An estimated 15 million homes in the U.S. are at an immediate risk of flooding, according to a flood database formed by the nonprofit First Street in 2020. Homes on the coast can be particularly vulnerable to flooding caused by hurricanes or high tides. During Hurricane Harvey, historic flooding left nearly 135,000 homes damaged or destroyed; Katrina caused even more destruction, ravaging 800,000 housing units.
But the risks extend inland as well. Across the nation, as many as 1 in 10 properties face flooding risk. Homeowners who are or positioned next to a neighborhood creek that frequently overflows, for example, may experience recurring flooding. And unfortunately, flooding can also be the result of a DIY home improvement project — such as a bathroom remodel — gone wrong.
If your home has experienced a significant flood event, that can impact your course of action when it comes time to sell the property, even if you’ve done a full remediation and repair. The truth is: A home that has flooded carries a bit of extra baggage. That’s not to say you won’t find a buyer, just that there are some extra steps and considerations that come into play. Let’s review six actions that can help you move forward.
1. Take immediate action after a flood event.
It could have been weeks, months, or years since your home flooded. But if the event happened within the last few hours or days, make sure you’ve done everything you can to address the situation. In the immediate aftermath of a flood, every minute counts. By taking the right actions post-haste, you can minimize the damage — and the monetary loss — to the greatest extent possible.
Turn the electricity off.
Ideally, you already did this before the flood hit. If not, and if you can access the breaker box from a dry area, shut it off before entering the house. If there is water blocking the breaker, steer clear and call your electric provider to shut it off at the meter. Don’t turn the power back on until you’ve had an electrician inspect the house to make sure it’s safe.
Don’t turn on the HVAC system until it’s been professionally inspected.
If water entered the system, turning it on could spread mold. Have an expert inspect and clean the system and verify that it’s dry, mold-free, and safe to use.
Document the damage with photos and videos.
If you have flood insurance coverage, you’ll need these when filing your claim. Remember to include a yardstick or measuring tape in the photos to show how high the water line reached.
Get rid of standing water.
Use a water pump or good old-fashioned buckets to remove water, and then use a wet/dry vacuum for any remaining moisture. (If you can’t turn on the electricity yet, use a portable generator to power the equipment.) If you’re dealing with a large amount of water, it may be wise to call in a water removal service, like Servpro, which uses professional equipment for removal.
“It’s vital to dry the affected area to prevent the growth and spread of mold and bacteria,” says Sophie Williams, a flood damage restoration professional with Splendor Flood Damage Restoration. Open doors and windows to air out the home.
All American Restoration President Michael Rubino (known as “The Mold Medic”) recommends using a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture. “Don’t bring in a fan or blower to dry the remaining moisture — if you do this, you’ll run the risk of quickly spreading environmental contaminants throughout your home,” he says.
Dispose of “soft goods” that can’t be easily dried.
This includes items like carpets, rugs, mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, books, paper products, cosmetics, and stuffed animals, per the CDC’s recommendations.
Clean all hard surfaces.
The CDC recommends using a mixture of hot water and laundry or dish detergent to clean countertops, flooring, fixtures, hard furnishings, appliances, and other surfaces that were in contact with flood water. For surfaces with mold, clean them with a mixture of one cup of household bleach and one gallon of water while wearing goggles, an N-95 respirator, and protective gloves.
Contact your insurance company.
When filing a claim, include as much detail as possible, including photos and/or videos. For further guidance, consult our guide on how to get the most out of your natural disaster insurance claim.
2. Hedge on the side of disclosure.
Evan Compean, a top real estate agent in Houston, Texas, is no stranger to the havoc floods can wreak on homes. Over the past decade, he has seen major floods about every two to three years.
He’s worked with flood-impacted sellers at both ends of the spectrum: those who want to sell as-is without doing any fixes at all, and those who have completely renovated to remove all signs of the damage. In both cases, he stresses the importance of disclosing all flood events to potential buyers.
Real estate disclosure laws vary across the country. The National Resources Defense Council provides a map with each state’s individual flood disclosure regulations. At HomeLight, we’ve also compiled a list of all 50 states’ real estate disclosure forms.
In Compean’s state of Texas, the disclosure laws are pretty extensive. Per the NRDC website, sellers are required to disclose if:
- There has been previous water damage to a structure due to a natural flood event;
- There has been previous flooding due to a natural failure or breach of a reservoir or a controlled emergency release of water from a reservoir;
- The property is located wholly or partly in a 100-year floodplain, a 500-year floodplain, or a reservoir;
- The seller has ever filed a claim for flood damage to property with any insurance provider, including the National Flood Insurance Program; flood insurance covers the property; and the seller has ever received assistance from FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for flood damage to the property.
