A recent report by Redfin, an online real estate brokerage, found that a record number of home buyers are relocating—primarily to more-affordable parts of the country. More than one-third of Redfin customers were interested in relocating to a different metro area in April and May, with Miami and Tampa topping the list of popular destinations.
But any savings you realize by moving to a lower-cost area could disappear if your home is in the path of natural disaster. Severe weather events are occurring more and more frequently. In 2021 alone, the U.S. experienced 20, and the trend shows no sign of slowing in 2022. Fortunately, there are tools you can use to assess your risks—and take steps to mitigate them—before you buy a new home.
How to Check for Floods
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) periodically updates its flood maps periodand is required by law to let Congress know when changes are made. FEMA also recently updated its flood insurance premium algorithm to incorporate more variables, including flood frequency and the types of floods—storm surges, river overflows and heavy rainfalls, for example—that could affect a particular area. With the old maps, FEMA assessed risk based mostly on the elevation of your property. To find your FEMA map, go to www.fema.gov/flood-maps.
You can get specific information about the risk flooding poses to a prospective home from Risk Factor. The free tool provides flood and wildfire data for more than 145 million properties across the U.S. You’ll need the exact address of the home (or homes) you’re considering buying.
Risk Factor will rate the risk of floods or fires for a specific address on a scale of 1 to 10—1 being a minimal flood or fire risk and 10 being the highest. It will also project the risks to your county over a 30-year time frame, identify the FEMA zone your property is in and give you a range of what you could expect to pay for flood insurance premiums.
Knowing your home’s risk of flooding will help you determine whether you should buy flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, so you will have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy from a private insurance company or through FEMA. For more information, go to www.fema.gov/flood-insurance.
How to Check for Wildfires, Hurricanes and Everything Else
FEMA’s National Risk Index assesses every U.S. county’s overall risk profile, as well as the risk that it will be hit by one or more natural disasters (including wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and coastal flooding). The NRI also provides an estimate of the cost of natural disasters for specific counties.
Take Maricopa County, Ariz., home to Phoenix and numerous retirement communities. The NRI says it has a “relatively high” risk for wildfires, strong winds, river flooding and other disasters, and the index estimates the annual property loss at more than $44 million.
Hazard Hub’s free risk tool, used by both insurance agents and individuals, can also show you your property’s risk of damage from various calamities. As a plus, Hazard Hub also evaluates the risk of “man-made” issues, such as crime, nuclear plant accidents, leaks from underground storage tanks and more.
For more on what your homeowners insurance policy will cover if you’re hit by mother nature's wrath, go to How to Protect your Home from Natural Disasters with the Right Insurance.
Rivan joined Kiplinger on Leap Day 2016 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. A Michigan native, she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 and from there freelanced as a local copy editor and proofreader, and served as a research assistant to a local Detroit journalist. Her work has been featured in the Ann Arbor Observer and Sage Business Researcher. She is currently assistant editor, personal finance at The Washington Post.
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