Recent flood events call us all into action

The flooding may be subsiding, but we can’t afford to let the memories of its impact do the same.

There is no denying that in recent times the world has experienced some pretty extreme weather events. Last year was Australia’s hottest in living memory, in the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan became the strongest typhoon ever recorded, there were record high temperatures in Scandinavia, heatwaves and intense rainstorms across Europe and South America, and much of the US came under the grip of a polar vortex with a big freeze bringing many regions to a halt.

Here in Britain we saw the stormiest December in 44 years. The hostile winter continued into January and February 2014 with high winds and storm surges causing widespread coastal, river and surface water flooding, substantially impacting on individuals, businesses and infrastructure. The Met Office confirmed at the end of February it was the wettest winter in England and Wales since records began 250 years ago.

Although severe storms in the UK are not unknown, the relentlessness of recent events is certainly unusual with the full catalogue of flooding – tidal, fluvial, pluvial and groundwater flooding – all being experienced over a period of seven or eight weeks. Around 6,000 properties were flooded and politicians raised concerns about future flood strategy with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling the floods “a tragedy for all those affected” while urging the insurance industry to process claims as quickly as possible.

We are all acutely aware from the extensive media coverage of the floods that the impact on residents and their property can be hugely detrimental, not to mention the potential blight on a home’s value, but as awareness grows around the potential for flooding do homebuyers know who is responsible for advising them on flood risk?

A survey commissioned by Landmark Information Group revealed that only 42% of people investigated their flood risk before buying their home, while 55% of property owners in the UK expected solicitors to automatically investigate a property’s flood risk as part of the conveyancing process. Clearly there is an expectation from homebuyers to be assisted in discovering the level of risk, not least so they can look to mitigate this if required.

It is imperative that buyers know about any potential flood risk as early as possible and have appropriate insurance in place before contracts are exchanged and they become fully responsible for the property. Until Flood Re comes into force in 2015, properties found to be ‘at significant risk’ of flooding may prove extremely expensive, if not impossible, to insure. If a property cannot be insured, the solicitor will be unable to provide the necessary Certificate of Completion to the Lender to release the mortgage funds and therefore the buyer will be unable to complete the purchase.

Where does this leave the legal property professional in terms of required due diligence and compliance? 

According to the Law Society Practice Note launched last May, conveyancers have a key role to play. The Practice Note states that ‘In all conveyancing transactions, when acting for a prospective buyer, tenant or lender, you should mention the issue of flood risk to your client and, if appropriate, make further investigations’. There have been some concerns over what ‘appropriate’ means, but with 200,000 homes built on flood plains between 2001 and 2011 and surface water flooding meaning risk is not exclusive to properties near the river or sea, it seems that ‘appropriate’ is becoming an increasingly inclusive term. As the practice note concludes ‘it may not always be obvious that a property is at risk of flooding’.

The cost of a desktop flood report (around £20), with a risk assessment by accredited consultants, is inexpensive and could save thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds in the long term. It will clarify your client’s level of risk and help them identify the measures they could take to protect their future exposure to flood, while at the same time satisfying the Law Society Practice Note.

Let’s all hope that we have seen the back of the floods this year, in the meantime we can be working together to ensure we are playing our part in mitigating the risks for all stakeholders, especially the homebuyer.

John Pickford, Searches Manager, Thames Water Property Searches


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