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National Flood Insurance Program

Overview

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides up to $350,000 of flood insurance coverage where required for a federally backed mortgage in 22,000 communities nationwide. It also provides an alternative to taxpayer-funded disaster assistance, which averages $5,500 per household but more often means an SBA loan that must repaid with any underlying mortgage. While there is a growing market for private flood insurance, for many, the NFIP continues to be the primary source of asset protection against flooding, the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States.

However, as currently structured, the NFIP is not financially sustainable over the long run. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program is not charging enough in premiums to cover expected claims in catastrophic loss years, and has already borrowed over $30 billion from taxpayers to make up the difference. For these reasons, NAR supports a strengthened NFIP coupled with a robust private market to offer choices and maintain access to flood insurance in all markets at all times. NAR believes:

  • NFIP reauthorization should be long term.
  • Flood mapping should be done at higher resolutions with a streamlined and less expensive appeal process.
  • Premiums should be more accurately priced to the property specific risk, but any rate increases should be gradual and phased in over many years.
  • Private flood insurance options should be encouraged where cost effective, provided that NFIP remains a viable option for property owners.
  • To keep rates affordable, the federal government should also provide pre-disaster risk mitigation options – including guaranteed loans, grants and buyouts for property owners to build stronger or relocate to higher ground.
  • There should be better oversight and training of insurance companies marketing NFIP policies, and an adequately supported FEMA Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate to assist policyholders with flood map and rate disputes.

Legal

The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (B-W Act) reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program for an additional 5 years. That Act also largely eliminated federal subsidies of flood insurance, resulting in increases in the premiums to be charged for flood insurance coverage, as determined by FEMA. Because those rate increases were in some cases significant, many property owners or prospective property owners raised concerns about their exposure to higher flood insurance rates. Real estate brokers and agents also raised concerns about their possible exposure to misrepresentation claims by property purchasers who acquired property before such increases take effect and are later subject to substantial increases in their flood insurance premiums.

As a result of the concerns of property owners about higher flood insurance premiums, NAR and others sought from Congress legislation to slow the implementation of higher rates. On March 21, 2014 the President signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014. That Act changes the B-W Act to significantly mitigate the current impact of higher flood insurance rates. This includes eliminating the immediate application of full market-based rates upon the sale of a property or a new policy, limiting annual flood insurance premium rate increases to 18% for primary homes and 18-25% for second homes, directing FEMA to implement new rate tables based on the new Act within 8-16 months, allowing policy holders to receive a refund of premiums already paid in excess of the amount that would be allowed under the new law, allowing new owners to assume a prior owner’s policy at existing rates, providing for properties to be “grandfathered” to retain their flood zone’s rates even when remapped into different flood zones, and phasing in rate increases for newly mapped properties.

The following guidance is offered for brokers and agents in marketing and selling property for which flood insurance may be required, or that is located in areas where the purchase of flood insurance may be prudent.

  1. In general, brokers and agents owe buyers duty to disclose adverse material features, conditions, or aspects of property of which they have actual knowledge. Brokers and agents are not, however, generally required to investigate independently whether a property is in a flood zone or otherwise in an area likely to be subject to flooding or flood risks. However, if a broker or agent has actual knowledge that a property being marketed for sale is in an area where flood insurance is required or has specific knowledge that flood insurance has been required for that particular property in the past, those facts should be disclosed to the buyer. If the broker or agent has actual knowledge that the area in which the property is located has experienced flooding or is subject to flood risks that cause many or most owners to purchase flood insurance those facts should also be disclosed.
  2. If a broker or agent determines that it is necessary to make disclosures to buyers regarding flood insurance, as described above, he should also advise buyers that, as a result of the B-W Act, flood insurance rates are likely to be higher than in the past. Although the amount of such rate increases may be lower than they would have otherwise been under the B-W Act alone, increases will nevertheless be implemented with the goal of reaching full market based premium amounts in time.

Such advice should further indicate that notwithstanding the 2014 Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, prior flood insurance premiums will not be representative of future rates and that rates will increase, although more slowly than anticipated under the B-W Act. An example of a disclosure statement that could be used for this purpose is attached, although brokers and agents may also use different methods or language to communicate to buyers information about flood insurance and flood insurance premiums. In circumstances where flood insurance is not required and there is no reasonable basis for a broker or agent to believe that it may be required or is prudent to have, no such disclosure need be provided.

