Major considerations when choosing a property to buy at the shore.
Is a property compliant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) regulations? FEMA collects data, prepares maps, etc. and determines what flood zone a property is in which determines what kind of construction is required. This all has to do with a property’s base flood elevation (BFE). This may be the most important factor when buying property in a flood zone because it will affect the cost of flood insurance. A lot has happened in the last two years because of Hurricane Sandy and legislation regulating flood insurance. When buying a second home which, for most people, is the biggest investment they are going to make in their lives, it is important to make sure your house complies with FEMA regulations. If you plan to borrow money from a bank or mortgage company to purchase a property in a flood zone, lenders will require flood insurance. I will attempt to explain as simply as possible how all this works.
In all flood zone areas, it is required that there is no living space below a property’s BFE plus freeboard. Freeboard is height added on by county and local governments to keep flood insurance ratings good. For example, if the BFE of a property in Sea Isle City is 9 ft., and you will need to add 2 feet freeboard, the first floor (which means the top of the floor system) needs to be at least 11 ft. from the mean low water line (BFE + 2 ft. freeboard). (There is a little more to it, but this is close enough for now.) New construction that builds according to current local ordinances and codes complies with this requirement. It is not to say that a home built 10 or 20 years ago does not comply. Each property needs to be looked at individually because BFEs vary and local building codes have changed over the years.
To find your BFE, click on this FEMA page link and follow the directions. There is a wealth of information on this site that is helpful, that is if your eyes don’t glaze over before 10 minutes is up.
Also known as “flood vents” Anything below the first floor of a structure is considered crawl space which is defined as “that area of the structure below base flood not used for parking. “City of Sea Isle City Code 14-5.6 entitled “Enclosure Openings.” This is a technical issue having to do with equalizing hydrostatic flood forces on exterior walls by allowing the entry and exit of flood waters. (You are own your own to find out exactly what that is.) What you do need to know is that a house has the proper amount of flood vents. Re sale homes will be inspected before transfer of title and a Certificate of Floodplain Venting Compliance will need to be issued in order to transfer title. New construction will comply with the flood venting requirements.
Choose a good builder
Most people think that hurricanes are the thing to watch for but Nor’easter’s can be just as powerful and destructive along the Jersey shore. Just think how these storms constantly change the shore line. Nor-Easters can last for days and cause damage to structures especially over time. So, it is important to know that your house is structurally sound. You want to know that whoever builds your home strictly adheres to building codes. 5A construction means a building can withstand 115 M.P.H. winds. You want to make sure that requirement is followed to the “T.” You don’t want a builder that takes short cuts and compromises the structural benefits of your home. Short cuts and using subgrade materials keeps the builder’s costs down and makes the developer’s profits larger at the expense of compromised structural integrity. This cheapens a property’s value over time but that is another matter in itself and will be addressed later in this blog.
These steel straps connect a home’s foundation to the frame, the frame to the floor, frame to the roof and everything in between. It is important to know that the proper kind of straps are being used and not a cheaper substitute. The Weather Channel had a great demonstration of this by constructing two separate houses in a huge room and caused hurricane force winds to happen. The house with the straps stayed together while the house without the straps practically caved in. If anyone knows what I am talking about and can find it, (I tried to find it but couldn’t) please let me know.
Another important structural element is sheathing. OSB (oriented strand board) is a composite that many builders use for sheathing. Not only does OSB expand when wet (which can happen during construction) but more importantly OSB does not grab the nails that are nailed into it when attaching exterior finishes such as siding. The better sheathing material is plywood. Plywood acts like a Chinese finger when a nail is driven through it. It grabs the nail so the nail is not easily loosened or pulled out whereas OSB allows the nail to pull or slide right when challenged like during a Nor’easter or Hurricane. Whatever was attached to the OSB is no longer attached or at the minimum loosened and detaches over time.