Flooding – Are You Well Informed?

3rd August 2011

Whilst some may have seen last months news of flash flooding in Cumbria, it is fair to say most of the water related news this year has concerned the droughts of the spring.

At times like this, as far as flooding is concerned, it is very much a matter of out of sight, out of mind, an easy mindset to slip into when the likelihood of a flood happening is expressed in terms like ‘one in seventy five years’. Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that the Environment Agency and other researchers believe around half of the people living in a floodplain are unaware of the fact.

Do you live in a floodplain?

An important point is that your house can be at high flood risk, yet be nowhere near a watercourse – in the floods of 2007, approximately half the insurance claims for flood damage were made by people outside the floodplain. They had been affected by ‘surface water flooding’, where the drainage systems cannot cope with the volume of rainwater present, which instead collects on the surface.

Difficult as it is to imagine willingly moving into a property where there is a risk of dirty water invading your house and destroying or damaging all it encounters, the reality is that most people are simply unaware there is a risk in the first place. Such considerations become eclipsed by all the other factors influencing which house you buy – has it just been beautifully refurbished, is there a nice park nearby?

But what if it has just been refurbished to repair the damage done by floodwater a year ago, and what if the only reason the park is not ‘prime development land’ is because the area is known to flood and is undevelopable?

There is evidence that, immediately after a flood, affected properties rarely exchange hands, or will sell for discounted prices. However as evidence of damage fades and flooding recedes from the collective awareness of purchasers, prices very swiftly return to levels comparable with unaffected property.

Yet the risk of the house flooding remains constant – why should discounts be temporary simply because a buyer is not advised of the liability they may be acquiring? You would, after all, expect a solicitor or surveyor acting on your behalf in a purchase to advise you of any other unseen issues such as restrictive covenants. If they did not raise the issue of flooding, there is a chance that they could be open to a claim for negligence.

At George F. White, we have taken the decision to include a flooding survey in all formal valuations we undertake, to indicate the likelihood of future flooding problems. I expect this subject to become better understood among house buyers in the near future, particularly as the undertaking given by the insurance industry to insure nearly all flooding property will expire in 2013, making it harder to obtain a mortgage for a flooding property.

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