FEMA rules for additions to exisiting waterfront homes

So you want to buy a waterfront home — one that was built prior to the latest hurricane codes. It needs updating and an addition to the building would be nice too … Not so fast.

Please, before making an offer, know what you can and cannot do with that structure! Start by calling the local Zoning department and asking lots of questions. For example, the cost of your new permitted work may not exceed 50% of the value of the structure. Well, actually, it CAN exceed 50%, BUT then the entire structure must be brought up to the latest hurricane codes — and that can be impractical (in fact, you’ll probably find that demolition and rebuild will cost less and yield a better result!).

“Well, heck,” you say, “it’s a 2 million dollar property. 50% — a million dollars — buys a lot of improvements without triggering full code compliance. I can do most anything.” Remember: we’re talking about the value of the structure, not the entire property. In our area, it’s nothing for a $3 million property to have only 10% in the structure! Take the appraised value of the structure from the county appraiser’s website and add 20% — that’s the value to use. 50% of this total is the most you can spend on permitted upgrades/additions without having to bring the whole structure up to code. (You could also hire a certified appraiser to determine the value of the structure).

Watch out. Most County Property Appraisers assign a value to the land, and a value to “improvements.” “Improvements” includes the main structure, true, but also includes everything from driveways to outbuildings to pools, tennis courts, landscaping (everything that’s not raw land) — so deduct the value of these from the total improvement value … then add your 20% … and then half of that is your construction limit. And it’s probably a lot less than you thought. Now talk to a builder and find out the cost of your addition … perhaps more than you might think.

No one wants to find out AFTER they have inked the contract that what they planned for the structure is impossible or infeasible, so due diligence — in advance — is essential!

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