In the last few years all areas of Wisconsin have witnessed historic flooding, severely impacting our way of life. Flooding has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and farms and has put people’s lives in danger. Flooding is the costliest natural disaster our state faces, and floods have caused nine federal disaster declarations since 2010.
However, unlike other natural disasters, the location and frequency of floods can often be predicted. That allows us to prepare for them and to lower the risk that they will damage property or cost lives.
As real estate agents, we help families and individuals with the biggest purchase of their lives—which is why we share a deep concern that homeowners and renters are often in the dark about the reality of their flood risk. That is dangerous because community preparedness for flooding depends on everyone being involved and informed.
Many states in our nation allow a home to be sold without ever disclosing the flood risk or flooding history of that home. In Wisconsin, we have a few disclosure provisions for residential home sales, but they are often confusing for the seller to fill out and explain. Should the seller provide incomplete or inaccurate information, legal enforcement can be difficult and costly for the buyer to obtain. This lack of knowledge about flood risk puts people in danger and must be remedied.
In order to protect people, it is critical that anyone looking to purchase or lease a new home knows its flood history and risk, so that they can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right move or whether they can take steps to mitigate the risk. Lead paint disclosure is a perfect example of how this can work successfully. No matter what state you live in or are moving to, you should be informed about important health and safety risks when buying a home.
We believe it is critical to address flood risk disclosure through a national and uniform standard of disclosure—either federal or enacted at the state level—which provides residents comprehensive information on a property’s flood risk in a timely manner and that is accessible and realistic for sellers.
Strong flood risk and history disclosures are not only ethical to keep people out of harm’s way, they could also help reduce the $20 billion taxpayer burden to the National Flood Insurance Program through reducing flood claims and losses. That’s why the U.S. House missed a huge opportunity this month when they passed an NFIP bill without addressing flood disclosure, a key reform that would help our state and millions of folks nationwide.
Wisconsin needs to be prepared for the increasing severity and frequency of storms, which means no one should be moving into their new home without full knowledge of whether they are at risk for flooding or what they can do about it. We need Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin and the entire congressional delegation to step up and lead on this important issue. Flood risk disclosure is a sensible start that will keep people safe as they move into their new home.