As Hurricane Laura intensifies over the Gulf of Mexico and the United States braces for catastrophic landfall, many residents within the storm’s destructive path are likely flood-uninsured.
Such was the case in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey blew through Houston. Most of the homes destroyed by flooding had no insurance, according to the National Flood Insurance program, because they were not in flood zones designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While FEMA requires homes in flood zones be insured, its maps are often outdated, neglecting to factor in projected data such as rising sea levels or heavy rainfall wrought by climate change.
Nonprofit First Street Foundation is one of many groups stepping in to fill the gap in flood awareness. It uses future data to create a more comprehensive map—assigning millions of properties nationwide a flood risk score from 1 to 10, and providing detail on a home’s current risk and its risk 30 years from now.
While FEMA’s maps have nine million properties in flood zones, First Street’s map has a staggering 14.5 million at-risk properties.
And starting today, both FEMA and First Street data will be published on real estate website Realtor.com.
Publishing flood data is not as simple as it seems—while it’s important for homebuyers to know a property’s flood risk, a high-risk classification could also greatly decrease a property’s value, making homeowners more skittish about listing their sales on the website for fear of lowering their own net worth. Competitor real estate sites Zillow and Redfin told NPR that they have no plans yet to publish flood data.
But Realtor.com argues people must know the full cost of purchasing, maintaining, and potentially insuring or repairing a home before they make an offer. And for those living in flood zones, company executive Leslie Jordan told NPR, there are preventative measures that homeowners can take. “They can elevate their home on stilts. They can add a sump pump into the basement. They can install a rain garden outside,” said Jordan. But they must know their risk first.
You can check your home’s safety rating on Realtor.com, or by using First Street’s Flood Factor and FEMA’s Map Service Center. Knowing could save you thousands of dollars—or in some cases, even a life.