You may have your heart set on a gorgeous house that you want to make your own, but have you checked to see if it’s at risk of flooding?
As we are all too recently aware, flooding is a growing risk for British property. Aside from the physical damage caused by the recent spate of floods, if a property is at risk of flooding it may be difficult to obtain a mortgage, obtain suitable insurance cover and sell the property. This is likely to affect the value of the property and its marketability.
Many houses, old and new, have been built in areas that are at risk of flooding. It may be obvious at first glance; the house is on the bank of a river, or next to a pond. However, there are also areas that aren’t quite so clear. Surface water (when heavy water overwhelms the drainage capacity of an area), groundwater (when underground water levels rise above surface level) and overflowing sewers are increasingly common causes of flooding. There is also flooding from seas, reservoirs and rivers.
Some flood plains have been developed into housing estates and commercial or retail parks. These are areas that a river would have spilled over into during periods of high rainfall. But with housing developments built where the water would naturally go, more and more houses are at risk of flooding.
So How Can I Check Before Buying A House?
Estate agents are obliged to tell you anything they know about the property and the seller has to answer enquiries about the property, which includes questions on flooding. However, it is your responsibility as a buyer to find out as much as possible about your prospective purchase.
Your property lawyer will carry out an extensive range of searches and enquiries relating to your prospective new property purchase and will liaise with you regarding flood searches or other investigations which may be appropriate.
Although property lawyers are not qualified to give advice on flood risk per se, or to interpret technical flood reports, they will liaise with you in relation to which flood searches, or other investigations, may be appropriate and the terms on which buildings insurance cover is available prior to exchange of contracts.
It is your responsibility to ensure that insurance is obtained for the property on acceptable terms before entering into a contract. In addition, if you are buying a property with the assistance of a mortgage, your lender may impose additional requirements which must be satisfied. Lenders are increasingly likely to investigate the potential risk of flooding, either as part of their valuation process or by searching.
The Environment Agency website allows the public to view information on flooding from rivers, the sea, surface water and reservoirs. It does not give information about risk of flooding from groundwater. They have a handy postcode finder that can show you if your new property is in a low or high risk area. If you are in a high risk area you can find out what you can do to protect your property. However, it does not give information about a specific property.
Also you may wish to knock on a neighbour’s door and ask them if there has been any flooding in the past and, if so, how bad it has been.
The Land Registry has produced its Flood Risk Indicator to provide information about the possible risk of flooding to a property.
The result is provided on a title-by-title basis for registered properties, but again it is not detailed enough to account for precise properties and should not be relied on as the sole means of assessing flood risk.
Sometimes a specialist survey is required and this can provide information about food mitigation measures and it can be useful to provide this to your prospective insurers.
What Other Things Should I Think About Before Buying In A Flood Risk Area?
Areas that are at risk of flooding often bring higher insurance premiums and excesses or impose unusual conditions.
Many insurance companies simply won’t insure your property if it has been flooded before. It’s best to check before buying a property because even if the house hasn’t been flooded in a while, the risk is still there. Even if you are occupying a leasehold property as a tenant and the landlord insures, if flood becomes an uninsured risk, you, as tenant, may be liable to make good any flood damage and rent may be suspended, depending on the wording of the lease.
In April 2016 a new insurance scheme for flood prone areas will be launched. Flood Re is an agreement between the UK Government and the insurance industry. It aims to ensure that homeowners in high flood risk areas can still find affordable insurance by placing a cap on the total cost.
If you have already bought a property and have buildings and contents insurance, make sure you check the policy carefully to ensure you’re covered in case of flooding.
When buying a property it’s important to have experienced property lawyers on hand to help. Slater and Gordon’s team of property solicitors have many years’ experience in buying and selling properties, and making sure that all appropriate searches and enquiries are raised.
For expert legal advice about conveyancing or buying residential property, call Slater and Gordon on 0800 916 9083 or contact us online and we will call you.