How to Read FEMA Flood Maps

Lately, the focus of flood insurance rating sits squarely on a document called the Flood Elevation Certificate.  This certificate determines a home’s elevation relative to a base number, known as the Base Flood Elevation or BFE.  Luckily for us, the LSU AgCenter has an up-to-date tool to help us not only see if a property is in a flood zone, but also determine with reasonable accuracy what a survey/certificate might reveal.  My goal here is to help homeowners, buyers and Realtors gain a pretty solid understanding of how to read FEAMA flood maps with confidence.  By knowing how to do this, you can figure out your risk and how your premiums could be affected in the future.  You may be able to use this information to get rough estimates on flood coverage or accurately price your home for sale.

Once you get to the site, search for an address in the box provided.

Once the map focuses in on the property, you will see an information box pop up.  Remember, flood risk is based mostly on the home’s ground elevation compared to FEMA’s determined BFE.  You’ll notice in this box that they give you the ground elevation.

I have found this ground elevation to be pretty accurate.  When I have certificates done for clients, this number is usually within a foot or less of what the surveyor determines.   With this ground elevation number, we have half of the equation.  Now we need to find out the Base Flood Elevation to which we need to compare.

If you zoom out from your property, you will start to see squiggly black lines with numbers in them.  These numbers represent BFEs!

So for this property, we can be reasonably certain that the BFE is around 8′, and the elevation of the home is around 6.3′.  The difference is 1.7′, or more accurately stated “the property sits 1.7′ BELOW the Base Flood Elevation.”   This information is very handy in several ways:

  • Some loans will not be given on homes below the BFE so our example here would not qualify.  This can narrow down properties for buyers and Realtors to focus on.  There are other factors in a flood certificate that can help qualify a home that may be close, however.  I will go over these other factors in my next article.
  • Sellers in a flood zone should know this number to determine how to handle pricing. A home that is several feet below the BFE will have a hefty insurance premium and must be considered going forward.
  • When comparing properties, doing this exercise is a much less expensive option than having certificates done on each one.
The example here is a real example from a buyer client of mine.  When I received the official flood elevation certificate, the home was actually 1.2′ below the BFE.  So the accuracy of this exercise was less than .5′!
In Thursday’s article I will explain the flood elevation certificate, what all the numbers mean, and how yes – it can be manipulated based on the type of home you are buying/selling.
Please reply if you found this article useful!

David R. Madaffari, Realtor
Keller Williams Realty – First Choice
Office: 225.744.0044
Cell: 225.772.3283 (DAVE)
37325 Market Place Dr. Ste D
Prairieville, LA 70769
Each office independently owned and operated


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