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New Home Buyers Beware: Check the Property's Flood Risk


If you’re shopping for a home in Hawaii, you would be wise to give serious consideration to the property’s flood risk. And be warned – relying on the flood zone designation may not be enough, and you might not be told about the property’s risk. Here’s what homebuyers need to know.  

Flood Damage Costs

FEMA says that just one inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage to your home.

Every state in the country has some flood risk, but Hawaii’s risks are substantial. According to the National Weather Service, the Southeast Big Island Flood in 2000 destroyed or damaged nearly 300 homes, and the flash flooding on Kauai and Oahu in April 2018 destroyed or damaged 532 homes.

Flooding can be the result of tropical storms and coastal flooding, but it can also stem from river flooding and flash flooding. And more people might be at risk than realize it.

Flood Zone Hazard Areas

Under the National Flood Insurance Program, Special Flood Hazard Areas are identified on the flood Insurance Rate Map. If you buy a property in a Special Flood Hazard Area, the lender will typically require you to purchase flood insurance.

Unfortunately, some homeowners still have uninsured exposures. According to NPR, about 15 million properties have significant flood risk, but studies show that most people don’t realize that their homes are in danger. In many states, flood risk does not have to be disclosed to homebuyers.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says that the law in Hawaii requires the seller to disclose whether the property is in a designated special flood hazard area, but the seller is not required to say whether there has been any flood damage or whether the property is required to have flood insurance coverage.

Further complicating the issue is the claim that FEMA’s flood maps have become inaccurate.

According to Scientific American, a study from R Street Institute found that many of FEMA’s flood maps are badly out of date, and they do not account for climate change or sea level rise. 

Tips for Homebuyers

If you’re buying a home, you need to be proactive about researching the property’s flood risk. Don’t just assume this information will be provided to you.

  • Select a high-quality real estate agent you trust to put your best interests first.
  • Ask about flood risk and previous flood damage.
  • You can also do your own research. Flood Factor is a free online tool from First Street Foundation that lets you look up a property’s flood risk.
  • If you purchase a home with flood risk, be sure you have flood insurance.