Charleston Flooding – Raising Your House

Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity

Written by: Susie Rosen

Since the beginning of 2018, there have been over 20 applications by homeowners to raise their homes in the historic district of Charleston to solve the flooding issue that has affected certain neighborhoods. The first homeowners to start the process faced initial pushback from historians, the preservationists, and the all-important Board of Architectural Review. but after overwhelming opposition from the public and confronted with indisputable scientific evidence, all parties agreed to embrace the idea of lifting these homes to preserve the essence of Charleston, its beautiful architecture that draws visitors from all over the world. In fact, the peninsular is responsible for bringing in over 20% of the new wealth into the state of South Carolina.  Today residents will find a permanently staffed counter at the City Planning Office on George Street with experts available to provide advice and guidance through the complicated steps necessary to raise a historic home.
 
Many of these homes have had multiple insurance claims for flood damage, in which case FEMA will require remediation against future flooding before continuing coverage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), forms part of the Department of Homeland Security and co-ordinates the response to a national disaster that overwhelms local and state authorities.  Part of their responsibility is to ensure that affordable flood insurance is available to homeowners. Remediation required to continue subsidized insurance coverage under FEMA may involve raising ductwork and HVAC compressors but in more radical situations if the home sits below the base flood elevation, the remedy is to raise the house. The base flood elevation (BFE)  is a computerized level to which floodwater is anticipated to rise based on historical data. The ground level may sit above or below this elevation. The base flood is a standard used by the National Flood Program and all Federal agencies to calculate the cost of insurance and to regulate new building developments. Raised homes are required to be elevated by a minimum of two feet above the BFE to avoid future flooding. For more information about flood insurance and any specific questions about your property, contact Danielle Lee Wolke at CT Lowndes Co. at dwolke@ctlowndes.com or 843-737-8464.

 

 

The cost of raising a home is dictated by the size and style of construction – a masonry home is more expensive than a frame built structure; the foundation can be extended but may have to be replaced – an expensive addition to the overall cost. The process requires a team of experts that will all have to be added to the payroll:
 
ARCHITECT – To present the before and after plans to the Board of Architectural Review
 
SOIL SCIENTIST – To determine the type of foundation required
 
ENGINEER – To evaluate the building and make recommendations throughout the process
 
GENERAL CONTRACTOR – To disconnect all utilities, and prepare the building for the lifting process then reconnect the utilities, and refinish the building afterward
 
LIFTING SPECIALIST – A specialist contractor to implement the lift
 
FOUNDATION SPECIALIST – To prepare the foundation
 
LANDSCAPER – To preserve specimen plants and hardscape and restore the garden after the process
 
One look at this list makes it clear that raising a historic home is a daunting process that seems insurmountable to many owners many of whom just want to sell and move on to the next stage of their lives.  I have spoken with several downtown residents in this position over the past few months many of whom have been attempting to sell. But these sellers are routinely pricing their homes at current market rates and making no concessions for the flooding, and these homes are sitting, with little activity.
 
Here comes the opportunity… There are investors out there who are willing to purchase a home and take on the lifting process. If you are a seller and want to attract these buyers to your property there are three key elements to take into consideration:
 
1.  Produce a verified estimate and a plan to elevate
2.  Price your home competitively, taking into account the projected cost of elevating the home
3.  Many Charleston properties undergo renovation after purchase – so part of the overall cost is preexisting
 
I have buyers evaluating these opportunities in our City and who are preparing to move forward. If you are holding a property that has become a liability, take heed! There is a solution! You just need the courage, knowledge and a well-informed Realtor to guide you forward in this new environment.