Moving to a hurricane-prone region? Ask these 3 questions before buying your home

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

If you and your family are considering relocating to an area that has seen its fair share of tropical storms, hurricanes and flooding events, knowing what to expect can help you decide if it’s worth the risk.

Millions of people reside in hurricane-prone areas across the United States, and ensuring that your potential new home can withstand strong winds and damage is essential to your family’s safety.

Consider asking a real estate agent or your insurance company the following three questions before purchasing a home in an area with a high probability of hurricane activity.

1. How old is the home?

One of the more important factors to think about is the year a home was built, as newer homes will always be more hurricane-resistant than older ones, according to Brett Buras, managing member of Florida-based company Superior Real Estate Solutions.

Floodwaters outside of home - Getty Images

(Photo/JodiJacobson/Getty Images)

“The [building code] standards in the 1950s and 1960s were basically non-existent with relation to storms,” Buras said. “When people are looking in high-probability storm areas, they can find houses that are newer where they know that those houses had to be built to higher standards.”

In Florida, for example, a number of structures were not constructed to withstand powerful, hurricane-force winds prior to 1992’s destructive Hurricane Andrew.

Changes in legislation were implemented after Andrew due to the extent of devastation resulting from the storm, said Buras. Home buyers might want to examine the strength of the building codes and how well they’re enforced.

“If you can find a house that was built after those types of building code requirements, then you know you’re moving into a property that already meets that standard,” he said.

2. Will I need flood insurance?

“According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), water damage from floods is one of the most common and costly hazards in the U.S.,” said Craig Gjelsten, vice president of operations at Rainbow International, a Neighborly company.

Gjelsten added that 90 percent of damage related to natural disasters is a result of floods, and everyone faces some degree of risk.

“Usually when you’re shopping for a home and you’re going to get a mortgage, there will be requirements from the mortgage lender if you live in a special flood hazard zone,” USAA Director of Underwriting Rob Galbraith told AccuWeather.

If a person lives in what’s known as a one-in-100-year floodplain, it’s required by the mortgage lender to buy flood insurance, Galbraith said.

“You should buy flood insurance regardless, because an estimated 20 percent of losses happen outside of the special flood hazard zones, and just because you don’t live in a flood hazard zone doesn’t mean that it can’t flood where you live,” he said.

Although Houston has experienced several flood events in recent years, many people dropped their flood coverage, according to Galbraith.

“Following some of the earlier floods, they thought, ‘We had our one-in-100-year flood, so that’s not going to happen again for another hundred years,'” he said.

“It doesn’t work that way; Just because it happened last year doesn’t mean that it can’t happen again this year,” he added.

Not all insurance companies and policies cover flood coverage, and there’s typically a 30-day waiting period before coverage kicks in, according to Gjelsten.

3. Where is the home located and how high above sea level is it?

People that consider purchasing a home on a coastal area versus a few blocks inland may see a big difference in terms of probability of damage and insurance premiums, according to Buras. “The farther you are from the water, the less likely you are to be impacted by a storm,” he said.

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Although the distance from the shore matters, elevation is also a key factor, said Galbraith.

“You may be on the shore but you’re a little higher up, or you can be inland but in a low-lying area,” he said. Determining how far a home is from a special flood hazard zone is also essential, he noted.

Galbraith also pointed out that houses built along the coast might actually be more resilient than an older home that’s located inland because they’re newer and constructed with the latest structural features.

It’s essential to keep in mind the distance from the home to any nearby dams or levees, according to Galbraith.

“As we saw during Harvey in 2017, there were some reservoirs that had to be released because they built up so much rainfall, and the folks that lived downstream from them thought they were protected by those dams and levees,” Galbraith said.

“That indicates that an area could flood and that a dam or levee could fail, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans,” he added.

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