Buying a Home Near Water? Check the Flood Insurance Rate Map

After Hurricane Sandy devastated many neighborhoods in New York City, including Lower Manhattan and the Rockaways, it was a reminder to residents that floods can be very destructive. If you are thinking about buying a home near water, it is important to understand whether the property sits in a flood zone. If it does, you could face costly insurance rates.

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) requires homeowners who live in high-risk areas to purchase flood insurance. FEMA is responsible for creating and updating flood zone maps for communities. Those maps are used by homeowners, mortgage lenders and insurance agents to determine insurance premiums and eligibility. The agency also publishes a comprehensive glossary to help explain the map’s various terms and symbols.

When determining your risk level, FEMA LA flood zone considers the type of flood that could affect your property and its location. The flood zone system uses a letter grade to represent the level of risk for different types of flooding. For example, anyone living in a flood zone with a letter grade of A has a one-in-four chance of experiencing a flood over a 30-year mortgage term. Zones B, C and X are considered low to moderate risk zones, although flooding is still possible. These zones account for 20 to 25 percent of NFIP claims each year.

Getting a clear picture of what your property is in or near will help you take steps to mitigate the risk level, such as building outside a flood zone, making changes and retrofitting a home in a flood zone and purchasing flood insurance. The best place to start is by checking the latest FIRM, or Flood Insurance Rate Map, for the specific area where the home is located.

A FIRM is a detailed mapping tool that shows your home or the potential property’s flood zone and other relevant information, such as topographical and infrastructural data like levees and coastal barriers. The FIRM is an online tool, available at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. To find the FIRM for your home or the home you are considering, enter its address at the center of the page.

Once you’ve found your FIRM, zoom in to see your property’s exact location on the map. You should see a small dialogue box with your FIRM data in it. It is helpful to have a copy of the property’s deed on hand when you look up the FIRM. If the FIRM data isn’t there, ask your real estate agent to get it for you.

It is also helpful to know the date the FIRM was created when looking up your property’s zoning and flood risk status. As years pass, the FIRM may be updated and the home or commercial property you are considering may be recategorized as being in a higher risk zone. This could have significant ramifications for the cost of your insurance, so be sure to keep up with the FIRM updates.