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Buying a Home in Flood Prone Houston

It's hard not to associate heavy rains and flooding with Houston these days. It's just the nature of our city and with climate change on the rise, so is flooding.

I was inspired to write this post because I heard something on NPR that said that first-time home buyers were reluctant to buy a home in Houston due to the fear of flooding. I think if I were a first time home buyer, I might even feel the same way.

Before I proceed, I want to point out some important facts about Houston and Harvey:

  • Houston is 640 square miles.

  • Only 30% of Houston falls within the 100 yr flood zone.

  • Only 30% of the structures in both flood zones (100 yr and 500 yr) were impacted by Harvey.

  • Only 19% of the those structures outside of flood zones were impacted.

Here are some tips that will help you overcome your angst so you, too, can enjoy the benefits of home ownership with some peace of mind.

1) Find an experienced Houston Realtor. Realtors who've been practicing for at least 10 years have been through 2 - 3 floods and 2 hurricanes. We know how things are impacted and what areas seem to be the most prone to flood. We've kept up with changes to building guidelines and understand the FEMA flood maps. We can determine if a house was repaired with permits and if those permits were related to flood damage or just renovations.

2) Buy a home outside of the Flood Zone. This may not be as simple as it sounds and is also not completely accurate or even desirable. Take West University for example. Every track in West U lies within either the 100 year or 500 year flood zone. They flooded very badly during Hurricane Allison in 2001. But during the Harvey flood, only about 112 of the 5,000 homes in West U flooded. They improved their drainage and raised the building requirements of the houses; and they tightened those guidelines up again post Harvey. Homes built after 2001 (TS Allison), for example, may be elevated enough that it isn't an issue. Houston has changed the design guidelines that require homes in flood zones to be raised before the city will allow new builds or renovations. This is where an experienced, knowledgeable agent will come in most handy. They can navigate you through the ins and outs of purchasing a property in the flood zone so that you can minimize your risk of flooding.

3) Get an Elevation Certificate. This is a document that tells you just how high above ground a house has been built. Knowing a building’s elevation compared to the estimated height floodwaters will reach in a major flood helps determine your flood risk and the cost of your flood insurance.

4) Flood Maps Change. If there's one thing we've learned from the last three floods Houston has experienced it's that our projected rain levels have changed. Rain levels that were considered 100 year levels are now a thing of the past and we are now experiencing 500 year rain levels during our floods. That means that FEMA has to reassess our city's layout and reassign flood zones. Homes that have traditionally been zoned to 500 yr levels may find themselves in the new 100 yr flood zone and homes border-lining outside the 500 year flood zones may find themselves put into a flood zone. And, on the flip side, some homes may be removed from the map altogether. It will probably be another 2 years before we see those new maps.

5) Purchase Flood Insurance. This is where it is most important to understand the difference between required flood insurance and "need to have" flood insurance. If you purchase a home within a flood zone, your lender will require you to have flood insurance. If you do not purchase a home within a flood zone, your bank will not require it. However, if you purchase a home in Houston, you need to have flood insurance. This is especially important to do prior to the new FEMA map coming out. If you have a home outside the flood zone and you have flood insurance and the new flood maps throw your house into a flood zone, your house can be grandfathered so you can enjoy the really low flood insurance rates prior to being reassigned. That is a HUGE savings. And, the policy can be assigned to a new owner when you go to sell. Here is a link for details.

And finally, apartment communities in Houston have been reporting that a lot of the homeowners who were forced out of their homes and into apartments have opted to go back to being home owners. They understand the benefits of home ownership and recognize that it is very possible to own a home in Houston and minimize flood risk, too. Don't let the fear of flooding hold you back from owning your own home.

In closing, I speak flood. If you have any questions it would be my pleasure to address them. I am never too busy for questions.

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