Get Ready for FEMA’s New National Flood Insurance Program Rate Structure: Risk Rating 2.0

The National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is about to undergo a major rate structure overhaul. Real estate owners and buyers will soon find out if rates for a given property are going to decrease, stay the same, or maybe even increase substantially.

FEMA is making the flood insurance rate adjustments to bring fairness into the program. The agency says under the current rate structure, property owners in low risk flood zones are often paying higher insurance premiums than property owners in higher risk area, and property owners with less expensive properties are paying more than owners of properties with higher replacement costs. The agency is encouraging owners to call their flood insurance agents in August to find out what to expect when their flood insurance bills are released in October.

According to FEMA’s website, 23% of policyholders will see an average of $86 a month premium reduction, 66% will see a $0-$10 a month increase, 7% will see a $10-$20 a month increase, and 4% will see their premiums increase over $20 a month.

Real estate buyers should find out how a property of interest will be impacted by Risk Rating 2.0 when they’re considering submitting a contract. They should also consider asking the seller for information about the existing policy to find out from the insurance provider if assuming the policy at closing will result in savings.

Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can find out more about Risk Rating 2.0 and the National Flood Insurance Program on FEMA’s website. The website also features valuable information on the steps owners can take to reduce their premiums.

With sea level rise continuing to cause ever-more flooding in coastal communities, everyone living near the water needs to stay on top of the latest developments regarding flood insurance.

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.

Sea Level Rise Poses Challenges for Commercial Real Estate

Residential real estate isn’t the only sector facing challenges from the threats posed by climate change and sea level rise flooding. Commercial real estate is under pressure, too.

According to a report recently released by Dechert LLP, a global law firm that advises corporations, financial institutions, sovereign states and wealthy individuals, “Climate change is forcing the commercial real estate industry to re-think the effectiveness of flood insurance that developers, lenders and investors have relied on for decades.”

The report notes that extreme weather and sea level rise flooding are pushing the commercial flood insurance system “to a breaking point.” Specifically, the report notes that 14 weather and climate disasters in the United States resulted in $91 billion in damages. Each event had losses exceeding $1 billion mostly from damage to residential and commercial real estate.

Among the challenges faced by the commercial real estate sector discussed in the report:

1) The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency is financially unstable. The program is now running over $20 billion in the red, and it relies on government bailouts to continue to operate. Its authority to operate is due for renewal next fall. If it’s not renewed the report says, “The potential for disruption is most concerning for property owners in special flood hazard areas seeking mortgages from federally-backed entities and federally regulated banks because flood insurance is legally required for these loans.”

2) FEMA’s flood maps, which are supposed to identify a commercial property’s exposure to flood risk, are notoriously outdated and they do not consider sea level change or increased flooding estimates. “This has led to costly and catastrophic errors,” the report says. “For example, in 2018, at least 140 Florida homes were demolished following the destruction of Hurricane Michael. However, the relevant FEMA flood map reflected that the properties were in flood zone X (0.2% chance of flood in any year) and flood insurance was not required.”

3. Flood insurance only covers damages, not loss of value. The report says this is a problem because as properties become increasingly vulnerable to flooding, the will inevitably lose value over time. “The worst-case scenario here is particularly bleak,” the report says. “Billions of dollars of real estate will be underwater not only in terms of their market value being less than the outstanding mortgage debt, but also because these properties will be at greater risk of someday being literally underwater. Refinancing these mortgages and insuring these properties will undoubtedly become more challenging each passing year.”

The report goes on to explain how uncertainty in the flood insurance market is leaving the the commercial real estate finance industry without a “uniform strategy to underwrite the increased frequency and severity of flooding due to climate change.” The report says the public and private flood insurance industry “will soon be forced to adjust to face the environmental and economic realities of a country more prone to frequent, catastrophic and repeated flooding.”

The authors predict that the commercial real estate finance industry will evolve to meet the challenges to the marketplace. They identified several issues that need to be monitored: “Among the questions are whether the National Flood Insurance Program will be reformed, whether private flood insurers raise their rates to levels only wealthy real estate sponsors can afford, and whether banks and real estate bond buyers will call for more detailed disclosure to more accurately balance the risk of loss.”

The Dechert LLP report focuses on the commercial real estate industry, but most of its discussions, conclusions and warnings also apply to residential real estate. Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal areas should take the time to read this insightful report to better understand the broader issues that will impact their local real estate markets and property values.

FEMA’s Updated Flood Maps Will Impact Flood Insurance Premiums in South Florida

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program, has been touring South Florida to inform real estate owners about how proposed flood maps based on the latest data will impact their flood insurance premiums.

Owners whose property is included in flood zones will pay higher premiums under the new maps that will take effect in 18 months to two years. Experts recommend that they purchase flood insurance now, before insurance premiums spike under the new designation. If they act now, they will not have to pay the substantially higher rates new policy buyers will have to pay as their existing policies will be grandfathered in when the zones change.

The new maps aren’t all bad news. With the new data removing some properties from flood zones, some lucky owners may actually see a reduction in flood insurance premiums.

People involved in real estate in coastal areas need to keep in mind that FEMA maps don’t consider future sea level rise or king tide flooding. Buyers especially need to perform due diligence to find out if a property experiences sea level rise flooding or may experience flooding in the period they expect to own it. Not knowing a property’s flooding status could result in a loss of property value and higher carrying costs, including maintenance, flood insurance, taxes and condo and homeowners association fees.

Local governments have officials who can help property owners who missed the FEMA meetings to decide what to do next.

FEMA’S Climate Change Denialism Endangers Coastal Real Estate Owners

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for responding to natural disasters and administering the Federal Flood Insurance Program, has become a major threat to coastal area real estate owners.

FEMA is notorious for using maps based on out of date data to set the flood zones that are used to determine both the level of risk faced by property owners and their flood insurance premiums. The maps are so bad the Department of Homeland Security said only 4-in-10 maps “adequately identified the level of flood risk” in 2017, according to this Bloomberg report. Despite more and more coastal properties being flooded by sea level rise, the agency doesn’t consider sea level rise or the king tides that make the flooding even more intense in the fall when it designates the flood zones.

FEMA’s climate change and sea level rise denialism was exposed yet again by its failure to include both terms in the agency’s National Preparedness Report released in December. Environmentalists say the agency’s inaction on climate change and sea level rise put the nation at risk.

“We can’t prepare the country — we can’t prepare communities — if we take this deliberately politicized route of excluding any mention of climate change,” Rachel Cleetus, a Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate expert told E&E News.

FEMA’s climate change and sea level rise denialism is in stark contrast to the position being taken by science-driven agencies. For example, NASA has webpages that warn about climate change fueling extreme weather events. And, in 2018, the National Climate Assessment, prepared by 300 experts guided by a 60 member federal advisory committee, concluded that climate change will continue to cause extreme weather that damages infrastructure, ecosystems and social systems.

FEMA’s inability to take climate change and sea level rise flooding seriously is further proof that buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents in coastal areas need to perform due diligence to protect their financial interests. They all need to go where the federal government — and many state and local governments won’t — and gather information on where flooding is occurring, what other areas it threatens, and how local governments plan to deal with it. They also need to know how sea level rise flooding will affect their tax rates and flood insurance premiums. “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” can help them to gather the information they need to make informed decisions.