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Protecting Real Estate Investment Properties From Flooding

Water damage caused by flooding is a horror for a residential investment property and a nightmare for the real estate investor. It has been at the top of many lists because of the extensive flooding in the Houston, Texas area following Hurricane Harvey. Flooding is one of the real threats that many residential real estate properties face, even if they are located far from the risk of tropical storms.

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Research The Location of the Investment Property

Knowing everything possible about a property before investing in it is a basic real estate lesson. This applies to the flood characteristics of a property as much, or more, than any other feature. There are a variety of sources that show this information. Sometimes the best approach is to walk around the neighborhood or area where the property is located. It’s beneficial to speak with local people, especially those who have lived there for a long time.

Technical information on a property can be found on topographical maps.  These require a little skill to understand, but once all those squiggly lines make sense this type of map can yield tremendous amounts of information.  Local terrain that might not be discernible from the ground is plainly visible on a topographical map.

Of course, the most important topographical map is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Rate Map.  This is available online and shows the designated flood zone of any property. The flood zone ranges from a 1% chance of flood each year (“100 year flood zone), to the .2% chance of flood each year (“500 year flood zone). The maps include areas with less than a .2% chance of a flood each year as well.

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Defenses Against Potential Flooding

There is very little a property owner can do to prevent flooding when water has filled the street and is coming in through the front door. Fortunately, this extreme situation happens very rarely. Most flood situations provide the real estate investor an opportunity to take defensive actions long before storm clouds gather. Most of these are based on the very simple notion that water flows downhill.

For example, rain gutters gather all the water that has fallen on a particular section of the house’s roof. Their purpose is to catch the water so that it can be directed away from the foundation, and the basement if there is one. However, if the downspout just carries the water to a bush planted at the foundation, the entire purpose of the rain gutter has been defeated. Rain will be gathered and literally poured to the very spot where it can do the most damage.

Protect against flood damage by making sure that downspouts extend far enough from the foundation. This way the water can flow downhill and away from the building. This may require fold-up extensions that can be stowed away. This will prevent a tripping hazard during sunny days. It may also require some grading to make sure the ground around the foundation is the “high ground” on the property. Check with local building codes before changing the grade of the property.

Sump pumps are the absolute last line of defense against water damage to rooms that are below grade. Of course, sump pumps run on electricity and electricity often goes out in storm. Pumps that run on battery backup are one alternative, as is a house generator. While the latter is expensive, renters may pay a premium for knowing that they will have power when their neighbor’s food is beginning to spoil. As with downspouts, make sure the sump pump ejection line directs water away from the foundation.

Flooding and flood damage is a nightmare, but in many cases it is one that can be avoided. Proper precautions and a complete knowledge of the topography of the area are two of the basic steps that can be taken to protect against this hazard. A real estate investor who takes these steps can at least be comforted during a flood event with the knowledge that they did everything humanly possible.

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