Berkshire Hathaway real estate agent Michael Gray says increasing storm-related flooding is changing the way he does business. He only expects things to get worse with the looming threat of sea level rise.
"Five or six years ago, you didn't have to worry about it as much."
But with flood map changes to better soak up potential risks, Gray is finding homeowners are being caught off guard when they're hit with high flood insurance premiums.
"Sometimes, it's not a little bit but a lot... $300 to $400 a month on a house that the mortgage payment might only be $1,000."
He has examples with his own family in Portsmouth. In Olde Towne, his parents must pay flood insurance on a rental home, where only the front steps sit in the flood zone. Their monthly payments increased by just more than $350. The same thing happened to his brother, who was slapped with an extra $400 a month.
FEMA requires homeowners with federally backed mortgages to buy flood insurance for the life of the mortgages if they live in a high risk flood zone. Some premiums are paid through the National Flood Insurance Program. The increasing number of major storms is stretching the program thin.
That's one reason why Gray makes sure he tells potential homebuyers to not only check flood zone maps but get an elevation certificate.
"You would call a surveyor and they come out and look and see how high your residence is off the ground, and they look at where the major mechanicals of the house are located."
It means that just because a home is in a flood zone, what really matters is how high the living space is off the ground. The higher the elevation, the less you pay in insurance.
In a rare case, Gray's brother's payments were completely wiped out once he was able to obtain an elevation certificate.
In Larchmont in Norfolk, Mike Vernon, the Flood Insurance Guy, points out a puddle on Richmond Crescent that never goes away. The area is one of Hampton Roads' most flood-prone neighborhoods.
Vernon helps homeowners lower what he calls "exorbitantly high" insurance premiums by providing them with mitigation plans to make their homes compliant with FEMA codes. He says for every 500 dollars a person has to pay in flood insurance, it devalues their home by 10 thousand dollars.
"We can lower their insurance premiums by 80 to 90 percent."
Mitigation plans depend on how the house is built. The most expensive fix is when lifting homes that are built on slabs. It's usually a six-figure job that can be paid for in part by a FEMA grant.
Edward Guyton's home was raised about two years ago and it has brought him a lot of relief. He says that just since July 22, the street has had 57 days in the row of flooding of at least two feet. "You have no idea what it's like to not be afraid to your bones, if you will, when there's a storm coming."