Flood Hazard Surveys
Alaco measures ground and building elevations and prepares LOMA requests and Elevation Certificates.
This work is performed by, or under the responsible charge of, Lawrence M. Johmann, PE.
Lawrence is a licensed civil engineer and a former Certified Floodplain Manager who previously worked for more than a decade with the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. He has completed hundreds of flood hazard surveys, LOMA requests, and Elevation Certificates throughout the Bay Area.
A structure, property or a portion of a property can be removed from a Special Flood Hazard Area by submitting to FEMA a qualifying Letter of Map Change request, the most common and affordable of which is the Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA).
LOMA requests typically include professionally acquired and certified survey data that are more accurate than that which the pertinent Flood Insurance Study was based on.
An Elevation Certificate is an official FEMA form for recording ground and building elevation measurements. The forms are used to comply with local building ordinances and to determine flood insurance rates for policies issued through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). An Elevation Certificate can also be used to support a LOMA request.
In most cases the forms must be prepared and certified by a professional engineer or land surveyor. However, depending on insurance company requirements, certification might not be necessary for the purpose of rating an NFIP policy in a Zone AO.
Special Flood Hazard Area
What is a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)? It is an area that has a one percent chance of being flooded in any given year as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Put another way, it is an area that is expected to flood at least once every hundreds years. Consequently, it is sometimes referred to as the 100-year floodplain.
FEMA identifies Special Flood Hazard Areas by way of Flood Insurance Studies usually prepared by study contractors like AECOM or cooperating technical partners like Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. The results are delineated on Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
These studies and maps can be viewed and downloaded at FEMA's online Map Service Center.
Special Flood Hazard Areas are classified and shown as zone types. Each zone has its own set of rules for identifying a base flood elevation to be used for determining:
- a proper flood insurance rate
- if a structure can be removed from the SFHA
- code compliant elevations for new construction
In Alameda County, the most frequently encountered SFHAs are:
A AE AH AO
Base Flood Elevation and Lowest Adjacent Grade
Flood Insurance Mandate
The Federal Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 mandates that federally regulated lenders can not make, increase, extend, or renew a loan for a structure unless it is insured against flood damage when any portion of it is located in a Special Flood Hazard Area. This Federal requirement for insurance applies to federally regulated lenders, not directly to property owners. A regulated lender simply passes this obligation onto its client. Consequently, an owner of a structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area who does not have a federally regulated loan is not required to have flood insurance.
Lender's Determination of Insurance Requirement
A data analytic company, such as CoreLogic, reviews Flood Insurance Rate Maps and then makes the determination for its lender clients as to whether a structure is shown in or out of a Special Flood Hazard Area. Some companies will interpret the maps more conservatively by extending the SFHA boundary by an extra 25-feet or so.
It is a lender's prerogative, per the mortgage agreement or Deed of Trust, to require flood insurance whether the property owner agrees with the determination or not.
Of course, if a structure for which a lender demands flood insurance is far outside of a Special Flood Hazard Area, an owner's recourse is to refinance with another lender who interprets the map more favorably. Alternatively, an Out-As-Shown LOMA can be sought from FEMA. It is unusual for a lender to require flood insurance when a LOMA has been issued for the structure.
Alaco's Fees for Flood Hazard Services
Alaco attempts to provide its clients with only the services they truly need, for attaining the most favorable result, at the least possible cost. Hence, services are itemized as described below. Be careful when comparing to others who quote a lump sum fee without knowing anything about the affected property.
- Site Visit: (cost of staff and equipment allocation/expenses for typical travel time and distance) More than one visit may be necessary if pertinent portions of the property are inaccessible at the scheduled appointment time or to later verify a property modification. A recommended modification to property might include repairing a depression below the natural grade that would otherwise disqualify the structure for a LOMA or adding flood openings to a crawlspace or attached garage for potential flood insurance savings.
- $150/visit for properties in Castro Valley, Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, or Union City
- $175/visit for properties in Dublin, Fremont, Oakland, and Pleasanton
- Elevation Survey: $150 Measure of a structure's adjacent grade elevation and surrounding drainage paths and, if necessary, the elevation of a structure's floor(s) and mechanical equipment as well as the cumulative amount of any qualified flood openings.
- Elevation Certificate: $400 Completing and emailing the client a PDF Elevation Certificate
- LOMA: $400 Completing and electronically submitting a LOMA request to FEMA
- Rapid Response: The fees above are those charged when work is performed on a schedule of mutual convenience. Occasionally, we are asked if it is possible to achieve results within a day or two because of a pending property sale or other urgent matter. This may be possible depending on staff availability for overtime work. If it is possible, a rapid response will be offered at double the normal rates.
The fees listed above are valid through June 30, 2020 and may increase thereafter.
Request a Flood Hazard Survey
Call or text Lawrence Johmann at: 510-200-8414 Provide the address of the property requiring a survey.
Preparing for a Survey
Before we proceed with a survey, there are few things you should know and prepare for.
In all cases, it will be necessary to survey entirely around the property and building structure(s). Therefore, unrestricted exterior access is required, the clearing of obstacles and overgrowth is helpful, and the cleanup of pet waste is appreciated.
Pets must be secured indoors or in an outdoor pen so that they do not escape the yard or disturb the survey equipment while measurements are underway.