  1. For buyers who seek more information about the NFIP or flood insurance coverage or rates, the broker or agent should be prepared to provide sources of information about those subjects available from “official” sources or those otherwise known to be competent and reliable. These might include publications, pamphlets, or similar materials prepared or distributed by FEMA or other federal or state agencies or departments, or other sources known to be credible. Examples of such publications can be found at the following links: http://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program/flood-insurance-ref... http://www.floodsmart.gov http://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program http://www.fema.gov/floodplain-management/flood-insurance-rate-map-firm

Brokers and agents may ask buyers to sign an acknowledgement of receipt of any such materials provided.

  1. Where flood insurance may be required or may be advisable, brokers and agents may also find it helpful to identify to purchasers one or more suppliers of flood insurance coverage to be provided to interested purchasers seeking such information about flood insurance coverage and rates. Brokers and agents should not recommend or endorse any particular carrier, and it is prudent to identify more than one carrier and encourage interested buyers to compare flood insurance coverage among several different carriers.
  2. Under the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act some sellers are entitled to a refund of flood insurance premiums that they previously paid that were higher than now provided for under the Act but may not be able to collect that refund prior to closing of a sale of the property. Listing brokers representing sellers in that position should suggest that the seller discuss with his or her attorney the best way to preserve their right to collect that refund after the transaction closes.

Sample Flood Insurance Disclosure Statement

Your mortgage lender [may] [will] require you to purchase flood insurance in connection with your purchase of this property. The National Flood Insurance Program provides for the availability of flood insurance and establishes flood insurance policy premiums based on the risk of flooding in the area where properties are located. Recent changes to federal law (The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, in particular) will result in changes to flood insurance premiums that are likely to be higher, and in the future may be substantially higher, than premiums paid for flood insurance prior to or at the time of sale of the property. As a result, purchasers of property should not rely on the premiums paid for flood insurance on this property previously as an indication of the premiums that will apply after completion of the purchase. In considering purchase of this property you should consult with one or more carriers of flood insurance for a better understanding of flood insurance coverage, current and anticipated future flood insurance premiums, whether the prior owner’s policy may be assumed by a subsequent purchaser of the property, and other matters related to the purchase of flood insurance for the property. You may also wish to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for more information about flood insurance as it relates to this property.

Political Advocacy

Current Legislation/Regulation

HR 2874, The 21st Century Flood Reform Act

S. 563/HR 1422, The Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act


In-Depth

Find NAR's letters, testimonies, bill updates, and more on the NAR Federal Issues Tracker


Legislative Contact(s):

Austin Perez, aperez@realtors.org
202-383-1046

Ken Wingert, kwingert@realtors.org
202-383-1196

Regulatory Contact(s):

Austin Perez, aperez@realtors.org
202-383-1046

Russell Riggs, rriggs@realtors.org
202-383-1259

What is the fundamental issue?

Congress must reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to continue providing flood insurance after December 8, 2017 and include private market reforms that reduce uncertainty in real estate markets.

I am a real estate professional. What does this mean for my business?

Flood insurance is required for a mortgage in more than 20,000 communities nationwide. While there is a growing private market for flood insurance, millions of small business and home owners currently depend on the federal program to protect their property against flooding, the most costly and common natural disaster in the United States. Without the NFIP, more property owners could become uninsured and turn to the Federal government for taxpayer-funded disaster relief and rebuilding assistance after major floods.

NAR Policy:

NAR supports:

  1. Reauthorizing and gradually strengthening the NFIP so it is sustainable over the long run;

  2. Encouraging the development of private market options to offer comparable flood insurance coverage at lower cost than NFIP;

  3. Providing federal assistance to high-risk property owners, including guaranteed loans, grants and buyouts in order to build to higher standards and keep insurance rates affordable;

  4. More granularly pricing NFIP policies to better reflect the property's specific risk; and

  5. Improving flood map accuracy so fewer property owners have to file expensive appeals.

Legislative/Regulatory Status/Outlook

On July 6, 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act reauthorizing the NFIP for 5 years. While ending the shutdowns and short-term extensions that cost 40,000 home sales each month, implementation problems threatened to undermine real estate transactions where flood insurance is required for a mortgage. NFIP's authority has since been extended to December 8, 2017.

