Today, coastal property owners in Massachusetts are faced with skyrocketing flood insurance costs – a reaction to future threats from superstorms like Sandy, which caused $19 billion in damages to New York City and $29.4 billion in damages to New Jersey last year.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Sandy was the second most expensive storm in the nation’s history, surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Meteorologists believe that if Sandy had traveled farther north (and was at high tide when it hit Massachusetts), both the South Shore and Boston would today, still be in recovery mode from the destruction. This scenario, in addition to driving up coastal home insurance rates, is greatly affecting the area’s real estate sector, due to the volatility of increasing flood coverage rates.
State officials are worried about the long-term impact of escalating coastal home insurance rates and the effects on the tax collections, property values, and even construction business within the region.
Some residents of coastal towns in Massachusetts have been shocked to find their flood insurance premiums have jumped more than 100 percent due to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. The act removed flood insurance subsidies for homes built before the creation of flood maps, resulting in substantial hikes in premiums.
Implementation of Biggert-Waters started this year following the release of new flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Those maps increase flood plains and raise water elevations, requiring thousands more property owners to buy flood insurance. In Massachusetts, the federal program covers 60,185 insurance policies representing a total premium of more than $74 million.
The number of affected properties will likely continue to increase. Biggert-Waters requires FEMA to redraw flood plain maps to better reflect future risks. Although the new requirement won’t go into effect until February 2015, initial maps released in December 2013 added more property to the high-risk zones.
In an effort to escape potential flooding and reduce the cost of their insurance, property owners are securing existing waterfront properties or moving them up or out.
Hull Freeboard Incentive Program at a Glance
Property must be elevated 2 feet above federal and state requirements
Hull, a town in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, is located on the Nantasket Peninsula, extending into Massachusetts Bay. Its location makes Hull the recipient of considerable damage from a number of storms and floods over the years.
Because Massachusetts state law prohibits communities from enforcing stricter building codes or standards than those contained in the uniform state building code, local communities can’t enforce stricter codes and ordinances than the state requires. This has resulted in towns and cities like Hull having to come up with creative forms of incentives to encourage the adoption of enhanced building techniques, such as the incorporation of “free boarding”, the practice of elevating a structure’s lowest floor, either during or after its construction, to a level higher than predicted flood levels for that area’s base flood elevation (BFE). Many communities throughout the country encourage, or even require, the use of freeboard of at least one foot higher than their local BFE.
In 2009, Hull started a new program available to new and existing residential structures. Since the town couldn’t legally require people to build two feet higher, Hull offered them an incentive in the form of a $500 credit towards their permitting costs, if they incorporated two feet of freeboard into the construction.
- $500 rebate of Building Department Permit Fees
- Increased safety margin above possible future flood levels
- Savings in flood insurance cost.
- On average, an increase of two extra feet of freeboard in a V Zone will result in an annual flood insurance savings of more than 50 percent.
Mother Nature is unpredictable, but you can have control in your preparedness for upcoming storms and your insurance premium. Don’t become a casualty of the next big weather event.
Have you been through a superstorm? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.