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New bill would require sellers to disclose flood risk information to homebuyers

'It's buyer beware out here. You need to know what you're buying,' Heather Gaker says
Posted at 7:44 PM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 20:21:46-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Heather Gaker's nightmare began in May 2015 when she fell in love with a property within walking distance from the Intracoastal Waterway in Boynton Beach.

She didn't want to show her face but she did want to share her story.

"I was devastated,” she said.

She said if she would've known what she knows now about the property and its history of flooding, she would've never bought it.

"I would've walked away," Gaker said. "I would've walked very fast away."

Gaker said she felt taken advantage of in the home-buying process, mistakes for which she's still paying.

"I was lied to," she said. "They may have thought they were telling a little white lie saying a little water came in one time. But when you ask, this is important and I tell everyone it after this experience, you find out what the flood history is."

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Heather Gaker shares her experience with unknowingly buying a home that had experienced severe flooding.

According to Gaker, the initial disclosure form she was given for the property didn't mention any history of flooding and was only updated to reference one incident after she asked.

She didn't realize she was only hitting the tip of the iceberg.

A few years after moving in, the home flooded and she filed a claim only to make a shocking discovery.

"That the house is now declared an SRL — a severe repetitive loss," Gaker said. "I was told the house had several floods and when you have four flood claims over $5,000 each, FEMA declares it severe repetitive loss."

Realtors who spoke with WPTV said under current law during the buying process, the sellers are the only party with knowledge of flood history.

"Unless the owner discloses that, we wouldn't have any information on if there's already been any damage,” real estate broker Paige Hails said.

The damage was so bad, Gaker had to demolish the home and build a new one, with the help of a hurricane loss mitigation grant through the Florida Division of Emergency Management. She eventually won her lawsuit against the realty group.

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Real estate broker Paige Hails explains how they are only aware of previous flooding if the homeowner discloses the information.

State Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, introduced HB 1049, or the flood disclosure in the sale of real property bill, following Gaker's case.

Hunschofsky told WPTV in a statement, in part:

"The purpose of this bill was to let home buyers know if flooding claims have been made on the home and to educate them that flood insurance is not included in property insurance."

If signed into law, it would require a seller to tell buyers if a property previously flooded. Gaker said she hopes others don't repeat her mistakes.

"The homeowners need to be honest with the buyers," Gaker said. "It's buyer beware out here. You need to know what you're buying. I learned the hard way and I'm working through it."

The bill, which passed the House and Senate, is currently awaiting the governor's signature.