On March 13, 2014, Congress amended Biggert-Waters with the passage of The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. These amendments were signed into law on March 21, 2014:

  • Repealed FEMA's authority to raise insurance rates at the time of property sale;
  • Restored grandfathering for properties that were built to code but are later remapped;
  • Reset and refunded premiums back to pre-Biggert Waters levels;
  • Limited future rate increases to 18% annually for newer properties and 25% for the older ones;
  • Added a $25/$250 surcharge to NFIP policies until property owners pay full-risk rates; and
  • Established the Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate to help property owners with faulty flood maps and insurance rate concerns.

On November 14, 2017, the House of Representatives, on a vote of 237-189, passed HR 2874: The 21st Century Flood Reform Act, to reauthorize and make further improvements to the NFIP. The bill meets all six of NAR's reform principles. Specifically, the Act:

  • Reauthorizes the NFIP for 5 years;
  • Limits maximum flood insurance premiums to no more than $10,000 per year for residential properties;
  • Preserves the practice of grandfathering for property owners who have built to code;
  • Removes hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP;
  • Authorizes $1 billion in pre-flood mitigation assistance grants to elevate, flood proof, buyout or mitigate high-risk properties;
  • Doubles increased cost of compliance (ICC) coverage in the standard NFIP policy so policyholders may access up to $60,000 for property mitigation prior to a flood;
  • Better aligns NFIP rates to flood risk, particularly for lower risk and value properties inland of the coast;
  • Enables communities to develop more accurate and granular flood maps like North Carolina’s, and streamlines the map appeals process;
  • Improves the claims process in light of problems experienced after Superstorm Sandy;
  • Addresses issues with repeatedly flooding properties that account for 2 percent of NFIP policies but 25 percent of the claim payments over the history of the program; and
  • Strengthens the overall solvency of the program over the long term.

Now that the House has completed its work, the focus shifts to the Senate where the Banking Committee has not marked up its version of NFIP reauthorization and reform legislation. With the December 8 deadline looming, NAR is urging the Senate to act quickly and will continue working with members of Congress to ensure that the NFIP does not shut down in the interim.

For additional information:

NAR Committee:

Insurance Committee

References

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On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law “The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012” which extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years and includes many program reforms.  NAR has created this NFIP Resources Page, which includes links to detailed information on the NFIP to help answer REALTOR® questions about the changes coming to the NFIP.

Overview

NAR Resources

FEMA Resources

FEMA’S Rate Relief Programs

In anticipation of increasing flood insurance rates, FEMA identifies several options that may directly or indirectly result in flood insurance discounts to policyholders.

  • NFIP Community Rating System
    The NFIP Community Rating System (CRS) offers insurance premium discounts (up to 45 percent) for individuals in communities implementing floodplain management practices that exceed the minimum requirements of the NFIP. By implementing CRS floodplain management best practices, flood losses are reduced, public safety is enhanced, and the cost of flood insurance is decreased.
  • FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Program
    FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant programs provide funding for eligible mitigation activities, including elevating properties, that reduce disaster losses and protect life and property from future disaster damages.
  • Elevation Certificates
    An Elevation Certificate is an important tool that documents your building’s elevation. The below fact sheet provides valuable information for homeowners including guidance for obtaining an Elevation Certificate which is necessary for determining full-risk rates in high-risk zones. It may also show that you may be paying too much for flood insurance. 
  • FEMA Flood Map Appeal
    If a person believes their property was incorrectly included in a NFIP-identified Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), they may submit an application to FEMA for a formal determination of the property's location and/or elevation relative to the SFHA.
  • Raise the Deductible
    And like any other insurance policy, you can always raise the deductible.

Videos

Statistics

Resources for REALTORS® and Consumers

Additional Information & Research


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The inclusion of links on this page does not imply endorsement by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR makes no representations about whether the content of any external sites which may be linked in this page complies with state or federal laws or regulations or with applicable NAR policies. These links are provided for your convenience only and you rely on them at your own risk.

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