It is so important to check what flood zone your property is located in prior to writing a contract to purchase a new home or lot to build on. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is responsible for flood mapping and updates these flood maps periodically. This means that it is possible for a property’s flood risk to change from one year to the next. Even if an owner has checked “no” on the seller’s disclosure that the parcel of land is not in a floodplain or does not require flood insurance, that can easily change.
In Bexar County, new digital floodplain maps were proposed and instituted in 2010. Reasons for flood risk changes according to FEMA include: “Rainfall, river-flow and tidal-surge data, topography, flood-control measures, and changes due to building and development.”
The last reason, changes due to building and development, tends to be one of the bigger reasons that the flood maps are changing more frequently here in San Antonio and in the Texas Hill Country areas (Spring Branch, Bulverde, and Boerne). If you see a lot of construction on the way to the areas you are considering, make sure you check on the flood zones for that area.
You can also use some common sense while you are scouting out the location of your dream home. Did you go through a low-water crossing to get there? Are there any other ingress/egress options to that particular piece of land? Did you go over a river or pass a creek bed (even a dry one)? What kinds of trees are growing close to where you want to build? This can be a great indicator of how wet the property gets too.
One quick way to check an address against FEMA’s current flood zone risk is to enter the parcel address at www.floodsmart.gov. Many properties in San Antonio are currently considered in Zones X, B, or C. Your REALTOR® should be able to find this information by searching your tax records, then accessing the Courthouse Retrieval System, and then locating the corresponding zone for that parcel under the flood zone/panel section of that site. When they are here in this location, they can also view the flood maps surrounding that area using FEMA’s FIRM maps (Flood insurance rate maps). This way, you have a good indication if your land is located in an area that could change in zoning due to nearby streams or if there is flood risk nearby that could shift due to construction.
Remember that even if the land you are considering is not located in a flood zone, it is still worth considering flood insurance if you are near areas that experience flash flooding or if you notice that you must pass through low water crossings to get to and from your property. Also, it is possible to get a reduced rate for flood insurance if a property is not yet zoned as a higher risk, and can then be grandfathered at that rate, rather than waiting to see if it gets zoned differently (and then having to pay that higher insurance amount).
The zoning to be careful of when choosing a property are Zones A or V. These areas are considered high risk and according to FEMA, “have a 1 in 4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.”
There are many parcels of good land throughout the San Antonio and Hill Country areas that may have a partial flood zone designation. These parcels will require careful planning for building, but don’t necessarily have to be rejected due to this designation. However, more care must be taken to ensure that any buildings on the land are built up out of the 100-year floodplain. For instance, the back portion of a five acre parcel may be within the 100-year floodplain (and zoned A or V), but it could be good for livestock grazing. As long as the building site for a home, barn, etc. are located up out of that elevation, that parcel could still be a good choice and may be a good deal!
Make sure you use a REALTOR® who has some experience in the area of flood zones and FEMA mapping so you are sure to have all the facts before moving forward on a lot!
image courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources