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.
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 United States 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.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently updated its flood maps 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 (www.riskfactor.com). The free tool provides flood and wildfire data for more than 145 million properties across the country. 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 policy from a private insurance company or through FEMA. For more information, go to www.fema.gov/flood-insurance.
FEMA’s National Risk Index (http://fema.gov/nri) 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, Arizona, 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 (www.freehomerisk.com), 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.
Rivan V. Stinson is a staff writer at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.