Home buyers need flood risk details up front

Flooding at Keighley Road, Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley.Flooding at Keighley Road, Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley.
Flooding at Keighley Road, Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley.
SIMPLE TRAFFIC light-style warnings should accompany property listings on websites and in adverts to make clear the risk of flooding to house hunters, a prominent group of insurers has said.

There is also a lack of flood risk information on brochures for new-build properties, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said, with research of sales material in 50 of the highest flood risk areas in England and Wales finding none which included flood warnings.

It adds up to prospective home buyers finding out too late whether a home is at risk of flooding, ABI director general Huw Evans said.

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Nationally, one in six homes are at risk of flooding and in flood-prone areas, such as York, Hull and communities along the Calder Valley and east coast, there is potentially a bigger risk of prospective buyers being caught out.

Traffic light-style warnings have the backing of estate agents and are feasible using data that is already publicly available from the Environment Agency, the ABI said, adding that the warnings should be provided automatically by estate agents and property search websites for the locations of homes they list.

Open flooding data is available for England and Wales, but is not available for use in the same way in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

ABI chief Mr Evans said areas with higher flooding risks tend to have higher insurance premiums.

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“With one in six homes at risk of flooding, we need to make thinking about flood risk as much part of the home buying process as school catchment areas and transport links,” Mr Evans said.

“At the moment, information on whether a property is at risk of flooding comes too late, often when people have already invested hundreds if not thousands of pounds in the conveyancing process.

“That’s why we are calling for those who sell properties to include new traffic light warnings on flood risk in a property’s area.

“You can currently get more information about what paper your new neighbours might read than if a particular property might be at flood risk.”

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The ABI said fees for local searches by a solicitor and a survey can cost a lender up to around £500, before flood risk details about a property are uncovered.

It said Environment Agency data shows that 2.4 million properties in England are currently at risk of river or coastal flooding, while a further three million properties are at risk of surface water flooding - 600,000 of these are at risk of both.

The winter floods of 2013/14 saw insurers pay out more than £450m in flood claims.

Mark Hayward, managing director of the National Association of Estate Agents, said his group “absolutely support” the ABI’s initiative, agreeing that house hunters should have as much information available as possible.

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“Under the consumer protection from unfair trading regulations, estate agents are obliged to make consumers aware of anything that may affect their transactional decision,” Mr Hayward said. “The ABI’s proposed traffic light system would be a clear way of facilitating this. Unfortunately flooding is something out of the consumer’s control, but having the correct information to make an informed decision about risk levels ahead of buying a property should be mandatory.”

Floods minister Rory Stewart said the Government is making record levels of investment in flood protection, including a six-year commitment of £2.3billion to better protect an extra 300,000 homes by 2021.

The Cumbrian MP added: “We’re making more data and technology available to help people plan and prepare for potential floods, such as the Environment Agency’s free Flood Warnings Service and our advanced flood mapping and forecasting.”