Would You Buy a House In (or near) a Flood Plain?

Buying real estate is (at least for many) a long-term decision. Right?

Would you buy or build a house in a flood plain? My advice: don’t make a glaringly stupid decision.

Would you buy a house near a flood plain? Possibly. Depending on the definition of “near.”

Would you buy a house near what could be/is likely to be a flood plain? Hmmmmm

Zillow released a study (as I noted on FB) last month, “The Effect of Rising Sea Levels on Coastal Homes.” Based on this study, nearly 47, 000 homes in Virginia may be under water by 2100.

(Remember when Zillow’s flood maps were referring to “underwater homes” meant “homes owing more than their mortgages?“)

Nearly a Trillion dollars of housing stock … gone.

Yet … we continue to build and subsidize building now in flood-prone areas. Why?



From the press release/blog post:

“Asked about the predictions of seas rising six feet, Dennis Burke, vice president of state relations at the Reinsurance Association of America said, “If that happens, there will be parts of the country that are uninhabitable. That should be a concern to all of us, particularly with the shifts in demographics where more people are moving toward the coast because it’s a nice place to live.”

The industry is in touch with NOAA, and understands that the science indicates there will be rising sea levels, said Burke, who also spoke at a “Climate Risk Summit” this summer in Washington State.

“Fortunately, the predicted sea-level rise gives us time to prepare. Individuals and society need to think about how and where to build — and to what height, and with what building techniques and materials,” Burke said.”

But … we all know that we won’t do a damn thing.

From the Washington Post

““This is going to be a massive issue worldwide,” Michael Gerrard of Columbia University, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told The Post in a recent interview. “We don’t know yet the exact pace, but we know it’s coming. A certain amount is unavoidable.””

Keep in mind that Virginia’s infrastructure grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers is a C-. We can barely maintain our current infrastructure, much less build for the future.

Knowing all that … would you buy in a flood plain? If you’re a Realtor, what would you advise?

I don’t know why I care.. I’ll be dead by the year 2100.

Update 25 November 2016: The New York Times has a remarkably in-depth story about buying homes in and near flood plains and coastal areas. Read the whole thing. It’s long. And worth-while.

Notably regarding Virginia:

Virginia requires real estate agents to reveal whether a property is in a military airplane noise zone, has defective drywall or has ever been used to manufacture methamphetamine. After the flood maps were updated, the industry wondered what new disclosure rules would be mandated. Should homeowners or their agents be required to reveal to potential buyers if the house had been flooded? Should they have to tell how much flood insurance cost and was estimated to rise?

Within a year, state lawmakers passed a real estate disclosure law that the industry hailed as a major step forward. “We are immensely satisfied,” Deborah Baisden, then president of the Virginia Association of Realtors, said of the law.

While the law encourages home buyers to exert due diligence in investigating the risk of living in a flood hazard area, it also explicitly states that the seller of a home is not obligated to disclose whether the home is in a zone that FEMA regards as high risk.

Some city officials said the law did not go far enough. “It’s a nondisclosure disclosure,” Meg Pittenger, an environmental manager for the city of Portsmouth, Va., told a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot. She added that it should have required sellers or agents to inform prospective buyers whether a property lies in a flood zone.

Flood risks are easily overlooked because past flood damage often goes unreported and, as in Virginia, the burden of discovering it falls to the buyer. LexisNexis, a news and legal research company, can supply sellers a report with the history of flood claims on the property, but buyers usually do not know to ask for it. FEMA collects information on federal insurance claims for homes nationally, but the agency has been reluctant to make it public for privacy reasons.

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