The dangers of living in a flood plain can range from property loss to death, but officials say the first step to preventing such catastrophes is awareness.
Although the professionals involved in a real estate transaction often can provide home buyers with the necessary knowledge to prevent flood losses, there are few laws that require full disclosure. County officials say the best way to avoid being caught off-guard by flooding is to seek answers directly from the planning and zoning office.
"You don't even have to make a trip down here," said Terri Turner, assistant zoning and development administrator. "You can call and see if your property is in a flood plain.
"That needs to be something that everyone asks because of the severe flooding potential in Augusta," she said. "We've got a lot of creeks and streams and a lot of our major development curves along them."
There is no state law that requires the 100-year flood plain be noted on a home's plat. But in 1998, Augusta's planning commission passed an ordinance requiring that any site plan or final plat include the flood plain. Old properties are not subject to the ordinance, but any homes surveyed in the past two years would be subject to the rule, Ms. Tuner said.
The professionals involved in a real estate transaction also can inform a home buyer about the potential for flooding in an area. But unless a real estate agent or attorney is hired by the buyer, they typically represent the seller, professional organizations report.
The Better Business Bureau says that nearly 80 percent of all home sales nationwide are made with the assistance of a real estate agent or broker.
And if a real estate agent is aware that a home has flooded previously, the National Realtors Association's code of ethics requires that the agent disclose that information to a home buyer.
The association's Georgia chapter also distributes to its member Realtors property statements, forms that require a seller to explain any repairs made to the home, including those made as a result of flooding.
If a seller knowingly does not disclose information through the form it is considered fraud, said Bob Hamilton, executive vice president of the Georgia Association of Realtors.
And planning officials say claims that improvements have been made to reduce or eliminate the flooding potential of a tributary can be verified through flood plain maps, which are required to reflect those changes.
"No agent should make a statement that an area in a flood plain is never going to flood again, just like you should never say a home is going to appreciate 10 percent a year," Mr. Hamilton said. "They're almost equally absurd statements to make."
Sometimes a buyer is made aware of a flood plain by a lending agent. Lenders usually require that a home be surveyed before approving a mortgage, and often times, will require flood insurance as a condition of the loan.
Consumer advocates also say home buyers can gain a better understanding of a structure's physical condition and previous damage prior to purchase with a home inspection.
And a real estate attorney can offer a degree of protection in the home-buying process.
The State Bar of Georgia says in consumer awareness literature that a closing attorney represents the lender, not the seller, real estate agent or buyer. It is up to buyers to secure their own attorneys to protect their interests during a closing, the association reports.
To find out if your home is located in a flood plain, call the Planning and Zoning Commission at 821-1796.
To lodge a complaint or get a reliability report about a real estate professional, call the Better Business Bureau at 722-1574.
To report construction or site filling and grading within a flood plain area without a permit being posted, call the License & Inspection Department at 796-5050.
To report dumping or major blockages, such as downed trees in drainage channels, call the Department of Public Works, Roads and Bridges, at 790-7062.
To report flood damage or for more information about flood safety, call the Emergency Management Agency at 821-1155.
To get a referral for a home builder, call the Builders Association of Metro Augusta at 860-2371.
For more information about the National Flood Insurance Program, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at (800) 638-6620.
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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