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In many states, if you're selling your home, you don't have to disclose if the property has flooded or if it's at high risk. That's becoming a bigger problem as climate change drives heavier rains and rising seas. Texas recently expanded its flood disclosure law, and some see it as a national model. Mose Buchele of member station KUT reports.
MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: When Arthur Mosely moved to East Austin in the 1980s, he didn't worry about flooding. Back then, he says living here felt like living in the country. And the creek that ran behind his lot provided a green space.
ARTHUR MOSELY: When I first moved out here, the creek had many vines and trees - undeveloped.
BUCHELE: It was full of wild pecans and Muscatine grapes. That didn't last long. Over the years, more houses went up, and the creek flooded repeatedly, almost reaching his house twice.
MOSELY: All of this was just complete water.
BUCHELE: About 15 years ago, the city spent millions to try to control the water. It put in a big flood wall behind the neighborhood, improved drainage. But as the climate has warmed, storms have been getting worse. And recently, engineers looked at the rainfall data and decided the wall isn't enough. Now this land is designated a high-risk flood plain.
MOSELY: And I've seen the water come right on up to almost the borderline of the top of that wall. And so it's kind of frightening.
BUCHELE: The conflict between development and growing flood risk became too big to ignore after Hurricane Harvey. That's when thousands of homes flooded in the Houston area because they sat in reservoirs, floodways and other dangerous areas - a risk many homeowners weren't even aware of. That experience prompted lawmakers to act this year.
AMITY COURTOIS: So this is a listing that I have over in Brentwood.
BUCHELE: In another Austin neighborhood, real estate agent Amity Courtois shows me a classic 1950s bungalow and walks me through the new flood disclosure process that took effect in September.
COURTOIS: So one...
BUCHELE: She pulls out a form.
COURTOIS: These are yes-and-no questions.
BUCHELE: And there are a lot of them.
COURTOIS: Do you presently have flood insurance coverage?
BUCHELE: Have you ever received emergency federal flood assistance?
COURTOIS: Are you located wholly or partly in a 500-year flood plain?
BUCHELE: Have you ever experienced flooding from a reservoir?
COURTOIS: Or previous water penetration into a structure on the property due to a natural flood event?
BUCHELE: The owner of this house answered no to all of these questions. If the answer had been yes, Courtois says the closing price would probably be lower, and the sellers would need to provide even more information to a potential buyer.
ROB MOORE: Yeah. Way to go, Texas.
BUCHELE: This is Rob Moore. He works on water and climate policy for the National Resources Defense Council and he's one of the people who says this puts Texas at the head of the pack when it comes to making sure homebuyers know about flood risk. Moore says 22 states have no mandatory flood risk disclosure, and several others have inadequate rules.
MOORE: So we shouldn't be surprised that people make really bad decisions because state legislatures have basically decided that people shouldn't know that information.
BUCHELE: He says, ideally, people wouldn't build in high-risk areas, but at least with more information, homebuyers might make better decisions or get flood insurance if they know they may need it. Knowing a property's history will also give people a better sense of risk because flood plain maps are often outdated and wrong.
MOORE: If you're not going to be able to get accurate information about flooding from a flood map, you have to go to the source of information, which is the owner of the house.
BUCHELE: Moore's group and others have pushed Congress for a federal law, similar to the one in Texas, that would require strong disclosure for states to take part in the National Flood Insurance Program. And sitting in his backyard, Arthur Mosely agrees - more disclosure is a good thing.
MOSELY: For me, for sure because had some of those kinds of issues been brought up or discussed, I would have reconsidered very seriously before I considered moving here.
BUCHELE: And he says he'll be happy to tell any buyer about the flood risk of his property if the time ever comes to sell.
For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele in Austin.
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