The Importance of Knowing FEMA Code When Buying a Lake House

Posted by Hunter Croan on Thursday, December 21st, 2023 at 5:56am.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's primary purpose is to coordinate disaster responses in the U.S. The agency also provides resources and on-the-ground recovery support when needed.

Since FEMA is all about disaster management and relief, the agency has also created a set of standards that help local governments, property owners, and the general public build hazard-resistant structures. These standards, known as the "FEMA Code," give engineers and property owners guidelines on how to create buildings that comply with appropriate safety precautions.

For waterfront properties, flooding is a primary concern. It's important to ensure that properties are constructed with flooding and erosion risks - and therefore FEMA flood zone codes - in mind. Otherwise, buildings may be prone to collapse or damage.

Why FEMA Code Matters

Many homeowners have one key question when it comes to FEMA: "Why do we have to follow FEMA flood building codes on our own property? Can't we choose to opt-out?"

The truth is that while it is technically possible to avoid FEMA building codes (if the governing authority doesn't shut you down), it's not really a good idea to do so. You're sure to run into problems down the road should you decide to renovate or sell your home. Likewise, FEMA codes help keep your property safe. Without them, your risk of costly damages and even danger rises significantly.

How FEMA Code Affects Your Lake Home Buying or Selling

If you plan to buy or sell a Texas waterfront property, working with an agent who understands the FEMA Code will always be to your advantage. Knowing what's built to code and what isn't can help you avoid stressful and expensive problems like those below.

Non-Compliant Space

One thing we see often at The Lakefront Group when working with waterfront homes is non-compliant space. This refers to living area that should not be living quarters that was created without proper FEMA permitting.

In other words, a non-compliant space is a part of the home that doesn't follow FEMA guidelines and, therefore, is not considered "FEMA-compliant."

What does that mean in practice? Say you own a 2000-square-foot home, but 1000 of those square feet is non-compliant enclosed space. For example this could be a living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The county/city could come tell you at any time to remove the non-compliant living quarters which makes your property much less valuable/marketable. Just a heads up, sellers are not always truthful on this matter. Our buyers agents put in the time to research the property to help our clients avoid this very costly mistake of potentially paying for costly living quarters that could be forcibly removed in the future.

In this case, you'll lose around half of the home's potential value because you'll have to market it as a 1000-square-foot home - even though that non-compliant space is still part of the property.

Home Improvement

Understanding FEMA codes is also important if you're improving a property. Let's imagine you're a homeowner looking to transform a 1500-square-foot lake house into a 2500-square-foot lake house. If your original structure is not up to today's code, you more than likely will not have the ability to add on or improve (horizontally) your home.

If you don't understand this fact, you could end up purchasing a home that's not fit for renovations. Or, you might begin projects only to realize you can't actually do what you want to with your property.

Seller Dishonesty Leads to Headaches

It's important to have an agent that understands the FEMA codes because, put simply, sellers lie (as mentioned above). They want to sell their lake house for as much as they can. Disclosing non-compliant living quarters will affect the amount of money they will put into their pocket.

In many cases, sellers are the ones who start home improvement projects without a permit or FEMA compliance. Many choose to work with agents who aren't aware of FEMA codes, which ropes buyers into a headache down the line.

Key Takeaway: Choose an Agent Who Understands FEMA Code

We know that it can be tricky for homeowners to navigate FEMA flood codes and other FEMA regulations. That's why we always recommend you work with a real estate agent who understands FEMA Code through and through.

At The Lakefront Group, we work hard to put ourselves in your shoes and do the research we would do if we personally made the purchase. Let our expert agents help you avoid a hassle - or worse, a lawsuit - down the road. Trust The Lakefront Group to help you find a lake house in Texas that fits your needs.

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