Episode 46: Listen Up Homebuyers – Jeff Jackson With FEMA

Feb 26, 2024Listen Up Home Buyers

Episode Summary

Jeff Jackson - FEMAAn update on flood insurance from Jeff Jackson, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Federal Insurance Directorate, leads flood insurance operations for the National Flood Insurance Program at FEMA.

Episode Notes

Victoria: Hi, I’m Victoria Ray Henderson, the host of the NAEBA podcast, Listen Up Homebuyers. So happy to have back for a second round of conversations, Jeff Jackson, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Federal Insurance Directorate. He leads flood insurance operations for the National Flood Insurance Program at FEMA. And Jeff, I want to thank you so much for being a guest again on Listen Up Homebuyers.

Jeff: Thanks. It’s great to be back.

Victoria: So glad to have you. I’d like to start with a very general question. What should every homebuyer know about flood insurance?

Jeff: The most important thing to know is then that in all but the rarest of cases, flood risk is not insured through your homeowner’s insurance policy. If you want to have coverage for water that comes from the outside and comes inside your house, so not stink backups, not toilet backups. Those kinds of things, but water coming in from the outside, it requires a separate flood insurance policy. You can either buy that from the National Flood Insurance Program, which is through FEMA, or there often are a number of private flood insurance policies that you can buy as well.

Victoria: So if somebody lives in an area that isn’t by the coast, isn’t necessarily by a creek or a river, what do they need to know about flood insurance?

Jeff: Well, it floods everywhere. There have been in the last little bit under 25 years, 99% of the counties in America have flooded. So, it’s happening somewhere in your county. And what I would say is it’s not always readily apparent just by looking around and seeing the distance to the nearest water source, although that’s an extremely important factor. Changes in our built environment, the more we see paving, the more we see development of what was traditionally green space can raise our flood risk as well. And so there can be an illusion that you don’t have flood risk when in actuality, you’re at least perhaps moderately risky. And that certainly is an area when you get there, you would at least want to strongly only consider buying a flood insurance policy.

Victoria: Okay. So as you know, I only work for people buying homes as an exclusive buyer broker. So the first thing that we typically do when they’re going to be buying a home is see how well they’re qualified to obtain a mortgage. At what point should a home buyer be looking at the risk that could be potentially there in a house of interest?

Jeff: I would say it’s when you get that listing from your broker and you see a list of houses, it’s good to go look them up on the FEMA maps to see if it’s a place where you would have to buy flood insurance. And we certainly went over this the last time I was here. But for the folks who are checking in for the first time, if you are in a high-risk area, what’s called a special flood hazard area, and you have a federally backed mortgage, which is most mortgages, then you’re required to buy. For everyone else, it’s an option to buy, and for those where it’s required, certainly as you go through the lending process, that will be made clear to you.

But really, getting back to the heart of your question, it’s when you walk through the door of the house for the first time. It’s everything from knowing if it’s in a high-risk area as you go and choose to look at the listing, as well as when you walk through the property, look around and look for what are there any signs of water in this house? Are there sump pumps? Has clearly work been done because there’s a drainage issue in a basement? Many places have that. So you don’t have to be scared away that it’s a matter of going in and learning as much as you can about the property so that you make a decision about whether or not to purchase it, and then if you do purchase it; First, do you have to buy, have flood insurance? And then second, should you choose to buy flood insurance?

Victoria: Right, I always tell people that I’m working with that when we go into a house, the first thing I’m going to tell you is everything that’s wrong with it. And I go straight to the basement because we both live in the greater Washington, D.C. area, and we have a lot of wet basements, a lot of issues, along the Potomac River. Just last week, I’m working with clients in Old Town, Alexandria, and they were interested in a condominium, and I checked the flood maps, and it’s in an A.E. flood map. Walk me through what your advice would be for a homebuyer in that situation if they really wanted to put an offer in on a place like that.

Jeff: The first thing I would do is reach out to your insurance agent and get a quote, not just for homeowners insurance, but also for flood insurance. If you’re in that A.E. zone, that’s one of the zones that is required to purchase if you have a federally backed mortgage. So I would go get a flood quote and factor that in, the cost of that in, when you’re determining the affordability of the house, and as you’re comparing it to other properties, perhaps where you might not have to buy a flood insurance policy and make that part of your buying decision, the more you can learn about a property, including from the cost perspective. But your number one trigger should be, have your insurance agent on speed dial. So, when you see that house, you know that Saturday is coming, you’re getting excited about going and looking at all these properties, you know for that one, you would have to factor in cost.

Victoria: When people are looking at properties and it’s zoned X, but they aren’t that far from a zone A.E., you had mentioned that typical flood insurance isn’t covered in most homeowners insurance. Is that correct?

Jeff: That’s right.

Victoria: Yeah. So, if you are anywhere near an A.E., would your advice be to go ahead and look into flood insurance?

Jeff: I would go ahead and do it for a couple of reasons. The FEMA flood maps are really a regulatory product designed to decide when we as a country and particularly looking out for the mortgage holders’ interest, when we’re going to say, hey, we need you to go ahead and purchase this insurance because your high risk. If you’re just outside of the high-risk area, you’re not no risk, and that’s the biggest myth that we have to bust here as we teach folks about flood risk in America. You’re probably at medium risk. Medium to medium high is a good way of characterizing it.

What we know over time is it only takes about an inch of water that can quickly get you up to around a $25,000 cost repairing your home. So, in that circumstance, I certainly would buy a policy. It really gives you peace of mind. It is an expense and I know with housing being so expensive and insurance costs are rising, it’s not exciting to add an additional expense into the household budget to be sure. But we talk to people every year who do have the coverage and who do experience a loss. And they look at, let’s say, a $50,000 or $60,000 flood loss, which is pretty common.

