New flood insurance rate maps from FEMA went into effect this month, meaning some residents may see changes to their home insurance rates. Residents whose homes were moved into special flood hazard areas on the new maps may see rates rise significantly, while those whose homes came out of flood zones may see lower insurance rates.
The changes went into effect May 9. It is the first time the maps have been updated since 1989.
“It was definitely overdue,” said Steven Elliott, Building Official for Georgetown County. “We’re the last county in the state to adopt the new maps. I think they’re going to be a lot more accurate than what we had previously.”
He adds that these maps are federally created and the federal government requires the county to adopt them.
For the average person, the details of the new maps, the new criteria used for determining property elevations and what all this means for property owners is extremely complicated. Luckily, staff in the building department is here to help.
“If individuals have no intentions of doing any improvements to their houses or commercial structures on their properties, there’s really nothing for them to do at this point,” Elliott explained. “Those individuals who have mortgages on properties that are transitioning into a flood zone, I’m sure they’ll be getting a letter from their mortgage company requesting that they carry flood insurance.”
Flood insurance is a requirement for properties in certain flood zones. It can be very pricy depending on the zone. In these instances where properties are transitioning into flood hazard areas, Elliott said it may benefit property owners to hire a surveyor to create an elevation certificate. While the insurance industry does not use elevation certificates to determine risk when writing flood insurance policies, Elliott said he has spoken to insurance agents who confirm that a current elevation certificate can help lower rates – but only if it exhibits the property’s situation is better than the insurance agency previously deemed.
“As far as your risk, it could lower your premiums if you submit that elevation certificate to the company. But I would caution people to make sure it’s going to benefit you before you just provide that information,” Elliott said.
The new maps also introduced a new zone: Coastal A, which comes with more restrictive building requirements. Georgetown County requested a variance from the State Building Codes Council that would allow it to not recognize the new zone and enforce those more restrictive measures. The request was denied on a 10-1 vote on May 23.
The county is currently working with a company to help set up an online hub where residents can access the new maps in a format that will help to better explain changes for their property under the new criteria. The county will also upload some of the elevation certificates it currently has on file to better assist property owners. A link will be provided when the hub is ready.
“We’re trying to get as much information out as we can, but it will still be really useful for people to actually see a flood map and information just for their property,” Elliott said. “Until that’s ready though, you can still go onto the county’s website, to the GIS maps and use the drop-down menus. Sometimes those can be a little difficult to interpret though, depending on what features you have turned on.”
He said residents who have questions or need additional help interpreting the GIS maps are always welcome to contact the Georgetown County Building Department for assistance. The main phone number for the department is (843) 545-3116.
“If you don’t plan to do any improvements to your home, but you’re just interested in knowing what’s happening, give us a call or look it up on the GIS map. But if you’re planning to do some improvements, the best thing to do would probably be to come in and sit down in the office with us and look at the maps,” Elliott said.