New Report: Millions of U.S. Property Owners Are Unaware Their Properties Are At Risk of Flooding

As many as six million U.S. properties face a substantial risk of flooding without their owners being aware of the threat. That’s according to a report recently released by the First Street Foundation, a non-profit research and technology group committed to defining America’s flood risk.

The researchers combined data from a number of different sources to develop a model that determined 1.7 times more properties face a substantial risk of flooding than are awarded that designation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the Federal Flood Insurance Program.

In real numbers, 14.6 million properties are at substantial risk of flooding. However, due to the well-known shortcomings of FEMA’s chronically outdated and/or incomplete flooding maps, the report says the owners of 5.9 million properties are “currently unaware or underestimating the risk they face because they are not being identified as being within the FEMA designated SFHA (Special Flood Hazard Area) zone.” Interestingly enough, the researchers also found that some areas that are listed by FEMA as being in SFHAs actually shouldn’t be.

The danger to real estate owners in all of this is that millions of property owners who should buy flood insurance might not have it because they’re not aware of the risk. Others who have it, might be paying for coverage they don’t actually need. Among the problems for homes that flood is they can be expensive to repair, experience a loss in value, and can be hard to sell. They can also flood again and again, compounding the owner’s misery.

When creating the report, the researchers considered many potential sources of flooding, including rivers, rainfall, storm surge and tidal source. To estimate the future risk of flooding, they also took climate change-generated extreme weather and sea level rise into account. First Street estimated that 21.8 million properties are at risk of flooding this year. Climate change will boost that number by 1.7 million properties over the next 30 years.

First Street created the report to help real estate buyers and sellers to make informed decisions regarding properties at risk of flooding. This is especially important for buyers since states vary widely regarding the amount of information sellers have to disclose to them and the flood insurance history of a property is protected by privacy laws.

In addition to the groundbreaking flood report, First Street has created a tool called Flood Factor that real estate buyers and owners can use to determine the current and future risk of flooding to a particular property by entering the address. When put to the test, Flood Factor provided reports for some addresses but not all addresses, including those that are located in well-known flood prone areas. A screen would appear that said “Information for (X Address) is unavailable. Please try another location or find out why this address isn’t listed.” When we clicked to find out why an address wasn’t listed we were taken back to the address search screen.

When First Street works out the kinks, Flood Factor will be a very useful resource to all real estate owners and buyers. Knowing the risk of flooding with a few key strokes will even the playing field in real estate transactions in a way that’s now not always possible. The researchers also hope that the information will be used by mortgage providers and insurers to better assess risk and by government planners to decide how to better address flooding.

Author: Larry Richardson

Larry Richardson relies on his journalism, real estate, photography and videography experience and education to create SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com and annual editions of "7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents." Richardson, an inactive but licensed real estate agent in Florida with a dozen years of experience, also owns StepByStepChef.com, which features YouTube videos with over 10 million views