Victoria: Okay.

Jeff: Not average, but common, and so if you don’t have the coverage, you’re looking at covering that, putting things on a credit card, taking it out of your home equity. If you just bought the property, depending upon the size of your down payment, you may not have a lot of equity, and it really can set you back. People get set back decades and don’t financially or don’t financially recover at all. So particularly for the people in that situation that you described, it would be a great investment. Your home is your biggest investment for most of us, and this certainly will help you protect that investment.

Victoria: Is it possible to give kind of an average, and we’re not going to hold you to this, but an average cost for flood insurance? So people have some idea of what they’d be looking at.

Jeff: Our average cost is a little bit over $800 right now.

Victoria: Okay.

Jeff: But it can range and particularly for those who are just outside of a high-risk area, it’s going to be a little bit more than that probably. But the average cost right now is just a little bit over $800. The National Flood Insurance Program was created because we have an insurability problem in America, as well as an affordability problem. We haven’t unfortunately solved the affordability problem in all these years, but the NFIP is here and we’ll sell a policy to anyone in any of the 22,600 participating communities. So that availability problem that we see with, you know, we see insurers pulling out of places like California. We see people dropping people in Florida, insurers dropping people in Florida.

With the NFIP that we’re going to be there and we’re going to continue to sell you the insurance. It is going to be at a risk-based price. That’s the affordability piece of things, and it’s one of the reasons why certainly for those who can afford to do so, we encourage you to buy, and for those that can’t afford it, we continue to advocate to Congress to provide some type of assistance, and we’re hopeful that one day that’ll be in place as well.

Victoria: On this podcast, we’re going to include some links so that people can learn more, from the FEMA maps and regarding the flood insurance that you’re talking about. Is there anything else that you would like consumers to know and specifically, again, people who are buying homes, anything that you could share with your expertise?

Jeff: One is that the FEMA flood map is a snapshot in time. It may be some vintage and certainly has to be reevaluated to make sure it continues to represent the flood picture every five years, but a lot can happen in five years. Maps get updated on a priority order. And so, it’s not uncommon to see a 10-year-old map that probably is pretty close to what the risk is. But if you’re expecting fine line gradations and risk, that’s not really what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to say it’s tremendously helpful for the folks in your community who manage the floodplain, particularly at the county level. It’s an important technical product for them. It’s important for realtors and it certainly important to help you learn if you have to buy.

What it’s not great at is a nuanced view of risk, and so I caution against over-reliance on the flood maps, and I think the way you look at it is the right way to think about it, which is not just, am I in or am I out of the high risk zone? But how close am I to water sources? And then give some thought and have some conversation around what have been the changes to the built environment? Say, every map will have a date on it. What’s the environment? What’s happened since that map was put into place? That certainly is one thing.

The second thing I would say is for many years, there’s been a school of thought, which is that if you don’t have to buy the insurance, you don’t need it, you don’t need to talk about it. I caution against anybody, gives you a very dismissive, oh, you don’t need that, and so we don’t need to bother to talk about it. I think that’s a thinking that’s a little bit behind the times and is certainly not where I would want to be as a consumer in terms of getting service from whoever would be giving me that advice. So I would counsel against you don’t need it. I think there are a number of great agents. There are a number of great insurance agents who will help talk you through a nuanced conversation. I think somebody who’s willing to get in a conversation with you is where I would want to be as a buyer.

Victoria: Yeah, I think exclusive buyer brokers like myself, and we’re all over the country, one of the first things we want to do is educate and inform, which is why I have you on this podcast, because people need to know what the risks are, and then they can make a decision based on that. I live in the Washington area, and every summer, I end up flocking to the beach, just like everybody does. Sometimes I drive along that strip, that little narrow strip of Ocean City and Lewis, Delaware, and then Dewey and Rehoboth and just think, this is a pretty risky area.

Jeff: Yeah, it certainly is, there’s been so much evolution in the science of catastrophe modeling and learning all the flooding events that potentially could happen. The more I talk to those experts, the more that I learn is that the amount of time we’re in a home is infinitesimally small. It’s just minute, and you’ll hear owners of homes say, I’ve been here for 10 years, I’ve been here for 15 years, and it’s never flooded. So, it’s probably not likely to flood. And while previous flooding experience is important, it’s just such a small amount of time. I mean, the way the water patterns work, 100 years is just beginning to get to the point where you really get a keen sense of how water is moving around and what the risk is in a particular area.

And then that’s on top of the fact that we change things so much. I mean, we’re fortunate to live in these areas where things are getting torn down and things are getting rebuilt and we need additional parking. And so, there’s got to be an extra lot. And so, there’s all these things that sort of hopefully will move us away from maybe the people selling us the property had it for 15 years and it never flooded there. I wouldn’t let that be the end of my inquiry.

Victoria: No, definitely not. I mean, it’s the biggest financial commitment you’re going to make in your life until you, I guess, do it again. But you don’t want to make a mistake like this.

Jeff: We have a great website called FloodSmart.gov. It has all kinds of information about flood insurance policies, and that’s important, but also just about flood risk in America. So, it’s a great resource to go out and learn a little bit. Encourage your listeners to go check that out and we’ve got some videos on that as well. So, go check that out.

Victoria: Great. Jeff Jackson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Federal Insurance Directorate. He leads flood insurance operations for the National Flood Insurance Program at FEMA. Jeff, it is such a pleasure to talk to you again about flood insurance here on Listen Up Homebuyers.

Jeff: It was great to be with you. Thanks.

FEMA flood insurance

Listen Up, Home Buyers! The podcast offering advice and tips from true buyer agents.

Host and Producer, Victoria Ray Henderson is the owner and broker of HomeBuyer Brokerage in the Washington D.C. area. Victoria is and a member of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents.

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