If you're about to buy a home and have just received word that you need to buy flood insurance, you were likely told to get a flood elevation certificate to show your lender and insurance company. This is not as uncommon as you might think, but if you're buying in a town that you know well and are surprised that the home may be in a flood zone, don't worry. Flood insurance and FEMA classify regions with several different codes, some of which actually show that the house is in an area that isn't prone to flooding. The certificate, though, is necessary because something has happened to bring your new neighborhood into the spotlight.
Flood maps change on a regular basis. They are re-evaluated and redrawn using the information that has come in over the past few years, since the last evaluation. It could be that changing weather or erosion on nearby riverbanks have made your neighborhood more prone to floods each year, or there could be new information that shows your area could flood every 100 or 500 years.
Another possible change was that you might be the first person to buy that house through a lender. If previous owners paid cash, or even owned the land and then built a house themselves, they might not have realized they would need a flood elevation certificate because there's no requirement for individuals to seek one -- it's usually linked to mortgage lending.
Who Issues These?
All flood elevation certificates are issued by FEMA. After having your home surveyed, you apply for the certificate through FEMA's website and then wait. You can ask FEMA to rush the certificate if you have a deadline for it. However, note that it's usually not a good idea to attempt to apply yourself.
What to Do First?
Always check with the city or county planning offices to see if they have elevation information for the property on file. There could be an old, forgotten certificate that was filed away; that may be good enough for the lender and insurance company.
If there are no certificates, have a surveying company evaluate your property and fill out the FEMA applications for you. Note that if you have separate structures on the property, each structure might require its own certificate. That depends on what the structure is used for and if it has specific features like plumbing.
Unless you request that the application be rushed, it can take a few weeks for the process to be completed. Start early; once you find out a certificate is needed, get to work. It may seem like another piece of busywork, but it will protect you and your home when completed. For more information, contact companies like Crest Engineering Associates.