What’s the most common natural disaster in the US? If you guessed flooding, you’re right. Flooding is even more prevalent in the Lowcountry, and not just on the peninsula and near tidal marshes. The towns and cities that make up the greater Charleston area all lie at, below, or just barely above sea level. That means when we have a tide higher than six feet (called Neep, Spring, or King tides), heavy rains that fall during a high or rising tide, or tropical storm or hurricane situations, there is flooding.
Homeowners Insurance Isn’t Enough
Homeowners insurance covers you if the water damage comes from the sky. For example, if a storm blows your roof off or windows out. It does not cover damage when water comes from the ground.
Everyone Lives in a Flood Plain
Your mortgage lender will require you to take out flood insurance if your home is in a designated floodplain (technically called a Special Flood Hazard Area, or SFHA). If your home isn’t in a floodplain, you won’t be required to buy flood insurance, but it’s still a good idea. One in five flood claims come from homeowners who live in a low-risk area. During 2017’s Hurricane Irma, which hit our coast as a tropical storm, the Charleston area saw record floodwaters that were second only to Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Therefore, some experts say that if you live in the Lowcountry, you live in a flood plain regardless of the FEMA charts.
House Hunting? Check the Flood Zones Before You Buy.
If you’re house hunting, check the flood zone by plugging the address into FEMA’s online map. You can also ask your Realtor to double check with the current owner, but be sure to validate the answer you receive. Homes not in a flood zone should still have insurance, but it’s typically inexpensive – less than $400 a year.
The Expensive Flood Zones
Zones V and A are considered high risk and flood insurance can cost in the neighborhood of $400 per month. That’s not a monthly expense you want to be surprised with at closing, and it is an expense you’ll want to figure in when calculating the total monthly cost of your new home.
What Flood Insurance Covers – And Doesn’t Cover
Flood insurance typically covers:
- Structural damage
- Electrical, HVAC, and plumbing repairs and replacement
- Permanently installed flooring, carpets, built-ins, and shutters
- Personal property such as clothing, furniture, appliances, and some valuables such as artwork
It typically does not cover:
- Damage that happens in the first 30 days of your policy
- Hotels or living expenses if you’re displaced
- Damage caused by mold and mildew
- Valuable papers
Note that federal flood insurance also has a cap of $350,000 for the structure and $100,000 in personal property. If you need more than that to rebuild, you’ll need to take out additional insurance from a private insurer.
Three Tips for Making Flood Insurance Your Friend
Flood insurance is your friend in the Lowcountry, but in high-risk zones, it can be expensive. To avoid nasty surprises before, at or after closing:
- Educate yourself about what flood insurance premiums and deductibles mean to your budget before you fall in love with a home
- As you shop, keep the FEMA interactive map handy on your phone or tablet so you can determine the flood zone of the neighborhoods and homes in which you’re interested
- Call your insurance agent and ask for quotes on a house before you make an offer
Be sure to read the policy, so you understand your deductible and what is and isn’t covered. Hopefully, you’ll never need to make a claim, but if you do – you’ll be glad you took time to get informed.