If the property or structure qualifies for removal from the SFHA, a LOMA request can be submitted to FEMA and there will be no need to complete an Elevation Certificate nor enter the structure. However, if this is not the case and an Elevation Certificate is required or otherwise desired, then entering the structure may be necessary to measure floor and equipment elevations. Please be sure that all residents are aware of this.
If the structure to be insured has a crawlspace, access to it will be necessary for completing an Elevation Certificate--this might be through an interior floor opening or through an exterior foundation wall opening. Wherever it may be, please determine its location in advance and be sure that the accessway is clear.
If the structure to be insured has a crawlspace or an attached garage and you are seeking the lowest possible insurance rate through the NFIP, it is important to ensure that all vents/flood openings within 12-inches of the ground are visible, measurable, and unobstructed.
An Elevation Certificate requires the inclusion of images of both the front and rear of the structure that is to be insured. You may want to tidy up front and back yards and move anything away that you do not want captured in an image.
Finally, if you have tenants living at the property, be sure they are aware of the scheduled visit and all of the above.
Flood insurance can be purchased either through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program or the private market. The vast majority of flood insurance policies are issued through the NFIP. However, private market policies are becoming more popular as companies identify areas where the risk identified by FEMA may be overestimated. In these areas the private market is undercutting the NFIP.
If you are informed by you lender that you must obtain flood insurance, begin investigating your options right away. If you do not obtain flood insurance in a timely manner, your lender will do so on your behalf. In doing so, the lender will not choose the most economical approach for you, but you will be obligated to pay the expense. Lenders obtain month-to-month private policies without any surveyor obtained data, rather than annual policies that have a lower monthly cost.
National Flood Insurance Program
NFIP policies are offered and serviced by the agencies of most major insurance companies, such as AAA, Allstate, Farmers, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Progressive, State Farm, The Hartford (AARP), Travelers, USAA, etcetera. Be aware, however, that not every agent of a particular company will offer NFIP insurance. So if you prefer to maintain various insurance policies under one company, it may be necessary to seek a different agent. Also, not every company offers NFIP insurance unconditionally. Some will only write policies for existing clients in good standing.
No matter which agent/company offers to provide NFIP insurance for a property, the cost should be the same for the same policy coverage. NFIP policy prices are fixed by FEMA. Consequently, there shouldn't be any benefit to shopping around for NFIP quotes, except that it is not uncommon for insurance raters to err in determining policy cost—either in favor of or to the detriment of their clients. Legitimate costs savings may be possible through insurers who provide overall discounts for bundling multiple policies.
NFIP Insurance Cost
The cost of an NFIP flood insurance policy is guided by FEMA's Flood Insurance Manual using data recorded on a current Elevation Certificate form.
Discounts are available to properties that are located in communities that participate in FEMA's Community Rating System (CRS). Communities in Alameda County that participate in the CRS program include:
- Unincorporated County areas, such as San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, etc. (up to 15% discount)
- City of Fremont (15% discount)
- City of Pleasanton (up to 10% discount)
- City of San Leandro (up to 10% discount)
Private Flood Insurance
A potentially less expensive alternative to FEMA's NFIP insurance is flood insurance offered by the private sector. But before allowing any existing NFIP policy to lapse, ensure that any private insurance you do consider is acceptable to your lender.
Also, consider that any grandfathered NFIP discount currently applied to your property might be lost forever by not continuously maintaining an NFIP policy. There is no guarantee that a privately offered policy will be available for renewal in the future, especially after filing a claim.
Companies currently offering private sector flood insurance policies for properties in California include:
- Natural Catastrophe Insurance Program (Poulton Associates, LLC)
- Private Market Flood / The Flood Insurance Agency (Lexington Insurance / AIG)
- Superior Flood Incorporated (cover holder of Lloyd's of London)
- Typ/Tap (underwriter: Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co.)
Related Articles of Interest
Insurance companies and lenders are shifting risk to tax payers | Grist 2020-03-04
Homes in US Flood Zones are Vastly Over Valued | Scientific American 2020-03-03
Studies Sound Alarm on "Badly Out of Date" FEMA Flood Maps | Scientific American 2020-02-27
How does flooding affect homeownership? | Penn State News 2020-02-25
Where it can rain, it can flood | Marketplace 2020-02-24
Flood Insurance, Commercial Real Estate and Climate Change | JD Supra 2020-02-20
The Rainfall Map That Can Tell You if Your Home is Doomed | Bloomberg 2020-01-23
How we built our way into an urban flooding epidemic | Slate 2019-11-29
FEMA delays major changes to flood risk rating program until 2021 | Tampa Bay Times 2019-11-08
A 'Big Short' investor's new bet | Vice 2019-11-01
How the rich are using federal money to buy their way out of climate castastrophes | InsideSources.com 2019-10-31
How to survive a flooded world | Rolling Stone 2019-09-20
We're not equipped to handle the financial reality of today's storms | The Hill 2019-09-11
Should you keep your flood insurance (even if it's not required)? | Quicken Loans Blog 2019-08-27
Opening the door for private flood | Insurance Journal 2019-03-04
FEMA panel can't meet under Trump | E&E News 2019-02-19
Knowing when the risk justifies the cost | New York Times 2018-11-16