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.

Insurers and Mortgage Providers Are Shifting Sea Level Rise Flooding Risk to Government-Run Programs and, Ultimately, Taxpayers

A recent article by Naveena Sadasivam published in Grist examines in-depth the way insurance companies and mortgage providers are shifting the risk from sea level rise flooding and other climate change-related disasters to government run insurers and, ultimately, taxpayers. This could have grave consequences for coastal real estate markets.

There are several mechanisms they’re using to unburden themselves of the risks, according to the Grist article. One way is for private insurers to abandon risky areas, leaving states with subsidized state insurance programs — such as California, Florida and Texas — to pick up the burden. Another way is for mortgage providers to make loans in high-risk areas and then sell them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee about 50 percent of the country’s $10 trillion mortgage market.

Unfortunately, many of the state-subsidized insurance programs are underfunded. If a natural disaster hits, they could go broke, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs are also at risk of being destroyed from disasters. If they fail, taxpayers will likely have to cough up billions of dollars in bailout money.

According to the Grist article, “Experts say if these climate risks are left unaddressed, the combined effects could ripple across the economy in ways that mirror the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007.”

Mortgage providers require buyers and owners to purchase flood insurance. If insurance becomes prohibitively expensive or unreliable, coastal real estate markets could lock up and property values could plummet.

Does Your State Require Real Estate Sellers to Disclose Sea Level Rise Flooding?

Each state has different requirements regarding a seller’s obligation to disclose sea level rise flooding issues to buyers in a real estate transaction. Not being aware of a state’s seller’s disclosure law can put buyers, sellers and even real estate agents at great risk.

Some states, like Louisiana, are very stringent. Sellers have to tell a buyer if a property floods, the source of the flooding, the type of damage the flooding causes, and whether any flood insurance claims have been filed. The last point is important because there have been cases where buyers have purchased a property and not been aware of a flooding issue. When the property floods and they file a claim, the past claims can be used against them and their insurance rates can skyrocket.

Other states, like Virginia, are pretty much the wild west when it comes to seller’s disclosures. Basically, sellers don’t have to disclose anything, and it’s up to buyers to find out what’s going on.

Florida lies somewhere in the middle. The state requires sellers to disclose defects that they’re aware of that materially affect the value of a property. This could be construed as meaning they’re required to inform buyers if a property experiences flooding. But in all actuality, the language is so non-specific that the state’s insurers are expected to lobby for legislation this year that’s more in line with Louisiana’s detailed level of disclosure.

Strong seller’s disclosure laws protect buyers, sellers, and real estate agents. Buyers, of course, are protected because they’re informed about sea level rise flooding issue BEFORE they make a purchase. Sellers are protected because they will know exactly what’s they’re required to tell the buyer. This can help them to avoid lawsuits for failure to disclose flooding. And real estate agents are protected because they, too, will know what’s expected of them, and they’ll be able to provide better advice to their clients.

A note of caution: Even in states that have strong seller’s disclosure laws, buyers should find out from more than one source if a property or neighborhood floods. Buyers should ask the seller to order a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report from their insurer. The report will tell the buyer if any claims have been filed with most insurers in the last 5-7 years. Strolling the neighborhood and asking residents if the property or neighborhood floods can also yield valuable information.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has an excellent online map that features information about each state’s seller’s disclosure law. There’s also more information about this important issue in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.”