Importance of Surveys and Flood Insurance Elevation (FEMA) Certificates

17 Replies

I am a professional surveyor here in Southwest Florida and work in a family owned company. I am on bigger pockets interested in real estate investing and have came across a few recent posts questioning the need for a land survey so have decided to make a post. Please feel free to chime in or message me any questions, I would like nothing more than to help just one person from making the mistakes we see on a daily basis.

The value of real estate in the general public's eyes has diminished to almost nothing in the recent years, in our experience. With technology increasing substantially and people able to see those "invisible lines" on GIS websites they no longer care to see a hard copy of a survey or even care to ask where the property corners fall. It is an education process that we conduct on a daily basis to realtors and home buyers and the majority of them still do not care about anything but checking off that box to close. They all think we cost too much and they do not understand what we do when it comes to conducting a proper boundary survey with the benefit of a title commitment. 

In the state of Florida there is a thing called a surveyors affidavit. It is used in refinances and real estate transactions where the seller signs that no changes have been made to a survey that was previously completed (sometimes 5+ years ago). The problem with this is that if you get a thorough and complete survey by a capable LOCAL surveyor, you will see a note in the survey that only the parties certified have rights to it and that the survey is only to be used for that particular transaction. It is appalling that people do not hesitate to sign a surveyors affidavit to get by without having a new survey complete! Where is the title affidavit?!? Essentially it is the same thing. Surveyors are an insurance policy and it is very important for real estate professionals aka realtors to point that out. Remember that the cost of a survey is negligible to attorney costs and litigation that can occur over property and in the end you will have a piece of mind where your boundary lines are, where your property corners are and most importantly where the improvements sit on your lot relative to easements and other encumbrances.

When it comes to FEMA flood elevation certificates, just get them complete (again, by a capable LOCAL surveyor). We see clients on a weekly basis that are paying way too much on flood insurance. On a general note, if you are paying more than $1,000 a year on flood insurance you need one complete. If you have one already, try getting another company to do it or see if a local surveyor will take a look at it and see if there is anything they can do to help. Insurance agents rarely understand what you need to do to reduce the cost of flood (they too are guilty of just checking boxes without understanding what they are doing or the affects that it may have). Don't get me wrong, some are very good but in our experience most have no clue. It is up to the home owner to ask the questions about what they can do to reduce the costs of flood insurance. Most of the time they can put in flood vents or retro-fit their house to reduce the costs of flood with minimal costs. Also, insurance companies will refund you for overpaying if you can prove that your house is not rated correctly by an elevation certificate. Engineers and sometimes surveyors can do LOMA or letter of map amendments or flood studies to prove that your house is out of a flood zone or above a base flood.

Ask the questions and do the research, find the knowledgeable insurance agent that has experience with flood insurance, or the realtor that has some experience in boundary law and values property they are helping you purchase. Remember, in the long run it is cheaper to hire a good surveyor that it is a bad one or one at all. Russ

Do you know much is a "typical" elevation certificate is in Georgia. Looking at a house that appears to barely touch a creek, but it's in flood zone AE.  The insurance companies I"m asking for quotes won't give a quote without the elevation certificate.  Are you saying that with the elevation certificate you could possibly lower the insurance or discover it's not in a flood zone? 

@Kevin Polito, in Louisiana, I pay $300-400 for an elevation certificate. Also, I buy my flood insurance through private insurance & NOT through a typical agent who quotes directly through FEMA.

tami, I just bought a house in Gretna and I need someone to do an elevation cert.  can you give me a contact?  Also interested in who you get flood insurance through.  Thanks

@Fred Allen one of the survey companies I've  used is Dufrene Surveyor. they are usually  about  $350 for an elevation cert.

Where in Gretna did you purchase and are you flipping  or going  to rent? I currently own about 40 units in Gretna as rentals 


@Fred Allen , I paid $225 for a survey on a small double in NOLA. They had the report to me in 2 days. PM me if you want their contact info.

Thanks for the post I have four houses in the floodplain. Does anyone know of a surveyor in Northern Virginia that can help me with this?

Russell is on point. Elevation certificates are important. A review of the EC can also save you money in the long term. An EC review can help you find mitigation techniques that can lower your flood insurance costs. As many of you know the gained cashflow also improves the value of your property.

Please reach out to me if you need help finding a local surveyor. Our website actually has a surveyor locator. Additionally if you are a surveyor, please reach out to me to find out about becoming part of the surveyor locator.

I am in southern Indiana - having a surveyor complete an EC will cost a few hundred dollars. If you have a property in the floodplain, you should try talking to your local floodplain administrator/manager (if one exists) about options. Ideally, you would get an idea if you could be successful in obtaining a LOMA for the structure.

@Bryan Wallace  Can u do all this prior to buying the property to get an idea of costs. Or is this something that has to be done after you have purchased the property in Indiana. thx

Check with the local Building Commissioner's office first to see if an EC is magically on-file (the odds are low). Otherwise, I would consult with a surveyor before making a purchase of a structure in the floodplain and are looking to obtain a LOMA.  Let the propery owner know if you plan on sending a surveyor out to the property.

great information dealing with this issue, FEMA needs to do more updates to the flood-maps sometimes it isn't very helpful, so a quality surveyor or real estate specialists in boundary law/map can be very helpful

@Russell Strayer , Good points.  Just wanted to add that in order to get the enhanced title insurance, the one that lets you transfer into a trust and carries over to beneficiaries of trust and also protects you from post-policy mechanics' liens and clouds on title, you need a survey.  The last one we did showed a discrepancy of about 3-5 ft in from the older survey, which was very important as they were building on the lot next door and they tried to clear part of our property.   When they questioned our rights to that area, we told them that we just had a new survey done and were happy to take it up with our title insurance company, and so far that seems to have resolved the issue as they've left it alone since then. 

The problem with the FEMA map updates is that they can take a decent amount of time to produce (the computer modeling software is specialized). Once complete, FEMA must roll out the maps to communities for public comments and revisions...which takes more time. A community can conduct its own engineering study to 'improve' or 'fix' the floodplain maps if FEMA is not coming anytime soon to do map updates, but the money must come directly from the community. Talk to the Town, City, or County Engineer / Surveyor about this is the floodplain maps appear wrong in your area of interest.

A good FEMA surveyor can help with a map adjustment called a loma it has helped me on some 100 yr flood plains that I had in the desert area eliminating the need for flood insurance

LOMAs are a great tool but are not always available. While they won't always eliminate the need for flood insurance they can help reduce costs of the insurance in certain circumstances. 

So I was able to the property in question removed from the flood zone, however, the land wasn't removed from the flood zone.  Would most mortgage companies still require you to purchase flood insurance? I called my credit union and they would, but they are fairly conservative. If we flip I'm wondering if the big guys would? I've priced out the flood insurance to under $700/year but I wonder would that deter potential buyers

Thank you for the post. I am looking to hire a surveyor myself in the Philadelphia Pa area. If anyone has a reference to share please feel free to pass me the contact info. Thanks again.

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