Floodplain remapping affects properties throughout PA

February 23, 2011

Floodplain remapping is 85 percent complete throughout Pennsylvania, according to Dave Bollinger, mitigation outreach coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Region III, in Philadelphia.

The federal government mapped floodplains in the early ’70s to allow property owners to purchase flood insurance as protection against flood losses, while requiring state and local governments to enforce floodplain management regulations to help reduce future flood damages.

Remapping started in 2003 and concentrated in the most densely populated areas. “We started in those areas because that’s where the greatest risk and most up-to-date topography is,” Bollinger said. “Most of the rural counties are close to being done and some of those left to be completed are in the northeast portion of the state.” Floodplain maps that have been approved are available online.  Areas that are undergoing the remapping process are available on a separate website.

As the remapping is approved, many Realtors® have found that properties that weren’t in the high-risk floodplain now fall into that area and require flood insurance.

Centre County Realtor® Lorraine Spock said she had a listing that previously wasn’t in the floodplain when it sold several years ago but with the recent remapping it’s now in the floodplain.

“The property isn’t moving at all,” she said. “Most buyers don’t want the extra cost of purchasing flood insurance, which the bank requires. It’s an expense that they weren’t counting on.”

Bollinger said when FEMA begins the remapping, it invites local elected officials to meet with FEMA to review the mapping process. Local officials are asked to review the map to ensure that properties are identified correctly; they need to review their local ordinances that govern floodplains and work with the county to contact property owners who might be impacted by changes to the maps.

Once the changes are approved, lenders are required to review their loans, determine who needs flood insurance and notify homeowners.

Bollinger said what many homeowners don’t realize is that if their property moves from a low-risk to a high-risk zone, they are able to purchase flood insurance at the lower rate before the new mapping takes effect. A grandfather clause allows them to keep that rate throughout the time they keep the flood insurance policy in force. In fact, Bollinger said some Realtors® may not know that this grandfathered rate can pass to a new property owner if the house is sold. “Many people don’t realize that the policy stays with the house, not the owner,” he said.

If a property falls into a high-risk zone after the remapping, property owners may request a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) to FEMA. The appeal process requires homeowners to have a surveyor or engineer review the property and there are no guarantees, Bollinger said, but it is an option.

State College Realtor® Steven Bodner has a client who is currently disputing the change because the transaction won’t close if the property is in a high-risk zone. “The property owner had no notification that his house was now in a high-risk zone,” Bodner said. “Unfortunately this could really impact this sale because the buyer has a USDA loan and they won’t issue loans to properties in floodplains.

“It’s really frustrating because the entire transaction is in limbo,” he added. “In the meantime, interest rates are creeping up and we’re hoping it will work out.”

The floodplain remapping often shifts the risk area so some properties move into the high-risk zone and others move out, Bollinger explained. “Our technology has improved and we can more accurately understand and show what could happen given the weather, the development and other conditions in areas that may flood. Weather is cyclical and every 30 years we see another cycle,” Bollinger added.

About Kim Shindle:
Kim Shindle is the Manager of Media Relations at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. Follow Kim on Twitter.
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5 Responses to Floodplain remapping affects properties throughout PA

  1. RONALD KAISER on March 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    i have lived at the same place for 49 years and now i am in your so called flood zone…. amazinging thing is I have never got flood water in my house or basement under my house. who is the person who came up with this ? they must have been paid off by the flood insurance companys.

  2. george apsokardu on March 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    i would love to know the number of people paying flood insurance now and how many after this money making scheme is completed

  3. Richard Smeltz on February 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    There is more to the story. We have done 4 LOMA letters on properties. Average turnaround time of around 90 days. Charges range from $800-$1500 in our market. LOMA letter is only feasible to be done in areas where base flood elevation has been determined. Your surveyor will know what that means.

    Also, many lenders are/do require replacement cost flood insurance as opposed to the loan amount. In case of large older homes in modest markets, you may be talking about a $1500 flood insurance policy on a $80,000 home. Add the ever increasing school taxes and you end up with escrows that are 50% of the pricipal and interest payment. In our market, buyers will just buy a house that is not in floodplain.

    FEMA remapping was done carelessly, including many properties that are not in the Floodplain. But the homeowner has to spend $1000 to prove that FEMA is wrong.

  4. Meghan Tinkham, e-PRO on February 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Bill, If you click the ‘available online’ link in the story above it will take you to the flood zone maps.

  5. BillGraves on February 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Regarding the Flood zone re-maping, you made mention that the maps were on line: What is the Web adddress???????????

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