Assessing flood-risk vital in home-buying

Flooding has been very much in the news over in recent years. Dramatic TV pictures show floodwater rushing through homes and bridges and roads being washed away. 

A block of flats had to be demolished after a swollen river washed away the ground from beneath the foundations.

While that was an extreme case, thousands of other homeowners were forced to leave their properties while flood damage was being repaired.

1 in 6 properties now at risk from flooding

Flooding is now seen as a serious risk for property owners, and purchasers need as much information as possible about any property they are thinking of buying. The Environment Agency estimates that 1 in 6 properties are now at risk to flooding from either rivers or the sea (or both). But homes can also be at risk from flooding due to other causes, which may be harder to assess.

New housing developments, especially in areas seen to be at high risk, will often incorporate flood defence measures. Millions of pounds are also being invested in new flood defences and strengthening older ones. But these cannot always be relied on as events last year showed. Many homes, especially older ones, are still at risk from flooding.

Flooding can cause serious disruption and lasting damage to homes

The potential damage which can be caused by flooding should not be underestimated. Apart from the immediate danger to life, there is disruption to ordinary life when a home becomes uninhabitable.

Furniture and carpets will be lost or severely damaged. Owners usually lose personal belongings which may be irreplaceable.

Building repairs can take several months. It will be necessary to make an insurance claim, which can in itself take time to sort out.

The building will have to be thoroughly dried out and cleaned of flood debris before repairs can be started. Substantial building work is often required – floors may have to be completely replaced, and it is usually necessary to remove and renew plasterwork. New electrical wiring and equipment will have to be installed, as well as repairs to other damaged services.

If sea-water has flooded a building, salt in the water can cause even more damage. Salt suspended in water is chemically highly reactive. This means that it can quickly penetrate a variety of materials and remains once it gets there. That is not good for building materials, because salt can be extremely corrosive.

Potential causes of flooding:

  • River flooding – when a river or stream cannot cope with the water draining into it from the surrounding land – for example, when heavy rain falls on the ground that is already waterlogged.
  • Surface water flooding – occurs when heavy rainfall overwhelms the drainage capacity of an area.
  • Sewer flooding – when sewers are overwhelmed by heavy rainfall or when they become blocked.
  • Groundwater flooding – when underground water levels rise above surface level. This is most likely to occur in low lying areas underlain by permeable rocks.
  • Coastal flooding – results from a combination of high tides, low lying land and, sometimes, stormy conditions. 

Get a Flood Risk Report when buying a home

When buying a home purchasers need to have information both about flooding which may have previously affected a property, and the likelihood of flooding in future. For this, the best source of information is a Flood Risk Report from a qualified Surveyor, such as a member of the RICS.

If a property is in an area which is identified as being at high risk form some form of flooding, or already has a history of flooding, this will have an effect on its value. An expert Surveyor will be able to give an opinion on that.

Prior flood damage may still affect a building, even if repairs have been carried out. This is especially so if sea or salt water flooded the property – salt has highly corrosive effects on concrete, including foundations and structural walls. It can penetrate concrete in foundations and slowly break it down, leading to weakness and instability that may emerge years later.

Similar damage occurs with bricks, mortar and plaster. If a home is repeatedly exposed to salt water flooding, it can start to develop serious structural problems that could lead to collapse.

Don’t assume buildings insurance will always cover flooding

Buyers cannot now assume that they can rely on buildings insurance to cover flood damage. With the high number of claims made in recent years, insurers are currently considering whether they can continue to offer flood cover. Negotiations with the government are continuing, but at present have not been concluded.

Insurers may no longer be prepared to provide flood cover on a property which is in an area now considered to be at high risk, or has already been the subject of previous flood claims. Even if prepared to insure, they may require very premiums and/or a substantial excess (i.e. the amount that the insured person has to pay themselves.)

If this is the case, it will be difficult to get a mortgage on such a property. Lenders insist upon borrowers having full buildings insurance, and will want to know if cover cannot be obtained at usual rates. A property which cannot be easily mortgaged will not be sold so easily, and this will affect its value.

Anyone buying a flat may think that they will have less of a problem. While you might feel safe from flooding in an upper-storey apartment, flooding can still cause damage to a block of flats and make it difficult or even impossible for all owners to use their properties. For instance it is likely that electrical systems will be damaged, while damage to entrance areas and lifts could make access impossible.

Buildings insurance is also another potential problem for flat-owners. Larger blocks are usually insured under a single policy taken out by the freeholder. But if insurers see that the property is in a high-risk area the premiums may well be increased, and these will be passed on to individual owners through their service charges.

Buying a home is a major investment, not just in money but in personal time and emotions. So it pays to get the best advice before committing yourself. While your Conveyancing Solicitor will get information from the seller, it is much better to ask your building Surveyor for a full flood risk report as well.

Surveyor Local is dedicated to getting you a first-rate Building Surveyor at a reasonable rate. Contact us now for a quote on 0845 519 9589.

Post Author: Frances Traynor