Published 4 November 2018
Three years ago, Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance and Mitigation Roy Wright said that “If there was ever a time to buy flood insurance, this is the time.” While Wright’s message was chiefly directed at California residents, local flood officials are of the opinion that some Las Cruces area homeowners and renters would also be wise to take note of the advice.
The big to-do had to do with the anticipated arrival of that year’s near-record El Niño. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes El Niño as “changes in the patterns of trade winds across the Pacific Ocean, which can cause unusual warming in ocean temperatures and all sorts of drastic weather changes in specific regions of the United States.”
At the time, NOAA projected that the event had a 95 percent chance of bringing above average precipitation to Arizona and New Mexico through the winter, and an 80 percent chance of continuing into the spring of 2016. Well, guess who’s back? According to a release from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center on Oct. 18, “El Nino has a 70 to 75 percent chance of developing”.
The center’s deputy director, Mike Halpert, noted that, “Although a weak El Nino is expected, it may still influence the winter season by bringing wetter conditions across the southern United States, and warmer, drier conditions to parts of the North.” Wetter conditions can easily include heavy precipitation and flooding. Isolated storms recently flooded an East Mesa home with 2 inches of water, and flooded an arroyo in Picacho Hills.
As in the past, FEMA’s concern continues to revolve around the risk to homeowners who do not currently have flood insurance. Homeowners who financed their properties using federally backed mortgages already have flood policies because they are required in order to obtain the loan. Loans are considered to be federally backed when they are owned by government sponsored enterprises such as Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and others, who own around half of all U.S. mortgages. Flood insurance is optional for homeowners who have no mortgages. Renters are also included in the mix.
So why should homeowners and renters, who live outside a floodplain, consider purchasing flood coverage? The simple answer is that flooding is not limited to just flood-prone areas, and homeowners’ and renters’ policies do not cover flooding. According to the National Flood Insurance Program website, www.floodsmart.gov, “People outside of mapped high-risk flood areas file over 20-percent of all National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance claims and receive one-third of Federal Disaster Assistance for flooding.” City of Las Cruces Flood Plain Administrator, J.D. Padilla, agrees, saying that “anyone who lives within 50 feet of a FEMA designated flood zone should consider obtaining flood insurance”.
Doña Ana County Flood Commission Director Paul Dugie also thinks flood insurance may be appropriate for some residents. According to Dugie, “55 percent to 65 percent of all flood damage occurs in areas immediately adjacent to flood zones”. Dugie, along with Flood Commission Engineer Supervisor John Gwynne, cited the example of a homeowner who may live across the street from a flood zone where the flood depth is projected to be 12 inches. Even though the adjacent neighbor may not be required to be covered, the water depth could still be significant enough to cause damage. What if the water level rises only 6 inches? Or 11.9 inches? The probability of damage is anybody’s guess.
To provide a means for property owners and renters to financially protect themselves in the event of a flood, Congress created the NFIP in 1968. Communities that participate in the program are rewarded with discounted premiums. Both the city of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County are participants and have done an excellent job of adopting procedures that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding. As a result of their efforts, Las Cruces area policyholders pay discounted rates. So how much does a flood policy cost?
The average residential flood claim submitted in 2017 amounted to more than $39,000, according to FEMA. Also, in 2017, the average annual flood insurance policy premium was about $700. My research indicates that coverage for properties outside a flood zone can be obtained for as little as $250 to $350 per year, exclusive of personal property.
Most folks who live in flood zones know and accept the risks associated with their location. But what about the people who live just outside flood zones, or those who aren’t aware that they live just outside one? Finding out if a property is in or near a flood zone, and what level of risk the zone presents, is as easy as entering an address into the search box of The FEMA Flood Map Service Center’s mapping site at https://msc.fema.gov/portal/search. Once the location of a property has been established, property owners and renters can easily assess the need for insurance.
If you decide to shop for a flood insurance, shop like you mean it. As with all insurance purchases, premiums can vary widely. And don’t wait to act until the next raindrop falls — there’s a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins.
See you at closing.
Gary Sandler is a full-time Realtor and president of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces. He can be reached at 575-642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.