Posted on 17th November 2016

Don't Let Flood Maps Sink your Property Dreams

Martin Williamson, Director and Head of Residential Property
Martin Williamson, Director and Head of Residential Property

Under different circumstances, it can be both a house buyer and a house seller’s worst nightmare. After falling in love with a property on viewing, making an offer, and sending round a surveyor, to find out that the home of your dreams is listed as being “at risk” of flooding can be a shattering revelation. Likewise, for a seller, discovering that your home is considered a flood risk, even though it may never have actually flooded, can present a significant worry and financial concern.

Anyone who has ever been flooded out, will know that it is a highly unenviable position, with the repercussions lasting for many months after the floodwater has receded. It is not surprising that buyers are keen to avoid the possibility that they will ever fall victim to torrential rain or seasonal storms. But is the outside threat of flooding sufficient to put buyers off?

In 2013, for the very first time, the Environment Agency flood risk maps showed, not just those areas at risk of river or sea flooding, but those at risk of surface water flooding too. These maps show the flood risk from surface water generated, usually, in the instance of sudden, very heavy rainfall, better known as a flash flood, when the level of rainfall exceeds the capacity of drainage.

Of course, unlike river and sea flooding predictions and forecasts, meteorologists have more difficulty predicting the occurrence of surface water flooding, owing to its sporadic and localised nature. It may be fair, on that basis, to infer that some such maps may over, or under-estimate the flood risk of a given area.

The question is, should we let surface water flood risk affect the values of our homes, and whether, or not, we choose to buy them? In an ideal world, none of our properties would be at any risk of flooding. But there is a considerable difference between properties susceptible to river and sea flooding, and those affected by surface water. Under certain weather conditions, any number of properties could be affected by surface water run-off, and predicting it seems to be more of an art than a science.

A better indication of a property’s susceptibility to flooding is whether, or not, it has ever actually flooded in the past. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, require that estate agents treat buyers fairly, meaning they have a duty to ensure that any significant knowledge about properties be shared with interested parties, a property’s flood status is one such piece of information.

For those who do find that prospective buyers are perturbed by Environment Agency maps, impacts can be mitigated creatively by working with insurance companies to insure excess payments in the instance of future flood damage. If this approach is pursued, a clause can be inserted into contracts, guaranteeing that the excess on insurance claims related to floodwater damage will be met by the seller.

The Environment Agency publications in 2013 have certainly set the cat among the pigeons, with many properties, some of which had never before flooded, being listed on the risk register. Ongoing review and updates to the maps could see changes made at any time. It’s important to remember that the maps are intended as a helpful guide, they are not prophetic.

Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 40 people serving private and corporate clients. For further information: www.latimerhinks.co.uk or call 01325 341500.

Please note: This article is intended as guidance only and does not constitute advice, financial or otherwise. 

For further information please contact Martin Williamson