Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28, 2022 as a high-end Category 4 storm. Although it has been over a month since the storm passed through, parts of Southwest Florida are still cleaning up the debris and destruction that Ian left behind and it will likely take years for the hardest-hit areas to be rebuilt. Recent estimates place the total damage in the $70 billion range, with over $33 million of that figure being in unincorporated Sarasota County alone.
Although properties in Sarasota and the surrounding areas escaped the storm fairly unscathed, a significant number of homes were nevertheless impacted and fall into one of four FEMA categories: “destroyed,” “major,” “minor,” and “affected.” An even greater number of homes suffered wind damage and/or water intrusion that is not readily observable, and therefore will not be counted in an official report. It is therefore imperative for both prospective buyers and sellers to take extra precautions.
For Home Buyers
If you plan to purchase a home in the Sarasota area within the coming year it is probable that some of the homes you view will have suffered some storm damage, even though no damage may be readily observable. In light of this, it is our recommendation that our clients take the following steps to better protect themselves.
- Mold Inspection Rider.
All Buyers should request that the Mold Inspection Rider be attached to their contract and Realtors should start incorporating this Rider into every contract they prepare. Furthermore, Buyers should consider ordering an air quality test in addition to the standard home inspection to ensure that mold levels are within the normal range. We recommend this for new construction homes as well.
- Shop for Insurance Early and Add Contingencies.
We also recommend that our clients shop for their homeowner’s, wind, and flood insurance during the Inspection Period set forth within the contract. It is no secret that the Florida insurance industry is in somewhat of a crisis and many companies are no longer writing new policies in the state. It is more common than ever for properties in high-risk areas, such as those prone to floods, and those in need of significant repair to be deemed uninsurable. It is best to discover this information while you are still able to terminate the contract without risk of losing your earnest deposit. For added protection, a contingency may be added allowing for the termination of the contract if affordable insurance cannot be obtained.
- Ask the Right Questions.
Buying a home in an area that is subject to hurricanes requires a greater amount of due diligence than buying in other areas of the country. Be sure that you are asking questions such as –
- Was the home flooded or otherwise subject to water intrusion? What volume of water came in? Was there water in the street that prevented driving? How long was the water in the home and/or street?
- How was the damage remedied? Did licensed mold remediators undergo any work or treatment?
- Was the wiring inspected for corrosion?
- Were any insurance claims filed? If so, were they granted or denied?
For Home Sellers
Whether you were already under contract to sell your home when Hurricane Ian hit or are considering selling in the near future, it is important to properly address any damage that your home may have suffered, regardless of how minor it may seem.
- Disclose, Disclose, Disclose.
Florida law requires that the seller of residential property disclose material defects affecting the property that are not readily observable. Therefore, a seller must disclose wind or water damage even after repairs are made. It may be beneficial to take before and after photos and retain receipts for all repair work done on the property. When in doubt, disclose! It can be very costly to deal with litigation resulting from non-disclosure of a material fact.
- Mold Assessment/ Air Quality Test.
If your home suffered water intrusion during the storm, we recommend that you contact a licensed mold inspector to conduct an air quality test. If the test concludes that mold is present in your home, we suggest contacting a separate mold remediation specialist to address the issue as soon as possible. Just because mold is not visible, does not mean it is not present in your home at unsafe levels, and if left untreated, the cost of remediation will only increase over time.
- Beware of Corrosion.
Hurricane flood water is especially problematic due to the corrosive nature of salt water. If you experienced any water intrusion during the storm, we suggest that you contact a licensed electrician to assess the extent of any damage or corrosion to the wiring within your home. Corroded wires pose a major safety risk and could lead to a house fire if they are not properly addressed.
- Hire Qualified Professionals.
Homeowners should always seek the advice and services of qualified professionals when dealing with post-hurricane damage. Licensed contractors, inspectors, and restoration companies will ensure that all repair work is done in accordance with the applicable building code and will obtain any permits that may be necessary.
Buying or selling a home after a natural disaster may seem daunting, but there are steps that you can take to ensure the transaction goes as smooth as possible. Please contact our office if you have any questions or concerns when it comes to buying or selling a home post-hurricane.
*This post is intended to be informational in nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Please contact our office if you have questions regarding a specific legal concern.*