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Step 1: Assess Your Home's Flood Risk

Just because you don't live in a high-risk zone doesn't mean you're safe from flooding.

According to FEMA, floods are the nation's No. 1 natural disaster and occur in all 50 states. One in 4 floods occurs in NSFHAs. NSFHA homeowners file more than 20% of all NFIP claims and receive one-third of federal disaster assistance for flooding.

Nor are you in the clear from flood damage if you own a condominium several stories above ground level.

"Just because you are high up doesn't mean you are not at risk," says Lynne McChristian, the Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute. "If a flood destroys the pilings underneath and the building collapses, if your unit was above that, you have no recourse if you don't have flood insurance."

Step 2: Consider Your Worst-Case Scenario

Because most homeowners insurance policies specifically exclude flood damage, unless you have a NFIP policy, the total cost to repair or rebuild your home and replace damaged contents could fall to you.

However, if the flood that swamps your home is severe enough to be declared a federal disaster, you could receive a limited helping hand from Uncle Sam.

"In that case, you can either apply for a direct grant, which usually caps out at no more than $33,000, or you can apply, if eligible, for a low-interest (Small Business Administration) loan," says Barry.

Step 3: Find Out if You're Eligible for Flood Insurance

You need not live in a high-risk flood zone to purchase flood insurance, but you must live in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.

"Most communities do, but not all," says Barry. "FEMA asks local governments to take certain steps, such as shoring up levies, in exchange for NFIP's willingness to write policies in their area."

You can find out whether your community participates by contacting your homeowners insurance agent or by visiting NFIP's online Community Status Book.

Step 4: Know the limitations of flood insurance

Federal flood insurance is available up to $250,000 for building damage and $100,000 for contents. However, coverage is limited for basements, including walkout basements.

"People have this nice family room in the basement and think if they buy flood insurance, all of that stuff is going to be covered, but it's not," says Scott-Buckley. "On the plus side, structural flood covers all of your home's systems: the foundation, electrical and plumbing systems, furnaces and water heaters, even those located in the basement."

Step 5: Crunch the Numbers

Now that you've considered your flood risk, worst-case financial exposure, your eligibility for flood coverage and the limitations of federal flood insurance, it's time to consider premium cost.

The good news is, if you live in a moderate- to low-risk area, you'll likely be eligible for a Preferred Risk Policy, which bundles building and contents coverage for $129 to $405 per year. A renter's flood policy for contents only starts at $49 a year.

If you're in a SFHA, rates range from $472 to $2,930 for building and contents, $376 to $1,805 for building only and $136 to $1,165 for contents only.

Scott-Buckley and Bierschbach advise all of their clients to purchase flood coverage. "Your home is more than twice as likely to be damaged by flood than by fire," Bierschbach says.

Still, he admits that, with a 100-year flood now behind them, some homeowners may be tempted to roll the dice.

"The question is, is this the last year of the 100 years?" he says. "If so, next year could be the first year of the next 100 years, and you could get a flood again."

Posted 6:33 PM

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