The recent flooding in many parts of the country should send a wake-up call to all buyers to get a proper flood-risk assessment carried out before buying any property. No-one wants to buy a home which is likely to suffer from flooding, and buyers need to be able to identify which properties are most at risk.
Many home-owners have recently been dealt a double-whammy with flooding from both the sea and swollen rivers. Further inland many homes have been inundated by surface-water, as heavy rainfall has saturated the ground and water can no longer soak away. As a consequence many homes which have not had a problem before have now suffered from flooding.
Even if you are buying a home well away from the coast or even a river there is no guarantee that you will not be affected by flooding at some time. Flats can be affected as well as houses – perhaps not directly, but flooding can still cause considerable damage to the building and insurance premiums will be affected.
When buying any property a sensible buyer will want information on the following
- Is the property located in an area identified as at risk from flooding?
- Has the property been previously affected by flooding?
- If so, what was the source of the flooding? E.g. river, sea, surface water, burst pipes?
- What repair works have been carried out and when?
- Have any flood-prevention works been carried out since previous flooding?
- Can flood insurance cover be obtained?
- If so, will insurers require higher-than-normal premiums or impose a high excess
A preliminary check can be made on the Environment Agency’s website to see whether a property is at risk from flooding. The Agency identifies separately areas at risk of flooding from sea and rivers, surface water, and reservoirs. Their maps identify areas at high, medium and low risk levels, and postcode searches can be made.
However such searches are not exhaustive and cannot always be relied on. The maps have been compiled from information supplied by local authorities, and may not be up-to-date.
It is therefore much better to rely on a proper flood risk survey carried out by a qualified surveyor. This is particularly important when previous flooding is known or suspected, as flooding can have a long-term effect on a property even after repair work has been completed.
Flood insurance cover is essential – but will it still be obtainable in future?
Being able to get insurance cover against flood risks without having to pay an excessive premium will be an important issue for anyone buying a home. However at present the future of flood insurance is still somewhat uncertain.
When considering the flood insurance risk on a particular property, insurers will look at the general flood risk for the area in which the property is located. So even of a particular home has not previously suffered from flooding the premiums may be increased if it is considered to be in a high risk area.
If cover cannot easily be obtained as part of a normal household insurance policy, or insurers require a substantial excess (i.e. the amount which an insured person has to pay themselves in the event of a claim) then the value of a property will be affected.
Mortgage lenders require borrowers to insure properties against usual risks including flooding. If such cover cannot readily be obtained then it will be difficult to get a mortgage on a property. This affects its marketability and consequently its value.
Future of flood insurance is still uncertain
For many years insurers had agreed with the government to provide flood cover for most residential properties. However due to the increased number of flood claims in recent years insurers had indicated that they might have to cease offering such cover altogether.
That was not acceptable politically, so after negotiations between the insurance industry and the government last year a scheme was agreed which is intended to ensure that most homes will continue to be covered.
Under this scheme, to be known as Flood Re, all homeowners will be required to pay a levy on top of their premiums. The amount of this levy has not yet been determined but is expected to be about £10 per property.
The amounts collected from this levy will then be used to subsidise flood cover for the estimated 200,000 homes which will otherwise be uninsurable.
It is planned that this new scheme will come into operation in 2015. Although the necessary legislation has been passed enabling Flood Re to be set up the full details of the scheme remain to be agreed. Negotiations are continuing but at present the exact arrangements have not been finalised.
It appears that the scheme will not cover newly-built properties. This must be of concern to anyone buying a new property in the future, especially as so many new developments are now taking place on flood plains.
Developers are often now required to carry out flood prevention works as part of any new development. But buyers could still find difficulty in getting flood cover if insurers consider homes to be at greater risk of being flooded.
High-value homes will also be excluded from the new arrangements, so the value of such properties may be affected if they are in an area at high risk from flooding.
Why to avoid buying a property which is at risk from flooding
Even if insurance cover is available, buyers should be aware of the damage and upset which can be caused by flooding. Apart from the potential risk to life itself, significant damage is likely to the building itself as well as furniture and carpets. Personal belongings will often be damaged beyond repair and may not easily be replaceable.
Flooding can also cause major disruption to personal life as the property will often be uninhabitable for some time and alternative accommodation will have to be found.
Someone whose home had suffered from sea-flooding said that the worst thing he felt when he returned was the stench from raw sewage, which had leaked into the building as the drains backed up. It took months for this smell to disappear, as well as for the building to dry out sufficiently for repair work to be started.
Salt water inundation can cause lasting damage to a building. Salt deposits are injurious to most building materials, and can lead to decay in concrete and brickwork. So any building which may have previously suffered from sea-water flooding will require an expert survey to ensure that it is sound.
It is best to avoid buying any property which is at risk from flooding. All buyers are therefore urged to have a full flood-risk assessment carried out. This can be done as part of a building survey and the additional cost is not excessive.