Living in the Outer Banks has many pleasures and benefits, but coastal living also comes with
challenges. If you’ve been shopping for a coastal property, whether for a full time residence or
second/investment home, you’ll have heard terms such as flood zones, base flood elevation
(BFE) and the national flood insurance program (NFIP), most of which probably never came
into consideration during previous home buying excursions.
The reality is that flooding is a challenge for any community located near a body of water,
whether it be a river, stream or ocean. Surprisingly, the majority of flood insurance claims
come from inland flooding compared to hurricane and storm related claims. That’s because
some communities, like the Outer Banks, have strict building codes in place that help protect
property owners in the event of a storm. Homes built on pilings, elevated structures and
hurricane rated or impact resistant glass are just a few of the features you might find with
construction on the Outer Banks.
Not surprisingly, every property in the Outer Banks is in a special flood hazard zone (SFHA).
However, just because your property is in a SFHA does not mean it will be in imminent danger
of flooding. There are three (3) flood zones in the Outer Banks: X, AE and VE. And to
complicate matters further, there are a few spots in the Outer Banks (for example the 4-wheel
drive area of Corolla) that also fall under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, or COBRA. Flood
insurance through the NFIP is not available in these areas, so make sure to discuss the
ramifications of buying in a COBRA zone with your REALTOR® before signing on the dotted
X. An X flood zone is about as good as it gets, because properties located in X flood zones
are considered at minimal risk of flooding. This also means that your lender will not
require flood insurance, although we encourage all Outer Banks homeowners to carry
it. Additionally, the building codes for X flood zone properties allow for living space on the
ground floor, offering a nice convenience for homeowners. If you’re lucky enough to find a
property in an X flood zone, great. However, don’t let this be the driving force behind your
decision. There are plenty of high-elevation, properly built homes in AE flood zones that will
keep you high and dry as well.
AE.The majority of properties in the Outer Banks fall into AE flood zones. According to FEMA,
properties located in an AE zone will have an annual likelihood of flooding of 1% (assuming
they are at or above base flood). When in an AE flood zone, BFE, or Base Flood Elevation
becomes an important factor. For example, if your home is located in an AE flood zone with a
BFE of 9, the first habitable living area should be 9 feet above base flood. That said, if the
property you are considering is in an AE flood zone you should be aware that your flood
coverage begins on the first elevated floor of your property.
VE.The majority, if not all, oceanfront properties fall into the category of VE, although some
sound front properties can fall into this category as well. VE flood zone properties are at
higher risk from rising waters and wind driven wave action, which generally translates to a
higher flood insurance premium. However, as is the case with AE zones, your premium will
be a factor of the elevation of the property among other things. If you are considering buying
a VE flood zone property, the higher the elevation of the property the better positioned you will
be in terms of storm protection.