REALTORS® Can Help Canadians Avoid High Risk Mistakes in Flood Prone Zones

In the early months of 2005, my husband and I were first-time home buyers. Our real estate agent quickly revealed a penchant for pop quizzes as we investigated the guts of a house. We had a soft spot for the older, fixer-uppers in the lively, riverside neighbourhoods in Calgary’s downtown and he wanted us to make a good decision with our hard-earned money.

As we toured an early 20th century home near the Stampede grounds, our agent pointed to the beam running across the cellar and started in with one of his quizzes: what do you think that staining and warping are from? Floods, I proposed. Yes, he replied, and this neighbourhood will flood again, he said. Another house had a sump pump even though it seemed an unlikely candidate for a river flood. Our agent theorized that even though we were uphill, there might be some drainage issues nearby and a risk of sewer back-ups after a hard rainfall. Another beauty, a real fixer-upper on a tree-lined street near the scenic Elbow River, seemed too big a risk if the river washed away our hard work.

We bought a house on a hill and took possession as the monsoon rains of June 2005 arrived, record rainfall for a parched province coming out of a decade-long drought. The Elbow River flooded and 40,000 homes sustained flood damages. We were glad we’d trusted our agent’s knowledge of the city’s neighbourhoods. As it turned out, it wasn’t even the big flood. That one came in 2013, only eight years later.

A 2020 survey by Partners for Action at the University of Waterloo confirmed that awareness of flood risk remains stubbornly low in Canada: only 6% of respondents know they live in a designated flood risk area and 81% have not even looked at a flood map for their community. It’s a challenge to be aware and prepared when you’re in the dark about your potential flood risk. We launched Flood Smart Canada to help Canadians access the resources they need to help assess their level of risk. Across Canada, damage from extreme weather has cost taxpayers and insurers almost $10 billion since 1998. Water-related damage is now the leading cause of home-insurance claims in many communities, large and small.

REALTORS® are an important and trusted source of information during one of the biggest financial decisions we make in our lives. Here are some of the ways that REALTORS® can ensure their clients make an informed real estate investment:

Help them understand the risks associated with specific properties. There’s no national flood plain map for Canada so visit your local municipality’s website for the latest resources. You can also view flood maps by province or territory here.

Talk to them about the kind of home insurance they’ll need. Make sure they ask about flood insurance and what’s included in the home insurance policy.

Markets across the country are overheating. Don’t let your client skip the home inspection. This might be the very step that sets off the warning bells. A good home inspection will look at grading and potential for a leaky basement as well as dampness and previous water damage.

Talk to your clients about home maintenance. Small improvements like a sump pump or investing in landscaping that allows water to flow away from the house can prevent thousands of dollars in flood damages.

A little bit of prevention and preparedness can go a long way!

The article above is for information purposes and is not legal or financial advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

Julie Wright is the Director of Partners for Action. Partners for Action (P4A) is an applied research network advancing flood resiliency in Canada in the face of a changing climate and extreme weather. P4A's collaborative approach brings together diverse stakeholders to create and share knowledge, address information needs, and drive action. P4A is based out of the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, with founding support provided by The Co-operators Group Ltd. and Farm Mutual Re.


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