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Flood risk homes1

Flooding is a growing risk for some British homes and something a number of Kent’s residents have recently had to deal with
this winter.

Some people will buy a property, especially those in a fantastic location, fully aware that at some time, it may suffer from flooding.  However aside from the physical damage caused by floods if a property is at risk of flooding, it may be difficult to:

•  Obtain a mortgage

•  Obtain suitable insurance cover, or

•  Sell the property

Nobody can ever say that a property that has not previously been flooded, will never flood and new properties in particular may be tested by the extremes of weather recently experienced.  However there are steps that can be taken during the course of a property purchase to forewarn the buyer.

Solicitors are not qualified to give advice on flood risk or interpret technical flood reports but there are a number of checks that can be undertaken by the buyer or on a buyers’ behalf which will give them a better understanding of the risks.

The standard documentation supplied to a buyer’s solicitor (where the solicitors are adopting what is known as the Conveyancing Protocol) contains a standard enquiry of the seller to ascertain whether any part of the property has ever been flooded and if so, the type of flooding that occurred.

If flooding has previously occurred which is not disclosed by the seller, then a buyer could bring a compensation claim as a result of such an incorrect reply.  A buyer’s solicitors will also carry out what is known as an Environment Report.  This should disclose whether there is any known flood risk and if so this could result in more detailed enquiries being made.

The buyer would need to identify the level of flood risk, which could be from the buyer’s own personal knowledge of the property and the area, the buyer making further detailed enquiries with their own surveyor and ensuring that a physical inspection or survey has been carried out or a more detailed flood report being obtained which will help the buyer to assess the overall risk.

It is important to ensure that the surveyor instructed to act on the buyer’s behalf has local knowledge.  The buyer themselves can also make personal enquiries of neighbours, local businesses and consult the Environment Agency Flood Map.  This provides a free postcode search for information on flooding from rivers and the sea, but not common flood causes such as surface water and ground water.

A further extremely useful indicator is the buyer making enquiries to establish the terms on which buildings insurance (including flood risk cover) is available.  A prohibitive premium or an insurance company potentially declining to insure the property would highlight real cause for concern.  As the Standard Conditions of Sale in a Contract for the sale purchase of a residential property oblige the buyer to assume the risk from exchange of Contracts, then the ability to obtain insurance on acceptable terms should be known to a buyer before they become contractually obliged to purchase the property.

If difficulties are experienced in obtaining appropriate buildings insurance and having considered the matter further, a buyer still wishes to proceed, then the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have produced a guide “Obtaining Flood Insurance in High Risk Areas” for those experiencing difficulty in obtaining flood insurance.

In brief the best advice is to ask as many questions as you can and to do as much research as you can before you commit to buying any home.

 Alan Williams is a partner at Gullands and can be reached at a.williams@gullands.com