According to a recent report, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood maps fail to capture tens of thousands of Palm Beach County homes that may be at risk of flooding. In coastal states such as Florida, where residences can be at serious risk of water damage, it’s essential to know if your property is inside a flood zone. You need to know: Was my South Florida home left out of the flood zone?
FEMA’s Flood Risk Data Was Much Lower Than Risk Assessment Tool
According to its website, First Street Foundation is a non-profit research and technology group that “has released flood risk data for more than 142 million homes and properties across the country.” The organization assigns each property a “Flood Factor” score from “1 to 10 based on its cumulative risk of flooding over a thirty-year mortgage.” The information can be accessed at FloodFactor.com. When First Street compared its data with FEMA’s, it found that FEMA’s maps show just 6.8 percent of Palm Beach County homes are at risk for flooding. However, First Street found that 24 percent were at risk.
First Street Found that Over 107,000 Palm Beach County Homes are at Risk
According to First Street, in Palm Beach County, where torrential rains, swelling tides, and ocean surges can lead to emergency weather, an estimated 107,000 properties are at risk of flooding. FEMA’s data which showed 29,857 properties to be at risk in Palm Beach County, while First Street’s analysis found 107,062 properties—A stark difference of 77,205 properties. This was the most substantial gap in flood information for any county in the entire state.
FEMA’s Information is Outdated and May Not be Based on Rainfall Totals
One reason for the disparity in information is that FEMA looks at historical data to determine where flooding may occur in the future. This model does not always fully consider rainfall totals. FEMA is also working with a limited budget and is constantly struggling to update its information and flood maps. When properties are placed in FEMA’s maps, owners will often have no choice but to pay for flood insurance.
PBC Has Worked with FEMA to Update its Maps
In Palm Beach County, local officials have worked diligently to ensure that FEMA has the most current information regarding South Florida’s flood control system and the engineering that went into building community homes above potential floodwaters. FEMA ultimately incorporated this information into the agency’s maps, and Palm Beach County’s new plans were adopted in 2017.
Sellers Don’t Have to Disclose Flooding in Florida
Although a seller must disclose certain details about a home to a buyer, this does not include past flooding information. The Florida Association of Realtors has a “Flooding Disclosure” form that sellers can voluntarily use, but they are not under a legal obligation to do so. This could leave an unknowing buyer at a disadvantage when buying a flood-prone property.
FEMA maps may be useful in certain communities such as Palm Beach County, where local governments have paid close attention. However, using secondary resources such as FloodFactor.com to educate yourself and get a more complete picture of a property’s history and potential flood risk may be wise. When considering a property, ask your South Florida real estate professional about possible flooding issues with the residence.
At Rabideau Klein, we have extensive experience handling real estate matters in the Town of Palm Beach. David E. Klein, Esq. and Guy Rabideau, Esq. are Florida Bar Board-Certified Real Estate Attorneys with the experience you need to evaluate your Palm Beach County real estate purchase. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss your real estate legal needs.