Compean recommends including any prior flood events in a detailed but non-alarming way. “Buyers need to understand the scope of the damage, but you don’t want to scare away people who might be on the fence,” he says. Below are some of the details to include:
- How many times was the house flooded?
- How much water affected the property (i.e., three inches or three feet)?
- Did the water go onto the property, into the house, or both?
- What remediation or remodeling was done?
- Did you use a professional, licensed contractor who followed proper remediation processes?
3. Pick and choose your improvements wisely.
If your home has flooded and you know you’ll ultimately plan to sell, the biggest decision will be how deep you want to get into the repairs and renovations, and how much money to sink into the project before seeking out a buyer.
“This is where it’s important to work with a real estate agent who is experienced with buying and selling flooded homes,” says Compean.
“Your agent can evaluate the market and recommend doing a remodel that will fit within the dynamic of your neighborhood.”
For homeowners looking to sell a home after a flood, Williams says not to skip these most impactful improvements:
- Restore carpets and flooring.
- Repair and repaint the walls.
- Replace any affected furniture.
- Tackle any mold problems (and get a mold remediation certificate).
4. Be prepared to take a price hit.
Experts agree that flood events will hurt your property value. Research from First Street Foundation shows a total loss of almost $16 billion in real estate appreciation in coastal states between 2005 and 2017, with the biggest losses in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina.
Steven Kinne, also a top agent in Houston, Texas, has seen major flooding three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. For houses that have flooded — even if they’ve been renovated — he typically sees a 20%-30% reduction in value.
In one case, his seller’s house would have sold for $320,000 if it had never flooded, but it ended up selling for $199,000 due to the water damage it had incurred. Another upscale house that was once worth $750,000 sold for $589,000 this past July after it flooded with 12 inches of water.
“The drop in value will depend on whether the house is in a flood-prone area that is likely to see more water damage, or whether the flood event was more of a fluke,” says Kinne. Other factors that come into play include how much water entered the house and whether it’s located in an area where it’s expensive to get flood insurance.
5. Get all of your documentation together.
When preparing to sell a house that has experienced flooding, documentation is key. Gather all of the reports and receipts related to any corrective measures you took, including:
- A line item of what was done to correct any damage from the flood.
- A record of who completed the work (i.e., a professional contractor or a handyman).
- Receipts and/or invoices of all expenses incurred from the remediations and renovations.
- A record of all insurance claims.
- A mold remediation certificate stating that the mold has been removed by a certified professional.
- A copy of the declaration page for your flood insurance policy, which details the terms and limits of coverage.
- A FEMA elevation certificate detailing the flood zone, your home’s building characteristics, and its lowest point of elevation.
Kinne points out that homes that sit higher than Base Flood Elevation (BFE) might have flood insurance premiums of $500-$600 per year, but if it’s lower than that, coverage could cost up to $5,000 per year. “If you don’t have an elevation certificate, you’re automatically thrown in a high-risk, expensive category,” he notes. Follow these steps for how to get your elevation certificate.
To illustrate how important it is to have all of your records in order, Kinne shared a story about a property he recently sold in Old River, Texas. Because he provided an elevation certificate that showed the property is not in a flood zone, along with documentation showing that flood insurance coverage is moderately priced at $700 per year, he ended up getting full price for the house.
6. Lean on a top local real estate agent for guidance.
Selling a home is a tough task, even when your home has remained perfectly dry over the years. But a history of flooding adds an extra layer of complexity. A top local real estate agent who’s sold flooded homes before will help you price the home appropriately, communicate with buyers who may have concerns, and make sure you’re following the law when it comes to your local disclosure regulations. Failing to disclosure water damage can lead to a lawsuit if your buyer feels you weren’t forthcoming.
At HomeLight, we’d be happy to recommend a few agents who would be a good fit to handle these additional challenges. To do so, we’d simply gather a little bit about your home and selling needs and comb our agent database for agents with the right experience and expertise for your needs. From there, you can interview some or all of your recommended agents and decide who you’d like to work with. Having an expert in your corner will make the process of selling a flooded home a lot less stressful.
7. Consider selling to an investor.
If you’ve had extensive flood damage and don’t want to invest the time and money in repairs and renovations — particularly without knowing what return you might get — another option is to seek out an investor who would be interested in buying the house as-is.
In many cases, investors have access to more resources to tackle major fixes that would be costly and time-consuming for most homeowners. Using HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, you can access reputable cash buyers in your area and match with the highest bidder, eliminating the hassle and uncertainty of trying to sell a flooded home on the open market.
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