Roxana Jibarra had a flash of concern when she first looked out the back window of the Weatherstone condo she was considering buying. After three years of searching, she knew she had found the home she wanted.
But she paused when she saw a small creek just behind the unit what about flood insurance?
A Spanish teacher at the Childrens Campus on Weaver Dairy Road, Jibarra wanted to live close to her work, and she wanted to move her 14-year-old son close to the highly rated Chapel Hill high schools.
So she talked to her agent, Shahla Rezvani, who discovered that the Weatherstone Homeowners Association was obliged to purchase flood insurance to cover the unit and building in question.
Had Jibarra expressed her concerns even one year ago, they might have remained unaddressed. But recently revised Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps have designated the unit and the building to be in a flood zone. Since Jibarras unit is a condo (the owner is responsible only for wall-to-wall coverage), the association is responsible for covering the flood insurance.
Many Triangle residents are learning the expensive way about the new maps, as mortgage lenders reassess risks accordingly. Rates are now based on the new maps, which were officially put into place on Feb. 2. Both buyers and sellers in the area have been finding properties suddenly given flood zone designation, thanks to the new maps. And that information, sometimes revealed days before the closing table, has caught many parties by surprise.
They shouldnt be, says Sue Burke, a stormwater management engineer with the Town of Chapel Hill. Burke says the mapping project began after hurricanes Fran and Floyd and has moved from the coast westward across the state. The maps have been a long time in the making, with announcements and two rounds of public comment periods.
Burke says the maps are a step forward. Others in the community are not yet as enthusiastic.
Its a nightmare, said Pam Herndon, an insurance agent with State Farm for 21 years. The way the flood maps were done in this area, an airplane flew over, rather than a surveyor. And the top of the trees might be the base level. So the house itself might be 12 feet below base flood level now.
Burke said theres a whole mapping process thats all in accordance with FEMAs mapping guidelines. Updated maps
Burke said the last maps were developed in the early 1980s. Hurricanes Fran and Floyd demonstrated that the maps were woefully out of date.
FEMA typically didnt have the funds at the time to do detailed new studies of areas they were typically able to do one county a year in North Carolina, she said. The state decided it was going to undertake it, and in concert with that FEMA, they began its map modernization program.
The real effect on the market has been on the level of homeowners insurance required by mortgage lenders. As residents in a town that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, Chapel Hill and Carrboro homeowners are obliged to purchase flood insurance if their property is so designated.
Basically, anyone who buys a home can still find insurance, but how much it costs is another matter.
That amount can be very high, says Pam Herndon.
People are now finding out that flood insurance is so expensive that its hard to sell their house, Herndon said. I mean, over $1,000 per month. And theyre not finding out until two days before they go to the closing table. Im being called in desperation by loan officers were just quoting a price, and then it comes back to me five times the insurance amount, because of the flood map.
Some neighborhoods are petitioning the government to send a land surveyor out to do an actual land survey, says Herndon.
They could hire their own surveyor, but it is very, very expensive, she said.
The maps have particularly affected developments throughout the county, including Weatherstone and neighboring Kensington Trace. Herndon points out that, in the cases of condos, the homeowners association must pick up the tab, because the master policy covers the exterior. She says that homeowners can go buy insurance, but that only covers contents.
People are just panicking over this flood insurance, Herndon said.Whats a buyer-seller to do?
Now that the maps are officially in place, potential buyers can look up properties at the library, through the Town of Chapel Hill and online. Information about petitioning FEMA and obtaining a letter of map amendment is available on the FEMA Web site.
Rezvani notes that the earlier she knows about such a situation, the better she is armed to work with it. Herndon agrees.
Let your current insurer know your plans early, Herndon said. If I cant do it, I can recommend someone.
Doing homework in advance will save homebuyers headaches in the crucial moments of negotiation. But Rezvani points out that buyers should be aware that sellers may not stand to gain from knowing their propertys designation. A flood zone designation can be the kiss of death to a property disclosure.
Rezvani says she has to be vigilant.
I always look at the maps, she said. But with these new maps, Im even more careful.
Ultimately, Burke says, the maps are being produced with better base mapping and will benefit area development.
Burke, who has been with the town for two and a half years, says the new maps are long overdue.
We reviewed the maps when they were presented to us, she said. We then provided notification to residents that the maps were available for reviewing, and let them know that there was a comment period.
She says anyone can access the maps.
Theyre available at the library, theyre available at Town Hall, and theyre available here, she said. We put the notices in the paper that the maps were available.
Burke believes that, ultimately, the new maps will help prevent this sort of risk and heartache.
For more information about the process and schedule of mapping, procedures for petition, and the maps themselves, go to www.fema.gov/cis/
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