About ten years ago while we were still residents of NH, we had a flood in our home. In my last column I outlined the issues that led up to “our” flood, but in a nutshell, we lived on a lake, and following 30” of rain in 30 days and the snow melt up-country, our lake level went up 12 feet, and came into our lower level.
As the water began receding, a representative from FEMA knocked at our door. Our county had been declared an emergency and government aid was available. We qualified for a grant of $2,000 to begin the clean up, and we qualified for an SBA (low interest) loan to fix the damage to lower level. FEMA also gave us a plan for a concrete “flood wall” to build out front—and the one requirement to make all this generosity come to reality: we had to buy flood insurance.
I like to think of myself as a rational being, one who can evaluate issues and come up with some kind of a solution. But when the water is rising, and dozens of people are helping with sand bags, and then the water comes over the top and flows into your home; well I excused myself and went into my garage—and cried. There was just noting we could do to keep that from happening right then.
The FEMA plans for a flood wall--which could protect the home—were pretty simple. The wall was about 100 feet long and set 6 feet into the soil, with a very large footing. The wall itself was straight, with two delta wings back toward the house to give additional rigidity to this dam between me and the lake. This was the solution, they said, to avoid this happening again. And even though the flood was called a “100 year” flood, there's no telling when that might happen again. So I bought flood insurance .
As it turned out, the next 100 year flood happened again the next year, and the new wall held.
And if you think that a flood only makes all your stuff wet, you have another think coming. With the water comes mud, and fish, and frogs and snakes. And some stuff floats, and other stuff doesn't. I had tall steel shelving with paint cans and tools on them. On the bottom shelf I had placed large plastic tubs of stuff. The tubs floated and lifted the shelves up off the floor, naturally they tipped over, spilling all their contents, some of which opened and spread their contents on the water. Ugh!
The carpets were obviously under water as was the insulation in the walls. All this needed to be removed. The thermopane sliders filled with water up to the high water line. Somehow the water gets in, stains the glass, and can't get out, so there was water in there for some time. The hollow doors on that level all came unglued, they peeled and flayed out. The furnace, central air and hot water heater were all drenched, but somehow they dried out, and once “tuned up” seemed to be none the worse for wear. A month later we replaced everything except the working utilities.
You might think you could, but you can't live in a house with a flooded basement. The fire department pulled our electric meter, and told us to find a place to stay. Without electricity, all events around a house pretty well come to a halt. We engaged a cleaning company as the water finally drained out. The cleaning guys said they needed a week to dry the place out once the power was back on. They asked for permission to throw away everything, and brought in fans and a huge dumpster. (As a Yankee, I was reluctant to throw away everything, so we compromised on a few things)
But to let them have free access to the house and get me away from overseeing the mess, we came to our house in Englewood—it was Memorial Day, we went Tarpon fishing.
So this is what I know first hand about flood insurance. It's expensive, and if you read the newspapers you know it's getting more costly. When there is a flood, unless the county you live in is deemed an emergency area, you're not covered. You have to pay for it a year in advance. If you have a mortgage, it's required. Read the policy, it doesn't cover much, usually just the utilities and services on the lowest level (AC, hot water heater and the like), if water gets to the next level, they get more generous. The policy goes with the house. Meaning when you sell, the new buyer should be able to continue your policy. When we sold our house, the buyer looked into a new flood insurance policy and it was 3 times more costly than my existing policy, that's when we found he was able to assume our policy.
Also, FEMA flood maps are like the bible to a bank, even though they get redrawn all the time. God makes the floods, and they happen where the maps and even smart people least expect. There are floods in the lowlands, and along the Mississippi, but also in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. So you never know.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional affiliated with Sarasota Realty Associates in Venice. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. See him on the web at www.danesellsflorida.com