rising water from natural disasters.
Evacuation zones, on the other hand, are based on hurricane storm surge zones determined by the National Hurricane Center using ground elevation and the area’s vulnerability to storm surge from a hurricane. The evacuation zones are marked from A through E, plus non-evacuation zones.
Choosing to buy a couple miles inland can save you a lot of money, though if your home is located in a high flood-risk area, it can put your home at a higher risk during hurricanes. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be near the water to be in a flood hazard. Tick through the following bullets if you’re scouting for a home in a hurricane/flood zone:
- Know the flood zone the home is in.
- Know the year the home was built.
- Determine how much flood insurance will cost you.
- Determine whether you can take measures to prevent flood damage to your home.
- Understand how much damages could cost (you can find this on FEMA’s website).
Each time you tour a home you might want to buy, ask questions about past flood and storm damage and ask if the home you’re considering requires an elevation certificate (EC). Your insurance agent will likely need an elevation certificate (EC) to determine your flood insurance premium. An EC means that the home shows compliance with the floodplain management ordinance. The premium could be so high that it could mean particular homes could be deal-breakers. Components of your research include:
- Find out how old each home is. Older homes may require additional repairs and updating to make sure they can withstand hurricanes and floods.
- Learn whether each home is up to date with current building codes and hurricane-proof.
- Consider elevation, location and possible risk from nearby dams, levees and water sources.
- Check drains to be sure they’re working properly on the home.
- Check the garage door and other entrance doors; forceful winds can create pressure and blow off the roof of the home.
- Verify that the roof is in good condition, otherwise a blown-off roof could leave your walls without a way to be braced.
- Be sure a home has hurricane-proof windows and doors that are wind-resistant and can withstand flying debris.
- Be aware of unsecured outdoor items that can fly away if not fastened down.
- Flood risk disclosure laws
- Don’t completely rely on the property owner or real estate agent to give you all the facts — get an inspection report that includes this info.
In fact, some states don’t require property owners to warn potential buyers about past flooding. You can check out a flood disclosure map from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Check out potential home addresses to find out what zone the homes you’re shopping for are located. Depending on the zone, you may need specific flood insurance.
Make sure you and your home are protected
What’s included and not included? Your insurance premium will depend on your home’s risk level and the cost also varies as well. Don’t forget that flood insurance policies impose a 30-day waiting period before coverage takes effect. Unfortunately, insurers won’t adjust your coverage once a storm begins to brew.
Homeowners insurance can help repair or replace your home and belongings if they are damaged by fire or theft, if you accidentally damage another person’s property or if a visitor is injured while at your home. You may want to choose additional protections to make sure your home and belongings are completely covered. Earthquake and flood insurance are two examples of perils not covered by homeowners insurance, though hurricane insurance is typically included with homeowners insurance, depending on where you live.
Flood damage is typically not covered by homeowners insurance. You may be able to buy a separate flood policy through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or through a private insurer. Flood insurance will have building property coverage and personal contents coverage. However, there are some things that aren’t covered, including moisture damage that you could have prevented, as well as outdoor property and cars, for example.
Check with an insurance agent to determine how much it’ll cost and what type of coverage you can get.
“There are a number of wind-mitigating features like hurricane clips that secure the roof better than older methods and reinforced gables. Before you purchase, get a wind mitigation inspection to find out if the property has any features that can save you on your insurance and reduce your risk of damage,” says Vosburgh.
Wind is typically covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, but some policies partially or completely exclude wind-related damage. Read your home insurance policy or contact your agent to learn how you’ll be affected. Cost of coverage will vary depending on your state, the types of damage, the limitations your policy may have in place and how much coverage you purchase.
How to reduce your insurance premiums
Remember that it’s a good idea to be insured for at least 80 percent of the cost of rebuilding, and there are several tips and tricks you can employ to reduce your homeowners or flood insurance premium.
Raise the first floor or lowest interior floor of your home above the base flood elevation (BFE) to save 60 percent on insurance premiums, according to FloodSmart.
Basement infill can be effective at reducing damage to building elements and contents located below the BFE. The higher the reference level of the lowest floor, the more significant the premium rate decrease will be, according to FEMA.
Abandoning the lowest floor of a building, if possible, can reduce damage to building elements and contents located below the BFE. Again, the higher the reference level of the lowest floor, the more significant the premium rate decrease will be, according to FEMA.
You can install openings in the foundation and enclosure walls located below the BFE which can more easily allow floodwaters to enter and leave. Doing this can increase the elevation at which the lowest floor is rated can lower insurance premiums.
Elevate all building utility systems and equipment (furnaces, septic tanks, electric and gas meters). Doing so may make you eligible for discounts through the NFIP.
Have you confirmed that you’re not required to get flood insurance but your prospective home is in a hurricane zone? You should still get flood insurance. After all, 25 percent of all flood insurance claims come from low- or moderate-risk areas. Furthermore, if you live in a hurricane/flood prone area and don’t get insurance, you won’t qualify for federal aid if you find yourself in the unfortunate position to need it.
Hurricane season is coming, and if you’re considering a home purchase in a hurricane zone, one of the most important things you can do is contact an insurance agent and purchase hurricane insurance. Rates can vary, depending on the state where you plan to buy insurance. Determine how much your premium will be for each area you’re considering and check out the different zones that your future home may be in: hurricane, flood and evacuation zones.
Determine whether you need flood and wind insurance and decide whether you need to go to extra measures to protect your home further.
Have you called around to a couple of insurance companies and decided that the homes you’re considering are just too expensive because of insurance?
“If you look for homes farther inland that have been properly mitigated, the premiums will still be higher than you would pay in another state where national insurance products are readily available, but they will be considerably lower than those for a home that is close to the water without updates,” says Sharon Headlee, southeast director of operations of CBIZ Inc.